2040: Join the regeneration of the planet

You may not know about seaweed regeneration techniques being employed to pull carbon from our atmosphere and clean our water. Or the fact that simple regenerative agricultural techniques can restore soil. Or perhaps you haven’t heard of mirco-energy technology in Bangladesh that has enabled entire communities to buy and sell their own electricity.

What you do know though is the planet’s climate is changing and every time you open social media there is an anxiety-inducing story that feels overwhelming and insurmountable.

But this isn’t the story Aussie filmmaker Damon Gameau (That Sugar Film) wants to tell you about the climate issue facing us. In his new film, simply called 2040 Gameau takes us on an “exercise in fact-based dreaming” that is an optimistic view of a future for the planet using technology and solutions we have now that can make a real difference to the environment.

Gameau spent three years travelling the world to find solutions to the climate problem that exist now. Across the globe solutions exist to begin to wind back the damage we have done to the planet. It’s a love letter to his daughter. A promise if you like, that as she grows older, she can rest easy about the stewardship of the planet.

This isn’t an alarming dystopian nightmare. It’s a film with positive solutions. Solutions that exist now that can map a brighter future.

Insights spoke with Damon about the film, and we encourage you to see it too, and discover what’s your 2040?

Were you aware of how many solutions exist now to tackle the climate problem?

I had no idea, I was quite naïve to this topic and wanted to connect with it.

I found I struggled to connect because of the constant dystopian stories around it and so I just sort of forced myself to know more because I’ve got a daughter and it’s her future. So it really compelled me to do a deeper dive into the psychology and why I wasn’t connecting with it. And it was important to start switching my focus to see if there were things we could do.

I was pretty staggered doing the research to find how many people were doing the right things and how little attention we were giving them. It’s the most important issue of our time and no-one is covering it. No one is covering the urgency.

It’s so important for storytellers, filmmakers, poets, songwriters – everyone — needs to start finding their voice on this and joining in. That’s really what I hope the film does, that it encourages people to focus on these wonderful things that are going on, with the hope that we can create a better world for all living things if we get this right.

People who are worried about the stewardship of the planet are often characterised as the ‘loony left’ but at some point we need to say this is about everybody – humans, animals, the whole ecosystem – right?

Absolutely, and the deeper issue is that the topic has become politicised which is such a tragedy.  If you go back to the late 80s and early 90s, we had Margaret Thatcher who was a bastion of conservative politics standing up at the UN saying this is the most important issue of our time and three months later George Bush Sr. says the same thing and it had complete bipartisan support.

Then the whole narrative got hijacked by the fossil fuel industry and some in particular really doubled down on the fear campaign of denial and used all the tactics they could. They have told a compelling story since then and swayed opinion and delayed action.

It’s infuriating because even Exxon was heavily investing in solar in the 80s because they new it was the future and that global warming was happening. But they have decided to tell a different story to protect their assets and we are still suffering from the consequences of that.

We know the ties the big corporations have in our media. So they are reluctant to tell this story. They are beholden to their investors and advertisers to our detriment and that’s why it’s important for films or other voice to cut through that and convince people that there is a different story.

We actually need to take control and empower ourselves again otherwise we are going to lose this. And it’s not a battle we can afford to lose.

Part way through the film you acknowledge that environmental issues can be personally overwhelming, but the film outlays digestable chunks: educating women and girls, ecomonics, sea and land regeneration, electricity and transport. How did you arrive at the roadmap the film puts forward?

The pillars are all profound and if we implement all of them, they have a revolutionary approach. The electricity solution lowers emissions and keeps the money within the community. It suddenly breaks up the hierarchical structure that we have had for so long and literally decentralises the power.

The micro-grid technology is incredibly revolutionary. And with transport, we actually get to reinvent our cities for humans instead of cars. Yes, there may be jobs lost, but we just can’t have a billion more cars on our roads by 2040. Even if they’re all electric, the amount of lithium, energy and resources we would need to power those cars is just not even worth thinking about.

Then there is the regenerative agriculture and seaweed farming techniques. I love the line in the film when Dr Brian von Herzen from the Climate Foundation says that these are the foundations of our civilisation. Previous civilisations that didn’t look after the sea and soil didn’t survive. And here we are standing on this precipice when the UN says we have 60 years’ worth of top soil left.

People need to understand how urgent this issue is, and we have this solution that if it were widely implemented would not only pull the carbon out of the atmosphere, but we get all these cascading benefits from better health through to better water retention. We chose these solutions because they weren’t skirting around the issues, but at the same time they aren’t silver bullets, but they would have a profound impact if they were all upscaled rapidly.

So many people hear the words carbon emissions and climate change and they glaze over, I found the metaphor of running a household in the film helped me to personally understand some of the science. This was obviously intentional?

Science has done a terrific job of analysing and dissecting this problem but they’ve also been left to do the communicating and this is not their forte. It’s hard to connect with words like negative emissions or anthropogenic (side note: it means pollution originating from human activity).

People just switch off, so again the metaphors are so important and I thought long and hard about how best to show what’s going on with the planet in a way that people can connect to, and the analogy of our home is it.

You said before that we like to deride greenies and this ‘loony left’ that are trying to protect the planet, so it’s like your house is burning down and this lunatic lefty is in your house, collecting your animals and your things and your future children and you’re deriding them for helping you out. It is so warped. I don’t understand this mentality.

It’s going to be hard to take the story back, but I do laugh every time see the commenting online about this sort of thing. It’s easy to always be the problem, the courage is in the solution.

If we are honest big tech (who don’t let their children use the devices they create) and your example of Exxon buying up solar technology is an example of big companies realising the trajectory we are on, but pushing anyway. What’s your take on where this is going?

That’s the deeper issue. It’s this addiction element that will be tougher to unravel really because of this need for constant growth. What’s the gap that we’re missing? Is it a spiritual void? What’s that hole in us that gets us to keep accumulating and proving we need more and we’re bigger and wealth is better and more goods are better?

That’s a much deeper discussion that we need to address if we are going to turn this around because that’s the sort of conversation no one is having. No government wants no growth, they’d get kicked out. So it’s a mentality thing, we need to slow down.

Climate action starts with grassroots, what do you think people should be doing?

It’s a combination I think. The 2040 website (called www.whatsyour2040.com) encourages action but isn’t prescriptive. It’s not necessarily about eating less meat and driving a Tesla because some people can’t connect with that.

They need to actually do something and connect with like-minded people and the film (and website) helps people connect with an issue. If you are interested in more information about educating girls, here are some things you can do. If you are interested in the ocean regeneration, here are some tips and groups to connect with. Just trying to personalise peoples plans is what we tried to do but and we’ve seen people come to this closed Facebook groups to share ideas openly with hints and tips and free webinars to teach people how to approach the council.

How to get together with a group of 30 people and take a proposal to the council and asking people to say. We need people to stand up and find where they get ‘lit up’ and really make a change in your workplace, school, church or community. Because we need leadership and we are not getting this from people who are leading us.

So I’m just curious, when are you going to go for Prime Minister?

(Laughs) I’ve actually been asked that a couple of times by some kids. They say ‘why don’t you run for Prime Minister?’ and I have to try and explain to them the nature of our current political system and how quickly I would get spat out of the other end.

I note that Intrepid are actually committing to the seaweed regeneration program as a result of the work done on the film. What positive outcomes are you seeing being taken by organisations as a result of the film?

That’s what’s happening behind the scenes. Excitingly there is a group of large impact investors that are getting on board. Dr Brian von Herzen came out for one of our recent panels. And we have had a number of large groups talk to us about upscaling the seaweed regeneration program quite massively. Talking to lots of banks and different organisations about the carbon program we’ve got to help farmers to pay them to put the carbon back in the soil. And Intrepid have agreed with the University of Tasmania and Climate Foundation to launch the first seaweed platform off Bruny Island in Tasmania. We’ve just set up a crowd funding platform and Intrepid will match every dollar we’ve raised and in two weeks we were up to $30,000 which means that’s $60,000 already.

If you give people an opportunity and offer a legitimate solution, here’s how you can help you can make a difference. I had a little boy come up to me after a screening the other day with a two dollar coin saying ‘can you put this toward the seaweed?’ It just broke my heart – people want the opportunity to help out.

It seems obvious, but what final thoughts would you have for people about taking climate action now?

It is reframing an ecological crisis in a lot of ways and reframing it as an opportunity and a gift to fundamentally change the way we interact with each other and the planet and all living things and it is a gift if we see it that way and it’s a chance to change. If we keep doing as we’re doing its not going to work out well for anyone.

So it feels like there’s no alternative here. We are being forced to actually come together, have some serious conversations, get over ourselves and start thinking more collectively and have a moment to actually change the course of history.

Not many generations get that gift to actually say I lived through this moment of time where we fundamentally shifted the course that our planet and community was going on. So that’s why I made the film to at least to start throwing up a vision of a better world because we can’t see that better world if we can’t see it first. I encourage everyone to go and see the film.

Tell everyone you know, then we have a new set of tools to talk about, a new language to this problem instead of what we’re stuck in right now and I do feel we are stuck in an old paradigm and a narrative that’s not connecting. I just really want people to know there is something we can do we just need to tap into that beautiful creativity we do have as humans and start solving this problem.

Whats next: What’s Your 2040?

2040 is in cinemas from 23 May. On opening weekend school children can see the film free with a parent or guardian at participating Palace cinemas.

Adrian Drayton




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