Schools 2040: documentary puts a positive spin on climate change

Image: Madman Entertainment

Filmmaker Damon Gameau’s documentary 2020 argues that education and collective action are our best chance of tackling climate change.

A community garden out the back of a childcare centre in West Brunswick is the perfect spot to have a chat with director Damon Gameau.

On the one hand, the unfeasibly sunny late-Autumn morning is a stark reminder of the frighteningly weather-bending effects of the climate crisis. On the other, the West Brunswick Community Garden and Food Forest – a volunteer-run effort that uses coffee grounds from local cafes along with residential food scraps and paper waste – is a reassuring example of positive action to combat it. The fact that the gardens are attached to a childcare centre also highlights the bigger message that educating kids – and getting them to work on the land – is our best hope for the future.

Our members won’t be surprised to learn that Gameau (who also directed That Sugar Film) says education will be key to saving the planet. For one thing, UN research suggests that educated girls with reliable access to health services are likely to have fewer children, later, significantly reducing the impost on the plant by about 1 billion people by 2050

“That was staggering,” Gameau says. “It’s a no brainer. Let’s do it now.”

Rather than curl up into a ball and despair at the doom and gloom pronouncements on the nightly news, Gameau decided to seek real-world solutions already in motion, both here in Australia and across the globe. Embarking on a (carbon offset) three-year trip, he went looking for ideas that could turn things around and secure a healthier planet by the time his five-year-old daughter Velvet turns 21.

The ideas featured in the resultant film include Australian farmers re-embracing ancient ways of farming the land that rely on animals grazing freely rather than constantly breaking up the soil, which releases harmful carbon and leaves it unable to sequester more. There are seaweed farms that can provide food for livestock and humans alike while cooling the overheating oceans and supplying biofuel. And there are the Bangladeshi villages de-centralising energy supply, embracing micro solar grids so neighbouring houses can share with each other, using only what energy they need.

“That action narrative has been sorely lacking from the mainstream and I guess 2040 was just a motivation to see if there were things we could do, because I want to be able to tell my daughter solutions exist, if enough of us get motivated. That her generation, with our help, can actually do it.”

It isn’t the first time Gameau has been inspired by his daughter. The actor-turned-director hit on the idea for 2014’s That Sugar Film when his wife Zoe was pregnant with Velvet. Turned on to healthy eating, he wanted to educate audiences about the hidden sugars in our food. Enlisting a host of celebrities including Hugh Jackman and Stephen Fry, the film was a great example of using comedy and an approachable personality to get people thinking about their diets and making achievable, incremental change without once feeling they were being lectured at. Making for a great classroom resource, the documentary was accompanied by an internet-driven follow-through campaign, That Sugar Movement, which helped viewers clue themselves up.

There’s a similar push behind 2040, dubbed The Regeneration Movement, which is driven by an easy-to-use website, The site helps prosecute the argument we can all bring about change in small but achievable ways.

Doing so involves bringing everyone along with us, showing them what options already exist in their local communities. Most importantly, it means not simply pointing the finger at people living in mining communities, for example, who have genuine concerns about their livelihoods.

Photo: Madman Entertainment

“We’ve got to be careful we don’t a demonise the people that didn’t get involved [this election],” Gameau says.  “What happened was that they weren’t sold the narrative well enough, in the sense that these solutions can actually provide security and jobs and strengthen communities. That narrative got lost, and I think people got a bit scared of the change.”

Gameau says collective action is crucial. We need to breakdown binaries and communicate better with each other, whatever our differences, to build a better future together. “The onus has always been on people to keep going, to teach the leaders how to lead on certain issues, and never has that been more relevant than right now.”

Speaking to school students the world over has filled him with hope, he says. “The response by kids has been great. They don’t understand why we aren’t getting the leadership we deserve and are frustrated that some adults don’t seem to care about their future. We need people to step up. This is a galvanising moment where everyone has to find their agency even more and make it happen at a local level. That’s how changes happen throughout history.”

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