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Watching Don’t Look Up made me see my whole life of campaigning flash before me | George Monbiot
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Watching Don’t Look Up made me see my whole life of campaigning flash before me | George Monbiot

George Monbiot on Good Morning Britain


NIt’s no wonder that journalists have rated it. They’ve produced a hundred excuses not to watch the climate breakdown satire Don’t Look Up: it’s “Blunt”, it’s “shrill”, it’s “Smugglers”. But they will not name the real problem: it’s about them. I believe the movie is a powerful deconstruction of the terrible failures of public life. The media is the sector that exposes the most of the failures in public life.

The film is funny and fast for me as well as many environmental activists. climate scientistsIt felt all too real. It was like I was watching my adult life pass me by. As the scientists in the film, trying to draw attention to the approach of a planet-killing comet, bashed their heads against the Great Wall of Denial erected by the media and sought to reach politicians with 10-second attention spans, all the anger and frustration and desperation I’ve felt over the years boiled over.

I was also reminded of my own anger at the way a celebrity gossip show pushed the scientist who had discovered it to the bottom. It is a mortifying loss in controlGood Morning Britain November. It was shortly after the Cop26 climate conference, in Glasgow, that we saw the least serious of all countries (the UK hosted the talks), failing to address the most important of all issues. I tried, for the thousandth time, to explain what we are facing, and suddenly couldn’t hold it in any longer. On live TV, I burst into tears.

It still makes me feel very embarrassed. Like the response to the scientist in film, the social media response was vicious and vituperative. I was faking. I was mad. I was mentally ill. But, knowing where you are and What we faceSeeing the indifference displayed by those in power, and seeing how our existential crisis has been Been marginalised in favour of trivia and frivolity, I now realise that there would be something wrong with me if I hadn’t lost it.

George Monbiot on Good Morning Britain
‘I tried, for the thousandth time, to explain what we are facing, and suddenly couldn’t hold it in any longer.’Photograph: George Monbiot crying screengrab/Good Day Britain

We all face the same forces when we try to fight any great harm in any age: distraction, denial, and delusion. The media is the barrier that prevents us from reaching the people we seek to alarm about the imminent collapse of our life-support system. With a few notable exceptions the sector that should facilitate communication hinders it.

It’s not just its individual stupidities that have Be inexcusableThis includes the numerous platforms given to climate deniers. It is structural stupidity to the which the media are committed. It’s the anti-intellectualism, the hostility to new ideas and aversion to complexity. It’s the absence of moral seriousness. It’s the vacuous gossip about celebrities and consumables that takes precedence over the survival of life on Earth. It’s the obsession with generating noise, regardless of signal. It’s the reflexive alignment with the status quo, whatever it may be. It’s the endless promotion of the views of the most selfish and antisocial people, and the exclusion of those who are trying to defend us from catastrophe, on the grounds that they are “worthy”, “extreme” or “mad” (I hear from friends in the BBC that these terms are still used there to describe environmental activists).

These merchants of distraction often fail to address the issue and instead interview actors, singers, and other celebrities. The media’s obsession with actors vindicates Guy Debord’s predictions in his book The Society of the SpectaclePublished in 1967. Substance is replaced by semblance, as even the most serious issues must now be articulated by people whose work involves adopting someone else’s persona and speaking someone else’s words. These actors are then attacked by the media as hypocrites for their profligate lifestyles.

Similarly, it’s not just the individual failures by governments at Glasgow and elsewhere that have become inexcusable, but the The entire framework for negotiations. As important Earth systems may be approaching their Tiping pointGovernments still plan to address the issue in small steps over many decades. It’s as if, in 2008, when Lehman Brothers collapsed and the global financial system began to sway, governments had announced that they would bail out the banks at the rate of a few million pounds a day between then and 2050. It would have been 40 years since the program was completed. My central question about civilisation is: Why do nations rush to save the banks, but not the planet?

As we race towards Earth system collapse and try to raise the alarm, it feels like being trapped behind thick plates of glass. People can see the opening and closing of our mouths, but struggle to hear what it is saying. We look even more crazy as we bang on the glass in a frantic fashion. It’s almost overwhelming. It is truly a maddening situation. I’ve been working on these issues since I was 22, and full of confidence and hope. I’m about to turn 59, and the confidence is turning to cold fear, the hope to horror. It becomes increasingly difficult to maintain your sanity when our manufactured indifference makes us invisible. I cry every day.


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