Climate Scientist: ‘Don’t Look Up’ Captures the Madness I See Every Day
Adam Mckay’s new film Don’t Look Up, is about a comet heading towards Earth to destroy us, while no one does anything about it. The plot is of course a metaphor for our current climate crisis, and our inability to deal with the problem as a planet.
Climate Scientist Peter Kalmus wrote in The Guardian this week, “the movie Don’t Look Up is satire. But speaking as a climate scientist doing everything I can to wake people up and avoid planetary destruction, it’s also the most accurate film about society’s terrifying non-response to climate breakdown I’ve seen.”
The film started streaming on Netflix this December, it’s got a cast of Hollywood heavy-hitters you don’t typically see in comedies, like Meryl Streep who plays the President of the United States, and Leonardo DiCaprio who plays the Lead Astronomer.
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The Comet is considered a ‘planet killer’, it’s three times as big as the asteroid believed to have killed the dinosaurs and there’s a 99.7% chance it collides with earth. This news causes great anxiety and stress within the scientific community while the politicians and pundits haplessly ignore the comet. A combination of corruption, greed, and denial split public opinion, one half wishes to deal with the comet, the other side just says “don’t look up”.
Climate Scientist Kalmus wrote this week, “this isn’t a film about how humanity would respond to a planet-killing comet; it’s a film about how humanity is responding to planet-killing climate breakdown. We live in a society in which, despite extraordinarily clear, present, and worsening climate danger, more than half of Republican members of Congress still say climate change is a hoax and many more wish to block action, and in which the official Democratic party platform still enshrines massive subsidies to the fossil fuel industry; in which the current president ran on a promise that “nothing will fundamentally change”, and the speaker of the House dismissed even a modest climate plan as “the green dream or whatever”; in which the largest delegation to Cop26 was the fossil fuel industry, and the White House sold drilling rights to a huge tract of the Gulf of Mexico after the summit; in which world leaders say that climate is an “existential threat to humanity” while simultaneously expanding fossil fuel production; in which major newspapers still run fossil fuel ads, and climate news is routinely overshadowed by sports; in which entrepreneurs push incredibly risky tech solutions and billionaires sell the absurdist fantasy that humanity can just move to Mars.”
Don’t Look Up Director Adam McKay is probably best known in Hollywood for The Big Short, a film he directed in 2016 and won an Oscar for best-adapted screenplay. The Big Short is a retelling of the 2008 financial collapse, with a cast of A-list Hollywood actors playing the roles of finance guys. It’s a fantastic movie, although if you simply want to laugh for 90 minutes you can also see McKay’s many comedies starring Will Ferrel like the Anchorman, Step Brothers, and Talladega Nights.
McKay has started using a mixture of comedy, historical nonfiction, and the best character actors available to tell stories that uncover or depict big societal problems. As of late, he’s telling stories about society’s predilection toward ignoring impending calamity, like financial, plitical, and glacial meltdowns.
Kalmus finished his op-ed with, “humanity needs stories that highlight the many absurdities that arise from collectively knowing what’s coming while collectively failing to act.” Read the entire column here.
Peter Kalmus is a climate scientist and author of Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution.