That’s the question this movie asks us. Are we really stupid enough to allow our civilization to careen toward disaster if we have the power to stop it?
Last night, we went to the Age of Stupid screening in Houston (part of Global Premier 2) with our local 350.org group. There was a small audience, not as full as Jennifer’s Body I’m sure, but afterward we definitely had a shared sense of purpose.
If you don’t already know anything about it: Age of Stupid is a shockumentary or docudrama directed by Fanny Armstrong and produced by Lizze Gillett and John Battsek about what might happen in another 50 years if we don’t do something about climate change. The film narrates as a apocalyptic “message in a bottle” composed by Pete Postlethwaite in 2055.
He remembers back to the early 2000’s, watching footage of various tell-tale signs of global warming, and wonders why didn’t we do anything? Sure, other species have come and gone (some even the cause of their own demise), but no other species has had the capacity to understand its own impending doom. If we do nothing about it, what does this say about human beings?
The film is more Michael Moore than Al Gore, but there are some numbers that will be etched into your head by the end of it. First and foremost, 2015. This is the year that we need to begin righting the ship. If we don’t level off carbon output by 2015, and then begin rapidly reducing global emissions after that, we will have reached the point of no return. Second, if average global temperatures rise more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, we will set off a series of ecological tipping-points that will quickly send that figure up to 3, 4, 5, and even 6 degrees Celsius. A 6 degree increase would be catastrophic.
Much of the information in the film will be old hat to the well informed. However, there is a much-needed emphasis on the impact of airline travel. This is particularly brought home through the story of Jeh Wadia who is launching a low cost airline company in India. As the movie points out, other than burning down a forest, there is no greater harm that a single person can do to the environment than take a plane trip.
In addition to the documentary scenes, there are a series of Moore-esque animation shorts that are sure to raise the ire of conservatives. (In particular, there is a brief history of the world that essentially states that all global warfare has been in pursuit of other people’s natural resources: war as armed robbery. In this segment, the filmmakers replay the famous Alan Greenspan quote that the War in Iraq was undeniably “about oil,” lavishing a surprising amount of time on a segment by Glenn Beck. Of course, this is misleading. No matter how dubious our reasons for entering Iraq, they cannot be boiled down to “stealing their oil.”)
The most moving segments, in my opinion, come from the documentary side. There is the personal struggle of 23 year old aspiring doctor Layefa Malemi who lives in destitute poverty in a region of Nigeria that is home Shell’s most profitable oil drilling. I was also quite fond of the 82 year old French activist and mountain guide, Fernand Pareau, who lives in Chamonix and decried the continual increase of traffic along the highway that runs past his home. There is a great scene near the end when he leads his grandchildren on an ascent of a nearby peak. He offers a thoughtful metaphor: on the mountain when you’re roped together, the fate of your partner is your own. As they reach the top, we get an areal view of the summit (see if you can catch the ski tracks on the far side–pure beauty).
I found the account of activist and wind-farm developer Piers Guy particularly heart-wrenching. The Guys live in northern England and have committed, as a family, to reduce their individual carbon output to a level equal to the sustainable level for every human being on the planet. This means a drastic reduction in almost everything. They live on a farm, raise a large portion of their own food, and have installed a wind turbine to power their house. Even at that level of impact, they still choose to forgo a family ski vacation to the south of France because the air travel would consume their entire allotment of greenhouse gas emissions for the year. The sacrifice is impressive but, for me, Piers’ personal fight with a local anti-wind farm lobby (classic NIMBY politics) is even more poignant.
As part of the Global Premier 2, we were privy to a very live, very much unedited recording of the New York premier presentation with the filmmakers. We got to hear from IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri, Kofi Annan, a presentation of the “Not Stupid” certificate of achievement to President Nasheed of the Maldives for setting the goal of carbon neutrality in 10 years, live satellite feeds from Indonesia, the Hemalayas, and the studio with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. All of this was peppered with short segments pushing action: 10:10–reduce your carbon emissions by 10% in 2010–and Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Copenhagen.
After such an event, it is natural to ask what can I do? Well, short answer: forget changing out your light bulbs people, it’s time to take to the streets and make some noise. If I left with one thought, it was that without a real, enforceable treaty in Copenhagen, we can kiss our civilization goodbye. It’s just that serious.
According to some reports, you should be able to watch the world premier tonight here. (At the moment there is only a trailer, not sure if that will change, much confusion in twitterland.)