by Beau Hebert
Dear The Beauster,
It took me months but I finally just watched the movie Don’t Look Up. How is this not our future?
Thanks, Bill! Your question is what galvanized me to finally sit down and watch Don’t Look Up in its 145-minute entirety (spoilers to follow). After getting over the shock of a schlubby, middle-aged Leonardo DiCaprio playing the role of scientist, I found myself along for the ride, laughing as the movie presented the greatest existential threat to humankind with sardonic, meme-spun humor dripping with social-media references and lots of celebrities playing sharp-witted but unlikeable characters.
This was fun stuff … until it wasn’t.
As the film wore on, the many permutations of its dire message started thudding me in the gut with sapping regularity, like body shots delivered by Sugar Ray Leonard tenderizing his opponent for the big knockout. When the knockout came in the form of global armageddon at the film’s climax, I did not feel energized to save the planet, but instead felt listless and devoid of hope. While I may have faith in human ingenuity, technology, and scientific innovation, the policy-decision side of things seems, well, insurmountable. Governments and giant corporations are like enormous aircraft carriers; getting them to change course is a drawn-out process, and that’s assuming they’ll even acknowledge the problem in the first place.
I am reminded of my Uncle Mark, a former rocket scientist who’d worked for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Upon retirement, he pledged to leave the United States if George W. Bush became president. Bush’s opponent in that election, Al Gore, ran on a platform of confronting global warming and later produced the movie An Inconvenient Truth, dedicated to creating awareness around global climate change. But the inconvenient truth of the 2000 election was that, despite Gore receiving over a half-million more popular votes than Bush and being declared president on all national news networks, the closely contested state of Florida was handed to Bush by a Supreme Court decision, giving him victory in the electoral college. An oilman plowed into the White House; climate change got plowed under the rug by a corporate-friendly Republican agenda; and Uncle Mark plowed his retirement account into an open-ended bicycle journey spanning the planet with the idealistic purpose of making a documentary that would galvanize humankind to combat the unfolding climate crisis.
Uncle Mark bicycled from Los Angeles to Tierra del Fuego, staying for a time on an organic winery in Argentina. There he observed the destruction to the land from climate-induced flooding and the displacement of poor people. He rode through India, exploring intentional communities, and learned about the disruption of the monsoon rains that Indian farmers depend on for their crops. Throughout India’s countryside, he witnessed desperation and desertification.
He rode his bike through China and looked aghast at an environment that had been utterly polluted, with rivers that barely flowed because they were filled with so much sludge and trash. He rode through China’s monolithic “ghost cities,” comprised of unoccupied high-rise buildings built not to house people, but for bloated real estate firms to skim billions of leveraged dollars into their coffers through overvalued expenditures on the construction of cheap, unsafe concrete pillars. He rode through Mongolia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, the Middle East, North Africa, and on into Europe, seeing firsthand, at 15 miles per hour, the impact of climate change across a broad swath of the earth.
During his journey, Uncle Mark read every significant book on the subject and stayed current with new reports. Just as he was ready to start videotaping in earnest, he came to the scientific conclusion that it was pointless — too many thresholds had been crossed. We were on a collision course with Don’t Look Up’s metaphorical comet, and, as in the movie, it was time to abandon Mother Earth for a more hospitable planet, even at the risk of being devoured by a carnivorous ostrich-like creature inhabiting its terrain.
And that seems to be where we find ourselves, dear B-M-B. The conversation around climate change is no longer about stopping it, but about managing it. A recent report states that 9 trillion dollars — at minimum — must be allocated annually through 2050 “to help avoid planetary collapse.” Yes, this is now standard verbiage around the discussion. Even with technology breakthroughs, the political will to actually take on this ridiculously enormous crisis appears to be lacking. Meanwhile, the general public — yours truly included — is fatigued and overwhelmed by the subject. Which is not to say we shouldn’t keep trying our best, but it’s going to be one hell of an uphill battle, and we should prepare to bear witness to some dramatic and frightening changes in our lifetimes. So in answer to your question, I think that the movie Don’t Look Up relates not just to our future, but to our present as well as our past. Now if you’ll please excuse me, I’m gonna tiptoe up to some higher ground.
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Beau Hebert is a humor columnist and owner of Lottie’s Lounge in Columbia City. He is a longtime South End resident and community advocate.
📸 Featured Image: The Beauster. Illustration by Lou Patnode.
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