Serves as antidote to all the cynicism and ignorance that obfuscates the reality of climate change.
Things have been rough for the climate movement since the release of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. In an effort to hinder cultural change and action, climate denial has been dialed up to 11. Deregulation of the fossil fuel industry is the name of the game for the malevolent Trump administration. The Environmental Protection Agency has been neutered. “Climate change” is terminology non grata by government directive. Mass extinction is underway and it’s due to human activity. The doomsday checklist is so completely marked that an action as simple as banning plastic bags is denounced as impugning of personal freedom.
Yet, into these dark times comes Tomorrow, a documentary by actor/filmmaker Mélanie Laurent and author/director Cyril Dion, to serve as antidote to all the cynicism and ignorance that obfuscates the reality of climate change. Catalyzed by a special briefing in the journal Nature presented to her by Dion, Laurent realized that her son was going to inherit a world of scarce resources and wanted to do something to change that. She and Dion put together a crew to approach the topic of climate change from a different perspective. When necessary, the film details the history and economic modeling that has brought us to the brink of global calamity, but more importantly it focuses on the people and communities who are changing the world as you read this.
To paraphrase interviewee Rob Hopkins, our popular culture has fetishized the destruction of humanity so often that a summer doesn’t go by without world devastation appearing in a blockbuster. What the many apocalypses—alien invasion, superhero, technological, metaphysical and zombie—leave no room for are stories of construction. How the systems of energy, commerce and agriculture we live under were developed and who are victimized by them are complicated narratives that go untold. Those systems—market driven and wasteful—feel as foundational as air and gravity, but that isn’t true. The goal of Tomorrow is to expose us to the alternatives.
Hopkins is one of the people we meet on this globetrotting adventure. Based in England, he is the founder of the Transition Towns, a movement to localize food production, energy production and currency. He seeks to move the conversation away from the catchphrase “sustainability” to “resiliency.” To his mind, a place that produces its own food, relies on wind and solar for energy and prints its own support currency that allows money spent locally to stay local can withstand almost any catastrophe. How to you rebuild or reimagine a town is Hopkins concern and his answers are both funny and inspiring.
Laurent and her crew visit the urban farms of Detroit and the U.K. town of Todmorden. Both are cities brought to ruin by the collapse of local industry; local farming has caused resurgences in both communities. In Todmorden, local activists called a meeting and got the town to agree to transform their green spaces and unused land into gardens. All the food produced would be available to the locals for free. The movement has flourished and Todmorden produces enough food to sell its surplus for reinvestment. Whatever other challenges the community faces its citizens are always fed.
The film is structured into five chapters: agriculture, energy, economy, democracy and education. Localization is the theme that emerges in each segment. Globalization is clearly illustrated as the monster consuming us all. What multinational corporations waste in water, land and air staggers the mind when the facts are laid out. Conversely, their local counterparts endeavor to use every ounce of every resource as their best practices. While Laurent and company fill their film with enough moving and inspiring stories to give the most cynical among us pause, the specter of our worst possible future still hangs on the horizon. “We have 20 years,” warns Jeremy Rifkin, essayist and economist, before we barrel into the final throes of the planet’s sixth extinction event.
Tomorrow isn’t a glorified TED talk with better production values and a fantastic soundtrack. Unabashed in its optimism, the documentary is more a feel good cautionary tale. The clock is ticking, but, as the filmmakers tell us, the people presented in the film are but a handful of the thousands changing their own worlds and thereby changing the whole world.
The film was originally released in France to coincide with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the global meeting that led to the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. The U.S. release this year is perhaps fortuitous. With the current anti-expert, anti-science, anti-intellectual din choking our media and our politics, people need to be reminded that not too long ago a consensus was struggling forward around this issue. But the more important lesson is that our leaders will not help us. If we help ourselves on the local level then a glimmer of hope for the future remains. From Reykjavik, Iceland to Kuthambakkam, India to Oakland, California people are doing amazing, imaginative things to build a better world. Tomorrow tells their stories.