In a world where every climate documentary claws to be the next An Inconvenient Truth, 2040 is a refreshing change of pace, albeit one that lacks the urgency and passion of Al Gore presenting perhaps the most important PowerPoint you’ll ever see. Rather than speaking of the ills that will inevitably torment human society, 2040‘s interest is entirely on the solutions that can relieve them. This has, I’d say, two primary consequences: one, it’s a very nice documentary with a lot of love for people and what we can achieve; two, you’ll have made up your mind about the movie prior to watching, and it doesn’t do a whole lot to convince those on the “I disagree” end.
2040 follows Damon Gameau (That Sugar Film) as he travels around the world, exploring a number of solutions to the climate crisis and interviewing the experts involved. Each of these concepts effect change in nearly every facet of human life, and the movie does a fairly good job at explaining why these concepts, such as shared solar-powered microgrids or marine permaculture, are beneficial. Gameau’s daughter, Violet (who’s a toddler here, but the ‘older’ Violet is played by Eva Lazzaro), acts as our eye into the changes these solutions might bring by 2040.
Those “older Violet in 2040” sequences are really lovely, laden with nicely done and plausible effects work, suggesting a cleaner, happier, generally more vibrant future. It’s a large juxtaposition from the doom and gloom this genre specializes in (though such doom and gloom can be understandable) and they’re striking scenes, inspiring not only in how they paint a brighter future, but also in how possible that future is. 2040 doesn’t venture into the realm of outlandish, borderline sci-fi proposals, opting instead for solutions that already exist and are demonstrably effective.
I also have to give a hand to 2040 for not presenting its ideas in a condescending way like it easily could have. Gameau is a game narrator, opting for humour and energy over dour gravitas. While I can’t say he’s particularly insightful on his own, he’s a good figure to navigate and introduce the ideas at play here. It’s an exceptionally friendly film, always happy to see people, pick their brains a bit, and see the hope in any given situation.
The obvious downside, then, is there’s little sense of adversity. 2040 is excited to present these terrific ideas and it wants us to be equally excited, if not more, though it doesn’t really dare examine why we’re not doing these things or what’s holding us back, aside from some cursory slaps on the wrist to your average everyday carbon emitter and to fossil fuel companies for pushing misinformation. It’s mildly unsatisfying to have solutions that have no cons in the film’s eyes and are obviously excellent, yet the discussion as to why they’re not commonplace is more or less shrugged over. I imagine the slim 92-minute runtime plays a heavy hand in that, as you could spend many hours exploring each solution and the road to actively employing them. In that sense, 2040 lends itself far better to a limited TV series at the least, as what we get is quite good, yet there’s no room to truly deep-dive into ideas, or debate the problems they might face and how to address them, or the psychology behind why many people are adverse to these changes.
Despite all that, there’s value to what’s on offer here, a particular beauty to the hope that the best of humanity will prevail and sustain future generations with what we already have. 2040 is designed to start conversations and is an excellent stepping stone for environmentally-minded kids. Still, I’d be remiss to not knock it for avoiding the tough conversations that accompany societal change, especially for an issue as existential as the climate crisis. It’s on the opposite end of the climate documentary spectrum – extremely idealistic versus extremely dour – but in doing so it’s falling into the same trap as those extremely dour pictures by brushing past the other side of the story.
And I get that the movie’s intention isn’t necessarily to have these difficult and touchy conversations, it’s supposed to focus on the upside of things, but if I were a dolt and had no clue about climate change I wouldn’t have a great sense of the issue’s gravity by watching this. 2040 assumes we’re in its corner already, offering good reinforcement for what we already know and feel, but it’s not nearly as good at opening a dialogue with skeptics or those who feel there are insurmountable barriers at play – the end credits mention a movement you can join, an admirable gesture, though it comes out of nowhere. It’s sort of a shame, as these solutions are exciting and practical, but they’re not given the time of day they deserve (you can distill all the information 2040 offers in a quick paragraph), so it’s not an impactful picture as I think it could’ve been.
However, I’d have to be a very cynical prick indeed to not be enamoured by 2040’s vision of the future and the people striving to make it happen. Plus it’s a tall order to expect one documentary to be a panacea. What 2040 lacks in nuance it mostly makes up for with constant hope, and given hope is probably a better arbiter of change than despair, it’s worth listening to what it has to say, and I hope it inspires future climate documentaries that more deftly balance optimism with the realities of the times. For now, we have a fine introduction, and I can’t be mad at that.