'Don't Look Up' and the Quest to Engage People on Climate Change “Maybe the destruction of the planet isn’t supposed to be fun. Maybe it’s supposed to be terrifying and unsettling and you should stay up all night, every night, crying!” yells Jennifer Lawrence in Netflix’s big Christmas Eve release Don’t Look Up. It might be a surprise to those who have not seen the film that Lawrence is not despairing about climate change, but a planet-destroying comet on a direct trajectory towards Earth. Evidently, Don’t Look Up is not a documentary. The film is, however, an allegory for climate change, and the difficulty of engaging a public that can be wilfully ignorant. Since its release the film has triggered a division of opinion, with some finding it a comedic and timely parody on the struggle to effectively engage people about inconvenient truths, and others simply labelling it a ‘disaster’. One Guardian writer believes that the film portrayed a smug superiority that would instantly make viewers switch off. On the other hand, a scientist spoke of sympathising with the two main characters attempting to warn humanity about their impending doom without any media training. Some felt panic at everyone in the film making such terrible decisions, and one commenter simply said “I left persuaded more than ever that there is never going to be anything that manages to sway the public to save the world in any meaningful sense.” The film then prompts the discussion about how to effectively address climate change when even the most rational arguments can be reduced to nothing if they are not communicated to people in the right way. There are barriers to engagement to consider, just one example being time. Climate change does not have a definitive date of completion, it is moving at a pace that can be too slow to see. This can make it hard to be motivated on an issue that has no clear deadline and affects different places unevenly. In comparison, the comet in Don’t look Up means the imminent obliteration of the Earth. Jennifer Lawrence’s Kate Dibiasky even has the exact date of impact put into a diet app on her phone, counting down the minutes until extinction day. However, this deadline still isn’t enough to motivate the public, instead they are so distracted that they even procrastinate the destruction of the Earth. People are also less likely to act on communications that don’t directly affect their daily lives. At one point in the film, Tyler Perry – playing one of the dim-witted and bad-news-averse daytime show hosts- jokingly asks our astronomers whether there is any chance of the comet hitting his ex-wife’s house, leading to Leonardo DiCaprio’s stammering Dr Mindy giving a dry account of the entire planet’s destruction, followed by Jennifer Lawrence’s character on-air screaming “We’re all going to die!” to drive the point home. There are also political powers to contend with as Meryl Steep’s Trumpian President Janie Orlean (and her Chief of Staff son) want to keep the comet a secret until after mid-term elections. Once news of the comet begins to gain traction publicly, resulting in a worried nation, she makes the destruction of the comet her main campaign promise. However, once the comet is discovered to be an untapped source of extremely valuable finite resources, backed by an already ridiculously rich mobile phone mogul, she changes her campaign to one of comet denial with the slogan “Don’t Look Up’, rallying together a collection of conspiracy theorists, science-deniers, and those who don’t want to deal with the hassle of extinction. It is easy to assume that the film’s very on-the-nose comparisons to real life may further alienate those that hold the very opinions that the film desires to change. It is also likely that the audience the film attracts in the first place have already converted. It could also be argued that the film forgets one of the main reasons for communicating climate change in the first place, which is to motivate people into action, a hard thing to do without a certain amount of optimism, generally not achieved by screaming “we’re all going to die!” at the public. Setting criticisms to one side, it does show that it is no longer enough to simply know about the science, people need to be motivated to change their behaviour. It is hard to say whether Don’t Look Up will effectively motivate people about climate change. It does however, encapsulate the struggle to communicate real world problems in a way that will make people listen, especially on a topic where it can often feel like you are screaming into the void. At least now we can laugh about it.