The meaning in Don’t Look Up that Everyone Missed
How many bad Leonardo DiCaprio films can you name?
I can’t think of many. Like most people, I am a fan of Titanic, The Beach, Blood Diamond, and many others.
Don’t Look Up, DiCaprio’s latest work, is also drawing plenty of positive reviews. Unlike his previous films, however, Don’t Look Up is a satirical comedy interwoven with science fiction and documentary aspects.
Americans and people from all over the world should quickly relate to the themes presented: media bias, deceitful politicians, mass ignorance, and mass hysteria. Don’t Look Up is reflective of many current events in the United States and the world.
The plot? Two NASA scientists discover a meteor that will collide with earth in six months and wipe out humanity. The scientists, played by DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, are ignored by the president and the media in favor of more exciting celebrity breakups. They spend the film trying to convince the public and politicians that the meteor is real, but ultimately fail and humanity is wiped out.
The meteor is a metaphor. Viewers may be tempted to see it as a metaphor for the government response for COVID-19, worsening politics, corporate takeover, any number of other ideas. The stated metaphor, according to the producer, and which becomes clearer as the film progresses, is climate change.
Why climate change? Do scientist warn us of imminent dire consequences? Check. Is the public apathetic to the issue? Check. Are politicians hostile to the issue? Check. And, importantly, do we have the ability to solve it? Check!
I would argue, however, that the meteor should be a metaphor for the entire environmental movement. Is there massive public disinterest? Check. Is the meteor capable of wiping out not only humans but most other species as well? Check. Are there other problems besides climate change that are environmentally destructive? Check. And can we, with great concerted efforts, work towards fixing these problems? Check!
Climate change is one of the biggest problems facing the planet. But it’s not the only problem.
The collapse of the biosphere, caused by massive species extinctions and widespread habitat annihilation, is related to but overall more significant than climate change, as measured by deaths of species and irreversible change to the surface of earth. Even if we miraculously managed to reduce emissions to a sustainable level, extinct species aren’t coming back. The exotic animals that once freely roamed the native ecosystems of the world aren’t coming back.
The buffalo of the great plains, the dodo of Mauritius, and the dwindling species of rhinos left in Africa and Asia won’t reach pre-emissions levels. Even if climate change is somehow solved, humans still occupy the majority of earth’s surface, and little room is left for wild animals.
For instance,’climate-friendly’ nations such as Denmark have little to no intact native ecosystems today.
Because humans are dependent on healthy, complex, functioning ecosystems, the future of humanity should not only depend on fixing climate change; it also involves preserving wild places. The meteor can’t represent solely climate change because there are other environmental disasters that, left unmanaged, will be catastrophic to humanity. These disasters are principally related to habitat loss, but also include overfishing, invasive species, groundwater contamination, and on and on. The problems are complexly interconnected, and together represent the meteor in Don’t Look Up.
I firmly argue that nature’s purpose is not to support human’s existence — the lions of Kenya and the tapirs in Brazil do not exist so give us life. I argue that, as the most successful and powerful species on earth, we humans have a moral imperative to protect the other species on the planet. Efforts to solve climate change have overwhelmingly focused on reduction of emissions, which do not have a direct, immediate effect on the remaining orangutans in Borneo and the nearly extinct vaquita dolphin in Mexico.
To defuse the meteor, humanity needs a concerted approach not only to climate change, but to greater environmental problems as well. We need more protected areas, and better protection. We need to pour vast quantities of funds into invasive species prevention and removal, not just electric cars. Tax cuts should be given to parents that have less children, not more children — the number of consumers is critical in the total consumption of humanity.
The great flaw of Don’t Look Up, as scientists like myself should already know, it that the meteor is not coming. It’s already here. Species are already dying off. The rainforests are a fraction of what they were 100 years ago. The planet’s average temperature has already risen, coral reefs are already bleached, and desertification is occurring faster than ever before.
But is there still a window for optimism? Of course! There are still millions of species remaining on earth that would like to continue to remain. There are still tracts of extremely biodiverse rainforest that do not have, but are eligible for, protection from logging and development. We have the power to undo some of the damage caused by meteors that have already hit, and certainly can prevent further meteors from hitting.
Just like the meteor in Don’t Look Up, environmental disasters can indeed be averted.
Leonardo DiCaprio has made another contribution to the fight against climate change by making an entertaining and informative film that most members of the public should be able to understand, and ideally realize their role in the issue.
Let’s hope that the film is remembered not only for inspiring the fight against climate change, but as a flame bearer for the great fight against all environmental problems that humans have caused.