Is This Really The Age of Stupid?

I just got back from the global premier of the film The Age of Stupid, which included a live simulcast to over 500 theaters in 45 countries as a tie-in to climate week and the UN climate meetings in New York.

The movie is set up as a series of modern day vignettes looked at through the eyes of an archivist 45 years in the very bleak future, who can only wonder at why we were so stupid. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical that this film would cover any new ground: There are only so many ways to represent the potential dangers and damage of climate change, many of which were covered via Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth and Leonardo DiCaprio’s 11th hour (and in the case of a few scenes, the lightweight and unbelievable “The Day After Tomorrow”.)

But I was impressed by the honest treatment of the complexity of the issues surrounding action on climate change. The film acknowledges that it isn’t as easy as simply turning off the ‘carbon tap’. The aspirations of billions for a middle class life, the entrepreneurial spirit, the contradictions between what we need to do for a living and what we believe, and even the simple unwillingness of many to accept aesthetic inconveniences (even while expressing concern over the climate) are all featured, providing an interesting human face and counterpoint to the growing body of scientific evidence and urgency for action. The film is full of ironies, such as the segment on a young Nigerian woman who points out the injustices of Shell Oil in her community,  while selling diesel and wistfully aspiring to the “American good life”, which of course is powered at least in part by Shell.

Most of the characters seem to feel “trapped” in a lifestyle that they know is unsustainable, even as the evidence of the planetary impact mounts around them. Perhaps we are not living so much in an “age of stupid” as an age of covet or inertia? Whatever the case, these are very real behavioral barriers to tackling the climate issue. For the “haves”, we need to somehow increase the sense of urgency without waiting for the kind of planetary apocalypse to occur that the film projects.  For the “have nots “, as I have mentioned before, using climate action as a tool rather than barrier for development is also a way to encourage positive change. 

The post film discussion was equally interesting, featuring the film’s director (Franny Armstrong), Kofi Annan, the head of the IPCC, and many others. All seem generally alarmed at how much hangs in the balance in the next few months, both with US climate policy and worldwide commitment in Copenhagen. There was also a strong and consistent call for serious lifestyle change and economic retooling in the west as a matter of self preservation and social justice. 

Finally, Ms. Armstrong rolled out a “10:10″ campaign, urging a voluntary commitment to reduce emissions 10% by 2010. While the idea to send a message of public will is a strong one, the target is pretty tame, requiring little change, inconvenience or financial commitment, and is simply not enough. If anything, it may send a message that true public will is lacking.

Has she fallen into one of her film’s traps of symbolic gestures over real change? Or perhaps as a Brit, she has does not fully appreciate that for the average American, 10% is easy. While  Europeans have already captured the low hanging fruit, we clearly have not. For this “side of the pond”, I have been a proponent of 20:20 or more,  which is 20% via reduction and 20% more via offsetting.

Whatever your commitment, all of this attention is well timed. A strong populist message to the UN and the climate delegates needs to be sent!

Photo courtesy of Spanner Films.


LMj Sunshine

Will have to find this movie to watch, thank you for article and info.

LMj Sunshine

Will have to find this movie to watch, thank you for article and info.

Judith H.

You can watch the full length movie at this link. It is legal, and no guilt ridden comments about seeing it for free here. If you click on the picture of the movie playing it will open to full screen for your viewing. It is about an hour and half total, and is not a play or actors, but a compilation of pieces of real events and real people. Very interesting and thought provoking. With the oil spill now in the Gulf, it is even more pressing. We must demand that changes be made to prevent this from ever occurring again. Apparently many more spills than we have been told by the news, many by BP, and many when the concrete is being poured by Cheney's business Hallilburton.. Why no acoustic valve required on this drilling? Also heard they went deeper than they were legally permitted to go, but then that news bit seems to have been quashed. Demand disclosure and compliance and larger fines for non-compliance. In this case, we should have criminal prosecution and rolling heads.

David K.
David K7 years ago

Maybe the experiment of the big brain was not a success.
Can anyone tell me where I can get a DVD to see The Age of Stupid?

Tarah S.
Tarah S.7 years ago

Cindy B. - you are right but sometimes what it takes is to get people into a place where it becomes the norm and then even if they never planned to do the right thing, they do. Take smoking - where I live no one smokes - it just became too uncomfortable - that's why a lot of people quit - they don't pollute for the same reason. for the recyling - there's a small city I know where a friend of my brother's (not the type that would ever recycle) came home one day and found his garbage on his driveway with a note from the city - they found recyclables in his garbage. 1st Warning. It happened again- 2nd warning and then the 3rd time the city garbage men left a red ticket - it said: "this is your 3rd warning" After this there will be no more warnings the next time it happens there will be no more garbage pickup. You will have to take it to the dump yourself. Your service will be suspended. Guess what? He never got another warning. 3 years later he's an avid recycler...sometimes you just have to get in the habit and occasionally government doesn't suck.

Moertl M.
Martha M7 years ago

To Dennis G comment: You are totally right. Recently someone said to me "But these bad things won't happen in my time !!!! There aren't may who think like you." Where do this people live? They've got TV and more stuff informing but their minds are shut down.

Dennis G.
Dennis G7 years ago

The human race has always been greedy, self-absorbed, short-sighted, abusive to the world it inhabits and selfish. We have destroyed species, ruined landscapes, destroyed forests and each other. The difference now is there are many more of us and we will soon reach the tipping point where our self interest and lack of concern for the world we live in will be our undoing. Then there will be well-deserved weeping and gnashing of teeth. Our days here are numbered.

Terry S.
Terry S7 years ago

Cindy B. - Your comment only supports the argument that saving the earth is fine, so long as someone else does it. Surprisingly, many commenting here are the same as those that you describe. I will bet, they would rather pay someone else to do it, then do it themselves, so long as it does not cost much. On the other hand, I do know just what you are talking about, since I have faced the same looks for doing what you do. The age of stupid is doubtful, while the age of hypocrisy appears to be steaming straight along full bore. Keep up the good work, since I know you seldom hear that.

Cindy B.
Cindy Black7 years ago

I work in healthcare, where you'd THINK the employees should have a better than average sensitivity to what supports quality human life on this planet. But can they even recycle? NO! They are so damn stupid, so damn lazy, that they can't even tuck an aluminum can into their bag to recycle it at home. Nope, into the trash goes cans, plastic bags, cardboard boxes, all manner of recyclable plastic... I come along and take out what I can manage to intercept -- and earn shrugs, smirks and good-natured eye-rolls. That Cindy, what a pollyanna, what a little do-gooder. "Good for you; we need people like you to save the world..." (as they toss another recyclable into the trash). It's the same everywhere I go. If supposedly enlightened, educated human beings are so predictably lazy and apathetic about even the smallest, most easily do-able things -- like recycling, not letting the water run and run, not throwing tons of strong chemicals at the smallest messes without even thinking -- then really, what hope do we have? It's like trying to keep the tide back with a teacup. My fine friends, we are screwed. Make no mistake.

Ian MacLeod
Ian MacLeod7 years ago

We ARE our brother's keeper. It's how weak, slow tropical ape managed to survive and become the predominant animal on the planet. We worked as a team, and even primitive tribes 130,000 years ago are known to have cared for the weak. Even that 20% the author mentions is far too little, too late, though. Things are going fast now, and it's going to take drastic action to change anything. You don't alter things on this big a scale driving slower and shaving things here and there. It's going to take actions as big as the ones that got here or bigger. Think about the millions upon millions of tons of pollution we've spewed into the air every year and still do, and the other pollution we've loosed into the environment. Not small. The throw-away society HAS to go, and the internal combustion engine as well. And those are just the beginning, otherwise, we're looking at a likely extinction as part of the accelerated extinctions of other creatures solely due to human actions.