climate change film

Film review: 2040

2040 is a new documentary that got a global release on World Environment Day last week, and we sat down to watch it as a family at the weekend. That, in itself, is notable. How many environmental documentaries work as family films? This one really does.

First of all, it’s made for a specific child. It follows Australian film-maker Damon Gameau as he investigates climate solutions on behalf of his young daughter Velvet. What would the world look like in 2040, if we pursued the very best of the solutions on the table? The narration is addressed to her, inviting her to imagine the future, and the rest of the audience along with her.

The film flicks back and forth from the pioneers of brilliant ideas today, to what the world might look like twenty years from now if they were applied at scale. Actors play the grown-up Velvet and her friends, with a suitably aged Damon making cameos as her embarassing dad.

These sorts of films can often forget that there’s a whole world out there, so I was delighted that it opens in Bangladesh. It celebrates solar micro-grids, and how peer-to-peer energy trading can bring multiple benefits and reduce inequality. Then Kate Raworth appeared to explain how social and environmental problems need to be balanced, to shouts of “it’s the doughnut lady!” from the children.

Expert interviews are a staple of environmental documentaries, and this one handles them creatively. Rather than the usual ‘talking heads’, 2040 miniaturises its interviewees and puts them in the landscape. Raworth appears on a Monopoly board, taking a ride in the silver car. Paul Hawken, of the Drawdown Project, is interviewed sitting on top of a wind turbine. Gameau is wise enough not to overuse it, and it adds visual interest and kept the children watching.

Children also feature prominently in the film, lending their own ideas and dreams for 2040. Some are a little outlandish, but Gameau still sneaks them into the future scenarios in ways that honour childhood imagination. It’s a film that’s grown up in its themes but that takes children seriously. That’s also rare.

2040 features self-driving car-shares, regenerative agriculture, marine permaculture and a host of other ideas, including social measures such as education for girls, or community energy dashboards. It’s a well rounded vision for the future that highlights some overlooked solutions.

The whole thing is filmed in a bright sunlit glow, with a sense of humour and spirit of optimism. No doubt that will grate on some viewers, but I can think of other films you could watch if you want to lament the hopelessness of our predicament, rightly or wrongly. This is one to watch with your family, your school, your church or mosque. Check out the website for lesson plans and resources to support your viewing. Talk about it, think about it, and see what it inspires.



  1. I might get, but I won’t hold my breath that it deals with any systemic political or economic issues.

    1. That was my assumption too, which I why I was pleased to see the section on Doughnut Economics. Once it has established the idea of the doughnut, it then refers back to it, showing how different solutions would have social and economic outcomes as well as environmental benefits.

      Not sure whether you’d learn much from it, but I was pleasantly surprised at the job it does, especially at explaining things in terms children could understand.

      1. My friend failed to mention that but I still think even there if you want to admit that neoclassical economics and the neoliberal worldview are part of the climate change problem does Doughnut economics specifically call out the political economy and financial aspects? Power gives up nothing and at least one very big reason that climate activism has failed is that it tinkers around the edges and never addresses the systemic elephants in the room.

        BTW are you familiar with Steve Keen’s attacks on the neoclassical work on Climate change financial modelling? That’s just one glaring example for if they cannot get that right because when they use totally ludicrous assumptions how can we expect the IPCC to get other economic modelling right?

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