Film and Book Reviews

2040 gives a glimmer of hope for the future


By Tim Kroenert

June 7 2019 

The world of environmental activism can be a desolate place. Given that May’s federal election had been couched as a kind of referendum on climate, the fact that the perceived villains of that battle retained power was a blow to those who believe action on climate change is a matter of existential urgency. For them, the temptation to surrender to helplessness and despair is as great as ever.

Full marks then to Australian actor turned filmmaker Damon Gameau for making what seems to be a rare beast; a decidedly optimistic and upbeat film promoting climate action. The premise of Gameau’s documentary 2040 is to examine the kinds of alternative technologies that are already available, and project forward in time to see how they might shape the world for the better if they became mainstream.

His journey takes in the bottom-up development of off-grid solar power “cells” in rural India; regenerative and chemical-free farming practices in Australia; the growth and implications of self-driving vehicles as an alternative to widespread car ownership; and the manifold benefits of seaweed farms as a source of food, as a means of sequestering carbon, and as a boon to underwater ecosystems.

The particular framework he uses is an address to his now four-year-old daughter, speculating about what her life will be like when she reaches her mid-20s. Thus the film weaves together Gameau’s interviews with various talking heads in the present-day, with effects-heavy futuristic sequences featuring the actor Eva Lazzaro portraying his daughter as a young woman.

Inevitably, this leads to some hokey, dad-joke style humour; school students are clearly a target audience here. But for the most part it works for older viewers too. As a presenter Gameau is warm and human and, as he did in his previous film, 2015’s Supersize Me style That Sugar Film, in 2040 he delivers weighty concepts and research with visual inventiveness and a light-hearted tone.

For example, one interview about the towering potential of renewable energy is digitally transplanted to the peak of a wind farm turbine. A cartoonish, three-dimensional infographic is utilised throughout to illustrate English economist Kate Raworth’s notion of “doughnut economics”; a key concept for Gameau that combines socioeconomic and environmental considerations in a single model.

Most scientists agree that when it comes to the prospects of arresting climate change, things are looking bleak. Conversations are turning from prevention to adaptation, on the assumption that in many respects it is already too late. If you’re looking for a glimmer of hope even in the face of potential catastrophe, you could do worse than paying a visit to Damon Gameau’s 2040.