If you can't talk about climate change...
I know! Write a negative review of "Don't Look Up." Here's the most recent extension of the general gab-fest that has surrounded this movie since it came out, from Breaking Points:
Now, if you followed Krystal Ball carefully, one of the images she posted was of an article in The Intelligencer, specifically a piece by Eric Levitz, titled "Don't Look Up doesn't Get the Climate Crisis." Upon reading this critique, however, I concluded that Eric Levitz doesn't get the climate crisis, and that therefore David Sirota's most admirable contribution to the debate about climate change was to have co-created a movie that exposed those who didn't know what they were talking about. For that I salute him.
But let's examine Levitz's assertions, so that we can say that we know what we're talking about.
Nevertheless, Don’t Look Up badly misconstrues the crisis it’s meant to illuminate. Climate change isn’t much like a planet-killing comet. And the pathologies of for-profit media and campaign finance aren’t the primary obstacles to rapid decarbonization.
Really? They aren't? The global elites have gotten together for thirty years, now, since the Rio Summit of 1992, with COP meetings since 1995, to try to create an effective plan of action to deal with climate change. The net result? Zero, zip, zilch, nada.
If you want to know how this could be so, go to the Energy Information Administration's webpage and find the statistics on global oil production. They go up every year, with the possible exception of the first year of the pandemic when they went down a little bit.
Could this be, you suppose, because the most important parties participating at these meetings have been bought off by the oil companies (e.g. "campaign finance")? Or because the mass media didn't make anything of an issue of climate change?
And here's another big reveal:
In the film’s populist, polemical account of the ecological crisis, there is no genuine technical or logistical obstacle to neutralizing the threat, no need for Americans to tolerate significant disruptions to their existing way of life, no vexing question of global redistribution, no compelling benefits from ongoing carbon-intensive growth, and thus no rational or uncorrupted opponent of timely climate action.
But there really isn't any "genuine technical or logistical obstacle" to dealing with climate change. We have all the science we need to make climate change mitigation possible. The main obstacle to developing that science as concrete chunks of technology, hand in hand with a cold-turkey approach to fossil fuels, is in effectively imagining a world in which "value," defined as that which money can buy, does not rule people, does not decide their lives for them. As it stands we are living on a planet which is being sacrificed for the sake of the principle of "he who dies with the most toys, wins" (while most of us are busy making a living). The predictable outcome is that the current owners of the world's fossil fuel reserves are going to demand massive financial compensation for not "developing" those reserves.
The "significant disruptions to their existing way of life" thing is also a red herring. If only the American middle class would live like monks, everything would be peachy-keen -- or maybe not. As for disruption, most of America experiences disruption to its way of life often -- only the cause of this disruption is usually either "the market" or "management." Granting America the RIGHT to a sustainable way of life would be a big step forward.
"Vexing questions or global distribution" are only vexing to those most distinctly standing in the way -- rich special interests and their bought-off politicians. If the reports about "Don't Look Up" are true, the movie does indeed address those groups of people.
"Compelling benefits from ongoing carbon-intensive growth" appear compelling to most of America only insofar as most of America has access to agencies of class struggle -- unions, strikes, wage increases, Great Resignations, and so on. If the car companies are producing more cars this year, it's only good for me insofar as I can afford one. Now, I have no idea if "Don't Look Up" addresses the class struggle. If it doesn't, maybe Sirota can address it in the next movie.
Okay now let's address Levitz's bullet points.
1. Climate change provides no do-or-die deadline.
This will become increasingly untrue to millions, then billions, of people as the situation worsens. We will have to do now, or they will die later.
2. The technology necessary for eliminating climate change — at no cost to human flourishing — isn’t fully developed.
Apparently Levitz's definition of "human flourishing" is "duplicating the existing system." Now there's something to not believe in. And even if the necessary technology for doing that didn't exist, which I don't really believe, the science for developing the technology does exist. What definitely doesn't exist is the social agency for making it happen.
3. Rapid decarbonization will require Americans to tolerate real changes to their ways of life. And some have good reason to resist those changes.
Here I am reminded of a classic phrase in Foster, Clark, and York's book "The Ecological Rift": “While the environmental problem arises primarily from production, in the transformation of nature by human labor, it is increasingly attributed entirely to consumption" (384). When you go to the store to buy an appliance, you are not the producer of the global networks of production and distribution that put that appliance on the shelf for you, and allowed you access to the surplus value that made the appliance cheap. None of that was your choice (as a consumer). Productive consumption vastly outstrips consumer consumption, so if you want to "decarbonize" without asking permission from the consumers, guess where you start?
4. Vapid news anchors and billionaire political donors are not the primary obstacles to climate action.
Now even if this were the case, if they ARE obstacles to climate action, Sirota would still be quite justified in making a movie to call our attention to them.