Natalie Pramuk reviews Damon Gameau’s love letter to his daughter while discussing some of the film’s solutions to the climate crisis.
Imagine the world 20 years into the future. For Australian director Damon Gameau, he envisions his daughter Velvet at 24. Given the culture of political celebration then inaction that has followed every climate summit since 1979, Gameau decides to embark on a journey of discovery to determine the best solutions we have to solving the climate crisis.
2040 is stitched together as a letter to Velvet, using visual effects and imaginative glimpses into the future to transcend the boundaries of what a traditional documentary can achieve. It pushes the viewers to imagine their own 2040 and consider their hopes and concerns for the future outside of what scientists forecast for our planet. But what really makes this film different from other climate documentaries? In truth, this is the first one I have seen that has not left me in tears. Although reminders of the bleak future we are on track for are embedded throughout, the film itself leaves you inspired and, at best, hopeful.
So, what are some of the solutions? Gameau’s essential rules for such solutions are: they must already exist and they do not compromise development for disadvantaged communities or developing countries. A largely overlooked solution to the climate crisis is that of female emancipation. According to UNICEF, about 132 million girls are out of school worldwide. This can be due to a variety of reasons including child-marriage or inadequate sanitation facilities for menstruating girls. These girls will go on to have, on average, 5 or more children each. Gameau argues that tearing down barriers to girls’ education slows population growth, and therefore consumption, whilst generational cycles of poverty are broken. Women and girls need access to education, family planning, reproductive health care, and equal job opportunities. This will delay when, and if, women decide to become mothers and likely means they will have fewer children. Critically, this solution does not implement control; it empowers women and girls to write their own futures and, in doing so, alters the course of humanity away from a complete ecological breakdown. An eco-feminist’s dream!
Although reminders of the bleak future we are on track for are embedded throughout, the film itself leaves you inspired and, at best, hopeful.
2040 also elaborates on regenerative farming practices. It is no secret that meat consumption is incredibly destructive for the environment, with the methane (CH4) produced by cattle being 23 times more warming than carbon dioxide (CO2). But alternative ways to farm livestock may not only benefit our health but also the health of the cattle and soils we depend on. Livestock are typically fed genetically modified grain, a far cry from their natural source of food: grass. By using land to graze animals instead of growing grain, consumers can be made healthier and farmers wealthier. Meanwhile, CO2 is sequestered (removed from the atmosphere) into the grasses. The grass and cattle manure are then trodden by grazing animals into the ground to revitalise nutrient-deprived soils and trap the carbon underground. 2040 also makes the argument that such practises mitigate flooding events. However, there is a plethora of evidence to suggest this may be not be completely true or possible everywhere in the world. Alternately, eating a plant-based diet has been proven to use less water and land than a meat-consuming diet, as well as being healthier for most individuals and removes the problematic CH4 emissions released by livestock. Therefore, the most effective thing most of us can do to fight climate change is to consume fewer animal products or eliminate them entirely.
Perchance our 2040 may not look like the utopia optimistically painted this film, but if we act now to implement these solutions in our plans for the coming years, I believe we might just have a chance.
The question remains as to whether Gameau’s 2040 may inspire change or provide a reliable insight into what our future will look like. The uplifting tone used to present solutions in this film provide an alternative, and somewhat refreshing, perspective on the climate crisis. Gameau makes a point not to blame individuals for what we are facing: “You can’t help but be a hypocrite right now because our entire system was built by and for fossil fuels.” But the film falls short in depicting how critical it is that we act urgently to protect our planet. Earth’s comfortable level of CO2 is between 180ppm-280ppm. We are presently exceeding 410ppm, are on track for 2.8o – 3.2o of warming, and, most frighteningly, have surpassed the tipping point. We have hardly any time to change before it is too late. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Gameau states that “we have everything we need, right now, to make it happen.” Perchance our 2040 may not look like the utopia optimistically painted this film, but if we act now to implement these solutions in our plans for the coming years, I believe we might just have a chance.
The film ends profoundly: “What is your 2040?”