Not sophisticated nor original but 2040 is a film that gives hope
Our system, says Damon Gameau, forces you into hypcrisy. Were in Gameaus new film, 2040, and he speaks from inside a transatlantic jet, underlining his point that even if you want to avoid fossil fuels, you cant. We know it, of course. The same hypocrisy inhabits every level of our lives, from each yoghurt-pot and milk-bottle to the stinking containers of Australian “recyclables” that Malaysia threatens to repatriate to our shores. We get the recycling feel-goods yet local people ending up burning our plastics, dumping the residue in their rivers and wrecking their childrens health.
And theirs is not the only health at risk, given recent news that the world's citizens could be ingesting on average a credit-card worth of plastic a week. These issues are so immense and so implacably interconnected you have to wonder whether this forced hypocrisy isnt a factor also in the current, climate-exacerbating global epidemics of obesity, narcissism and depression.
2040 is not a sophisticated film. Nor is it original, the ideas and arguments all having been developed by others. Its not meant to be either of those things – being firmly targeted on the practicable solution and the popular middle-brow. Engaging, persuasive and urgent, its an exercise in what you might call muscular hope.
Gameau, you recall, made That Sugar Film (2014), where he consumed 40 teaspoons of sugar a day and reported back on his weight gain and fatty liver. Here, he wants to save the world, or at least make it fit for his four-year old daughter to inhabit as a young adult in 2040.
But its less fluffy than that. Most current prophecies go straight to gloom; the sea-level rise, mass migration, global epidemic and war attending climate emergency. Gameau flips it around – asking, rather, what it would take to avoid this.
Answer: not just “mitigation”, and not even just reduction or stabilisation of greenhouse emissions. Atmospheric greenhouse gases, having hovered between 80-280ppm for hundreds of millennia, are now 500ppm. This is uncharted territory. As one commentator notes, even if we reduce emissions enough to stabilise atmospheric GHGs at current levels, were still toast.
Paul Hawken, of the global Project Drawdown, puts it another way. If youre heading for the cliff, he says, slowing down doesnt help. You actually have to turn around. We need reversal. We need atmospheric GHGs to start dropping.
How to achieve this by 2040 is the films guiding question. Here Gameau applies a further discipline. The world of eco-commentary operates on a knife edge: if youre critical of government policy, youre derided as an Eeyore; constructive, youre a nutty utopian. Gameau dances the middle path, outlining the intractable issue (carbon from transport, waste, farming, energy and ignorance) before focusing exclusively on solutions that deploy existing technology. Things that are doable.
The film documents Gameaus global search for replicable answers that are already, in some way, at work.
First, energy. In a tiny impoverished Bangladeshi village, far from the grid, people rely on kerosene for cooking and lighting, with the associated risks of lung disease. A young engineer bowls up with a brilliant invention by SolShare that enables decentralised peer-to-peer solar microgrids. For the price of a shanty-roof panel, a battery and a SolShare box, a household can generate clean energy, sell or give it to the neighbours and, incrementally, build a local, hyper-efficient grid with no ongoing costs, health risks or carbon.
Suddenly people whove never had landlines can power mobile phones, night-time economies, Netflix, restaurants, café culture. Where a top-down grid costs billions to build, empowers only corporations and is probably impossible, a local, incremental clean-energy grid bestows community pride, hope to the indigent (who can buy a stand-alone box to power a single fridge or lightbulb) and individual empowerment well beyond the simply literal.
SolShares motto – “free electrons” – becomes a mini-poem layering offer and imperative over the basic descriptive interpretation. Free electrons here! And, go free electrons! This technology, says disruption-entrepreneur Tony Seba, will quickly prove so easy, cheap and exhilarating itll be unstoppable. By 2040 whole countries could be 100 per cent renewable.
Australia, which has some of the worlds longest electricity grids, could also benefit. The recent budget put $990,000 to Australias first solar to hydrogen-based microgrid in the Daintree and $50 million towards remote “bush microgrids”, although theyre not entirely renewable, encompassing battery and diesel as well as solar and wind.
Next up, transport. With up to two-thirds of cities taken by parking and roads, solar-powered autonomous vehicles will not only decimate the 20 per cent GHG emissions that come from transport but because the cars can drive more closely and stack offsite they will liberate vast tracts for carbon-sequestering urban forests and agriculture. With the vanishing demand for oil, further, huge oil fields will also offer sites for afforestation.