Comet in space

Five Things that Rang True for Climate and Energy Experts in Don’t Look Up

Don’t Look Up—the most popular movie on Netflix right now—satirizes the inability of humankind to grapple with the climate crisis. In the film, a comet is hurtling toward Earth, but the scientists who discovered it find that the media, general public, and even the president are somewhat indifferent to the impending threat—or worse, trying to turn it into a money-generating positive. For many of RMI’s climate solutions experts, this movie, while fictional, hit close to home as all good humor often does. Below they list five truths about the challenge of fighting climate change that resonated with them in the film.


WARNING: Spoiler Alert


1. Innovative technology alone won’t save us.

In Don’t Look Up, a last-ditch, private-sector-led effort is not enough to stop the cataclysm. The takeaway: While technical innovation is necessary to solve a problem at the scale of climate change, it is not sufficient.

We must have a holistic approach with multiple actors working in tandem to address climate change across the board. We need bright, diverse, global perspectives working collaboratively and quickly. This includes governments driving ambitious policy that supports business innovation and action, financial institutions actively addressing climate risk and opportunity in their portfolios, and individuals working to drive collective action, until every part of the economy is shifting.

“The aspect that rang most true for me was the false comfort that the characters took in technology. I’m regularly frustrated by the notion that ‘innovation will save us.’ Flashy innovations are necessary, but not sufficient, to deal with the problem.” 

–Ryan Warsing, Associate


2. Scientists and technical experts often struggle to communicate their message to the public.

Messaging poses one of the biggest obstacles to building acceptance and engagement around climate change. The line, “You’re just telling a story. Keep it simple. No math,” rang true for many of our experts. The film showed how critical it is for those of us working in clean energy and climate change to communicate in a way that is simple and relatable and that connects directly to people.

“It’s really difficult to talk about these issues in a way that connects without feeling either overly cheerful and reductive or overly doom-and-gloomy in a way that scares people off. Threading the needle between those poles to convey both an urgency to act and a sense that we have on hand a workable set of ambitious, yet pragmatic solutions is incredibly challenging! But we have to get better at it, quickly.”

–Erin Callahan, Director


3. We need to consider the true costs of our actions.

In the film, a mission to divert the comet gets delayed and compromised in order to mine the comet for profit. It is a clear commentary on how climate measures are often overlooked or undercut in order to maintain the status quo, increase profits for corporations, or line the pockets of powerful people. There are many other costs besides the direct and upfront costs of mining a comet, just as there are for climate change solutions.

“We often ask about the return on investment of a clean energy project, but not costs of the status quo. Similarly, we don’t ask for the return on investment about a park because that would be ridiculous. It’s an investment in public health, open space, recreation… but yet when it comes to climate and energy, ‘well, what’s the cost?’”

–Matthew Popkin, Manager


4. Facts are facts, even if you can’t see them.

Disagreement on the facts, whether it’s about a comet hurtling toward earth or about the existence and causes of climate change, is a big problem. Many people don’t believe in what they can’t see, even if they have climate experts presenting them with scientific facts. Mobilizing people around climate change has been difficult because in the past it has been a vague and distant threat. Even now, as we increasingly face the consequences around the world, there are people who refuse to “look up.”

“The ‘comet’ of climate change has been invisible for a long time—but is now clearly visible with increasing wildfires, hurricanes, and tornados. I hope we can agree on the facts—by looking up —and avoid the fate of the movie’s world.”

–Ryan Foelske, Senior Associate


5. We have time, but we must act now.

While the film can be seen as depressing and catastrophic, some found hope. The film offers optimism in that simply fighting for a better world will help us build community and share our common grief, as shown in the final dinner scene.

For most of us, it deepened our commitment to work toward limiting global warming to 1.5°C, the temperature rise, above which the planet would face catastrophic consequences. We don’t only have six months before we face an earth-shattering comet. We have years, and we have the solutions, but we need to put those solutions into action now to have the best chance of avoiding disaster.

“Laugh and let it lighten your load as we face the challenge before us, but don’t for a minute take its nihilism seriously. After we laugh, we’ll take another breath and then figure out the next thing we can do to address climate change. It’s possible. We’re doing it. And unlike the threat of the movie’s comet, we won’t be done addressing this until we’ve solved it. So, let’s solve it.”

– Jacob Corvidae, Principal