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138: Just Look Up! with Adam McKay

The second most watched title on Netflix has the world talking about climate change.

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About this episode

Today, an earth-shattering comet of an episode as Christiana, Tom and Paul talk to the phenomenally talented Adam McKay about his 4 time Oscar nominated film Don’t Look Up!

Writing and directing a comedy film about climate change is not a challenge for the faint-hearted. Not only did Adam McKay take on this challenge, in doing so he created a tour-de-force which dominated global news feeds after its release, quickly took the position of 2nd most watched Netflix original, and got EVERYONE talking about climate change. 

Listen as he describes his journey of growing climate awareness, how he doesn’t think he will produce another piece of work that ISN’T about climate change, and the breaking news that France will be hosting its own series of ‘Just Look Up’ days as a result of the film.

The hosts are also super charged this week as they tackle the global energy crisis head on, taking us on a whistle-stop tour of the major issues that are being played out against an ever increasingly tense geopolitical backdrop. Can gas ever be considered green? What are the implications of this crisis on a swift green energy transition and stability of net zero ambitions?

We think you’ll agree, we really did have it all this week didn’t we?

And! Stick around til the end because playing us out this week is the incredibly talented Sibusile Xaba with his single ‘Angisenalutho’.

Mentioned links from the episode:


Photo credit for Adam McKay's headshot: Emma McIntyre / Getty Images / Netflix


Full Transcript

Tom: [00:00:12] Hello and welcome to Outrage + Optimism. I'm Tom Rivett-Carnac.

Christiana: [00:00:15] I'm Christiana Figueres

Paul: [00:00:17] And I'm Paul Dickinson.

Tom: [00:00:18] This week we talk about the geopolitics of energy prices and how this is affecting the transition to a zero carbon world. We speak to the brilliant Adam McKay, director of Don't Look Up and we have music from Sibusile Xaba. Thanks for being here. Ok, so we are back again with another episode a couple of weeks in and there seems to be so much going on in the world at the moment, and some of it's good, but much of it is frankly concerning and I've been looking this week at the energy markets and there's something so peculiar about energy markets. I do not quite understand these wild price fluctuations. I mean, gas is now nearly six times higher than it was a year ago. A couple of years ago, we were looking at oil that was sub $10 a barrel. Now we're talking about $100 a barrel oil. There is a whole range of changes in the world around preventing fossil fuel extraction, which of course, is something that we should applaud. But as a result of these rising prices and we can get into why they're rising, we're seeing massive impacts on the geopolitical stage, with Russia flexing its muscles and battles going on in Ukraine and arguments over Nord Stream 2. It really feels like this has the potential to create a narrative that could slow down the transition to net zero, when most deep analysis actually suggests that the best way we can deal with rising prices is to get to net zero as quickly as possible. So let's start there. Either of you want to kick off with any observations around what is happening at the moment in the global energy markets.

Christiana: [00:01:56] Paul, I know you're chomping at the bit. Go for it.

Load More

Tom: [00:01:59] Paul's classic as the only one who's actually done any research, dive in. Paul, we're ready to be wowed.

Paul: [00:02:04] Ok, well, I'm going to start off a bit less wowee, but with you to get to a bit more wowee after a while, OK? I mean, you know, it's been my job to look at this kind of stuff for about 20 years, and I wouldn't say I understand all that well, which implies to me it is a little bit complicated. I mean, it's kind of weird or random that when oil prices rise, the oil companies profits go up. Because if you think about it, there's money going to the producers, you know, typically, nations own a lot of the oil in the ground, you know, countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia. And then when the price rises, the oil company's profits go up and not down. So somehow they managed to, you know, pass on increases in the raw material cost to the final output cost. And that's a little bit it implies there's a kind of cartel going on, if you see what I mean, because in most industries, when a raw materials price increases, the profit margin decreases. So the two things that this can tell us is that the industry is very good at passing on price increases. That's to say that we find it very hard to substitute for fossil fuels and secondarily, that the whole industry is, operates to some extent as an organized cartel. But the good news, if I can be so bold, bold as to suggest there is some good news and I'm going to draw on a little bit of personal experience here. 11 years ago with somebody called Mitchell, I started my insulation company, Mitchell and Dickinson. And I can tell you, having spent 11 years trying to insulate houses, the number one barrier to insulation is low energy prices. When energy prices are low, nobody bothers to insulate their houses. And when energy prices are high, people go off and insulate their houses. So I think on the one hand, we've got these wild energy fluctuations, and it's probably true that less capital investment in fossil fuel recovery is causing energy prices to rise. But we should also see it as a great stimulus for us to invest in renewable energy. As Christiana says, it never sends you a bill. And to insulate so we require less energy. That's my quick summary. 

Tom: [00:04:06] Nice. From personal experience selling double glazing. I like it, Christiana.

Christiana: [00:04:09] Yeah, I was saying a nice summary brought to you by Mitchell and Dickinson. Exactly. Thank you very much.

Paul: [00:04:17] Period properties insulation reversible. No planning permission.

Christiana: [00:04:19]. Actually Paul, I would be interested to know, has Mitchell and Dickinson seen more demand for its double glazing?

Paul: [00:04:30] Yes, hugely. We had our best quarter ever last quarter. It's rocketing.

Christiana: [00:04:34] Interesting. Ok, well, there you go. And the phone number to get insulation is,

Tom: [00:04:40] No, no, no, no. You can't get it. We're already advertised in Costa Rica. That's enough.

Christiana: [00:04:43] Christiana Well, I thought I thought I would give Paul, you know, fight a fighting chance

Paul: [00:04:49] There, actually in conflict. You know, if you insulate your home, it's kind of warm enough to probably stay in the UK. But actually, if you don't get your home, it's freezing. You've got to go to Costa Rica to survive.

Christiana: [00:05:00] But you don't.ou don't want to insulate it so warm that you start growing palm trees. There you go.

Paul: [00:05:04] Well, no, that's true, Christiana.

Tom: [00:05:07] I'd be interested to know. I mean, Paul's made the point that higher energy prices precipitate a transformation towards investing in insulation, et cetera. But what we're seeing in the U.K., where Paul and I are sitting, is that higher energy prices makes net zero targets politically vulnerable because because politicians, particularly on the right, start saying, Oh my God, you know, energy prices are going up, we need to get rid of all these net zero targets with no evidence that the two are connected. So what would you say about that intersection? Because it does seem that rising energy prices, on the one hand, an opportunity to invest on the other, the politics starts to shake a bit.

Christiana: [00:05:39] Yeah, I. Think would be interesting to remember that like in any market, we have a supply side argument and we have a demand side argument, so from the supply side. Now in this case, supply of oil and gas, these high prices obviously incentivize any and all oil and gas companies to continue to invest either and or into more extraction or more infrastructure or anything that supports that supply. That is understandable. From a demand side, those of us who use electricity, the high prices actually incentivize those to move away from the dependency of fossil fuels and actually move our purchases of electricity over to renewables because as we know, they have more predictable and more stable prices. So both of those incentives are at play. They just reflect different sides of the market, whether you're in supply or whether you're into demand. Where the intersection comes, is in what I would call the smart supply side, i.e. the more visionary gas, oil and gas companies that understand that these profits are quite unexpected. Profits that they're having now are exactly what they can be harvesting in order to invest into their own transition. Because what we know from the past is that these high prices are with us now, but they do not stabilize there. The instability of those fuels is historically true and will continue. So this is where we are with the big question of the oil and gas companies. Which ones of these are actually putting this in to their investment for the transition and which ones are just barreling along, literally barreling along and producing more and more of this stuff of which we don't need?

Tom: [00:08:02] Well, I don't have a complete answer to that. But today, BP announced record profits, highest profits in seven years or something, and they're returning a substantial chunk of it to shareholders. So I'm sure there's an argument and you're right around long term thinking and how do they deploy this capital to actually facilitate their transformation. But it's also true that they're not really being responsible because when they get this cash, they distribute it back to shareholders to raise their share price. So, you know, both things are going on there, but I want to ask about one slightly different thing which is in the midst of all of this gas price crisis with us being so aware, particularly in the EU, of how vulnerable we are to Russian gas and, you know, Putin grandstanding on the world stage, particularly in regard to Ukraine. In the midst of all of this, the European Commission has issued its sustainable finance taxonomy and included within that is a categorisation for gas to regard gas as a green fuel. And as a result of that, gas companies are now looking at raising green debt on the bond market because they are included in that taxonomy so they can be regarded as a green investment. Now that feels to me like a place where the geopolitics of energy has massively undermined the resolve and the ability of a major climate leader to actually take meaningful action to deal with the issue. What do we think about that?

Christiana: [00:09:28] Who would be the major climate leader in that sentence?

Tom: [00:09:33] The EU.

Paul: [00:09:34] I mean, whilst you're thinking, Christiana, I can offer up a just like a couple of thoughts, I mean, the first one is that, you know, there's a lot of energy is used to heat our homes, for example, in the UK. Peak heat is and this is industry as well. Peak heat is four times the output of the electricity grid. So the thing about gas is it provides like a phenomenal amount of energy, you know, kind of as and when you need it. And it's not that incredibly easy to store very large amounts of gas. So supply and demand can have these sort of exaggerated impacts. But I would say that is a really, really good case actually for us to invest in renewables and storage and also perhaps nuclear, which was part of this taxonomy in the EU. That's been very, very controversial. But I do think I thought about this for a while, and to be honest, I think if gas is specifically replacing coal, that's to say, if gas recovers hypothecated to replacing coal, you can kind of see a logic for it. But actually, I personally wouldn't classify the fossil fuel gas as a transition fuel if it's not replacing coal, because if we build that renewable energy infrastructure and the storage, even though it's huge or if we use nuclear, which we can talk about, then you're not making climate change worse.

Christiana: [00:10:54] Well, can I push back against that poll because you know this thing about gas being a transition. It is a transition, but the more important thing is for how many years? So when we think about when, as you're saying, using moving from coal to gas. Ok, that's an improvement. The problem is, if you then invest into so much extraction and infrastructure for gas that then there is a built in incentive to maintain that infrastructure going for decades, way beyond what the natural let me say or the societal or in fact, even the economic expiration date would have been for gas. So we're actually artificially extending that expiration date. And that's the danger. It's not about arguing, is it or is it not a transition gas? It's about trying to figure out is it a trend, how long is that bridge? Is it a two three year bridge? Ok, maybe acceptable. It certainly cannot be a 20 or 30 year bridge.

Paul: [00:12:13] Yeah, I mean, Christiana, if I can just say I have my principles, and if you don't like them, I have other principles. Actually, I agree with you. Yeah, no. Sure, we shouldn't lock in this long term stuff. You're right.

Tom: [00:12:24] This is very interesting. And just one further thought on. I mean, we all remember at COP26 last year there were all these announcements that governments and multilateral institutions would no longer finance fossil fuels, and we were all very excited about that. But I've actually been on various closed door meetings with different African countries, and they've been really frustrated about the fact that these commitments have been made, whereas there is not been an accompanying commitment to buy down the cost of capital for renewable energy in those countries. So they're being starved of capital to develop energy infrastructure while not yet being provided, although there are notable exceptions like the Global Energy Alliance, which has now just come out, which is philanthropists rather than government with a meaningful and affordable way to massively scale up renewables. So I mean, I feel like if we're going to do the one, we've got to also do the other and provide a good on ramp to that, which is to do with the cost of capital and it's to do with preparing the projects in those countries. So this is a big area that we'll probably need to unpack this year.

Christiana: [00:13:25] Absolutely true. And I have also heard those voices. In fact, I've heard those voices even from U.N. staff who are saying, No, no, no, no. You know, for Africa, we have to put a protective boundary around Africa, and Africa should be able to invest or attract investment into gas as much as they like. Because the cost of capital for renewables in Africa is still too high. And so that's where that argument will then buy down. The risk is absolutely critical and a very important role for either big philanthropic funding or for development institutions to do that.

Paul: [00:14:13] And can I just throw in the idea that the governments, you know, in the EU, for example, U.K., whatever, should be looking holistically, particularly you mentioned this Ukrainian crisis. You know, nobody really wants to be dependent upon another country for their energy. So there are what you could call national security imperatives alongside climate change imperatives. But whoever's developing low cost, renewable or, you know, zero carbon energy infrastructure can sell into those markets as well as sort their own country out.

Tom: [00:14:43] Now, because what Paul said is slightly controversial, I just like to point out that it was Paul, not Tom, who just said that. So listen, say, occasionally confused,

Paul: [00:14:51] Very proud, very proud to be associated with those opinions.

Tom: [00:14:57] Right, anything else to add before we turn to our very exciting interview for this week? This is a crackly interview. Going to love it.

Christiana: [00:15:02] I think we're good for now. That's a good crop for today.

Tom: [00:15:06] All right. So Adam McKay,

Christiana: [00:15:08] Speaking of controversial, that's a good description of this unbelievable movie that we're going to talk about.

Tom: [00:15:16] Yes, unbelievable movie. So I am sure that many people have seen Don't Look Up, one of the best viewed films on Netflix ever. Came from director Adam McKay, BAFTA award winning writer, director and producer, celebrated for works like the Big Short and Vice. Don't Look Up is, of course, a satirical movie about climate change released just before Christmas and quickly became the second most watched Netflix movie in history, with over 320 million total hours streamed. He is a brilliant person. We spoke to him just a couple of days ago, and we're just kind of blown away by how thoughtful, how creative, how full of energy he is, you're going to really enjoy this interview, and we'll be back afterwards with a discussion.

Paul: [00:15:57] But spoiler alert, there are spoilers for the film in the interview. So if you've not watched the film, just go and hold with the podcast now go and watch Don't Look Up and then come back and enjoy the interview. But you may have some things revealed to you in this interview that will diminish your joy at the film. So there's the spoiler alert. 

Tom: [00:16:18] Very nice. All right. Here's Adam.

Christiana: [00:16:26] Well, Adam, truly what a pleasure and what an honor to have you on Outrage + Optimism. We were just saying before we started recording that you must be the most popular person to have interviews with now after the unbelievable success of Don't Look Up. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for taking some time to join us here on this podcast. Our listeners will be really, truly, very excited.

Adam McKay: [00:16:57] Well, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Christiana: [00:17:00] Adam, I wanted to take you first back to the origin of the idea of the movie, because rumor or reports have it that you were quite taken by the report that came out from the IPCC in 2018. I just wanted to invite you as a non climate nerd because the rest of us here are.

Tom: [00:17:35] But we're happy to welcome you as a new climate nerd.

Christiana [00:17:38] Yes, welcome to the club.

Adam McKay: [00:17:40] I appreciate it.

Christiana: [00:17:43] I just wanted to invite you to share with us the impact of that report on you, because I'm sure you came at it from a different perspective than we did, but you reached somewhat similar conclusions. How was that for you?

Adam McKay: [00:18:01] Yeah. Well, you know, I've been aware of the climate crisis for quite some time. You know, like a lot of people, I saw Al Gore's documentary, which was a wake up for me, and I started realizing, Oh, we're, you know, we're looking at something that's going to be very dangerous in, you know, I always any time I hear certain statistics, I always realize they probably been filtered through a lot of political mechanisms and systems. So when I heard Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth ring the alarm bell, you know, there was talk of it being 80 years away, a hundred years away. And I sort of filtered that to, Oh, it's probably 50 years away. But with that IPCC report, what became glaringly apparent, and I'm sure a lot of your listeners know the IPCC report is very conservative. There are dozens and dozens of countries that have to approve those scientific findings, so it gets filtered and filtered and filtered. So for that report to be that alarmist and that concerned really shook me, and I had two or three nights where I couldn't sleep as I started as the whole, pictures started to come into focus. And because of that report, I started reading a lot of other books, talking to a lot of other people. David Wallace-Wells is a friend. I read his book Uninhabitable Earth, which added to my poor sleeping habits

Paul: [00:19:43] It’s in the title Adam, it’s in the title.

Christiana: [00:19:46] I’m sure that came as no surprise.

Adam McKay: [00:19:49] And then, you know, social media is, for the most part, a destructive hellscape. But one of the great things on social media is you can talk to a lot of renowned climate scientists, and I've gotten to know them through the years. So I reached out to a bunch of them and started asking questions, and the answers I got were far from comforting. So from that point on, my whole worldview shifted and I felt an urgency in my bones, and I started looking at the world around us in a very, very different way. And as a small anecdote, I said to my wife back then who had had about enough of me with all of this. And I said, You know, we should get air filters because those hills over to the north of us are going to catch fire. And she just said, Well, whatever, whatever. And so I bought these big air filters, about five of them. This is about a year or two after that report. No. And they showed up right as the pandemic hit. And right as we had massive fires in Pasadena. Well, you couldn't go in your backyard because the air quality index was so horrific. And that was the first time my wife looked at me like, Oh, he may know something here. So.

Christiana: [00:21:20] So she bowed down very deeply in respect.

Adam McKay: [00:21:24] She did not. She gave me one half second glance that just said, maybe he's not a total lunatic.

Tom: [00:21:34] You're never a prophet in your own land out of this.

Christiana: [00:21:37] That was the full extent of the recognition.

Paul: [00:21:39] That’s knocking the ball out the park, right?

Adam McKay: [00:21:42] And then so ever since then, I've been operating under the assumption that this is coming. And then the most recent piece of information I heard was a piece of climate modeling from a group called Climate Analytics that said that in by the year 2030, half of our days will be once every hundred years, heat events. And I read that that was about two weeks ago, and I can't shut up about it and everyone I talked to in the media. I just say, why are you not reporting on that? I mean, that is massive, massive news. So yeah, it's been quite the journey. It's not been pleasant, but at the same time, I'll always choose being awake over being asleep. And the good news is it led to this movie. I felt after I had this awakening that it just, I don't know if I can ever do anything ever again that isn't at least related to the biggest story, empirically speaking, the biggest story in human history. The only one that's even a close second is the possibility of nuclear war. And then the third after that is a distant third. So yeah, this is the biggest story in human history. It's the greatest threat to life in sixty six million years, and I feel a little bit like I'm living in a crazy house, a crazy world because I turn on the news and they don't talk about it. You see our leaders and you can tell they don't really feel the reality in their bones of what we're facing. And so it's really changed my life.

Christiana: [00:23:32] Hmm. Well, just hearing you say that I can already see the script of the movie being written in your conscious or in your unconscious.

Adam McKay: [00:23:42] Well, I have several projects that are coming up. We're doing an anthology series for HBO that's sort of like Black Mirror, but it's all climate related. I'm working on my next movie, which will be climate related or even just directly about climate. I have two ideas I'm looking at, so this is the mission. I mean, how do we break through that wall of white noise and distraction and news and chatter. That's, you know, in many cases funded by the fossil fuel industry through advertising. So that's kind of that's kind of my personal mission that I've taken on.

Paul: [00:24:28] Yeah, we totally get that. I mean, I can't actually imagine what the black mirror of climate change is going to be like. I find Black Mirror very brilliant, but difficult to watch. But honestly, I mean, Adam, I think that the role of comedians, even in very serious topics, you know, I found, for example, that the presidency of Donald Trump very difficult. It was comedians and of course, great script writers who who got me. And I think millions, billions of people through that experience is a very important thing. But I mean this is a real breakthrough film that you've made. It's a kind of new genre almost, you know, a kind of new category. It's ambitious, but it tries to deal with the totality of it. And I've read these amazing statistics of like more than 300 million hours of viewing. I was trying to work out, how is this like the squid game of human survival or the big short of the Earth or whatever? But can ask you what what you've learned from your experience of writing this film and producing just a hugely successful mass communication on climate change?

Adam McKay: [00:25:32] Well, the most heartening, wonderful thing that we got to experience with this movie is that, you make these movies and you kind of hope that people will relate to the story you're telling. And but you never really know, you know, I mean, you do some test screenings for audio. Audience is to make sure you're not a total lunatic. And so, you know, you're in the ballpark. But until it was released on Netflix, and it happens with the flick of a switch, suddenly the movie goes across the world to, I think they're there. Five hundred and forty million people they have access through Netflix, which is up 14th of the planet, which is hard to comprehend. And the second they flick that switch and it went live, it was the most incredible, borderline beautiful thing because what you saw? And usually this doesn't happen with comedies. Comedies don't cross cultural and national lines. But the movie was number one in eighty seven different countries. It was number one in Nigeria. It was number one in Pakistan, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Cambodia, Canada, the U.S., France. Like on and on, I'm, you know, eighty seven different countries. And what I realized at that moment is, you know, we like to think that most people are living under a rock or don't care, but it's the exact opposite. And what you saw were all these people were feeling what we were feeling, the team of people that made this movie and they were feeling that, you know, we're not being told the truth. Our leaders aren't taking it seriously. And by the way, that could even flow out of climate into income inequality, corruption, you know, ego, greed, narcissism. And to see, I think by estimates right now, three hundred million people have seen this movie. And you see you can look on social media and actual time to see all their responses come through. And this and to see these responses that we're like, Yes, this is it. This is what I've been feeling. Oh my God, I cried at the ending. Oh my God, I laughed so hard. This is our world, and it was really a wonderful thing. And just a reminder that no, no, no people get it. They do. In their muscles, in their soul. They know the truth. And it was incredible. It was really a wonderful thing.

Tom: [00:28:20] Adam, I love the movie. I should come straight out and say, I've seen it three times and I picked up different things each time I saw it. I particularly enjoyed at the very end in the sort of comedy scene, and I didn't pick this up the first two times that everyone who comes out of the cry of freezing chambers is like an object lobbyist or an oil person or something. It is so good that you stick these little things in there, but I have a few questions I want to ask you in very quick order. The first is I loved it. Everyone I know loved it in the climate space and felt very seen, but the critics didn't love it. Why do you think that there was such a clear division between critics not loving it and people who work on this issue and the general public being so enthused?

Adam McKay: [00:28:59] Well, in fairness, the critics were almost perfectly 50-50 divided, so there were critics that loved it. There were critics that got it. But here's the part where you're correct. The critics who didn't like it, hated it in a way that I have never experienced, and I have done this for almost 30 years and I have never read reviews like this.

Paul: [00:29:23] It's the hallmark when people are totally divided.

Adam McKay: [00:29:27] I mean, they were angry. They went after me personally. They were dismissive. And at first I was very confused because, you know, we had screened the movie for audiences beforehand, and we had never gotten that reaction, ever. Now, once and by the way, their test screenings, I'm not saying they're definitive. And of course, every critic should have a professional responsibility to have the reaction they have. So respect, you know, I respect their reactions, they should have those reactions. But it was very interesting and what I started realizing, it wasn't just the critics. There were a lot of members of the media, too, that had this reaction of being kind of like they kept saying, I felt like the movie was yelling at me and I was like, Wait, what? And because for audiences, they felt like the movie was on their side. It felt like they were the scientists. They felt like they were the ones living in a crazy world. So it's very interesting to see. Some of the critics say I felt like the movie was yelling at me and it was like, Oh, I never occurred to me. But of course, the movie is vicious to the media and there is, you know, a portion of the critics once again, not all of the critics, but some of them, I think we're watching the movie through the lens of the media and. And it never occurred to me that anyone would watch the movie like that now. By the way, there are other critics who just didn't think it was funny, who didn't like the filmmaking, and that's all valid. You can have those reactions, but the intensity of those reactions from some of those critics was really interesting. And then there was, you know, some of the critics who would write for outlets. There was the critic from the Wall Street Journal, which is a well-known climate denying newspaper. And and it was very funny to read his review because it's just like, dude, have like one step of awareness, like you're walking into this building that literally your day in and day out job is to, you know, fuel the climate catastrophe and you watch this movie and oh, surprise, surprise, you didn't dig it. So. But it was really interesting. And man, oh man, I'll take passionate hatred over, you know, blasé dismissal any day of the week. It clearly touched nerves. It touched a lot of people. And it really reminded me of the power of film that you can get that kind of unabashed love. You can have climate scientists saying, I finally feel seen, epidemiologist, I finally feel heard. You can have regular people going, Oh my God, this is how I see the world. But then you can have an element of the professional media saying, This is garbage. I hate this. Like good, by the end of it, I was like, Good, let it fly.

Tom: [00:32:23] Yeah, so I totally agree and absolutely triggered debate. I'm sure you've seen this data. There's some polling that came out from it was quite big, a few thousand responses, and it basically showed the progressives having seen the film This is us only and how it translated to support for urgent federal action on climate, Progressives moved modestly from an already high base towards more support. Independents became very significantly more supportive of urgent action on climate. And Republicans had a massive backlash and a drop of 15 percent in terms of support for urgent action on climate. So again, that sort of demonstrates what you just described how this absolutely, It held this mirror up to society, and people either had an emotive reaction where they reacted against it or they then went for further support. I'd love to know your reaction to that data and what that means for our strategy going forward. Is there any way to reach that or do we have to focus on the movable middle who will have a sort of rational response to these things?

Adam McKay: [00:33:25] So you guys know this better than I do. There's some really positive polling as far as the amount of people that deny the climate crisis has gone down quite a bit, and they're no longer really a statistically significant part of the discussion. And so really, for us, what people that this movie was really pointed towards were the people that in the polling say they're somewhat concerned. And by the way, that's a lot of my friends. That's a lot of the people where I live in Los Angeles tend to think of the climate as an issue, as one of a bunch of issues. Now they're smart people, so they know it's real. They're not denying the science, but they somehow stopped in their awareness of it at the, Oh my god are poor, great grandkids. And that's the portion of the population that's really, and I say this respectfully, but really doing the most damage, because if you really understand what this climate crisis is and I'm a goofball, I'm not a scientist, I just happen to stumble into this information. So it's not like I'm any better than anyone else. I just got lucky or unlucky if you're my wife and happened to stumble into it, but that's somewhat concerned block, they're the ones who are stopping action, right? They're the ones. Because if you know what's going on, you are not somewhat concerned. You are fully freaked out on full alert. And I've tried to explain this to people. But you know, when you're telling people stuff, that's just a person saying it. So you know, all we can do is batter our media to start covering this as a daily story, which is what it is. It's not a once a week story. And we got to hope they can start breaking through. So, so I'm not surprised by those reactions. The other thing I can tell you is there's been a lot of anecdotal responses from people who identify as conservatives loving the movie. There was actually a great analysis of the movie and the American Conservative. There were several positive reviews from conservative outlets because of the faith element in the movie. There's a prayer love, then spoiler alert there's a lot of religious right people that really love the movie, and when we did our testing for the screenings because we had people who identified their political leanings, we found once we swung the movie to more of a comedy, it actually brought along a significant amount of self-identifying conservatives. So it's not quite as dire as those numbers show. And you guys know, polling is tricky. How people identify as tricky. There are all kinds of right wingers. There are the extreme right wingers. There are the fiscally conservative right wingers, there are the religious right wingers. And I had family members who are right wingers, call me on this movie saying how much they loved it. Whereas my last couple of movies they just never even call me. So I'm definitely seeing some positive signs, and I'm a big believer that there is a common language that can be spoken, that we're just not doing. That's alienating and dividing us. And I think this movie achieves some of that, which I did not expect. But having seen it, it's quite hopeful.

Christiana: [00:36:56] You know, Adam, I am luckily not in your shoes to have to put something like this together and If were in your shoes. I would. The toughest thing for me would be to choose which aspects of climate change to bring into the movie and which ones to leave on the wayside. Because climate is such a complex issue and has so many different facets in so many different factors and so many different dimensions that it would be frankly completely impossible to make a movie that covers everything. But I have to tell you, to be frank, one of the pieces that you, I believe, chose to simplify out and that stayed sort of in my attention pocket the whole time. And I'm really wondering, why did you choose to take it out or to not bring it in, rather not to take it out, but not bring it in, is the fact that climate is created by us humans. It is not a threat to mankind that is nature created. It's human created. And so that to me, puts a different spin on this whole thing because if we cause the problem, then it gives us a deeper sense of responsibility to address the problem. So I wondered how did you make an incredibly difficult choice about which aspects of climate to bring in and which ones to leave for your next movie, perhaps?

Adam McKay: [00:38:29] Well, so the entire goal of this movie, because you guys know better than I do that the trick with climate is, you know that it's to use Timothy Morton's expression, the eco philosopher, a hyperobject, that it's something that's so massive, so sprawling that in some ways it defies our cognitive abilities as humans and is very difficult to grasp, which is what we're seeing in play now. So the simple trick that we did in the movie is we eliminated that. We took out climate change and made it a simple giant dirty rock, a comment that's going to hit Earth on a very direct schedule. So we got rid of the time haziness. We got rid of the sprawl, the science, like everyone, can understand a comet because the point of this movie was the reaction. It's about us as humans, that hyperobject and it's about our economy, it's about our personalities, our limitations, our quest for power, for money, for distraction. That's what we were really trying to put the spotlight on in this movie. And the only way to do that was to simplify the climate crisis part of it. So the comet was never meant to be a perfect stand-in for climate. If anything, it was supposed to simplify. So we could look at our reaction. And the reason we did that is because the truth is we could have dealt with the climate crisis. We've had many opportunities. We knew about it. In nineteen sixty five, they had the science for greenhouse gasses warming the Earth. Back in the late 19th century, we in the seventies, the oil companies started to work to solve it, and then they decided it was cheaper not to. So really, the story of climate in a lot of ways is, we’re the animals on this planet that are creating it, we’re the animals that have the abilities to solve this problem and we’re not. And to me that is the most striking thing about the climate catastrophe is why we're not. So that's what this movie is focusing on. So you're right, I'll be doing other projects that will get a little bit more on the climate side, but as you guys know, we have renewable energy, it's cheaper than fossil fuels. We just have to deploy it. We did it in World War Two and building thousands of bombers every second on the turn of a dime. Why can't we do that with renewable energy? Why aren't we expanding on emerging technologies like carbon removal, not carbon capture or carbon removal, which there is some promising technology out there? Why aren't we limiting, you know, certain meats and factory products? Why aren't we like mobilizing right this second? And that's what the movie's about. So no, the comet is a very imperfect stand-in for climate change, and that was definitely intentional.

Christiana: [00:41:42] That's a very thoughtful answer. Adam, thank you very much. I shall sleep better tonight because I've been noodling on that one since I saw the movie. So thank you very much for that answer. But now I have one more question that I'm hoping you can give me an equally thoughtful answer. As a woman, tell me why if the U.S. president was going to be as irresponsible and as corrupt as she is, why did you have to cast her as a female?

Adam McKay: [00:42:15] Well, that one's a little simpler. That is, the best roles are the worst characters. The funnest roles tend to be the biggest egotistical dirt bags. And I just wanted to have a woman in that position. And you know, the truth is, God bless women. I do actually think you're better than men. But I don't think you're one hundred percent better than men. So there's plenty of creepy women. But mostly it was like, Hey, this is a really fun role. Let's give it to a great woman actor. So, you know, that was the main impetus for it.

Paul: [00:42:55] All these creepy bad people. But only one Meryl Streep, right?

Adam McKay: [00:42:58] And by the way, that doesn't hurt, either. It's Meryl Streep.

Christiana: [00:43:01] Yeah, well, she is so fantastic.

Tom: [00:43:04] Adam, this has been such a pleasure to talk to you. We enjoyed it so much. I love the movie. I've said, as I said, I've seen it many times. I love so many elements of it. I think it was such a thoughtful commentary. I think you have done what so many of us have tried to do over many years, which is to move the debate forward, to bring new people into it, to have energetic conversations about where we go next.

Christiana: [00:43:25] I’m glad you said that, Tom, because I thought when you said what so many of us have been trying to do for many years, I thought, Please don't say that we've been trying to make a movie because that is totally not something we should have been

Tom: [00:43:34] We know our limitations. Yeah, exactly. I have to comment. I mean, I was on a call with you with Katharine Hayhoe a little while ago, who has been a previous guest on this podcast, a brilliant climate scientist, evangelical Christian. And she just made such a beautiful comment to you, she said, You know, this film was amazing because it was about listening to science, but at the critical moment, you also brought in the role of faith. I mean, that's just one example of the thoughtfulness that you brought to the narrative. And we loved it. And thank you for that and thank you for joining us today. We have one closing question for you, which you ask all of our guests. We would love to know now that you have made this film, you look to what's next for you? What's next for the world? Can you tell us one thing that you feel outraged by as you think about the climate crisis and one thing that you feel optimistic about?

Adam McKay: [00:44:24] Yeah, I really feel this movie elucidated it even more for me, as I talked about earlier. I'm outraged by the total failure of our news media to report on the biggest story in human history. I now really pay attention to it, and it's shocking. It's shocking to turn on broadcast news and to some degree, a lot of the print journalism, although they do a little bit of a better job. And just to see how they push it as a sideline story, and that makes me want to scream, that makes me want to. And maybe there's some sort of program where we can have scientists go into newsrooms around the country because I suspect these are not bad people. These are, I think they just don't fully know the scope and scale, because if they did, there's no way they wouldn't be covering on a daily basis. It's also possible the fossil fuel advertising does create a conflict of interest that definitely could be part of it. And it creates a culture so that is the most. And then I would say a close second is like, I get that our governments are overrun with dirty fossil fuel money, but the easiest thing to do in the world no one would be bothered by this, is to create Manhattan project style laboratories that just start putting five, 10, 20 billion into these and start working on cutting edge technologies for more affordable renewables carbon removal. Like, why aren't we at least doing that? Like, that's just utterly harmless. It creates jobs. It's like everything about that is good. Those two things I just can't get over the silence from the media and the number two, I we’re not even doing bare minimum stuff that's not even controversial. So anyway, those are the two that get I can go on like a long rant, as you can tell, because I just went on a mini rant.

Tom: [00:46:23] And that was the outrage comment. We want to hear about the optimism and then pull out one more question.

Adam McKay: [00:46:26] Yes, I was going to get to the optimistic. Here's the optimism. The optimism is a good one. We have renewable energy. It's awesome. It works. I'm in a house right now with solar panels on my house now. Granted, I'm an overpaid Hollywood guy so I can afford it, but it's getting more and more affordable. They have, you know, you can rent renewable, you can call up and you don't even have to pay. They'll come and put it on your house and you pay like a monthly thing. Electric cars are getting more and more, and I know that building an electric car creates CO2. But still, we've got to move forward. So that is incredibly optimistic. People love it. There's a lot of countries in Europe that are way ahead of the curve on this that are creating renewables. So that is huge. It would be one thing to be facing this, this massive catastrophe, and we don't know what to do. We have the answer, and that is a huge, shining, bright, optimistic light that gets me bounding out of bed every single day.

Paul: [00:47:28] Love it. Adam, my last thing I can't resist, if I may, just the very end of the film. I mean, you know, the whole film is about extraordinary juxtaposition. You know, the infinite perfection of nature cut in with the stupidity of so many people. And we are so kind of preoccupied by advertising messages and you've spoken eloquently about that. And yet, you know, in another sense, we really did have everything, didn't we? Can you speak a little bit about the ending of the film because it was so powerful?

Adam McKay: [00:48:00] Yeah. I mean, I think the inclusion of the nature images, which I had a little bit of that in the script, but my editor, Hank Corwin, really expanded on that and talked about how important that was. And that was the first time the movie started actually making me cry when I would watch it. Some of the early cuts were those shots of just the miracle of these beautiful animals and of nature and of our oceans and whales, and that perfect bumblebee and a mother hippo with their baby and the beautiful blue sky and the sun shining down and that baby in the wash basin, a brand new baby and and man, I mean, just the miracle when you really think about it, the possibilities of life, a big, deep inhale of clean air, just the feeling of your body jumping and water jumping into the ocean and seeing fish around you and all the food we have and beautiful fruits and and, you know, hugging your children. And I mean, we have more than everything, that line, all credit to Leonardo DiCaprio, he came up to me right before we were shooting that scene, and he said, What if I said this line? He thought of it right before we were going to. Oh, and it just hit me right in the chest and I just said, yeah, do it. And I think that's really is the message of the movie. We have everything right now. And the idea that we're going to throw it away just because we're too busy or our schedule or our phone doesn't provide us with time to really, truly take five minutes and a big, deep breath to think about what's happening right now is heartbreaking. But I also think in that sadness, in that grieving, there's a beauty to it too. I think we tend to think of emotions as being one or the other, but you can have a lot of feelings at once. So I feel optimistic. I feel sad. I feel tremendous gratitude. And at the same time, part of me still has to laugh at how ridiculous it all is.

Christiana: [00:50:25] I love that fan of emotions that spans so many different strings in our heart. Adam, thank you so much. Thank you so much. Well, for this conversation, for sure. But thank you for putting your, your genius, your time, your energy into making this movie. I don't think we have still seen the full impact of it, and this conversation makes me want to go and watch it again. So there you are. And any of our listeners who haven't seen it, please, please, please do go. And if you've seen it once, see it again or follow Tom Rivett-Carnac. If you've seen it two times, see it three times.

Adam McKay: [00:51:15] Thank you guys so much for having us. Oh, one bit of good news. I just read that in March the Nation of France is going to do a just look up day where a bunch of the different cities are going to have rallies for the environment and for fighting against the climate catastrophe.

Christiana: [00:51:36] That's the best response to your movie. I love it. I'm delighted to be in France right now. Fantastic.

Paul: [00:51:46] Very clever country, Paris Agreement.

Adam McKay: [00:51:49] Thank you guys so much for having me. Love what you do. Onward.

Christiana: [00:51:52] Thank you, Adam.

Paul: [00:51:53] Thanks, Adam. Thank you.

Christiana: [00:51:55] Thank you.

Paul: [00:51:56] Bye bye.

Tom: [00:52:05] What a pleasure to get to sit down and talk with Adam McKay just a few weeks after this game changing movie came out. What did you both leave that conversation with?

Christiana: [00:52:18] Paul, you always, always go next.

Paul: [00:52:22] Look, I think it's absolutely delightful human and it made a film that's very, very important, probably one of the most enormous climate change interventions, 322 million hours of people watching it. I notice that he's, you know, he's concerned that we're basically not paying attention to this absolutely giant problem. And of course, he's right. You know, we were talking before the interview about, you know, gas prices and society being torn apart and all the rest of it. We need to have a debate. You know, we're being threatened, right? Humanity is being threatened and we need to have a debate. The government need to run a debate because the film was really about government inaction. We need the government to instigate a debate with the people about what we're going to do. You know, we've got a right to be protected by our defense ministries. We've got a right to health through our health ministries. We've got a right to education through our education ministries and we've got a right not to be destroyed by climate change. And just because we haven't institutionalized that to the level we have with defense, health and education, it doesn't mean that we can't have a society wide debate now to just get this done. And that's the point he's making. And I think he's a genius for doing it, not only in a way that's very touching, but also one that's very effective. And I particularly liked him talking about the way you can have all these different emotions at the same time, when he said, I feel optimistic, I feel sad, I feel tremendous gratitude all at the same time, and part of me thinks how ridiculous it all is. That is really nailing a very complicated construct.

Christiana: [00:53:55] I must say I was very grateful for his clear answer to my question about how did he make his choices about simplifying climate change? Because I have to tell you and well, I had told you a long time ago, I've been sitting with that and finding myself getting, you know, not just mystified that I didn't have an answer, but actually even getting, like upset about the fact that wait, wait, wait, climate change is not as simple as simply this big, huge rock that is going to hit the Earth out of no responsibility of our own. And so I've been sitting with that for such a long time, so I'm really glad that I got to ask him that question. But I'm more grateful for his answer, which was, his intent was not about portraying climate change for what it is, for the, with all its complexities, with all its ramifications. He's actually from his lens. He is much more focused on our human reaction to a threat of that consequence. That's what he's really focusing on. So he's focusing not on the science, on the on the, interestingly enough, although scientists play such a big role, but he's not really portraying the science of climate change, is he? He's actually his main focus is how do we react to what science tells us? How do we react to what big corporations tell us? How do we react to what irresponsible governments say or do or don't say or don't do? And that I was really grateful for that answer because to be totally honest, it completely changed my perspective on the movie. And I'm like, Oh, OK, from that perspective, I'm with you.

Tom: [00:55:57] Yeah, I agree. And I mean, there are other ways. I don't know if you read the newsletter heated, Emily Atkin puts out, it's brilliant. If you don't read it, it's all sorts of news on climate. Very opinionated, very interesting. And she did a whole thing about how would the analogy have been more accurate on climate? And she pointed out that what it should have been would have been a meteor hitting the global south and having a much bigger impact on the global south and on the global north. And then the global north decides it doesn't really care because it's not affecting them, which is also quite analogous on very sadly of what's happening on climate. But at the end of the day, it's about demonstrating that we need to listen to science. There's a major risk coming our way, and we're behaving like idiots by ignoring it. And I didn't. I thought it was, as I said, I'm not in, not on the fence on this. I thought it was a really, really good movie. I enjoyed it. I thought that the acting was good. I thought it was cleverly constructed with the narrative and the subplots. And God bless him for doing it and putting his head out and saying on our podcast, I can never make a movie about something that's not like this anymore. You know, this is now the thing that I'm going to do, and I'm going to try and use my platform to accelerate this. And really, I would applaud anybody who does that. So I'm really impressed with him and we need more Adam McKays. Steven Spielberg, if you're listening. All these other different people,

Paul: [00:57:11] Calling Steven Spielberg, calling Steven Spielberg, we need a Saving Private Ryan of humanity.

Christiana: [00:57:17] No, that is so. True, because how long have we been saying, look, the science, you know, we have more science cascading over us than we can possibly digest, and that doesn't really make a difference in policy decisions. And we know that we've known that for such a long time. And so to have other avenues to get to us, us being the collective consciousness of so many millions of people now that have seen this and are really beginning to noodle on this, you know, very likely a zero point zero zero zero one percent of those millions of people who have seen this would ever sit down and write and read an IPCC report, right?

Tom: [00:58:07] Or listen to Outrage + Optimism!

Christiana: [00:58:09] Or listen to Outrage + Optimism. So, you know, God bless God bless him for using the screen to to bring this message and to to bring it, so to speak to the kitchen table.

Tom: [00:58:23] And just two more quick things. And that one is fair play Netflix. You know, he was shopping this script around Hollywood and struggling to get uptake on it is what he said not on this call in the previous one. Netflix went for it. Look at the cast. They assembled the amount of money they put into this to Netflix. Amazon, just a friend of ours there who runs sustainability, Christiana and I are on the advisory board there. Not that we had anything to do with the decision to take this, but that was a big step that they did that and their big Christmas release. So kudos to Netflix. And also we haven't mentioned on this podcast the accompanying website called Count Us In, which is something that we've also been involved in, which has been constructed specifically as a place to go after you've watched Don't Look Up, to take a range of individual actions and collective actions that can turn the momentum that comes out of watching the film into real change on the ground. So again, kudos to them for constructing it. And if anybody hasn't checked that out, if you've watched the film or if you haven't take a look at Count Us In.

Paul: [00:59:24] All of the things you can do and at the top of the mall vote.

Tom: [00:59:28] Righ. I realize we're rapidly running out of time and we've blown through our targets and we set ourselves just not very long ago. So as ever, loving the music last week was a beautiful piece of music, and this week the same. We have Sibusile Xaba with the song Angisenalutho. Hope you enjoy it. It's a beautiful piece of music, and we will see you as ever next week. Thanks for joining us, and next week we will have none other than Yuval Noah Harari with us. See you then. All right, bye.

Paul: [00:59:55] Bye for now.

Sibusile Xaba: [00:59:58] Yeah. My name is Sibusile Xaba, I stay in KwaZulu in South Africa. Yeah. This song is called Angisenalutho, which means I have nothing. The idea behind the song, is to acknowledge that we have nothing without nature, without the creator, without indigenous systems, from people who came before us. So this one is just a dedication to say that let's not forget. For if we forget, we will have nothing. We will kill our Earth. And everything that's in it, we will have nothing. Angisenalutho.

Angisenalutho by Sibusile Xaba: [01:01:43] [Song plays]

Clay: [01:04:50] There it is, another episode of Outrage + Optimism. I'm Clay, producer of the show, thank you for listening. That was Sibusile Xaba with Angisenalutho. We love having music on the podcast, and this is a perfect example why. Sibusile Xaba is a prolific artist, so there's much more music waiting for you just around the corner. So check the show notes for that. It's all there. So welcome to the end of the show. This is the part of the podcast where I wrap up with a thank you or to highlight some extended listening or viewing for our listeners to check out. And I've got a few things this week, so let's get into it. Late last year, around COP26, we played a soundscape on the podcast called Positive Imaginings by Rowan Bank, which is an environmental arts and education group based in Edinburgh. Now they create opportunities and, in our opinion, brilliantly. They do so for young people who encounter barriers to participating in climate action, you know, and help them get involved, feel inspired and empowered. And they recently created a couple of short films documenting their creative process, documenting the implementation, the playful nature of how to confront climate anxiety with children and empower them through education to inspire action. And I can't say enough good things about them. You need to go check out these short films. I've got a link in the show notes to those. I also, just a few minutes ago, received an email from Lucy, who is one of the founders of Rowan Bank. If we, the outrage and optimism community, have any ideas regarding sponsorship for the Positive Imaginings project. So I'm just throwing this out there to everybody. Go watch the short films, read a bit more about them and send them a message. Start the conversation. I think there's an exciting opportunity. Next Tom mentioned in the show both the Emily Atkin heated article. I second reading that article and going to www.dontlookup.count-us-in.com. I had a friend texted me saying she felt helpless and unsure of what to do after watching Don't Look Up. And as I'm sure this movie might be a waking up to the catastrophe unfolding for many of your friends. Count Us In is a fantastic way to partner on an action or two together post watching the film and intentionally begin co-creating a better world. Thank you to Adam McKay for joining us on the podcast. Don't Look Up is streaming on Netflix right now. It's probably on your front page like right at the top when you log in because it just got nominated for four Academy Awards. So congratulations to Adam and the team.

Clay: [01:07:44] Last recommendation from me, if you are like Tom and you are on your third or fourth watch of Don't Look Up and you can't get enough, Netflix made a behind the scenes podcast in partnership with Hyperobject, which is Adam's production company and Pineapple Street Media, which, if you know, you know, the podcast is sensational, the first episode will hook you in. It's a great weekend listen. Six episodes waiting for you right now. It's called The Last Movie Ever Made that the Don't Look Up podcast made. You can find it on your podcast player now. If you love this podcast, please consider leaving us a five star rating on Apple Podcasts and writing us a review. It makes a world of a difference for getting the word out on the show, and we love to hear what you have to say. You can find us on social media at www.globaloptimism.com, would love to see you there as well. And hey, next week Yuval Noah Harari makes a return to the show. Now, his episode from the last time we had him on, was one of our most listened to episodes. He's back next week for another. Ok, that is the end. I hope the end of this podcast finds you well. Enjoy the rest of your day and we'll see you next week.


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