Netflix movie “Don’t Look Up” reflects on the collective indifference towards the climate crisis.
a personal reflection written by Asia Guerreschi
photo credits: Leonardo Di Caprio
“Don’t Look Up” tells the story of two astronomers who attempt to warn mankind, via a media tour, about an approaching comet that will destroy Earth. It was defined as a satirical allegory of media, government, and cultural indifference to the crisis of anthropogenic climate change. As these two struggling scientists, thought of as crazy, were ignored by the rest of the world, although they were being honest – and truthful to science – I wondered about honesty and indifference.
Why is it that some are indifferent to climate action or are dishonest towards their actions that may damage our environment? Is it maybe because they think that the cost of their honesty would be too high? We can think of greenwashing as a result of this. Industries riding the wave of popular environmentalism for profit to the point that they are dishonest in their communication. Although with science backing up data and facts, you thought honesty would not be a problem, right?
More frequently are we observing in TV series, movies, written pieces, that not always is “doing the right thing” or being honest a payback, just as in real life it not always is. Bad guys still run free, people lie, wars happen, and society remains unjust.
As Alberto Almanno writes in his book “Lobbying For Change” we do live in a world feeling unsatisfied by how society operates overall. There are many things that need to be changed and while it is important to maintain a sense of positivity, remaining somewhat alert helps us focus on what needs to be done. Change happens when we are pressured and tested. Revolutions happen also when we were unhappy about something.
Honest Conversations On Climate Change
It was Mazar et al. (2008) who proved that honesty does not always pay well and in fact, the majority in their study were dishonest just enough to take advantage of whatever circumstance, but not too much to avoid feeling guilty.
The understanding of honesty changes person-to-person. Why is someone (dis)honest? Based on a rationale, personal gain, or values and morale? How they define honesty can determine how someone acts honestly.
Generally, when we see a character being honest in a film or series their honesty is paid back. As the character thinks that they lost whatever opportunity could be gained from a lie, they still get a happy ending. While this is a generalization, in real life we have been as honest as the scientists in the Netflix movie when it comes to climate change, and yet, we are not getting much of a happy ending.
We have listened to activist Greta Thunberg, we have watched Oscar-winning documentaries, such as the one by former US VicePresident Al Gore, and yet I get the impression that due to the complexity of a topic as climate change, simple brutal honesty does not work. Or we are simply not honest enough. We are factual – climate change is here – but not honest on who can help act for climate, for instance.
Honest on how well we are communicating the matter to the various stakeholders involved. Or honest on what are the plans to improve and why in the past they did not work. Greta is pushing these boundaries, but she has mostly received criticism.
Indifference Still Plays A Part
Honesty is speaking out loud even to ourselves when we acknowledge that the way we are living cannot continue. From how we produce waste or produce anything. To the companies we pick, to those we build.
Now I understand it can be hard to be honest because some are also confused. Therefore it is hard to say or do much. Confused by the overall aspect of climate change and do not know how to start, while others simply do not believe in it at all. Inaction and indifference not always are driven by negligence or unwillingness to change.
Let’s begin with being honest with ourselves and what we can personally do to change and then hold honest, and civil, conversations with our friends, family, up to politicians, and companies.
Let’s start by asking (difficult) questions and be ready to give (honest) answers. It helps us understand the complexity of climate change, find concrete solutions, and feel an integral part of the narrative.
Honesty is about handling the conversation despite how hard it is because the cost of inaction is higher than deciding to avoid it.
When I founded Rethinking Climate I wanted to share some “hard” questions that started with simply “whys.” That was being honest that I needed to understand more about what is happening from experts. And we are working to bring experts to be (more simply) honest with their larger audience about the challenges and limitations.
“Don’t Look Up” ironically looks at this. Two scientists were brutally honest about what was about to happen and they were faced with indifference. A mask where other stakeholders were not honest enough to admit that maybe…just maybe…it was scarier for them to handle the situation. Simply, it was preferable to look the other way.
It could hint at the message that stakeholders in the current climate crisis are preferring looking the other way instead of handling honest conversations. The reasons are many. For some, it would require admitting they were wrong or that is hard. And nobody blames them. But society needs to work together. Only together can change happen and nobody is perfect.
We can start by admitting our limitations and take it from there through more honest conversations (questions, and answers). While companies and governments handle much bigger honest conversations – as they put traditional political power and ego aside – for effective and faster steps towards climate action.
Ask questions, hold each other accountable and look towards concrete actions – without accusations – since we are all in this together and we need to care. The last time we asked Mother Nature how she was doing, the answer was not certainly a nice one.