Adam McKay, the director of childhood classics such as “Step Brothers” and “The Other Guys,” along with more recent, politically-conscious films such as “The Big Short” and “Vice,” has a new movie: “Don’t Look Up.” It’s about a pair of Michigan State University (I know, yuck) astronomers trying to stop a comet from wiping out the human race. Spoiler alert: The comet represents climate change. “Don’t Look Up” is McKay’s attempt at showing that climate change is an extinction-level threat. The film itself, though, represents climate advocates’ continued inability to focus on the crisis without being distracted by other political issues.
The biggest problem with McKay’s newest film, according to critics, is that it isn’t just about climate change. “Don’t Look Up” features biting criticism of social media-obsessed culture, the greedy military-industrial complex and the hedonism a little fame can bring out in an otherwise humble midwestern professor. It also highlights the unnerving power massive corporations have over our government and our personal lives. One reviewer calls the film “a blunt instrument in lieu of a sharp razor.” McKay doesn’t focus on climate change alone; he panders to a suite of progressive priorities.
McKay’s willingness to subdue his message on climate change in favor of broader left-wing activism is not a phenomenon in filmmaking alone. U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s, D-N.Y., Green New Deal was denounced by so many in part because it contains a plethora of progressive promises completely unrelated to the staving off of global catastrophe. Guaranteeing a living wage, universal healthcare and ending discrimination against numerous groups are certainly noble causes, but none of them pose the same existential threat as a warming climate. Furthermore, conservatives’ ideology and constituencies bar them from even considering a bill with so many progressive priorities. That means opponents can stop a bill like the Green New Deal without directly confronting climate science.
Robinson Meyer recently voiced similar criticism of the Build Back Better Act: “What is so frustrating is that the largest disputes over the bill aren’t about climate policy.” Indeed, the cost of Build Back Better — something Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., are particularly concerned about — is found mainly in the social programs. The climate provisions in the House-passed Build Back Better Act total around $500 billion, well within the two senators’ preferred $1.75 trillion limit. In fact, Manchin reportedly offered White House negotiators $500 billion to $600 billion in climate spending in his own proposal.
Beyond harming the feasibility of congressional action, lumping climate change advocacy with other liberal priorities politicizes the crisis and the science behind it. This is something “Don’t Look Up” exemplifies as well. CNN’s Holly Thomas recently penned an article about the film’s tendency to mix science with liberalism in general, calling it a “critical mistake.” Similarly, when conservatives see climate change programs as a part of a larger liberal package, they see climate change as a part of the Democratic platform, not scientific fact.
Thomas points to Dr. Anthony Fauci’s desire to remain apolitical early in the COVID-19 pandemic as further proof. As Republican politicians began to label Fauci as partisan, trust in him as an authority on the pandemic shrank. Similarly, when diligent adherence to COVID-19 restrictions became more associated with Democrats, the science motivating these decisions became less relevant. The same thing is happening with climate change — it’s seen as just another liberal issue, not an existential threat to people from all political backgrounds.
Climate change doesn’t even have someone like Fauci, a spokesman who has at least tried to remain apolitical. The world’s most prominent climate-change activists are known liberals. Ocasio-Cortez is a vilified progressive. Sir David Attenborough once quipped that the best way to deal with former President Donald Trump was to “shoot him.” Greta Thunberg, perhaps the best-known climate activist, has done well to avoid party politics. But even she endorsed Biden before the 2020 presidential election.
While those embracing the danger of climate change are so often liberal, it is important to acknowledge the growing number of conservatives acknowledging the problem. Climate change is stated as one of Utah Sen. Mitt Romney’s “greatest fears for the US.” U.S. Rep. John Curtis, also from Utah, started the Conservative Climate Caucus last June — with 55 of his Republican colleagues. Even Republican voters, young moderates in particular, are open to some government action on climate issues. These are the type of people advocates of environmental action could bring in if they weren’t so insistent on combining the issue with other progressive priorities.
Climate change is not partisan and it isn’t political; it’s science. Separating environmental policies from partisan bills and simply focusing on climate alone might just bring about some substantive action. Instead of holding climate change provisions for the incredibly partisan Build Back Better, why not negotiate a bipartisan stand-alone environmental package free of the progressive priorities that dissuade conservatives and moderate Democrats alike. Instead of writing a film laden with liberal critiques bound to offend non-progressives, why not focus on something everyone should be able to agree on: Our planet dying is a bad thing.
Quin Zapoli is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.