Imagine a world powered by solar energy and transported by driverless vehicles, and where agriculture is transformed via regenerative farming and seaweed farms. This is the future that Australian actor and filmmaker Damon Gameau (That Sugar Film) has envisioned for his daughter and all of the other creatures who share this wonderful planet we call home. With climate change accelerating at speeds never seen before, the Earth is in dire need of a health intervention if we want the next generation to have hope for a better future.
Directed and written by the man himself, 2040 is a feature documentary that considers what the future could look like if we all made changes to be more sustainable by reducing carbon emissions, and therefore global warming. Structured as a visual letter to his daughter, Velvet, this film takes the audience on a revealing journey through a traditional documentary style with dramatised sequences and exceptional visual effects.
Gameau explains his journey as “fact-based dreaming”: the solutions he found had to be truthful and realistic, exist in some form today and be measurable. It was both inspiring and refreshing to learn about the technology and innovative ideas already happening around the world, and was amazing to consider that our endangered world could still achieve redemption if citizens and their countries made the changes Gameau suggests.
Increasingly so, we are turning on the news (or social media) to see natural disasters occurring more frequently.
Whilst keeping busy directing a film, Gameau also wrote a book summing up the documentary and providing more advice and facts on this vital issue. In his book, Gameau states that, “Since the Industrial Revolution, the Earth’s atmosphere now has 40 per cent more carbon in it” which is trapping more heat and warming the surface. As a result, we have seen an increase in wildfires and droughts, and with the hotter air holding more moisture, intense storms, heavier rain and snowfall is plaguing our planet. This excess heat is also melting the Greenland ice sheet, and contributing to the displacement of many Arctic animals who depend on the ice for survival.
I recently started watching David Attenborough’s Our Planet on Netflix early April, which put the consequences of melting ice into perspective: Walruses spend a lot of time at sea and they need the ice to rest their heavy bodies. With the ice sheet gone, these mammoth creatures are forced to take refuge on rocky cliffs and ascend to heights they are not cut out for. Eventually, they must return to the ocean for food and in such desperation, these magnificent mammals slip and fall off the cliffs. It is horrifying and heartbreaking to watch them tumble to their death.
2040 steps away from this doom-and-gloom, instead focusing on optimism and opportunity. Gameua believes that people become complacent or often powerless against this declared climate emergency because it feels overwhelming. With three years of research and planning, Gameau travels to 14 countries and interviews hundreds of scientists and experts, starting in a village in rural Bangladesh. It is here that a company called SOLshare is revolutionising energy via a special box that allows the solar panel and battery set-up to connect to other homes and share energy by either buying or selling it––forming a microgrid. This technology is particularly crucial to communities like these, as before they used kerosene lamps—which releases dangerous fumes that can reduce lung function if inhaled, and increases risks of asthma and cancer. Speaking with Tom Tilley from Triple j’s ‘Hack’ program, Gameau says that there are currently regulations blocking this technology in Australia.
“It’s illegal to exchange energy pier to pier in Australia right now but the technology is going to be here in the next three or four years,” he says.
According to Gameau this solution can be rolled out at a scalable level; SOLshare has already refitted 25 villages in Bangladesh, and is planning on doing the same through Africa and India.
I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, however, perhaps the most fascinating answer to our fossil-fuel emission problem is this: marine permaculture. According to Gameau, the problem doesn’t just go away if we stop emitting fossil-fuels because there is already billions of tonnes of carbon in our atmosphere—the Earth would still continue to warm for centuries.
We actually need to remove it as well. This exciting discovery involves ordinary seaweed—except it’s not so ordinary because some types grow half a metre per day!—grown on frames. The seaweed is suspended below the ocean surface and as the weed grows it draws down carbon from our atmosphere (you really need to see it visually to fully understand). It is regularly harvested and can be used for food, fertiliser and biofuel. Marine permaculture also has the potential to remove thousands of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere per square kilometre per year (fascinating, right?). While this solution still requires large scale testing, scientists have these seaweed farms kicking off right now, not far from the coast of Indonesia, the Philippines and here in Australia in Tasmania off Bruny Island.
The graphic design of this film is incredible, with detailed graphics and CG animations masterfully combined with cinematography and thoughtfully placed in scenes that enhance the viewing experience. Gameau’s featured interviewees, if not shown talking to him directly, are shown as small humans sitting on objects from toasters to tree branches. For his interview with American environmentalist Paul Hawkens, the pair sit on top of a wind turbine with their legs dangling over the edge. It provides an amazing aesthetic to the film and is extremely realistic (so much so that my mum was convinced it was real, I had to remind her green screens were a thing).
It was compelling to listen to this award-winning director speak about 2040 at the Palace Raine Square Cinemas at a special Q&A screening. During question time Gameau revealed a fact not mentioned in the film: if seaweed was grown in the ocean between Australia and California, it would be enough to sequester all of our carbon emissions: “That’s how powerful the seaweed solution is, we just have to get on with it,” he explained.
I had the honour of meeting Damon Gameau at the post-screening book signing. We had a quick chat as he wrote ‘Have a great future!’ inside the covers of the glossy book. He was enlightened to know this was the second time I have seen the film; I cannot stress enough how important it is that everyone must see it.
Some people may hold sceptic views and ask, if there are all these solutions, why aren’t we seeing them implemented more around the world? Well, I can guarantee you that I had no idea any of these ideas existed at all, and just like Gameau I not only felt more inspired, but also extremely hopeful after learning about them. If enough people see this film and are exposed to these solutions, change will occur, the only question is when.
“I started this journey quite scared of the questions and answers I would find but in the end I genuinely felt that we could 100 per cent do this! Whether it will happen is the big question, but people need to know it’s possible,” Gameau says.
So, for the sake of our Earth’s health and our children’s futures, educate yourself—the timing couldn’t be more critical.
Join the regeneration when ‘2040′ is unleashed in cinemas on May 23!