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‘Don’t Look Up’: is Australian politics also looking down?

It’s a powerful analogy.

A comet 5-10km in length is plummeting towards earth. In 6 months and 14 days, humanity will become extinct. That is, unless, the Government listens to the scientists and takes immediate action.

That’s right, you guessed it, everyone in the film dies.

I watched Don’t Look Up for the first time as Australian politicians began their campaign for the 2022 Federal Election. And no, it wasn’t because it stars Timothee Chalamet, but because my friend sent me a text.

“You should watch Don’t Look Up, we are all going to die, lol,” she wrote.

Sometimes it’s easier to laugh than to think about the almost certain fact that temperatures will rise above 1.5C.  

This is not a made-up figure, but rather what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report tells us.

As we’ve watched the two major parties battle it out over the past few weeks, I haven’t been able to help myself drawing comparisons with the fictional Netflix drama.

And I felt the comet continuing to nudge dangerously close to Earth.

Climate change is a matter of politics

When scientists Dr Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discover the extinction-level comet on a direct path to Earth, they immediately inform the president, a moment that sets the tone and trajectory for the rest of the film.

Their science is disregarded, their qualifications disputed, and their plea for immediate action deafened by the potential for the comet to provide political leverage in the upcoming election.

President: “You know how many end of the world meetings we have had?”

Dr Randall Mindy: “I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation, I’m trying to articulate this the best that I can. We must act now!”

President: “Ok, alright, alright, when are the mid-terms?”

The scene intimately captures the frustrations of scientists with intentional satire. If it weren’t for these cinematic moments of relief, we would be watching a documentary about an ostentatious government whose desire to win votes will ultimately lead to our destruction.

The President’s response was intentionally dramatised to feel cynical and detached, but at the same time, it seemed to echo the reality of the Federal Election campaign.   

We have watched Scott Morrison insult the entire Neuro-diverse community and Anthony Albanese, who floundered to recall the numbers on unemployment.

What we haven’t seen is a press conference focused on climate change. Limited questions and brief answers from both politicians have made it hard to work out exactly how their climate policies match their targets.

The Morrison government seems to be pushing “technology over taxes” as the answer for solving our climate disaster, while declining to alter its 2030 target of a 26-28 per cent cut in emissions.

While Anthony Albanese responded to the approval of Queensland’s massive Galilee Basin coal mine with, “Labor would welcome any jobs that would be created from that.”

Despite both parties’ commitments to reach net zero by 2050.

Despite the fact the latest Green Future Index, published by MIT, ranks Australia 52nd overall in the world. 

In the film Don’t Look Up, scientist Dr Randall Mindy puts it quite eloquently when he says, “The administration has lost their fucking minds, and I think that we are all going to die!”

What makes Don’t Look Up cinematically profound is the intercut images of nature.

Ocean waves crashing over sharp rocks, hummingbirds suckling sap from a wildflower, an intimate close up of a lizard whose delicate eyes look at us directly into the camera.

The small details that reminisce the every day, a humble yet sombre reminder of what we lose if we don’t act on climate change.

A pivotal moment in the film comes after weeks of scientists pleading with the president, speaking with the media and warning the public. The president finally decides to act on the comet as part of her political campaign.

That is, until a technology billionaire akin to Elon Musk discovers the comet has valuable minerals that could be mined and plans to destroy the comet are quickly put aside in favour of making money.

Cue billionaire sad trombone noises as this mission completely fails.

When the scientists expressed their fears and disbelief that a planet killer with a 100% chance of hitting earth was met with, “how much will it cost me”, well, it’s hard not to draw parallels between the film and the state of climate debate and policy in this country. 

Throughout the whole film, I was watching with hopeful anticipation that there would be a cliched happy ending.

The predictable narrative we have watched time and time again.

But what I love about Don’t Look Up is the poignant and at times, harrowing reminder that these endings are not guaranteed. And if Australian politics continues in its incongruous trajectory, I fear that our future will look like the end of the film. Minus the part where you can stop and get yourself some popcorn.