Framed as a letter to his four-year-old daughter Velvet, who will be 25 in 2040, Australian actor-turned-documentary director Damon Gameau (‘That Sugar Film’) uses a variety of visual effects to imagine a utopian future world saved from disaster by current scientific initiatives.
Unlike a lot of other environmental warning documentaries (such as 'An Inconvenient Truth', 'Chasing Ice', and 'The 11th Hour), ‘2040’ presents a refreshingly upbeat alternative to the usual dour warnings of global catastrophe.
Gameau limits himself to only covering existing technological advances in the doco. Among these eco-friendly scientific developments are electric self-driving cars for public use in Singapore and a decentralised solar electricity grid in Bangladesh that allows home owners to store, trade and sell energy. Most fascinating (to me) was an interview with scientist Brian Von Herzen and a look at a potentially revolutionary marine permaculture system (imagine an undersea jungle) off the U.S. East Coast. The system uses seaweed to counter ocean acidification while capturing carbon from the atmosphere above (plus, you can use it for materials and it even eat it). There are encouraging and informative lessons here.
Throughout the different segments, you get a good idea of the many options mankind has at its disposal to effectively deal with climate change. The film drives home the point that we need to move past merely accepting climate science and start taking decisive action. Across the globe, there are literally thousands of climate solutions activities and businesses well underway, even if most of us don't know of them. Imagine if we began to combine them in order to find a solution?
Gameau also includes bite-sized interviews with preteen children from across the globe, who share their charming and honest hopes for the future. A slew of expert talking heads, including anthropology professor Geraldine Bell and economist Dr Kate Raworth, add weight to Gameau's arguments with their insights.
Of course, you would have to be an amazing documentary filmmaker to pull off such an expansive doco with limited time and a small budget. It’s when you start applying this kind of scrutiny that ‘2040’ creaks at the seams.
Some of Gameau's choices of innovations don’t feel particularly... innovative (like a school “dashboard” system designed to measure personal carbon use). The urgent need to educate more girls globally (to combat overpopulation) also feels loosely connected to the doco's climate change theme.
Across the globe, there are literally thousands of climate solutions activities and businesses well underway, even as most of us don't know of them. Imagine if we began to combine them in order to find a solution?
Some of the other solutions come across as ideals without dealing with the breadth of current action. Gameau underplays the huge shifts required in the current political, social and economic landscape to bring many of these technological fixes to fruition. Basic capitalist society stuff, like the amount of energy people in Western countries burn through in their houses by using big screen TVs and other appliances, as opposed to the stripped-down lifestyle of someone in low-middle income or developing countries, like Bangladesh.
Also cumbersome is the futuristic narrative of Velvet that the documentary keeps flipping back to, culminating in a beyond-cheesy slow-motion rave reminiscent of the Zion dance party in ‘The Matrix Reloaded’. Gameau punctuates his serious points with some occasionally groan-worthily earnest jokes, like playing himself as a middle-aged dad 20 years from now, embarrassing his young adult daughter with acro-yoga.
Maybe I’m being a little too cynical. Backed by a wider online educational campaign (the documentary will be made into a book, and a free lesson plan for Year 5 to Year 10 students to use in schools across the country is also being developed), ‘2040’ is obviously designed to appeal to school-age viewers. It also has enough newsworthy hooks and affability to reach a widespread audience.
Overall, ‘2040’ is lacking in some nuance, but will nonetheless resonate with it's adolescent target crowd. An entertaining and uplifting package, this documentary is informative, thought-provoking and was clearly made with good intentions.