At the end of 2019 and into 2020, just as COVID-19 was spreading more rapidly, Australia was in the midst one of the worst bushfire seasons in history and a new Amazon documentary Burning, from Oscar-winning filmmaker Eva Orner, sounds the alarm on the lack of political action to combat climate change.
“This is about what we knew, what's happening, what's happening moving forward, and what we have to do," Orner told Yahoo Canada. "This is really our last chance to do something meaningful to try and save the planet, and humanity."
“I think people are really confused by climate change, they don't understand the science and what I tried to do was make it really simple, and also listen to the scientists and the experts... I don't think ignorance is an excuse and it's really simple science, the greenhouse effect is really simple, the temperature is getting hotter and there are really clear things that we can do to fix it, and one of them is renewables."
The filmmaker, who has been living in California, was visiting family in her hometown of Melbourne, Australia in December 2019, January 2020 when the bushfires erupted, which prompted her to make this documentary.
Part of the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Burning shows us the consequences of idly sitting back on the climate crisis, largely told through the stories of the Australian bushfires. The film highlights the damaging spread of misinformation on the subject, and Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, downplaying and, essentially, ignoring the problem, even after this particular devastation.
Orner also reached out to people in Australia who were willing to share their personal stories from the bushfires, including people who lost their homes, firefighters and a couple whose saw the real consequences on our health after their child was born during the bushfire season.
One core message from the film is, while we may be active on an individual level, we need governments globally to collectively commit to net zero emissions by 2030, correcting course from missed targets.
“Everything is worse than we thought,” Orner said. “Half of America is on fire, the other half’s in floods, Canada's going through it now with unprecedented fires and temperature change, and so it's like, we've got to do this now.”
“The question is, is global government going to come together and actually act on this? This is the pivotal moment where they have to do that.”
'Why don't you listen to the science?'
Burning does give credit to prime minister Morrison on his initial action to manage COVID-19 spread in Australia, but what is disappointing for many experts in the documentary is that the same action was not extended to climate change.
Morrison is still the person who said electric cars would “end the weekend” because you won’t able to “tow your trailer” to your favourite camping spot, and went on vacation as the fires in Australia were raging, but defended his action by saying he wouldn’t be one of the people to “hold a hose” to stop the blaze.
“Why don't you listen to the science with climate change?” Orner said.
“It's because of coal and our alliance on fossil fuels in the lobbying industry. It's a really old story but we have to stop relying on fossil fuels. If we do that, we've got a chance, and we've got a government that's pretty committed to them, post-COVID they came out with a gas-led recovery plan, which is insanity.”
'Why aren’t you protecting your kids?'
One of the most captivating people Orner includes in her documentary is teen climate activist Daisy Jeffrey, dubbed Australia’s Great Thunberg.
“Australians are very different and Daisy is really different, she's really honest,” Orner said. “I just thought Daisy was a really great character, she said things like, ‘we should just be having existential crises like normal teenagers, we shouldn't be fighting to have to save the world.'”
“I think it's important to have science voices, journalist voices, firefighters voices, but then you need youth voices because we've created this mess for them... I think it's important to see young people galvanizing hundreds of thousands of people to come out and protest in a country that's not really known for its politicization of things, and people don't really get out on the streets.”
As can be expected, prime minister Morrison declined Orner’s invitation to be part of the documentary, while the filmmaker certainly is certainly able to showcase his views with his extensive public statements on climate-related issues. But if she did have the opportunity to interview him for Burning, the filmmaker would have asked him about the world we’re building for the younger generation, including his own children.
“Scott Morrison's got young kids and I guess I would say to him, we have conclusive science that in the next 30 years to 50 years, if we don't do something, now, the Earth is going to start being uninhabitable,” Orner said. “Are you not concerned about [your children’s] future?”
“When there is no water and everything is on fire and the temperature is so hot, and things are so changeable, and they say to you, 'dad, you were prime minister, why don't you do something about this?' I'd love to see what he'd say… Why aren’t you protecting your kids?”