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.