Living in the Age of Stupid

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.

— Sean Pool

19 Responses to Living in the Age of Stupid

  1. I had the honor of buying Mr. Postlethwaite a scotch a few years ago when he was filming a movie in Toronto. Great guy. Talented, and glad to see he’s using that talent for the cause.

  2. simp says:

    Thank you Joe for writing about the Age of Stupid!
    I think it has enormous potential to get people out of their seats and put preassure on governments.

  3. Col says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing the film (in a narrow sense!). Another scare is appropriate here. Although I know that for the human animal avoidance of potential pain is usually a stronger, quicker motivator than attraction to potential pleasure, I wonder if we could also make a movie showing possibility and benefit. Showing peace, wealth, hapiness and deeper democracy. All of these things would be more possible, profound and persistent in a green future. It would be an interesting challenge, but a worthwhile one to undertake. How do you make that kind of approach just as compelling and watchable?

  4. Harrier says:

    So it doesn’t mention the possibility of methane release? That’s the real apocalyptic scenario for me.

    But it sounds sufficiently scary to motivate people, which is precisely the point.

  5. Perry Godwin says:

    Yes, it sounds like the movie only talks about the effects we can forcast from the environment’s current behavior. I suspect there are in fact models for what might happen if the methane is released in large quantities from the Artic tundra, but I suspect scientists probably consider this information too uncertain to be made public.

    There are even some much scarier scenarios possible but at least those might kill us quicker, such as the one where the hydrogen sulfide is released from the bottoms of the world’s oceans. If this were to happen, the only life left on the planet would be anaerobic bacteria. It has been hypothesised that this has happened before in the life cycle of the Earth.

    I agree with the writer who suggested that a film be made that shows the world we could have if we made all the necessary changes. But yes, the problem would be to make such a film interesting – what would be the conflict in the plot line if it is not the climate?

  6. Florifulgurator says:

    Still forests to burn in Spain 2055?

  7. Phil says:

    It’s worth viewing this clip from the film’s premiere on Sunday, in which Ed Miliband, UK secretary of state for Energy and Climate Change (unfortunately, the govt’s emphasis is strongly on the “for”) is trashed by both Mark Lynas and Pete Postlethwaite.

    I attended the premiere screening in Cardiff. and found the film a bit of a mixed bag.

    Sometimes I wished for more commentary (on why vanishing glaciers are so important, etc), but on the whole, the film was very moving, especially the tale of the Iraqi refugee children.

    If you view this film, thinking will be required, and that’s no bad thing.

  8. Phil says:

    It helps if I post the link, doh!

  9. DavidCOG says:

    Disappointingly I missed the screening shown at my local cinema on Sunday. Happily it was because the tickets had been sold out a long time in advance – more and more people are waking up to the reality of ACC.

  10. Kim says:

    There are glaciers receding and there are glaciers growing….and on and on and on!! OOOhhhh scary! Why won’t Al Gore debate anyone on the Global Warming subject? He will only say that the consensus is made, so there…. plthththth! Come on Al….. DEBATE!!! Consensus may be there with some, but the science isn’t. I would love to see him debate scientists on this subject and then I could take him seriously. He is WAAAyyyyy overcompensating for having lost the election. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but a Nobel prize and an Oscar….please.

  11. David B. Benson says:

    Kim — There rerally is nothing left to debate amoung the sane, reality-based community. Read Sidney Weart’s book to discover why.

  12. Shelly T. says:

    There is a great movie, the Making of the Age of Stupid, at The Guardian. Everyone interested in this movie should watch it, it’s probably nearly as good as the movie itself. I can’t wait to see this movie but it won’t be here in the U.S. until September. I envy everyone who has a chance to see it this spring and summer!
    Maybe it will quiet the deniers…. but I doubt it. They seem to be growing in ignorance and desperation.

    To the person who is asking why Al Gore won’t “debate” anyone — maybe because he has better things to do. Why would a sane person, for instance, “debate” whether or not the earth is flat? It’s a waste of time. There are other so many better and more productive ways to spend time than beating your head against a wall of stubborn ideology based on fear of whatever it is deniers are afraid of. ….

  13. Roger says:

    Kim, Give Al a break. He’s only giving voice to what the vast majority of climate scientists are explaining about what the facts of their research are telling them. Al didn’t invent this stuff, nor postulate any theory about climate change. You need to open your mind and do some serious research on the subject. As a first question, why don’t you look up the number of glaciers that are growing vs. the number that are shrinking.
    You will find that only relatively few are growing. If you dig deeper, you will find a very logical reason for why a few are growing. Try Google.

  14. Ruth says:

    It is indeed a very powerful film. As the guest blogger here says, it gives you a sense of urgency, and I saw it in the middle of climate camp! I hope it will have the same affect on non-activists and realise the makers vision of getting millions more to act. We’ll have to wait for general release to see what kind of an effect it has (I suspect most people who seen it so far are involved one way or another)

  15. Robert Pool says:

    WOW. I want to see Age of Stupid. It sounds like a good dramatization of some of the scenarios that have been kicked around.

    Is it on UTube?

  16. Heather says:

    I look forward to seeing this movie. Having said that, I think that the probable disasters we will be facing are facing enough without adding in ridiculous scenarios like the North Sea boiling and I worry that the silly scenarios like that will erode the credibility of the film.

  17. Kaps says:

    I hope this movie will be available on Netflix (or another low-cost movie-seeing option) eventually. Who can afford to go to the theater these days?

  18. Crowcatcher says:

    Anyone who is really interested in the environment should know that with current species extinction rates at 3,000 times the background rate we are already well on the way to the next mass extinction – irrespective of climate change.
    This is what Prof. Chris Humphreys of the Natural History Musem said recently :-
    “There is not one square kilometre of the Earth’s surface that is not, in some way affected by mans’ presence. That presence is extinguishing species at many times the “natural” rate; with our numbers increasing at an unsustainable rate, our (human) extinction is inevitable”
    and Propfesssor Aubrey Manning on a recent BBC World Service programme on population :-
    “Forget climate change. Unless we get to grips with the problem of overpopulation then we are doomed”
    “The Age of Stupid” I fully concur with, I live next to a local school and see “stupid” every school day, it’s the right result, just the wrong reason.

  19. lalone says:

    Might be a fine idea to sell the film online, then we wouldn’t have to burn up petrol driving miles and miles to see it at a cinema not near me……