Don’t Look Up or You will see the Truth

“Not everything needs to sound so goddamn clever or charming or likeable all the time. Sometimes we need to just be able to say things to one another. We need to hear things.” –Dr. Randall Mindy, Don’t Look Up movie

Have you watched the new climate disaster comedy film Don’t Look Up? I just saw it for the first time, and want to explain why I think you, and as many people as possible, ought to watch this exceptional movie. First of all, the film’s director, Adam McKay, wanted to make this film a comedy, instead of the usual climate disaster -horror films that are produced. The premise of the plot is that Professor Randall Mindy and his PhD student, Kate Dibiasky, discover a large comet which is almost certain to hit the earth in about six months, basically wiping out most life including humanity. They go to Washington D.C. and tell this news to the woman president (played by Meryl Streep), who along with her lacky son, is unimpressed, being much more concerned with the latest scandal her administration is dealing with. The rest of the film revolves around Dr. Mindy and Kate going through all the stages of grief, shock and finally acceptance of the comet’s approach, while continuing to attempt to warn  everyone about what is coming. 

This movie has a lot of social commentary woven through it, which makes it wickedly funny and also holds up a mirror to where human society is at in 2022. I think the film does a great job at showing our current political idiocy, highly controlled media scenarios (including a wicked personality played by Cate Blanchett), and even a character who seems to be a spin off of Bill Gates-Jeff Bezos insane multibillionaire. There’s also an appearance by Ariana Grande, who plays a weirdly comical version of herself as a mega superstar singer. If you pay close attention while watching it, you are sure to find all the archetypes of our time somewhere in the two hours plus that the movie runs.

Dr. Mindy, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, represents the Everyday Scientist who realizes that humanity is about to be destroyed, and when he and Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) attempt to warn the people of Earth, are met with such disregard and disrespect that it’s darkly funny as well as tragically sad. Here is a clip from one of the best scenes in the movie, a heart wrenching monologue by Dr. Mindy.

Dear Readers, we know that the best films are the ones that show us to ourselves in the most accessible way for the most people to understand. I recommend Don’t Look Up as one of those films. As the new year of 2022 gets underway, the Earth changes and extreme climate events continue. While our supposed leaders spend their time navel gazing and concerned with their own political power and wealth, our world is spinning closer and closer to catastrophe on a scale no one alive has ever experienced. Don’t Look Up is based on real science by astronomers who spend years working out climate models and predictions for the foreseeable future. The years we’re living through are exhausting us all, and by now we’ve seen so many climate disaster films that we are at saturation level. The humor and spot-on characterizations in this movie help to be able to stomach watching Dr. Mindy and Kate as they shout out their warnings in vain.

I hope you will take the time to watch Don’t Look Up, and allow its message to percolate within your heart and mind. It’s still not too late for humanity as a whole to come together to change our trajectory towards extinction. As the movie depicts, it will certainly be a messy ride.

World Savers and New Earth Bringers

There is an ancient story from Jewish mysticism that tells of “36 humble righteous ones” known as the Lamedvavnik (Yiddish: לאַמעדוואָווניק‎). The story says that at any given moment on Earth there are, at a minimum, 36 holy souls who are (without being conscious of it), holding up the world and preventing it from total destruction. For the sake of these 36 hidden saints, God preserves the world even if the rest of humanity has degenerated to the level of total barbarism. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tzadikim_Nistarim

In more recent times, many authors have woven this folklore into their own modern stories of humans wrestling with forces of darkness. There are those who have written of the numerological aspects of the number 36, fascinating in its own granular way. But I prefer to infer a larger meaning of the idea of a relative handful of souls who incarnate on Earth with the express purpose of keeping it aloft and intact. We all know of people in our lives and communities who seem to have a little extra goodness, patience, and compassion than most. They are the ones who offer a smile, a hand, a joke, or perhaps even a hug when life feels unbearable. Humanity has always experienced difficult days, periods of duress and suffering. Fortunately, the Lamedvavnik have always been there to help us push on through.

I just spent the past month reading The Ministry for the Future, by Kim Stanley Robinson. It falls in the genre of Cli-Fi, and “hard science fiction” because Robinson did extensive research into both the very real and dire circumstances humanity is in related to climate disaster, as well as the many solutions being developed by scientists of all stripes across the globe. The result is a sweeping work of the imagination that offers a frighteningly possible world in the coming few decades.

This book took me a while to plow through because it is 563 pages and I’m not a fast reader. It is not a perfect book. After a shocking start and couple hundred pages of fascinating story, somewhere midway through comes a high point (not exactly a climax), after which the story tips dangerously into utopian fiction. I found I had trouble withholding disbelief from that point on, given the enormous scope of this work. However, it is definitely worth the time to read this expansive story of climate catastrophe and the What-If scenarios that Robinson eloquently devises in response.

There are a few main characters in this novel. One is Frank May, whose story of inconceivable trauma is the lynchpin upon which the rest of the story revolves. As he strives to deal with his PTSD life, his thoughts wander.

He pondered what he might do. One person had one-eight-billionth of the power that humanity had. One eight-billionth wasn’t a very big fraction, but then again there were poisons that worked in the parts-per-billion range, so it wasn’t entirely unprecedented for such a small agent to change things. (Robinson, pg. 65)

Frank is caught between his inherent desire to help, to be of service to humanity, and the intensity of the world’s horror. Robinson writes,

He could feel it burning him up: he wanted to kill. Well, he wanted to punish. People had caused the heat wave, and not all people…there were particular people, many still alive, who had worked all their lives to deny climate change, to keep burning carbon, to keep wrecking biomes, to keep driving other species extinct. That evil work had been their lives’ project, and while pursuing that project they had prospered and lived in luxury. They wrecked the world happily, thinking they were supermen, laughing at the weak, crushing them underfoot. (Robinson, pgs. 65-66)

The Ministry for the Future is a sweeping, long look at how climate catastrophe might unfold, while also the personal story of a small group of humans who, like the Lamedvavnik, work to alleviate the worst consequences, to turn the massive ship that is Climate Catastrophe from completely wrecking the planet, the animals, and the people of Earth. It is a story that is at once terrifying, fascinating, and idealistically possible, although admittedly a long shot. But clearly that is what Robinson was going for; offering a possible future for all of us where our planet does come back from the brink, where the majority of humans do wake up in time, and we are able to create a healthier future world for all life. Idealistic? Absolutely. And yet, reading this novel helped me to better imagine how it could all unfold in the coming decades. How we might still survive these extraordinarily painful times. How it cannot possibly be all sunshine and unicorns one fine day. I am not one to go in for dystopian future worldviews, because those scenarios paint such a bleak picture of Earth’s future that there is no hope in them. The future of Earth and of humanity are utterly intertwined. There are many Lamedvavnik, or world-savers, now alive on the planet. More are coming every day. It is an All-Hands-On-Deck moment for humanity. Will we wake up in time? Will we collectively do what must be done in order to move forward into the Light? To realize that the reality is we are all One Body, billions of grains of sand in the ocean of the Godhead, fractalized into uncountable bits?

Dear Readers, I wish you a blessed Winter Solstice and Holy Days of Christmas, Kwanzaa, and the Peace of the Void. Embrace the Light, Shine the Light, Be the Light.

References:

Robinson, K. S. (2020). The Ministry for the Future. New York, NY. Orbit. Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Wikipedia (2021). Tzadikim Nistarim.

“Young people, remember this day, and make sure you’re registered to vote. It’s your planet and your future.”

Paris_agreement_Dec2015
For one brief, glorious moment, the world seemed to agree to curb carbon emissions. image via https://medium.com

Remember back in December of 2015, when the eyes of the world were fixed on Paris? During that historic month, the UN hosted world leaders who haggled, bargained, and were eventually successful at signing the Paris Climate Agreement, which set ambitious global limits for carbon emissions beginning in 2016 and continuing into the foreseeable future. (see the UNFCCC’s e-handbook for details of the agreement here.) For a bright, beautiful moment, world leaders came together in the spirit of hope that by diligently working to reduce carbon emissions, the world and everything (including us) in it might stand a chance of a sustainable future. High fives all around!

Enter the Trump administration. From the beginning of his presidency, Trump made it clear that doing the right thing and saving the planet from climate heating was the antithesis of their leadership model. And so, bit by bit, they demolished laws, rules, policies and federal agencies in their war on sustainability.

Today, November 4, 2019, President Trump’s office issued a statement officially bowing out of the Paris Climate Agreement. According to The New York Times,

The action, which came on the first day possible under the accord’s complex rules on withdrawal, begins a yearlong countdown to the United States exit and a concerted effort to preserve the Paris Agreement, under which nearly 200 nations have pledged to cut greenhouse emissions and to help poor countries cope with the worst effects of an already warming planet. 

Though American participation in the Paris Agreement will ultimately be determined by the outcome of the 2020 election, supporters of the pact say they have to plan for a future without American cooperation. And diplomats fear that Mr. Trump, who has mocked climate science as a hoax, will begin actively working against global efforts to move away from planet-warming fossil fuels, like coal, oil and natural gas.

Keeping up the pressure for the kinds of economic change necessary to stave off the worse effects of planetary warming will be much harder without the world’s superpower.

Negotiators spent the early months of the Trump presidency debating strategies for salvaging American support for the accord. Mr. Trump proved immovable.

While no other nation has followed Mr. Trump’s lead and left the Paris Agreement — indeed, more countries have joined — few are toughening their emissions-reduction targets. Analysts attributed that to the absence of pressure from the United States and they warned that the Trump administration’s antagonism toward climate action could dampen future ambitions.

The letter to the United Nations on Monday would allow Mr. Trump to officially pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement the day after the presidential election. The United States would still be allowed to attend negotiations and weigh in on proceedings but would be downgraded to observer status.

Analysts cautioned that even if the United States elects a Democrat in 2020, re-entry will not necessarily go smoothly. The Paris Agreement is the second global climate change pact that the United States joined under a Democrat and abandoned under a Republican. George W. Bush withdrew the United States from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Jonathan Pershing, who served during the Obama administration as the State Department’s special envoy for climate change, said a Democrat rejoining the Paris Agreement would likely be expected to deliver a specific suite of policies showing how the United States intended to move away from fossil fuels. Even then, he said, other countries would be rightly wary that the pendulum of support for climate action could swing back in another election cycle. The United States will have to live with that lingering mistrust, Mr. Pershing said.

“The United States has been written off in many cases as a partner,” he said. “You just can’t count on them.”

Story by Lisa Friedman, who reports on climate and environmental policy in Washington. A former editor at Climatewire, she has covered nine international climate talks. @LFFriedman

Once more, comments by readers to this news article ran the gamut from sad and frustrated to reactionary. I share some of their comments with you, Dear Readers, in hopes that you’ll take heart in the fact that many, many millions of people here in the United States and around the world support the Paris Climate Agreement, and are vehemently opposed to the actions coming from the current White House administration. I take comfort in this fact, and am glad that many articulate, intelligent and ecologically aware individuals cared enough to write their opinions to the NYTimes.

Young people, remember this day, and make sure you’re registered to vote.  It’s your planet and your future.
11 Replies 782 Recommend

Preening and posturing, the president is taking obvious and obscene delight in unfastening yet another achievement that his predecessor labored to bring into being. President Obama, more responsible and mature than his successor—by any generous measure— enlisted the world’s leading (and following) nations to take heed of the damage to our planet caused by human behavior.
Realizing that our only home is not without a “sell by“ date, its permanence far from guaranteed, the 44th American president, demonstrating genuine international leadership, persuaded the leaders of the world to pool their resources so that generations yet unborn might find a breathable environment with potable water without which life is impossible.
In irresponsible answer, Donald Trump, stomping and screaming, throwing things as well as a tantrum, now takes a chain saw to the figurative (and, perhaps, literal) tree of life. Maybe what the rich really want is to wake up from their dreams and experience an earth that’s inhabited only by themselves. Think they’ll want fossil fuels, then? Believe in a super-heated planet? Or will it all be “Obama’s fault?”
8 Replies 478 Recommend

Anyone who has small children or grandchildren ought to be frightened and furious. Murder is to a parking violation as what he is doing to the environment is to his actions in Ukraine. What he did there is worthy of impeachment, as are a number of his other actions, but his disinformation campaign on the climate crisis and promotion of fossil fuels are of another order entirely. They are the highest of crimes.
6 Replies 416 Recommend

This decision is immoral, unwise, and unnecessarily destructive of our country’s reputation, alliances, and leadership. History will harshly judge Trump, Pence, and Pompeo.
Many millions more people will likely die as this planet’s atmosphere and oceans rapidly warm as a result of our GHG emissions than would have if this country had kept its Paris commitment. The severity and speed of the mass extinction now underway will be increased as a result of this decision. The cultural and economic devastation that will follow as cities are submerged, famine spreads, tropical disease invades new landmasses and regions, and drought becomes commonplace in many areas of the planet could have and would have been lessened with an enduring American commitment to the Paris compact.
The day will come when the names of Donald Trump, Michael Pence, and Michael Pompeo will be remembered only in infamy and disgust.
25 Replies 700 Recommend

When the catastrophic history of the Trump maladministration comes to be written, this decision, withdrawing the US from the Paris climate accord and failing to lead on the most pressing issue of our time, may well prove the most damaging act by Trump. Like so much of what Trump does, it is borne of ignorance and arrogance.
He is an unmitigated disgrace.
15 Replies 643 Recommend

Just to read those words, that leaders of other nations feel they just can’t count on the United States anymore, it breaks my heart. I don’t know what Trump thinks “making America great” means, but this isn’t it. The people of the world are already suffering the effects of climate change, as are the American people. I fear it will not matter what history says of the Trump presidency. Our world, our lives, will be devastated in ways no one can imagine. Selfishness, greed rule. The lives of real people do not.
5 Replies  437 Recommend

I am without words. I want to be angry right now, but I’m just sad. For everyone that’s still supportive of Trump and of this policy move in particular, I want you to cement this day in your head. The thought has to stay in your mind through the next 30 years, so when we have to start doing the actual work of moving the populations of entire cities that sit at or near sea level…you’ll remember what side of history you stood on. Those of us young enough to live through the consequences of this action certainly won’t forget. Shame or an apology at that point is going to be pretty meaningless.
4 Replies  426 Recommend