Screaming scientists, rating-obsessed politicians, profit-driven billionaires: the new Netflix film, Don’t Look Up, has all the characters we see in our fight for climate justice.
Can this film teach us important lessons about climate change? Here are 350’s three main takeaways and a few helpful points for conversations about the film.
(SPOILER ALERT – this blog contains plot details!)
1. Who is responsible for the crisis
The movie makes it painfully obvious who is to blame for the lack of action when a world-shattering asteroid is headed toward Earth.
Billionaires wanted profit. They fought a campaign of delay and denial, and power-obsessed politicians went along with it.
In the film, President Orlean almost does the right thing, but her billionaire tech CEO donor convinces her to change course by promising a “technical fix” that benefits them both, regardless of the risk to everyone else. In the end, this “fix” doesn’t work. The Earth is destroyed but the President and CEO jet off to space.
Fossil fuel companies have done similar with our politicians. These companies, like the movie’s greedy CEO, have lied about the danger and delayed action so they can continue to profit.
When you’re talking about Don’t Look Up and who is to blame for the climate crisis, be clear. It’s fossil fuel companies, their financiers, and the politicians they’ve bought.
2. Deadly false solutions
In the film, a tech CEO tries to convince everyone that the comet isn’t dangerous – it’s an opportunity to mine the asteroid for rare metals.
Monetizing this crisis changes the conversation about the comet. A universal struggle becomes politicized and polarized when it really is about life and death for everyone.
Sound familiar? It’s the fossil fuel industry’s new trick. They’ve moved on from denying what fossil fuels are doing to offering unproven, tech silver bullets to fix climate change.
Companies like Exxon talk of carbon capture and “clean coal” as ways to fix the climate crisis. But just like the “tech fix” in the movie that fails and kills the planet, eighty-one percent of carbon captured so far has been used to extract more oil from existing wells by pumping the captured carbon into the ground to force out more oil.
The only real solution to our climate emergency is keeping fossil fuels in the ground. Period. Everything else is unproven, far from real scalability, economic feasibility and doesn’t deliver climate justice. They just confuse the conversation and let the fossil fuel industry off the hook to make more money.
3. Shouting facts won’t persuade people
If you felt triggered watching the scientists in Don’t Look Up try to warn confused and skeptical people of the comet’s dangers, you’re not alone.
Sadly, there’s plenty we can learn from them on how not to communicate the climate crisis.
The movie shows how confusing science can be for many people. And how people can totally disregard facts, or come up with alternative ones that fit their worldview better.
A lot of research shows that interpersonal conversations are one of the most powerful ways to get people to take climate action.
So, if you’re going to talk about climate change, tap into people’s values and help them see how their world and climate change collide.  This means listening more than we speak, asking open-ended questions and trying to understand them.
Don’t give up – climate change isn’t a comet
For all the ways don’t look up is similar to the climate crisis, it’s also wildly different.
Our foe isn’t a massive comet hurtling towards Earth. It’s every tiny fraction of a degree of global heating.
Every drop of oil we keep in the ground; every new regulation that makes fossil fuels less profitable; every court case against a fossil fuel company that lied helps us beat our comet – because every 0.1 of warming we stop will help mitigate deadly consequences.
We don’t need one big shot hero to solve it. We need us. It’s already happening because of our movement getting out there and pushing governments to do the right thing – one policy at a time.
Help us get there faster by asking your friends to join the movement or signing up yourself.