It’s Okay To Panic takes us on a tour of Poland by one of its most outspoken climate scientists, Szymon Malinowski. He tries to show using real world examples in the present and from the past how our future will look once climate change becomes unstoppable.
It’s Okay To Panic is a good title for this film, as it conveys the tone exactly. Malinowski has been a physicist for decades, and he’s dismayed at how politicians debate the existence of climate change when it is has been an observable and measurable reality in his field of research for almost 40 years. Like how long does something have to be a fact before people believe it? Coz almost half a century doesn’t seem to be enough.
Malinowski studied clouds, not thinking that a physicist studying cloud formation would end up being the Cassandra of climate change. It was a very sedate subject, although fascinating to him. But what he noticed, as the scientific community around him was noticing the same thing, was cloud formation was changing. You know those big expanses of cumulus clouds? You know, the ones we hate here in Scotland because it’s like someone wrapped the sky in a blanket, and we never see the sun? Well Malinowski talks about the coastal cumulus and how that cloud cover helps keep temperatures down. Once climate change causes major disruption to the water cycle, which its already beginning to do, that cloud cover will start to disappear, and when it does the temperature will rapidly shoot up 3-4%.
That’s the thing he wants most to convey, that once this hits a tipping point, it’s going have this snowball effect, where every effect of a temperature rise then becomes the cause of a temperature rise, and these few degrees we quibble about in conferences, will become an unstoppable change across the globe. Malinowski stresses again and again that we are running out of time.
The documentary presents the message of climate change through the lens of Malinowski, how he came to be an expert on the topic, the changes he’s seen personally in his lifetime, and his attempts to educate people and form some resistance. As he points out, in his lifetime Poland has went from one social system to another, radically different social system. Change is possible where there is a will to make it.
The shift in Poland from communism to capitalism also goes towards an explanation of why there is such resistance to attempts to introduce regulations or decrease consumption. Firstly because people feel like they’re making up for lost time. Secondly because people have a long history of skepticism of what they are told by authority figures.
But nonetheless there is a growing climate change activism movement in Poland. COP 24 being held there really provided a focal point for attention and organisation. Whether that translates into effective action has yet to be seen.
So yeah, if you are looking for a reassuring story, this is not the film for you. If you want a clear explanation of why time is running out for us as a species, it is. As the title says, it’s okay to panic.