Tuesday 17 March 2009

How stupid are we?

The ‘People’s Premier’ of the low-budget British film ‘The Age of Stupid’ was in part a lesson in practicing what you preach. As a film which warns- in the strongest possible terms- of the devastating impact of climate change, the film-makers had to think of how to avoid the premier itself compounding the problem. And so everyone who attended the screening at Leicester Square, or the 80 other simultaneous screenings in different cinemas across the country, was asked to walk, cycle or come by public transport; the screenings were all powered by solar panels (which had enjoyed great luck with the beautiful Sunday sun!); the popcorn machine was pedal-powered; indeed, the 'red carpet' itself was green!

The film brought together documentary and news footage from the past few years, as a man looking back from 2055 (played by Pete Postlethwaite) tries to understand how we failed to act on climate change in time, despite all the evidence available to us of the dangers of inaction. Whilst cynics would inevitably argue this method of film-making to be sensationalist or propagandist, it does serve in a very powerful way to challenge one’s own personal inaction. Seeing clips of Hurricane Katrina (the strength of which was certainly due to climate change) together with the floods in the UK, followed by a billionaire businessman recently launching India’s first low-budget airline and protestors demonstrating against the building of wind turbines near to their village, the film makes its point forcibly. And within that context, we are told that in order to avoid climate change of more than 2 degrees, we have to level emissions off by 2015. Without this, we move into the worst-case scenarios of ‘runaway climate change’ experienced by our character in 2055.

The facts offered in the film are largely things we already know, and that is in a sense the point. These are the news items that we don’t really take notice of, or fail to see in their wider context; the articles we skim-read as we turn over to read some gossip about a potential leadership battle developing in the cabinet. (I am aware this point is not necessarily generalisable, and probably says far more about me than it does you!) And insofar as we do fully comprehend the severity of the situation, why do we not do more about it?

I recommend seeing this film, then, as a means of challenging our inaction. You may well decide that it is a load of rubbish, or be aware of scientific research which you feel disproves the film’s conclusions. But if not, the film can act as a good catalyst for changes in one’s personal behaviour.

Action would mean taking significant steps personally, whilst others are still doing nothing at all; it would involve making this an absolute political priority, the focus of all our energies; and it will mean hoping that a majority of people come on board in time. It does seem a near-impossible goal. But trends can develop at a remarkable pace, and governments have coordinated massive changes in consumer behaviour in shorter time-frames when such change has had wide public support: just look at rationing in WWII. And whilst 6 years is not far away, as a political narrative ‘the end of the world as we know it’ isn’t too shabby.


Calix said...

Very interesting - I like the bit about the dilemma of how to run an opening without adding to the very problem you are attacking!

Is this film influenced or run in some way by the Plane Stupid campaign?

Now is the time to re-think consumer behaviour due to the economic collapse, as so many commentators and politicians are saying...just how, that's the problem. There's a genuine, if somewhat half-hearted, will, but nobody in politics really seems to have confronted the scale of the problem.

Lewis Cooper said...

Thanks Calix- Yes, I think there is some association with the Plane Stupid campaign. And yes, I suppose the hope is that the recession might lead us to re-think our attitude to consumption, and that this could come to be seen also in terms of its environmental necessity.

But whilst the question of how to coordinate behavioural change is important, I did come out of the film feeling that we are not really going to get anywhere quickly enough if those who are moved by the issue do not themselves take sizeable steps, as individuals. Whilst some noble environmentalists have been doing this for years, I suppose the hope is that this becomes more mainstream- which would mean a movement developing amongst students, young people, even Fabians! It would involve sacrifices (not flying seems like a basic first step, but most of us tend to justify it to ourselves quite easily) but waiting for the government to act before we do seems to be a complete abdication of our own personal responsibility.

I kind of feel your last sentence best applies not to governments but to us- that we do have a genuine, but half-hearted will, but do not seem to have really confronted the scale of the problem.

Unknown said...

I was lucky enough to have been inside the Solar Powered Tent on the night as a VIP Guest (one of the competition Winners). I felt proud and lucky to have seen it first hand and to hear what was said after the showing.

It is a very moving film, I think everyone should go to see it. It had a profound effect on me. I am determined to make a change and give my support to the cause, and try to get others to see it, and for them to be moved by it. Lets mobilise and change things before it is too late to save our beautiful Planet Earth.