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The Future Is Now: A 2040 STUDY GUIDE.

Damon Gameau's documentary offers an inspiring, optimistic look at how current technologies and community action can be used to combat climate change and make the world a better place for future generations. With its imaginative and informative approach, the film also provides plenty of stimuli for classroom discussion and projects, as LUKE RODESILER and RUSSELL MAYO outline.

Climate change is perhaps the most serious crisis human beings have ever faced. Humancaused global warming is already upon us, and it has contributed to increased temperatures; extreme weather events, such as massive storms, unprecedented drought, flooding and wildfires; melting ice; rising seas; the warming and acidification of oceans; and animal extinction. (1) Scientists predict that, within the lifetimes of young people today, planetary catastrophes may devastate food production, create unliveable temperatures in many regions, submerge cities and create hundreds of millions of refugees. (2) If left unchecked, climate change has apocalyptic consequences not only for human beings but for all life on Earth. (3)

Climate change is not simply a scientific or technological issue; it has tremendous ethical, social, political and cultural dimensions. The undeniable reality is that climate change poses a particular threat to people who are already subjected to extreme poverty and political instability. As scholar Rob Nixon argues, the ongoing climate and environmental crises constitute a form of 'slow violence' that has so far primarily affected poor communities in the global South. (4) We have a moral responsibility to empathise with and support - rather than demonise or build walls to keep out - those most affected by climate change.

The topic of climate change is of utmost importance to today's youth, who will, along with their children and grandchildren, inherit this planet from their elders. Many contemporary young people have developed a sense of hopelessness or pessimism in the face of climate catastrophe. (5) Yet there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful and even optimistic. Recent waves of political and social action, from Extinction Rebellion (6) to the youth-led School Strike 4 Climate, (7) have shifted the global public conversation around the immediate need for action. Activists driving such movements are communicating humanity's collective hopes and fears and seeking to foster climate justice while also urging us to come together as a global community to care for our common home. And these movements underscore the need to imagine consequences and possibilities, to act individually and collectively, locally and nationally.

Damon Gameau's new film 2040 (2019) takes up this moral call to action, documenting stories of hope and possibility by featuring already-existing tools and technologies that can mitigate climate change while reshaping society towards justice, sustainability and community. As Gameau demonstrates, understanding climate change challenges the imagination and draws on our sense of justice, while addressing climate change demands all the tools of language, rhetoric and narrative. The director's story - told through the hypothetical future life of his daughter in a world that has taken swift and decisive action to curtail the climate crisis - will offer much-needed hope, joy and courage to young people watching it. While some argue that apocalyptic stories of doom and gloom will frighten people into action, Gameau's film communicates an alternative message to younger viewers: we know all about the warning signs of climate change, but we also know many exciting ways in which we can and should be addressing the crisis right now. It seems that we lack neither knowledge nor technology but, rather, the political will and social imagination to achieve a vibrant future. The documentary 2040 can help spark this much-needed conversation.


Prior to watching 2040, teachers can encourage students to reflect on their initial thoughts and build understandings of the science behind the climate crisis we currently face, before inviting them to consider the future they hope to see.

What do students say? What does science say?

Beginning with a 'barometer' activity (8) can help to establish students' prior knowledge and beliefs about the climate crisis. For this activity, teachers can develop a series of statements that will elicit some disagreement, such as 'I'm not worried about climate change', 'fossil-fuel companies are to blame for global warming' or 'rising oceans are not a problem; people can just move away from the coasts'. Students should read these statements silently and mark their personal reaction to each: 'strongly agree', 'agree', 'disagree' or 'strongly disagree'. With signs that correspond with these four views placed around the room, teachers can read aloud the first statement and invite students to move to the location in the room that reflects their belief. Then, teachers can ask students to visually note the range of opinions before inviting them to discuss their thinking with one another and asking a student from each group to report back to the rest of the class. It is important to note that this is not a debate, but rather a chance to share differing perspectives. We do encourage teachers to support any 'outliers' and to not allow the majority to ostracise others for their beliefs. Using this format, teachers should work through the remaining statements, facilitating a lively discussion that can help to build interest and questions for students to explore later.

Following the barometer activity, teachers should move from opinions to facts. To prepare students for viewing 2040, teachers could present some of the science behind climate change through direct instruction, but - for a more time-intensive yet also more active, student-centered approach - we suggest having students do the research themselves. Teachers can divide the class into small groups, assigning students to research major climaterelated topics addressed in the film: agriculture, air pollution, biodiversity loss, land conversion, rising oceans and warming temperatures. Student groups should gather information from reputable sources and then take turns presenting their findings to the class.

Envisioning the future

Early in the film, Gameau declares, 'The Earth is our collective home that we are actually renting from future generations.' It is fitting, then, that Gameau turns to school-aged children, collects their thoughts about what they want to see in the future and weaves clips of their responses throughout the film. The children's oral responses include the following:

* 'Cleaner water. That would really make me happy.'

* 'In the future, I would like for it to be possible to plant a seed and then a piece of meat grows from it so you don't have to kill animals.'

* 'When I grow up, I'd like a clean environment so I wouldn't get diseases.'

* 'Instead of using cars, I would like to use rocket boots to go around, and they would be powered by plants.'

In line with Gameau's approach of documenting positive visions for the future, teachers can invite students to envision the future of our planet and write about the shape that they hope it will take in 2040. This will help prepare them for the film, which essentially serves as Gameau's answer to the question: 'What would the world look like in 2040 if we just embraced the best that already exists?'

Presenting 'When I grow up, I would like to see ...' as a sentence starter, teachers can prompt students to finish the sentence and continue writing to explain and expand on their ideas. Teachers can invite students to share their writing with one another and encourage them to listen closely to each other's ideas while noting themes and questions raised that might support future enquiries. Further, this writing activity offers teachers an opportunity to gauge students' initial thoughts on topics raised in 2040, such as energy, economics, transportation, agriculture, resource consumption, and the empowerment of girls and women.


As students watch 2040, teachers can invite them to draw from the film as well as from their own prior knowledge and lived experiences by suggesting that they consider prompts like the following:

* Gameau's first stop is Bangladesh, where he explores the benefits of locally generated electricity, which he describes as 'great for our environment, with so many cascading benefits for any community that chooses to adopt it'. What benefits and challenges do you see locally generated electricity offering your community? How about the world around us?

* Despite the benefits of locally generated electricity, Gameau notes that 'microgrids are currently illegal in some countries'. Why do you suppose that is? Who stands to benefit from maintaining the status quo for energy generation and distribution? Who suffers from it?

* In the film, economist Kate Raworth of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford presents a doughnut-shaped economic framework as a way of thinking about balancing social and planetary boundaries. (3) How does the doughnut framework function? How might we use the doughnut framework to carry out the vision for 2040 that Gameau presents in the film?

* When exploring on-demand driverless vehicles, Gameau states, 'I do like the freedom of my own car, so the big question is, "Are enough of us willing to give that up and embrace shared transportation?"' What benefits and limitations do you see in replacing car ownership with on-demand driverless vehicles? How might that shift help combat climate change? Would you be willing to give up the freedom of owning a car? Why or why not? How might others in your community view giving up their cars for shared transportation? What makes you think so?

* In the film, Genevieve Bell, an anthropologist and technologist at the Australian National University, adds:

One of the interesting challenges about a future of vehicles that involves ridesharing is that we have all these ideas tied up with owning vehicles that have very little to do with getting us from Point A to Point B and all to do with what those things said about us. So,you know, they became symbols of independence and freedom. They became symbols of class, and wealth, and capital.

How does vehicle ownership serve as a status symbol? To what do you attribute vehicle ownership's role as an indicator of class and wealth? Why is such symbolism an obstacle to on-demand driverless vehicles? Do you think such symbolism can be undone for the sake of the future? How might that be accomplished?

* Gameau notes, 'I was pretty gobsmacked to learn that vested interests now spend almost [US]$i billion a year preventing us from actually lowering our emissions.' What tactics are people in the fossil-fuel industry using to undermine public knowledge and understanding about climate change? How can citizens identify and respond to such misinformation?

* What is 'regenerative farming'? What benefits do you see in regenerative farming? What role might it play in combating climate change? What constraints - mental, physical, biological, economic and so on - keep regenerative farming from being adopted widely?

* In the film, Paul Hawken, founder of Project Drawdown, (10) challenges the notion that modern society needs industrial agriculture, arguing that the megacorporations that comprise it 'produce sickness. They produce obesity. They produce diabetes. That's what Big Ag[riculture] is producing.' How do local and regenerative farming stand to improve the health and wellbeing of everyday citizens? To further explore Hawken's points connecting personal health issues and consumer choices with wider industrial, agricultural and economic systems, teachers can invite students to draw a web that illustrates such connections before prompting them to step back, reflect on their visuals and discuss their renderings.

* What is marine permaculture? What benefits are associated with it? What problems, if any, can you envision stemming from such geoengineering? What role might marine permaculture play in combating climate change?

* Late in the film, Hawken shares, 'Probably our biggest surprise was [discovering the importance of] educating girls and family planning. You combine these two together and the number-one solution to reversing global warming is the empowerment of girls and women.' How does the empowerment of girls and women play into the issue of climate change? What role does it play in the preservation of a community's resources?


Analysing automobile advertisements

In 2040, shifting from individual car ownership to ridesharing and on-demand driverless vehicles is proposed as a viable response to the climate crisis, yet experts contend that the views commonly associated with car ownership stand as a significant challenge to such a shift being fully realised on a grand scale. Bell's point about advertising playing a role in people associating car ownership with independence and freedom - or seeing cars as symbols of socio-economic status - offers an opportunity for teachers to engage students in the critical study of media messages.

As theorists Douglas Kellner and Jeff Share argue, critical media literacy 'deepens the potential of literacy education to critically analyze relationships between media and audiences, information and power'. (11) With 2040, teachers can support students in developing critical media literacy by engaging them in an analysis of automobile advertisements. Teachers can invite students to identify print or digital ads that, as Bell suggests, present car ownership as a symbol of independence and freedom and/or wealth and status. Then, students can examine those ads using prompts like the following:

* Who seems to be the target audience for the ad? What makes you think so? How might people from other demographics respond to it?

* What visuals are featured in the ad? What values do the images appear to project?

* What appears in the background of the ad? How does it contribute to the feelings you associate with it?

* What words appear prominently in the ad? What claims about the vehicle do the words make?

* What rhetorical appeals are used in the ad? How so?

* Looking beyond the automobile itself, what is it that the advertisement is selling? What makes you think so?

Beyond deconstructing texts, critical media literacy also involves 'incorporating alternative media production'. (12) With that in mind, teachers can invite students to apply what they learned from analysing automobile advertisements and use their understandings of rhetoric and design to generate alternative automobile advertisements that promote ridesharing and/or on-demand driverless vehicles for the betterment of our planet. As students work to create their ads for specific audiences, teachers can support students in using visuals, phrasing and framing in intentional ways that support appeals to their viewers' logic or emotions. Alternatively, teachers could encourage students to creatively take existing ads and ironically subvert their original message or intent using the technique known as detournement. (13) Further, to begin conversations about the potential of ridesharing as a response to the climate crisis, teachers and students might post the final products in the school building or the local community.

Creating public-service announcements to advocate for empowering girls and women

In the film, as previously mentioned, Hawken calls the empowerment of girls and women 'the number-one solution to reversing global warming'. After viewing the film, then, it would be fitting for teachers to challenge students to pursue advocacy work that promotes the empowerment of girls and women. Such work could involve the development of public-service announcements (PSAs), an authentic writing and production opportunity that stands to support student learning and has the potential to contribute to the urgent fight against climate change.

Before charging students with creating original PSAs, teachers can engage students in examining published PSAs that have previously been made to support the empowerment of girls and women. For example, teachers could invite students to examine PSAs developed by the Ad Council, the United States' leading producer of public-service communications, such as those used in the 'She Can STEM' campaign, (14) which aims to help girls see a future for themselves in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields by making women in these domains more visible. Students might inspect example PSAs to identify the intended audience, tone and persuasive techniques evident. Further, when exploring video PSAs, students can examine how the audio, text and visual elements complement one another. Such understandings can be helpful when students are creating PSAs of their own.

After studying examples, teams of students can create original PSAs that support the empowerment of girls and women. Depending on the context and resources available, teachers can invite students to collaboratively produce print or non-print PSAs. When creating video PSAs, students may benefit from first developing storyboards to plan out their PSAs, envisioning everything from the images and text to the audio complementing the visuals. Once students have recorded and edited their PSAs, teachers can organise viewing parties and publish effective PSAs through venues in the school and local community to extend the reach of the students' important messages.

Studying climate fiction

Another engaging way to augment the study of 2040 is to use fictional texts to teach about the climate and our future lives on this planet. While 2040 deliberately presents a hopeful future, many speculative-fiction writers have imagined bleak visions of the world to come based on trends they have observed in their own lives. Two highly recommended 'cli-fi' (climate fiction) books include the young-adult novel Ship Breaker (15) and, for more mature readers, the novel Parable of the Sower. (16) These two books, told from the perspective of young people living in societies ravaged by climate change and the socio-economic upheavals that it has brought about, are engaging tales of humans struggling to survive in challenging conditions. Both novels offer frightening visions of a future far from that shown in 2040, which can lead to rich conversations if compared with Gameau's optimistic vision. For more ideas about teaching with cli-n short stories, poems, novels and films, see Richard Beach, Jeff Share and Allen Webb's book Teaching Climate Change to Adolescents. (17)

Luke Rodesiler. PhD. currently an assistant professor of secondary education at Purdue University Fort Wayne, is a former high school English teacher and a teacher consultant of Red Cedar Writing Project. Michigan State University's site of the National Writing Project.

Russell Mayo is a PhD candidate and graduate instructor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He previously taught middle grades English and Social Studies for ten years in central North Carolina.


(1) See Bill McKibben, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, Times Books, New York, 2010.

(2) The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Global Warming of 1.5[dagger]C, 2018, <>, accessed 16 September 2019.

(3) See David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, Tim Duggan Books, New York, 2019.

(4) Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Harvard University Press, London & Cambridge, MA, 2011, p. 2.

(5) See 'Episode 79 - The Psychology of Climate Change', Speaking of Psychology podcast, American Psychological Association, 24 April 2019, <>, accessed 23 September 2019.

(6) See This Is Not a Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook, Penguin Random House, London, 2019; and Extinction Rebellion website, <>, accessed

1 September 2019.

(7) See School Strike 4 Climate website, <https://www.schoolstrike4climate.c0m>, accessed 1 September 2019; and Greta Thunberg, No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference, Penguin Random House, London, 2019.

(8) See 'Barometer: Taking a Stand on Controversial Issues', Facing History and Ourselves website, <>, accessed

1 September 2019.

(9) For more on her work, see Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think like a 21st-century Economist, Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT, 2017; and Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford website, <>, accessed 1 September 2019.

(10) See Project Drawdown website, <>, accessed 1 September 2019; and Paul Hawken (ed.), Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, Penguin Random House, New York, 2017.

(11) Douglas Kellner & Jeff Share, 'Critical Media Literacy Is Not an Option', Learning Inquiry, vol. 1, no. 1, April 2007, pp. 59-69.

(12) ibid, pp. 59-69.

(13) See James Trier (ed.), Detournement as Pedagogical Praxis, Sense Publishers, Rotterdam, Boston & Taipei, 2014, available at <>, accessed 1 September 2019.

(14) 'Empowering Girls in STEM', Ad Council website, <>, accessed 16 September 2019.

(15) Paolo Bacigalupi, Ship Breaker, Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2010.

(16) Octavia E Butler, Parable of the Sower, Grand Central Publishing, New York, 2019 [1993].

(17) See Richard Beach, Jeff Share, & Allen Webb, Teaching Climate Change to Adolescents: Reading, Writing, and Making a Difference, Routledge, New York, 2017; and also the book's official wiki, <>, accessed 1 September 2019.

(18) See Nicholas D Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Vintage Books, New York, 2009.

(19) Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2013.


The following resources can support teachers and students in learning more about efforts to empower girls and women around the world.

The Half the Sky movement


Inspired by the work of journalists Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.' (8) the Half the Sky movement aims to end the oppression of girls and women across the world. Teachers and students can learn more about empowering women through various resources, including a book, a documentary series, videos and games.

I Am Malala

In 2040, when addressing the importance of empowering and educating girls and women, Gameau includes clips featuring Malala Yousafzai. Through her book," teachers and students can read about Yousafzai - who was shot after speaking out publicly for girls' right to learn - and her fight for equal education in the face of global terrorism.

Curious Minds


Teachers and students can learn more about this Australian initiative that, like the US-based She Can STEM campaign, aims to empower girls by helping them explore careers in STEM fields.
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Author:Rodesiler, Luke; Mayo, Russell
Publication:Screen Education
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Dec 1, 2019
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