Don’t Look Up: Parody or Parable? Perspectives from a Climate Advocate and Author
While there have been many reviews of Don’t Look Up, from critics around the world, some good, some less good, for me, this film — in all of its ridiculous glory — hit home in all the right (and just plain old wrong) ways. Several scenes made me snicker at their absolute absurdity while others made me scream and cry at their absolute plausibility.
As a researcher on climate change, food security, extinctions, a climate advocate and the author of a new book on climate change and how we can do our part to help (with Cambridge University Press), I wanted to join the bandwagon and weigh in on Don’t Look Up.
Here are the things the film got VERY right:
1) How to Ignore the Problem: When it comes to climate change, it very often feels like NO ONE is listening. I think back on the Conference of the Parties 26 (COP26) in Glasgow, and how it was supposed to be this big referendum on climate change, where country leaders would actually lead on immediate and decisive climate action. What we actually saw was weak commitments (if you want to call them that) at best, and deferment on real action until next year, or 2030 — whichever comes first. Don’t Look Up does a superb job showing government leaders “sitting back and assessing” the situation, or rather egregiously ignoring the dangers before them out of fear of political backlash. This is exactly what happened at COP26 — a dilution of the necessity to act, and appeasement to certain industries; a bit like inviting Big Tobacco to a conference on lung cancer.
2) How to Ignore the Scientists: So many days, I want to be like Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Kate Dibiasky, and scream the truth at the cameras that are on me when I give interviews about climate change and/or food security; because that is the truth that we live in. Too many people ignore subject-matter experts and prefer to hear what they want to hear. This happens all the time in climate change. When scientists who have devoted their lives to studying climate change long to protect Earth they are always juxtaposed with someone who wants to earn more profits for certain industries — they are given equal air time and expect the general public — who are not subject-matter experts — to form an opinion themselves. It’s a bit like having me, a dietitian who works with some of the sickest patients in the country explain the importance of eating your fruits and vegetables, and having the soda or the burger industry tell how healthy their products are! I tell the science as it is, as I have read it in peer-reviewed journals — I am not paid for my opinion, and I never will let someone buy my opinion, I am not interested in having a conflict of interest. So, although the scientists know the comet is on a direct collision course with Earth and are trying to tell people this, unbiased, the President and her team keep wearing regalia that say, Don’t Look up.
3) How to ignore what you can’t (yet) see: This again is another thing the film got spot on. Scientists could see the comet/meteor of doom heading straight for Earth; but the average person could not until it became too late. As is the case with climate change, the scientists, those of us who study this in-depth, see the dangers that are approaching, and some which are already here. It is not always easy to explain these dangers in a 5-second sound bite without sounding like a 5-alarm fire. Just like in Don’t Look Up, the longer we wait to act, the less time we will have, the less successful we will be, and the more it will cost. The thing is, we already CAN see climate change happening. We see the arctic ice cap and Antarctic ice sheets thinning each year, melting, and raising ocean levels, displacing populations and wreaking havoc on food security and health.
So, where do we go from here?
Spoiler alert: Unlike most Hollywood feel-good movies, in the end of Don’t Look Up, the comet destroys and kills everything on Earth; except for those few hundred people who had the money and the wherewithal to escape. And, while it is true that climate change will NOT kill all life on Earth, it will certainly make the lives that are here (of all species) less healthy, less resilient, and less likely to weather the storm.
Don’t be like Don’t Look Up. Take climate change seriously. Don’t ignore the problem. Listen to the scientists — like myself — who say it’s occurring and worsening every year. Or look around you, and see for yourself that droughts are longer and harsher, floods are more common and more dangerous, wildfires are larger, hotter, and more destructive, hurricanes are bigger and stronger, and tornadoes are occurring at unusual times and wiping out towns. I don’t just say these things to scare — though, I don’t think it would hurt anyone to be a little scared enough to act — but, to me, these are proof the climate-change comet is near. Sitting on our laurels, watching the implosion isn’t going to help. Instead, we must actively pursue solutions that we are capable of doing now — such as those outlined in my book Recipe For Survival, and continue to implore governments to also act now.
For more information and ideas: Recipe For Survival: What You Can Do to Live a Healthier and More Environmentally Friendly Life