Imagine flying across town in plant-powered rocket boots or filling highway overpasses with gardens and walkways. Picture a future where birds sing in the middle of cities and cows can roam and eat grass as they please. Think of what humans can accomplish together in 20 years.
Using the power of cinematography, childlike imagination and science, the International Wildlife Film Festival feature finalist “2040” grips viewers with a stunning vision of our future. Director Damon Gameau used the film as a visual letter to his 4-year-old daughter Velvet, a refreshing take for a climate change documentary. He called it “an exercise in fact-based dreaming.”
Dreams of the future have been grim lately. With every top story about the global pandemic, our burning world or violence between humans, it’s hard to look forward to the year 2040 with hope. Predictions of the future are full of “doom and gloom,” if you will.
“And as a father, I think there’s room for a different story — a story that focuses on the solutions to some of these problems,” Gameau said in the film.
Gameau looked at his daughter and decided he’d create a brilliant future full of possibility and hope for her to live in. And he did.
This film depicts a utopian world where we’ve torn through the major barriers to equality and sustainability, one where the air and oceans are drained of emissions and parking lots are converted into community gardens and everyone lives in a self-sustaining micro-grid of energy.
He posed the question: “What will the world look like in 2040 if we just embrace the best that already exists?”
Gameau sets off across the world to consult everyone from the youngest of schoolchildren to the most seasoned of farmers in his search for these solutions.
He wanted to take his inspiration from the generation his daughter will grow up with, the future leaders of 2040. Their ideas ranged from inventing plant-powered rocket boots, to having every day be “hot dog day" and to just plain stop killing animals and forests.
“I think we should get this invention which sucks up all the rubbish in the world and puts it in an intergalactic dimension, which is a rubbish dimension,” one kid told Gameau.
“I would like to see deforestation stopped because it’s ruining the planet,” another said. “Animals are losing their homes.”
“You know, just respect the Earth,” another kid concluded.
He traveled to Bangladesh, where they created a micro-grid of solar energy that connects small villages around the country and reinvigorates their local economy.
He traveled to his home country of Australia to speak with farmers who learned how to help their crops absorb carbon in the air, while strengthening the roots and making the soil healthier.
He traveled to Singapore to ride in a self-driving electric car, which he said could replace individual cars and eliminate need for huge highways, parking lots and the likely billion cars that could exist by 2040.
He traveled to Massachusetts to witness how growing seaweed can off-set carbon, create better marine environments and act as healthy and easy to grow alternative to crops, biofuel, fertilizer and more.
He traveled to Ohio to see how using a dashboard system in a school to track resources changed kids’ perception of energy use.
“When you go beyond the dominant media discourse and get closer to the ground you will see everywhere you look incredible reasons for hope,” said Helena Norberg-Hodge, author of the “Economics of Happiness.”
Layered between these trips, where Gameau explores the grim facts of climate changes — oceans are increasingly acidic and warm, the fossil fuel industry is spreading doubt about climate change and clean energy and two thirds of Los Angeles is taken up by parking lots and roads — he talks to his daughter and what he hopes her future will look like.
“I hope one day Velvet, you get to read the story of how we reach this future,” Gameau said to his daughter.
These scenes of his daughter are acted out by an older version of Velvet in a CGI wonderland of cityscapes full of greenery and efficient and inexpensive energy and transportation.
He doesn’t skip over the difficulties posed though. He acknowledged that the changes will be awkward, but that they’re necessary.
“It’s interesting making this film,” Gameau said from a plane. “The more that I learn about, you realize how hard it is to actually do the right thing. And in a sense, it’s tempting to just kind of shut down. Switch off … And you can’t help but be a hypocrite in the moment, because the entire system is built on and by fossil fuels.”
He acknowledges the job losses that will come with changing the entire way society works, but he poses solutions to those as well.
The film takes itself seriously, while still being entertaining. It mixes upbeat playful music with the comical placement of tiny scientist speakers overtop a scene with the conversational tone of a father talking to his daughter. It’s witty and thought-provoking and incredibly moving.
It’s the story about climate change we all need to hear.
Near the end of the movie, environmentalist Paul Hawken said one of the largest positive changes he’s seeing is an increase in education for girls and family planning.
“You combine these two things together and the number one solution to reversing global warming is the empowerment of girls and women,” Hawken said.
The film moved through portraits and video of women and girls, smiling or answering questions in class and landed on Velvet. Gameau said he took for granted that his little girl would be able to have an education, as 65 million girls across the world won’t ever get that same chance. Empowering girls to be who they want to be can help population control and it can empower brilliant minds.
“But in this 2040,” Gameau said to his daughter, “my greatest hope is that girls across the globe have access to the same educational opportunities as you and your friends.”
“When I grow up, I want homeless people to have their own homes with their own money to buy their own food and have their own jobs,” one young girl said.
“Well,” another girl started. “I’d like it to be human instinct to just look after the world and care for the world.”
“I’d like to see everybody have the same living opportunities,” another girl said.
Yet another young girl said, “I just want the future to be good.”