Tomas Auksas: "They are the ones suffering for the greed of the western world"

The director and climate change activist on his new film, "In This Climate", and why we all have a duty to be informed

During the presidential campaign, president-elect Donald Trump made some concerning statements about climate change, not least that it was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to sabotage US industry. It's precisely this attitude that a new film, produced by Liberatum and featuring talking heads from Mark Ruffalo to Noam Chomsky, from David Attenborough to Cher, seeks to correct.

"You have a major party in the most powerful country in world history," says Chomsky, in In This Climate, "which is simply saying that the moon is made out of green cheese because I want it to be." The documentary, which will be released in early 2017, explores the real-world ramifications of climate change, from the destruction already wrought by rising sea levels and unpredictable weather, to the mass immigrations that will ensue as enormous swathes of land become uninhabitable.

"The scary thing is when people start migrating, that can lead to a conflict," says Tomas Auksas, the film's director. "Nuclear weapons are available and that is the biggest risk to humanity." We spoke to Auksas during a break from shooting in Mexico, to find out why we're all responsible for our own actions and what cinema can do to avert disaster.

What inspired you to make In This Climate?
Well, climate change is the biggest crisis facing humanity. A film is the most powerful way to reach an audience, and to reach a wide audience.

One of the most frightening things about climate change is how little people think they can do. How do you use the medium of film to try and energise people to take action?
A lot of people know the statistics and a lot of people think they are helpless and they can’t really do anything. Even ourselves, we are not climate change experts and after watching certain films on climate change myself, I was left feeling a bit helpless and frustrated and angry But helpless, because there was nothing I was told that I could do personally.

Our aim is to really help people to start with themselves. To take stairs instead of the lift to save energy, [show them] they don’t need to blow dry their hair. Little things in everyday life to change our environment that could actually make a difference. To do something different every day and be more conscious and aware of the environment.

So much of the messaging seems like it’s too big a problem for one person to fix.
Exactly. I’m just a drop in the ocean, I’m not going to change everything. If I eat a burger today, the animal has already been slaughtered so why would I not? But if there is less demand for the meat, then people will end up producing less meat.

There’s an interesting array of people in the film – celebrities and experts. Why did you choose the people to feature that you did?
We had a variety of people – scientists, environmentalists, people from Harvard and then someone like Cher. It’s important to have people who have knowledge and facts – people who could educate – and [also] someone who could draw attention. These don’t have to be experts. I think it is important to have artists and creatives involved because they reach masses of people and they help spread the message.

I think to have a balance of people that are interviewed that will give you facts and educate you and others that inspire you. Someone may know Cher but may not know Noam Chomsky. And someone might pay more attention to Noam Chomsky instead of Mark Ruffalo. So we are trying to reach as many people as possible.

At the moment with Donald Trump entering the White House with his comments on the Paris Climate Agreement, what do you think will happen over the next year?
I think after the election happened, we all have hope. Most people believe that the candidate Trump is different to what President Trump will be. I think even though now he is going back on what he was saying initially regarding climate change, he does believe that humans do have an effect on climate.

Do you think there is the will within the global population to stop us falling off the precipice?
I think personally I am, because it is part of human nature to have hope. I am optimistic and I have hope. I think the changes that have to happen and take place are not happening in time because we are reaching the tipping point. And you only realize the value of something once you’ve lost it. I am also afraid that it will be too late and then people will fall into chaos and will then start making those changes. That’s why it’s so important to educate people and have them starting to make those changes.

On the film itself, what stage is it in? When will it be released?
We are still filming small parts of it. Around 80% of the film is done. I am down in Mexico, speaking to a shaman who is is going to talk about nature and the connection to nature and the purpose of the planet. We are still adding some parts. By the end of this year we will have it finished completely but we are still adding scenes and adding people and polishing it up.

What’s the most frightening or sobering thing you’ve seen while making In This Climate?
The most touching was in India. It’s one thing to hear about climate change but it is also a very real and personal experience to see how they live and see how they are affected. To see the water level rising and coming into their house. Seeing a primary school being washed away and being destroyed. Seeing people already affected have been most powerful and the irony is that those are the people who are actually being affected for what we are doing right now. They would love to have the life we have, but they do not, but they are the ones suffering for the greed of the western world.

A lot of people think it’s something that might happen in 50 years, but it’s already having a huge impact.
It’s constantly happening. The weather is changing and there are more disasters now. A man took us to a field, and said, ‘This was my rice field and now it’s all water.’ One thing is linked to another. The water level rises, the salt water ruins the soil with chemicals then they can’t live there anymore.

Even in their houses, they get crushed and even if they rebuild, they can’t grow food there so they have to migrate to Calcutta or the next village. The scary thing is when people start migrating, that can lead to a conflict – war – and nuclear weapons are available and that is the biggest risk to humanity.

What is the role of ordinary people and what would you like to see politicians do?
The media is responsible because the media helps to build perception. Even refugees have a very different perception to what refugees had before. Today, a refugee is a terrorist. Before, a refugee was someone who you felt sorry for. I think it’s really important to try and change people’s perceptions and try to educate society. Not in a North Vietnam or Fox News way, because people are so easily influenced by television.

People have the routine of coming home, having dinner, watching the news and then going to sleep. The news starts repressing and depressing people and telling people how bad the world is and putting them into fear and making them feel helpless. I think it is important to people to give people hope, to change people’s perceptions. Who is going to care about Syria when there is no oxygen to breath and no land to live on? Those things seem so pointless and stupid when there are real issues out there.