Conceived as a visual letter to his four-year-old daughter, Damon Gameau’s new documentary feature 2040 demystifies climate change and explores what the future might look like if we simply embraced the best solutions already available to us to improve our planet.
How much did you know about the specifics of climate change prior to making the film?
DAMON GAMEAU: Absolutely nothing. I found myself struggling to connect with it. I sort of had a rough idea of what it is, but certainly not in any kind of depth. The first eight months was a crash course in speaking to as many scientists who were patient with me. I came in as a layman and said, ‘Look, people aren’t getting this. How can we express it in a clearer way?’ I went back to them to try and simplify it all so I could get my head around it and find ways to show it in the film with graphics that I thought would really spell it out for people. I think that is a problem – if you asked people to explain what climate change is, they’d be a little vague on the specifics of it. No one’s talking about the impact on the oceans and how much excess heat they are absorbing, it’s all about the atmosphere. There’s not quite the level of literacy out there that we could have.
Was there a light bulb moment that led to the making of 2040?
Not so much a light bulb moment as a desire to restore balance to the story about climate and understanding – trying to balance it up with some of the solutions and show people there are things we can do and there are people that care about what’s going on and are trying to make a difference, and bring that back into the mix. I found myself really struggling to engage with the topic when you keep hearing how bad things are and don’t know what to do with that information – it’s overwhelming. There are statistics and numbers that feel intangible and amorphous, so I guess it was trying to provide things that people could cling to and fight for instead of constantly fighting against.
2040 presents climate change science in layman’s terms, making the topic very accessible, particularly to children.
That was the point. We’ve let the scientists do all the communicating and that’s not necessarily their remit. They’re very good at analyzing, but words like ‘anthropogenic’ don’t really stir the soul, and what does ‘three degrees warmer’ even mean to people? It’s very hard to relate to that kind of language, so I think it’s really important that all artists get involved and disseminate the messages but also use evocative language that people can connect to.
How long did the film take to complete, and what was the first step?
It was about three years in total. The first eight months was just all research, finding out if solutions did exist. Getting my head around what stories we were going to tell and what were the important categories – agriculture, energy, transport… I had more on education and the economy, trade treaties, all the rules of the game people might not be aware of, but it just felt like a different film. I just decided in the end to let this be a ‘visual dreaming’ piece that’s positive and hopeful. It was important to start presenting a positive vision as an intervention of sorts on all the dystopian images we’re seeing all the time. There’s been discussion about a TV series were we can do a much deeper dive on some of these topics.
What’s the most surprising thing you learned while doing your research?
I didn’t realise that agriculture was having a big impact, and a big surprise was seaweed farming – how fast it grows and how powerful it can be in sequestering carbon. But the education of girls was a bit of a shock to me. No one that I know of has talked about the impact of empowering girls and women – we know that it would help society, but also the fact it could also help resources and climate is pretty astonishing.
Were you determined from the start to keep politics out of the film?
We debated that a lot. The first cut was three hours with about 45 minutes of politics. But my instinct was not to put it in because I thought this topic shouldn’t be politicised – and never should have been. If we’re going to get through this we can’t let it fall into a Left/Right slanging match. We’ve got to find ways to unite people and say, ‘This is about our kids, this is about clean air.’ It’s as simple as that. Just get all the bullsh-t out of the way and tell this as a human story.
Any plans to revisit the subject in 21 years time for a sequel?
[Laughs] It would depend on how our trajectory is going otherwise I’ll have to go into hiding. We’re at the precipice right now and it could go either way – things could be really horrific by 2040, or we could be on a better path. I just wanted to throw out there the option that things could be better – a lot of people don’t think it can be, so it’s important to remind them that there are things we can do.
How has your lifestyle changed after making 2040?
My wife and I have always been pretty good. Without really knowing it, we leave a pretty low footprint. We’re not hoarders of things and I ride my bike a fair bit. The only big change after putting up more solar panels is that a friend of mine has sold me, very cheaply, a second hand Nissan Leaf, so I’m about to own my first electric car, which I’m very excited about.
What simple steps can we take right now to reduce our carbon footprint and impact on the environment?
I don’t think there’s a prescriptive set of things people can do. You have a better chance of getting people to act if things are aligned with their values or they feel passionate about a certain area. We’ve developed an online tool at whatsyour2040.com – there’s a button to activate your plan and a series of questions based on what type of person you are, how much time you have available, what you connected with in the film… Once you’ve completed that we’ll give you six or seven things you can do on your own, or in your community or school, that are aligned to your passions. It’s been pretty overwhelming how many people have activated and downloaded their plan since the film came out.