Socialist Worker asked me to go see the new film 2012 and to use the review as an excuse to riff on climate change. So I went. At the end of the film my date said, “Good luck writing a review of that.”
It’s hard to review because it’s crap – and glorious, sick fun. The special effects are awesome. Millions die in really exciting ways. It’s like the Airplane! movie with a straight face that never slips. I think it’s probably an evil film, but I’m not sure.
The connections to climate change have been obvious to all reviewers. 2012 plays with the pervasive atmosphere of climate anxiety.
In 2012, though, the end of the world is caused by mutant sub-atomic particles. So the film dodges some key things.
First, like almost all imaginative works on climate catastrophe, it makes it armageddon, and therefore unbelievable.
In fact the science is telling us that we will reach a tipping point where feedback effects kick in, the temperature rises very rapidly, and the climate goes haywire.
Millions will die in storms, floods, famines, epidemics, refugee camps and war. A considerable proportion of the species on earth will die. But that won’t be the end of the world. Or humanity.
Writers make up armageddon scenarios with no supporting explanation. Because they are made up, these scenarios are not believable.
Other people like these scenarios, because actually they don’t believe them, and they shield us from a very frightening reality.
But also utter disaster is by its nature without politics – there is no way to stop it happening. In disaster movies, the rich and politicians keep it secret until it happens. Then they control everything while the rest of us flee screaming.
In the film, around 50,000 people, their families, and all the soldiers and electricians they need, keep the secret for three years.
Climate catastrophe won’t be like that. The scientists have no consensus on when a tipping point is coming. But it will have been preceded by many years of public argument and thousands of scientific studies.
There will be smaller disasters along the way, producing strikes, protests – and insurrections.
When the crunch comes, there will be a global political struggle about what to do. The ruling class will say we must have order, discipline, sacrifice and racial enemies.
There will be new authoritarian or fascist movements that attack the old order bitterly, but keep the class structure in place.
Then there will be the opposition movements.
Some “deep greens” will blame humanity, call for sacrifice and fear immigrants. They won’t be able to stop the ruling class, and may side with it. Some anarchists will say we have to fight locally and can’t take power. They will be decent, but will end up being smashed.
And it won’t be enough to say “It’s capitalism, we told you so.” We will need a movement that says the solution is not sacrifice – it is overthrowing the old order, sharing, welcoming foreigners, looking after each other, caring for other species, making jobs in rebuilding, and running a democratic and equal world.
That can only make a difference if there has already been a mass movement arguing that this is how to avert catastrophe. If we win that argument in time, we can save hundreds of millions of lives.
The argument for sharing, internationalism, and socialism does not have to be the dominant one in the world. But it has to be big enough that everyone knows those arguments are out there. And organised enough to fight.
We have the technology, right now, to avert climate catastrophe. We still have a chance.
Reality does intrude once in the film. When the end of the world is announced, people listen to the politicians and pray all over the world. Except for one clip of London, where they protest. See you at the demonstration on 5 December.
Jonathan Neale is author of Stop Global Warming – Change the World and editor of the new pamphlet One Million Climate Jobs Now
Both are available from » www.bookmarksbookshop.co.uk