Adam McKay's new movie isn't about climate change -- it's about an oncoming comet -- but it captures, like no work of art has, some of the strange & vertiginous aspects of being a climate hawk.
The villain in climate change isn't climate change, just as the villain in the COVID-19 pandemic isn't the virus. The villain is our own failure to care about our neighbors. COVID-19 has been *hammering* on the "you need to care about your neighbors, the ones across the planet just as much as the ones across the street" theme, and it is percolating very, very slowly.
Thanks for this insightful interpretation. As someone who spent three decades at the (now-defunct) Worldwatch Institute, where we warned of climate change years before it became a household word, this feel uncomfortably familiar: "The movie is about having knowledge but being unable to make the knowledge matter, being unable to make anyone hear or act on it."
Back in the day, we were naive enough to think that all we had to do was provide solid information, written in an accessible manner for a general audience, and people would understand and make governments and corporations act the 'right' way -- on climate and on so many other environmental issues.
The failure of so much climate art is that it is typically grounded in sadness and fear. But that's a failure of imagination. The climate crisis is forcing humanity into so many solutions that will make lives so much better. And telling that story through art can be fun and maybe even more mobilizing than stories of loss. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” - drawdowndesignproject.org
Beautifully put, David! I do think folks like you and me, and readers of Volts and my Sustain What riffs, have a deep bias in watching Adam's jab at humanity. So we'll see how the rest of the world (sadly the vast majority) reacts. But it does provide a moment of deep catharsis for climate (and asteroid-impact and pandemic preparedness) hawks. At a screening interview DiCaprio said something you'll appreciate: "I've been looking for a project to do a
bout climate change for decades now. But it's nearly impossible to do something with that narrative and he cracked the code by creating this sense of urgency and tension and seeing the hysteria with all of our characters - these scientists, these politicians, the media - trying to react to what do we do to survive." More here: https://revkin.bulletin.com/dicaprio-on-conveying-the-plight-of-scientists-warning-of-planet-killing-bad-news
Amitav Ghosh's "Great Derangement" captures the challenge art has had in dealing with reality of climate change that seems too extreme for fiction - and goes on to illustrate how the colonial project continues to inflict harm on the formerly colonized. It's a must read for anyone interested in climate and climate justice. https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-Great-Derangement%3A-Climate-Change-and-the-Ghosh/bae6bd3c2efb95a4277e6519b86e39347a0c7db7
"The movie is about having knowledge but being unable to make the knowledge matter, being unable to make anyone hear or act on it."
This has been the stuff of drama (and sometimes real life) for millennia, unfortunately. Cassandra and Laocoön come to mind.
Vegan alert. “They are all like vegan food... it feels like I’m supposed to be eating it, and if I weren’t supposed to, I’d be eating something else that tastes better.” Those eating foods like fresh pasta and marinara sauce, an incredible Indian meal, or even Oreos and Twizzlers are not thinking about something else they could be eating. Time to appreciate that the Venn diagram of delicious and vegan has a lot of overlap, and for many, more overlap than delicious and non-vegan foods. We love you too, David.
Thank you for this perceptive piece that insightfully describes what I've been feeling for decades. As a painter, I have long struggled to convey environmental messages without being preachy, fear-mongering, or off-putting. I now put my messages in so subtly that I think people might miss them altogether. Dan put some of my work on the web, here: https://www.huntingtonbeachartleague.org/new-gallery
Thanks, David! I really appreciate your good points about the challenge of making art that can inspire climate action. Behavior change is really hard for us humans, and so is the challenge of visualizing solutions to our climate crisis that would lead regular civilians to change their lifestyles.
So I'm grateful to Leo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence for lending their names to "Don’t Look Up," presumably to expose the root causes of our inaction: human apathy, greed and ignorance.
Though as much as I commend their efforts, I’m not sure that a movie denouncing our collective apathy will encourage people to take climate action either — it’s more likely to trigger despair and inaction about the hopelessness of human nature.
I remain convinced that developing a positive outlook and a joyful problem-solving attitude is our best hope for solving our climate crisis.
To that end, we at GreenChange.net, our Bay Area climate action network, are now reaching out to artists in our community, challenging them to create art that can inspire people to action. We will display their art at our big Earth 2050 event on April 24 in Mill Valley -- and at subsequent events in spring and summer 2022 (see below).
If you or your readers know talented artists who might like to contribute climate art to this project, we would love to hear your recommendations. Please email us at email@example.com with the name of the artist you recommend and their contact info or website.
Artists can contribute their climate art in any medium they like: drawing, painting, collage, sign, sculpture, game, model, music, poetry, dance, theater, photo, video, web page – whatever their heart desires. We also welcome any existing artworks they have already created, if you think it would inspire climate action and social change, or promote an appreciation for nature.
In the meantime, you can register for this free event already, if you would like to be in the loop:
I have always thought that the climate change message needs to escape from environmental organizations into popular media and song. In that vein, I just discovered this series of shanty type songs with climate change lyrics. https://jameskahn.hearnow.com/by-the-risin-of-the-sea
Awesome interview! Great compliment about it being the most enjoyable conversation McKay has had during the entire press junket for the film. Really interesting meander through so many interesting points and has added to my understanding of the movie. I am one of those that really needed the ending where the president (and as implied all the other rich people) is eaten by the Bronterox! I really felt the world being destroyed was the ending needed, but didn't think he would do it, and when he did it was a big (sad) surprise. Also loved your phrase "newsertainment" and the comments around media all having the same tone/pitch - I unconsciously enjoyed the editing of the film (cutting straight from headless chicken fenzy to the aftermath thinking WTF was that all about) though I didn't see the magic and thought that weaved this until your discussion pointed out how it worked. Campaigning/learning around climate and environment ought to be this fun - and/or more positive - at least half the time!