‘Don’t Look Up’, a must-watch film released by Netflix, has been the subject of debate in the past few weeks.
The satirical movie revolves around a comet heading towards Earth with apocalyptic outcomes. As the pair of scientists who discovered this hurtling comet towards Earth are attempting to raise awareness of this planetary destruction, they are unable to find backing and end up being ridiculed by an incompetent political establishment.
The film shows how the political establishment, together with major media outlets, ignore the threat of this catastrophic planet-killer comet – overshadowing this threat with their sole aim: winning the upcoming mid-term elections and a celebrity breakup.
Unfortunately, this sounds too familiar in the current post-truth and post-democratic political era, even as the world is facing challenges on multiple fronts – the Covid-19 pandemic, massive societal anxieties, and the ecological and climate breakdown.
Unfortunately, this sounds too familiar in the current post-truth and post-democratic political era.
Jorge Riechmann has labelled our century as “The century of the great test”, stating that the ball is in our court in saving the planet and humankind. It is fair to say that the success of the movie can be attributed to the people’s increasing awareness of the climate crisis.
In the past, it was believed that the economy would expand, technology would advance, and climate change would slow down. Yet, we are experiencing the ‘Great Acceleration’, where, during the last 75 years, we have accelerated the most dangerous threat in the history of our civilisation.
Director Adam McKay and writer David Sirota did a marvellous job in demonstrating how easy it is to alienate the public, with a system monopolised by the establishment.
Similarly to what we see in the movie, the establishment tells us not to look when faced with the climate peril. This is done through inhibiting the public from making informed and deliberate decisions, while silencing scientists and academics from discussing climate change and ecological issues.
In the film, informed action promoted and designed by scientists and academics, supported by activists, was subverted by the elite, pursuing their interests, and seeking to profit from the ensuing catastrophe.
When the first scientific mission is aborted, a polarisation of society occurs, with one side arguing that the comet should be destroyed as it challenges the precious human lives, and the other wanting to take a chance and exploit the approaching comet’s resources. The latter’s promise of job creation and prestige in overcoming this challenge ultimately won over, backed by a naïve President aiming to score short-term political points.
Albeit the failure of the private mission to save the world and exploit its enemy, the film ends with the scientist’s family and colleagues having their final dinner, praying, and sharing memories, as the world is destroyed before a small group of elites manage to escape.
Another message that comes across is the importance of bottom-up activism, against a political establishment and the rich elite with no appetite to act. Frankly, the collapsing climate system will not be stopped by politicians meeting up annually to discuss climate change.
Often, distant policymakers do not understand the experiences of those who suffer from their inaction or inappropriate actions. The four years of Trump have shown this, as wildfires and cold temperatures caused crises in western America and Texas. We are approaching our last chance to transform our entire industrial and energy systems to fight climate change.
In one particular scene, Kate Dibiasky, the young scientist who discovered the approaching comet, yells “they’re gonna let it hit the planet to make a bunch of rich people even more disgustingly rich”.
Unfortunately, this is a reality of the post-truth, post-democratic political world, with economic and political systems becoming themselves a threat to human life. Therefore, whilst the discussion is to be led by scientists, societal forces need to exert their pressure, just as they did to win worker’s rights, voting rights, the welfare state and human rights, in order to win an ecological shift that works for the many.
Environmentalists and scientists may not see these kinds of activities as their modus operandi, but there are no moderate solutions to the current climate crisis.
‘Don’t look up’ manifests that profit for the few is pursued to the detriment of the sustainability of human, animal, and plant life.
As a party, Labour’s hope lies not in wooing super-rich donors but in inspiring an ecological and green transition that works for all, leaving no one behind.