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Living In The Age Of Stupid

By Sean Pool

London is underwater, New Orleans won't be rebuilt a third time, the arctic is ice free, and agriculture is failing, which leads to global food riots and ultimately the collapse of civilization... This is the premise of the new crowd-funded British independent film The Age of Stupid.

Set in 2055, the film portrays a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by the worst impacts of climate change, and looks back at the critical period between 2005 and 2015 to examine why we didn't save ourselves when we still had the chance.

In an opening sequence, the narrator (played by Oscar nominee Pete Postlethwaite) takes us through a montage of news reports describing visible impacts of climate change: A 101 degree day in London, 700 dead after record flooding in India, record breaking drought in Melbourne, desertification in China progressing at the rate of 3 miles per year, dozens of Antarctic ice shelves collapsing faster than anyone predicted, 18 million affected by flooding in parts of Africa, and a glacier in France having shrunk 150 meters since 1945.

The fact that the clips in this montage are all real-life news reports from 2007 and 2008 is chilling.

Indeed, although framed by a post-apocalyptic narrative set in the future, the bulk of the film is actually a documentary about the impacts of climate change that we are already seeing in 2009 -- and its not pretty.

That the impacts are depicted through the lens of real human stories makes the film's message all the more accessible and compelling. Here is a snapshot of some of the characters and their stories:

Alvin DuVernay is a career oil paleontologist from New Orleans who spent his life directing drill bits for Shell. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, he personally rescued 100 people in his boat, but lost his home and all his possessions.

I lost everything. Everything that I owned. Quite literally. Except for my boat. I mean everything from family heirlooms to the paper towels sitting on your kitchen counter. And everything in between. It goes on and on.
I mean what more of a wake up call do you need? At the very local level all the way through and including the top federal level I just don't see that awakening, that epiphany in the politicians' eyes. I don't see the sense of urgency. And I certainly don't see movement. A year or so later, after the event, and not a whole lot has changed.

Then there is the 80-year old French Alps mountain guide who, over the course of his 45-year career has seen the glacier that he loves shrink by 150 meters:

When I first saw all these mountains. The beauty. It was wonderful. It was truly love at first sight.

We created this problem. Always progress, progress, progress. Always demanding more and more from the planet.

And then there is the wind farm developer whose noble attempts to get a few wind turbines installed in a rural part of England are rebuffed by selfish grassroots resistance (the whirling of the blades might hypnotize people while they are driving...)

The fact that you can't go skiing anymore or that the glaciers are melting is not really the point. The point is that's a signal that basically the earth is destabilising and all the norms that have allowed life to exist as it has done are changing.
If we don't face up to our fears, I just feel we're abusing it, our environment which gives us so much. We're just rampantly, disrespectfully trashing it.

The film traces these real human stories to convey the impacts of climate change on a personal level, and is at times funny, scary and tender. What's amazing is that all of the material is real.

The fictional aspect of the film serves only as a narrative device until the very end, when a final sequence of news reports takes us from the year 2007 to 2055: 80,000 fatalities from a giant cyclone in Asia, water rationing in Holland, forest fires sweep across Spain, the decision is made not to rebuild New Orleans for a 3rd time, a drinking water crisis erupts in Pakistan, heat waves strike San Francisco, 35 million Chinese become climate refugees, skiing in the alps is over, 100 million are homeless in Bangladesh due to massive flooding, the European Union permanently closes its borders, the last Indonesian tree falls to make way for palm oil production, a 30-foot swell overcomes the Thames and floods London, New Zealand closes its borders to Australian refugees, 100 million refugees flee the middle east, half of all species become extinct, ecosystems collapse across the planet, the north sea boils, food riots become so severe that people begin to eat their own cats and dogs, nuclear war breaks out.

The stated goal of The Age of Stupid is to "turn 250 million viewers into climate activists," and it makes the case that we have to stabilize and begin to reduce global emissions by 2015 to avoid the catastrophic consequences it speculates about above.

Even if a bit over-the-top (come on, the North Sea boiling?) this hard-hitting final sequence is nonetheless powerful, and left me watching the credits role with a sense of urgency that even as a long-time climate activist I had not experienced before.

Postlethwaite's final monologue then really drives the message home:

We wouldn't be the first life form to wipe itself out. But what would be unique about us is that we did it knowingly. What does that say about us?

The question I've been asking is: why didn't we save ourselves when we had the chance? Is the answer because on some level we weren't sure if we were worth saving?

The Age of Stupid is set to premiere in US theatres next month.

This piece originally appeared in Climate Progress.

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Great synopsis, really looking forward to seeing this. I reposted a snippet on my blog with a link back here.

Posted by: Ian Aleksander Adams on 17 Mar 09

The 'North Sea boiling'

... it's a clathrate thing.

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 17 Mar 09

The "noble attempts" of the wind farm developer rebuffed by "selfish grassroots resistance"? Granted , the hypnotizing of drivers is just silly, but isn't this developer making money? So, not just motivated by nobility? The locating of alternative energy in rural areas and wild spaces could be construed as another form of environmental abuse, same as fossil fuels. Clearly, alternative energy is something we need, but don't we also need the most responsible version of it? Wouldn't anything else be, um, stupid?

Posted by: out of doors on 19 Mar 09

I recomend for reading

Posted by: audiatur et altera pars on 22 Mar 09

The film has not a bad premise and the message about preventing and reversing man-made climate change is important. However, it was fragmented and somewhat adolescent in its structure and outlook. The onus is on the little people, many of whom, like the impoverished families shown have aspirations to a better life in the gas-guzzling USA if given half a chance, including the girl who wants to become a doctor!
So, where do we start? Direct action? Did it make any difference when we all protested against the Iraq war?
How about large corporations? Taxes and our taxation systems? It's all a bit more complex than trying to build a wind turbine on a farmer's field who stands to profit from it. And how many of us can live on a farm in Cornwall, grow our own food, take eco-holidays on glaciers and go skiing because'our friends with the chalet have invited us' this winter and afford 3 or 4 kids?
No direct practical suggestions were made, the film degenerated into scare-mongering which is always a turn-off (remember the early AIDS adverts?) and was fairly light-weight on the intellect and heavy on the emotion. Sorry! and to boot - there's a website with a shop where you can buy a T-shirt etc - was any oil used in the production of these?


Posted by: Anonymous on 22 Mar 09

Eye opener of what is happening around us! Cant wait to see it

Posted by: free karma on 25 Mar 09

In a recent BBC World Service programme on poulation, Professor Aubrey Manning said "Forget climate change, unless we get to grips with the population problem we are doomed!"
"Age of Stupid" - right result - wrong reason.
Point of fact - in the last four billion years the Earth's climate has never been more than 10C warmer than it is at present despite levels of "greenhouse" gases many times greater than they are now.
With ice ages accounting for less than 10% of that 4 billion years, and the climate 10C warmer than present with NO, REPEAT, NO polar ice caps it makes the basis for this film a look a bit stupid!!!

Posted by: Crowcarcher on 26 Mar 09

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