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‘Don’t Look Up’ isn’t about the future; it’s happening now
Opinion

‘Don’t Look Up’ isn’t about the future; it’s happening now

The Netflix hit addresses the climate crisis with nods to current battles of taking action

A few days before Christmas, Joe Manchin may have singlehandedly thwarted Biden’s climate efforts. This news comes a few weeks after the world came together at COP26, to fall short of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celcius, the dire Iimit previously recommended by scientists. Even at 1.5 degrees of warming, the world can see losing 70% of coral reefs, 1 in every 100 Arctic summers ice-free, and increased risks to food security, water supply, and health.

Netflix dropped Don’t Look Up on Christmas Eve, which quickly climbed to the top of Netflix. The film is a satire about two astronomers who discover a giant comet on a direct path to hit Earth and cause an extinction-level event. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)

With a star-studded cast including environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio, the film is flooded with metaphors for climate change and science denial. Creative clips showing how people react on social media to various scenarios throughout the movie echo misinformation, conspiracy theory, and the playing down of climate news we see today.

If Don’t Look Up is a warning about the climate crisis, it’s not about the future. It’s about our inaction and denials that are happening now.

When DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence (Kate Dibiasky, a graduate student who discovered the comet) drop the huge announcement on a morning show about this life-ending comet, the hosts quickly dismiss and lighten the conversation. The morning show’s producers remark on how a pop star’s breakup and reuniting perform better on social media than the “science segment”.

The majority of the US is silent about climate. More than half of Americans who are interested or think global warming is important, rarely or never talk about it with family or friends, according to a Yale & George Mason University analysis. As a journalist who has covered the climate crisis for 13 years, I’m shocked when I read climate bombshells (like how a hotter future is certain) and none of my friends or family mention it. When I make a reference to climate change in casual conversations outside the ‘green’ circles, it’s often met by silence or a quick blurb about the future before changing the topic.

Initially, President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) sits on the news from scientists, asking to wait and assess the situation, like many modern politicians when faced by environmentalists. Yet, the US finally decided to take action to attempt to destroy the commit before it reaches earth, and yet a billionaire’s plan to break up the comet (and plan to use its natural resources) wins. Earlier this year, billionaires Bezos and Branson both made flights to space instead of taking action to preserve this planet.

In modern-day American, much of our environmental policies are thwarted and downgraded by lobbyists, the fossil fuel industry, and politicians. See: the above-mentioned Joe Manchin making $5.2 million from his coal company. Even passing plastic bag legislation in Philadelphia was initially met with resistance by lobbyists from a locally-headquartered convenience store chain when I worked on efforts in 2012. It wasn’t until 2020 when the plastic bag legislation passed in Philadelphia, and still faces hurdles with enforcement.

If you do a google search, there are many criticisms about the film. But one of the biggest problems about the climate crisis is that Americans don’t talk about it enough. Hollywood doesn’t either. Even when Hollywood tries to address environmental issues in film, it often falls short.

We’ve interviewed local climate scientist Dr. Rachel Valletta, who has stated the most important thing we can do is to just talk about it. Based on a few visits to Facebook, people who never talk about climate change are talking about the film. (Maybe a few missed the symbolism, too.)

Facebook comments on the film

People can continue to hate on the film. But based on all of the buzz generated on social media and articles, the film’s biggest win may be accomplishing just that.

Photo: screenshot from Netflix.com


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Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake. View all posts by Julie Hancher

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