'Don't Look Up': food for thought on climate denial

Netflix’s new political satire "Don’t Look Up" raises an important point on the denial of scientific evidence. The rise of conspiracy theories relating to the climate crisis has led to an absence of trust in governments and science.

Don't Look Up
A scene from “Don’t Look Up” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence. Image: Niko Tavernise / Netflix

What is going on?

Netflix’s new political satire Don’t Look Up, which achieved over 263 million watch hours less than two weeks after its release, gave us some “food for thought”. The movie follows the story of two scientists, who discovered a comet heading towards Earth, and their journey to persuade politicians, media and the public to act. While opinions on the movie were split, it raised an important point on the denial of scientific evidence, humanity’s ability to respond to a life-threatening event and the (problematic) influence of the affluent, the media and politics on the course of action. In the end, the movie boils down to the dilemma of pure pursuit of profit against doing the right thing to save the planet. 

Doesn’t this sound familiar? Both the public and scientists were fast to draw a parallel between the movie’s narrative and what is currently being witnessed with climate change, where activists are at the forefront to urge the world to act on the climate emergency. Their efforts are often met with ignorance, gaslighting, blatant downplaying or pure denialism. 

Why is this relevant?

While academic findings based on empirical evidence were taken as facts to live by decades ago, we are currently experiencing increasing doubt in the meaning and validity of science. Though an individual’s disbelief in scientific evidence may have limited consequences, it becomes worrying once such disbelief enters the political and economic sphere. The world has witnessed former president of the United States Donald Trump dismissing global warming because it was “cold outside”. Although the new administration’s path of action is vastly different, an alarming analysis from the Center for American Progress states that there are still 139 elected officials in today’s US Congress who refuse to acknowledge the scientific evidence of human-caused climate change. These very same officials also received $61 million in lifetime contributions from various coal, oil and gas companies. Such greed-driven disbelief is then translated into legal bills, hampering critical infrastructure development, removing air pollution regulations or allowing the continuation of fossil-fuel funding – and they span far beyond the US.

What is the takeaway?

The crisis portraited “Don’t Look Up” and the hurdles that Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo di Caprio’s characters in the film face are very much applicable to many of the current events. Perpetuated by social media, the rise of conspiracy theories and hoaxes relating to the pandemic, the climate crisis and geopolitical affairs have led to a detrimental absence of trust in governments, systems and science. While the right for freedom of individual expression, belief and speech is at the very heart of a functioning society, the responsibility towards the collective cannot be ignored. 

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