Damon Gameau's new documentary 2040 is a warning about climate change

If REM ever considered releasing their hit It's The End Of The World As We Know It, 2040 would be the year to do it. Or today, if we wanted to get serious about saving the planet.

While lead singer Michael Stipe probably wasn't thinking about climate change at the time he wrote that song, a group of leading scientists who were commissioned by the United Nations to paint a picture of what the world will look like by 2040 certainly know there's plenty of truth in that famous lyric.

The landmark document penned by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] inspired Aussie actor-turned-filmmaker Damon Gameau to get off the couch and behind the camera to start plotting humanity's way out of a climate crisis.

His latest film, 2040, is easy enough for kids to digest and relevant to an adult audience who'll likely be sitting beside them in the cinema.

The road to 2040

Gameau's road to climate empathy began when he read Viktor Frankl's holocaust survival story, Man's Search for Meaning.

Naming his film 2040 was about getting viewers to realise the date is only 21 years away.

"I originally thought maybe we should call the film 2060, but that date is too far for many elders who are making decisions right now, they won't be around by then," says Damon Gameau.

"2040 felt like the right year – a chance for those living today to benefit from the changes we make if we start acting now," he says.

He travelled to 14 countries, interviewed hundreds of young children around the world and met with more than 100 scientists to discuss how climate change is affecting the planet.

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Gameau, who lives in Byron Bay with his actress wife Zoe Tucker-Smith and their daughter Velvet (for whom the documentary is made) knows the dangers that loom beyond the impending 2040 date. Continual drought, guaranteed warmer ocean temperatures, extreme weather will become all too familiar, a food shortage and death of coral reefs... the doomsday list is endless.

Fixing phase

But instead of nitpick on the politics Gameau chose to focus on the solutions we already have at our disposal.

More than eight months on the road collecting stories, speaking to academics and economists gave Gameau a sense of what mattered.

"We have this constant narrative in our media of how bad things are and how overwhelming it all is," says Gameau.

"And while it's important to know the problems are real, we also need to inspire our children to act and to understand there are many other people who care for the planet and want to restore it. I want to bring a positive narrative to this space and show we can change for the better.

"What I found is that we already have the solutions to our problems, even if we didn't have climate change, so we should be doing them anyway," he says.

Small change, big impact

The IPCC report found if greenhouse emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2040.  

Gameau says what started out as a film about reversing global warming and lowering emissions quickly became a story about strengthening communities, improving the quality of food and soil, embracing cheaper and cleaner energy and transport, plus restoring habitats and ecosystems.

"When we lose a sense of hope or idea of a better future the human spirit quickly deteriorates," says Gameau who also met with an environmental psychologist while making the film.

"The psychologist told me to acknowledge the depths of what is going on. It's okay to feel overwhelmed and own climate pain. But we need to be motivated by solutions, not paralysed by inaction," he says.

"I feel very lit up and passionate about this – and the fact I have a child who will be an adult by 2040 resonates with me and inspired me to act and do something about it."

2040 is now showing in cinemas around the country.