The Low Down on Looking Down

Rise: From One Island to Another, 350.org

Two indigenous poets, one from the Marshall Islands and another from Greenland, converged at the source of rising seas to join in a moment of solidarity. Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner and Aka Niviâna use poetry to showcase the linkages between their homelands in the face of climate change. 

I haven’t watched the film, Don’t Look Up, and probably won’t for a while. Just so when people ask me if I have seen it, I can say that I haven’t. They will explain to me how great it is. How I should watch it. But the allegory of climate change isn’t for Hollywood superstars. Climate change is what I deal with as academic study all the time, so I don’t want to do it for entertainment. I have seen The Matrix Resurrections and Encanto three times. I never understood the Matrix. It was like Alice and Wonderland. Encanto is an engineering film.

Calling a movie (or novel) an allegory is often a way of saying that it’s smarter than it appears at first blush. When critics or academics proclaim that George Orwell’s Animal Farm isn’t really a book about talking pigs but totalitarianism, for example, they’re making the case that the novel has a subterranean, secret, and above all more serious meaning. At its most basic, reading allegorically is about digging deeper, going beyond the “surface” of a work that we might otherwise be tempted to dismiss as a fluffy blockbuster or escapist beach reading—like a comedy or science fiction movie—and revealing it as doing intellectual heavy lifting. Yet there’s a flip side to allegorical interpretations: They can also function like blinders, illuminating one viewpoint while crowding out competing ideas.

In the case of Don’t Look Up, insisting that the film is just an allegory for global warming blinds us to the fact that in addition to satirizing our climate inaction, the film draws attention to the fact that the human species is threatened with extinction on multiple fronts: climate change, yes, but also renewed tension among nuclear powers, the possibility of malevolent artificial intelligence, super volcanoes of the sort lurking beneath Yellowstone, pandemics for which COVID may be a mere dress rehearsal, and, of course, comets.

Tyler Austin Harper, If You Think “Don’t Look Up” Is Just an Allegory About Climate Change, You’re Missing Something, Mother Jones, December 26, 2021.

Today also marks one year since I submitted my application to represent Florida’s delegation to the Democratic National Committee. It’s been a solid year of saying and talking climate without the heavy-lifting to do what is required. EOs. Rules. Laws. Introduced. Passed. But we are still here on that stalemate of climate action.

My article deadline was extended to February 1.

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Nadia Ahmad

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