What next: a review of Damon Gameau’s 2040

By Georgia Kartas | 03 Jul 19
Courtesy of Madman Films


Directed by Damon Gameau

Madman Films


How do we maintain hope and resilience in the face of our climate crisis? After the devastating results of the 2019 federal election, Damon Gameau’s latest film could not have better timing.

2040 is a feature documentary that explores what human society could look like by the year 2040 if we adopted technologies and practices that already exist. The film portrays how those solutions could mitigate our destructive impact, and regenerate the Earth for future generations – if embraced into the mainstream.

Structured as a visual letter to his 4-year-old daughter, Gameau (the award-winning director behind That Sugar Film) combines dramatised sequences and high-end visual effects to create an accessible, easy to understand documentary. Terming it as “an exercise in fact-based dreaming”, he introduces what we already know – that the planet’s ecosystem has not changed this rapidly in over 50 million years. But rather than add to ubiquitous negative predictions of the future, Gameau wanted to show his daughter possible solutions.

Using international case studies, 2040 covers key areas of innovations in sustainability, including renewable energy, alternative transportation, and regenerative agriculture. We’re shown how, in a remote village in Bangladesh, decentralised energy sharing is already well underway. Using solar panels and solar boxes, power is shared amongst the village homes – in effect, a microgrid of democratic energy.

Gameau then interviews English economist Kate Raworth on “doughnut economics”, an economic model that balances between essential human needs and planetary boundaries. Driverless cars come next or, more specifically, community-owned, on demand vehicles. Currently two-thirds of Los Angeles is made up of parking and roads. As we know, driverless cars are an impending reality. They also offer alternate, cleaner possibilities of shared transport to our existing culture of individual car ownership.

One of the film’s greatest strengths is when it delves into regenerative agriculture, explaining how one of the key aspects of climate change is soil degradation. In one case study, within three months of planting a vast number of new plants in damaged soil, increased biodiversity effected huge changes in the quality of soil. The basic premise is that plants pull excess carbon from the atmosphere and into the soil, and hence also sequester as well as reduce carbon levels.

At the moment, 80% of food produced in the world is produced by small holders, whereas the 20% produced by corporate agriculture (“Big Ag”) creates sickness, obesity, and diseases en masse. Gameau then explores marine permaculture in Massachusetts where seaweed is being restored, and used to overturn circulation to bring cooler waters up in high nutrients – similar to land plants and soil. Currently 93% of global warming is going into the ocean, and farming giant seaweed (which can grow at the rate of up to half a metre per day) offers a concrete way to alleviate its effects.

The main message Gameau and his team convey is that we can’t combat our climate crises without farmers – “we need you” he says, in a direct appeal to the camera. Similarly he explains how our entire system is built on and by fossil fuels. In order to realistically change that system – so that we’re not dependant on an environmentally fatal resource – we also need to think about and engage with those currently working in fossil fuels.

Gameau’s priority is to extend beyond the echo chamber of those who already know that climate change is very real and very dire, and to cultivate a sense of empowerment.

And this is the difference that 2040 makes in the climate change conversation. The film does not address how we can actually implement these solutions, because the film is trying to be part of the “how”. Gameau provides a constructive dialogue with those who feel that their jobs, security and livelihood are threatened if sustainability solutions come into effect on a global scale – he combats fear mongering with positive and inclusive engagement.

The film is purposefully family friendly, featuring kids from all over the world who will share a future with his daughter. While they reinforce sentiments of school climate change strikes, it’s a clever way to make the film endearing, and adds another dimension of lightheartedness to its normally dispiriting subject matter.

While 2040 mentions perpetrators of misleading information (for instance, over $1 billion has been spent by vested interests to obstruct renewable energy using the exact same method as the tobacco industry did), the film focuses its efforts on a message of positivity rather than critique. Climate or ecological grief is now recognised as a mental health issue; we are inundated with factually accurate but psychologically dispiriting messages of what our future will be if we do not take immediate, drastic action. So Gameau’s priority is to extend beyond the echo chamber of those who already know that climate change is very real and very dire, and to cultivate a sense of empowerment.

In reframing how we talk about climate justice in a constructive light, 2040 uses almost a reverse psychology on its audience by flipping the linguistics. For example, when addressing issues of waste and how it might be managed in his utopic exercise, Gameau employs the term “resource use”. These subtle positive nuances frame the aim and the uniqueness of this documentary, and show how a different approach to telling this story can inspire proactivity rather than despondency.

In doing so, 2040 leaves its audience with a rare sense of hope and possibility for the future of our planet and humankind. And that, more than anything, is what we need so that we can truly envision an alternate future to the one on offer by our newly re-elected government.