Director Damon Gameau is certainly not a man afraid to tackle an issue. In his previous documentary That Sugar Film, he examined the negative health effects of sugar, using his own body as a template. Now he takes a look at climate change, and the effects our industrialised society is having on Earth. However, instead of being negative, Gameau looks at the positive steps we can take to build a better future, a world that he could leave for his daughter in 2040. DAVID O’CONNELL spoke to Gameau about his vision of the future and the technology of today that could bring it about.
Why did you decide to take such an optimistic look at the future?
We’ve got the dystopian one nailed down. There’s so much of that stuff, that I thought it was important to throw a different way into the mix. Especially as some of the research into neuroscience suggests too much of that stuff is paralysing, especially if you want action. People get to the point where they’re saturated by it, and overwhelmed by it, and disengage. So what is needed, is to start motivating people through hope and aspiration. Showing that there are people doing things, and there are solutions that exist. It’s not to say that diagnosis isn’t crucial, we need to hear how bad things are, but it’s like going to the doctor – you want to know what you can do. That part of the story is completely absent.
What rules did you set yourself when making 2040?
I guess I just wanted to be careful that it wasn’t too utopian, too blindly optimistic. That would have been bad parenting, I wouldn’t want to do that to my daughter. I was just aware that there was this nihilistic barrier beginning to emerge, and I think that that’s incredibly dangerous. Especially if we’re trying to motivate people to take action. As I discovered, there are already people out there doing amazing things, and they don’t get any media spotlight. It’s important to remind people, that people are getting on with this, and hopefully, they’re motivated to join them.
And, the technology that you show actually exists today?
That was a big element. That line I say at the start: that this is an exercise in fact based dreaming. That anything I showed my daughter in the future, has to exist now. And that’s where it becomes an exercise in extrapolation. This is grounded in reality, we’re not making stuff up here. You may not have known about it, but it’s happening. So let’s get it promoted and make sure it happens on a large scale.
The transport one was probably the most confronting part. I couldn’t find another way to avoid more cars on the road. Even if you go electric you’ve got so many cars on the road it’s still a nightmare for traffic, it’s still a nightmare for the grid in terms of energy. You’ve got to have fewer cars on the road.
You also look at the knock-on benefits, with freed up public space from fewer car parks and roads.
What so overwhelmed me about the solution, was that we get to redesign our cities for humans for the first time in history. That should be an enticing thing to do. How beautiful be to have urban nature. That’s the world I’d love to give my daughter. Yes, it would involve fairly serious good behaviour shifts in letting cars, but the younger generations are already open to that. They’re not buying cars, they’re not even getting their license, because they can just get an Uber.
Did you find yourself targeting the “hip pocket” issue (transport, energy, food)?
They are the three biggest contributors to the problem. I guess, as Paul says in the film, those biggest problems are also where the biggest opportunities lie, when you get to switch them around. If you get those right, you get the biggest change for the planet. I guess all our focus recently has been on renewables, and I thought it important to say that, even if we switch to a 100% renewables tomorrow, we still going to lock ourselves into centuries of warming. That’s only one part of the story.
We also need to deal with agriculture. We need to find other ways to sequester the carbon already in the atmosphere. They’re already looking at large geoengineering projects, carbon-sucking machines on the edge of the city. Are they going to transform societies in such a way that we learn our lessons? I feel like they’re band-aid solutions. I felt that soil was the way, to go hang on to the carbon from the atmosphere. You also get healthy food, you get healthy water, there are all these cascading benefits. That really drove the research to find the solutions what would things that have ripple effects. It’s what Kate (Dr Raworth is the Senior Visiting Research Associate at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute and a Senior Associate at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership) explains in the doughnut model.
Could you quickly explain doughnut economics?
Our current model is linear, there’s no end goal. Nothing in nature grows forever. We’ve never had this conversation about where this leads and all the resources we’re consuming. We’ve already way overshot the number of resources the planet can replenish each year. So if we keep growing, at some point we’re going to run out. No one’s having that conversation. So she’s putting in some boundaries. She’s still saying we can have our growth, and if we’re getting to the point where we destroy our oceans or destroy our land, then some alarms should go off. Like you raise a child, you need the boundaries, but our current economic system doesn’t have those boundaries. Same with societies. How much inequality are we going to have with income, before we start seeing our societies falling apart? You can argue, it’s already happening in most parts of the world. So where are those boundaries?
It doesn’t end well… very rarely ends well for the rich people in society. They kind of lose their heads.
How was this different than That Sugar Film for you?
It was a completely different film. Sugar was one topic, and in a sense, it was quite easy. Its narrative was my own experience. The great challenge of this one is how to tell the story (it’s quite a broad topic), and how do I get people to connect with the story. And it took a long time to find that device. I’ve learned more about shots, and the types of lenses, and the music I want to use to convey emotion. I really enjoyed the process, it was quite a collaborative film. Experts from around the world chipping with the science and looking at rough cuts, to make sure it was accurate. Because I just knew that, if you put anything out there, it was open to criticism, so we just made sure we’re really robust. It’s a knife edge issue for many people.
Obviously, since the film has been made, “the environment” became an election issue.
The timing’s crazy for it. I did have a sense of that when you see the kids marching around the world. It’s the issue of our time you’re not going to see it go away. Nature is reminding us all the time, and to act is a dwindling all the time. Our leaders are going to have to respond.
How was it getting experts on board for your film?
The scientists we spoke to understand the power of story. They need help they need artists and poets and songwriters to start communicating this message. And it’s starting to happen. People are understanding the importance of narrative.
Was this a more effects-heavy film than That Sugar Film?
Quite similar. That Sugar Film is more a candy pop look, where we worked hard on this one making sure it felt authentic. The more real and tangible we can make our vision of the future, and people could connect to it, and have an emotional response.
(2040) is a tiny bit of a much larger campaign about giving people a platform to take action. Yeah, there’s a whole suite of things you can do to to get involved (further details on the 2040 website). So we are building a platform for seaweed, and we are helping farmers with the carbon. Let’s join the regeneration and get involved. Let’s not wait for the leaders anymore let’s do it together let’s go let’s get on with it.