The Age of Stupid

Goodlifer: The Age of Stupid

“We could have saved ourselves, but we didn’t. It’s amazing. What state of mind were we in, to face extinction and simply shrug it off?”

The year is 2055 and “The Archivist” (played by actor Pete Postlethwaite), presumably the last human left on an earth ravaged by climate catastrophe, speaks to us from a bunker-in-the-sky storage facility located in the (now melted) Arctic. Surrounded by a comprehensive collection of humanity’s achievements — art, literature, music and pickled (now extinct) animals, preserved in the hope that the planet might one day be habitable again — he begins to tell us the story of how mankind knowingly committed suicide.

The Archive: a comprehensive collection of all humanity's achievements, located somewhere in the now melted Arctic.

The Archive: a comprehensive collection of all humanity’s achievements, located somewhere in the now melted Arctic.

No more snow. The alps, as they may look in 2055.

No more snow. The alps, as they may look in 2055.

The Age Of Stupid is a documentary-drama-animation hybrid from Director Franny Armstrong (McLibel, Drowned Out) and Producers John Battsek (One Day In September, Live Forever, In the Shadow of the Moon) and Lizzie Gillett. Determined to produce the film independently, in order to have full editorial freedom and complete control of the distribution, they turned to crowd-funding to raise money. A total of £450k was raised from 223 investors in the UK, Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Holland, Denmark and France. Any profits will be shared amongst the people who made the film (the crew, who worked at reduced rates in exchange for shares), the people who funded it (the investors), the organizations that supported it (the production companies) and the people in it (the stars).

Director Franny Armstrong shooting in the Mumbai slums. This location was also later used in the film Slumdog Millionaire.

Director Franny Armstrong shooting in the Mumbai slums. This location was also later used in the film Slumdog Millionaire.

We are on the other side of the screen as The Archivist shows news and documentary clips from 1950-2008, stories of what lead us to this final destruction of mankind. As viewers, we relate and react to his reactions, we form a bond of concern and wonder if this is really what our future looks like. The focus is on six human stories (a structure borrowed from Stephen Soderbergh’s film Traffic, which deals with human stories circling the drugs trade).

Having just retired from his job with an oil company, Hurricane Katrina hero Al looks forward to spending more time in nature.

Having just retired from his job with an oil company, Hurricane Katrina hero Al looks forward to spending more time in nature.

Alvin DuVernay is a paleontogolist helping Shell find more oil off the coast of New Orleans. He also rescued more than 100 people after Hurricane Katrina, which, by 2055, is well known as one of the first “major climate change events”. He is a self-proclaimed environmentalist who doesn’t “have a problem squaring that with working for an oil company that [he feels] has done a pretty good job in being environmentally friendly. Visibly troubled by the loss of his house and virtually all his possessions during the few days that Katrina put New Orleans under water, Vernay has obviously pondered the way human activity has affected climate change quite a bit, saying: “In my opinion our use or misuse of resources the last 100 years or so, I’d probably rename that age, something like The Age of Ignorance, The Age of Stupid.”

Jeh Wadia started GoAir, India's first low-cost airline.

Jeh Wadia started GoAir, India’s first low-cost airline.

We follow Mumbai businessman Jeh Wadia as he is starting up India’s first low-cost airline, GoAir. Wadia is on an, in his mind, honorable quest to eradicate poverty in his country by offering fares affordable to everyone in an attempt at breaking down geographical barriers. We follow him on a plane-shopping trip, where he announces that he intends to buy up to 40 planes for his airline. Part of a well-known Indian business family, Wadia is portrayed as a privileged, clueless character, who with pure ignorance is out to destroy the world. How is it that we idolize people like Richard Branson, who despite a recent green epiphany (and subsequent investments in green innovation), has a far larger environmental impact? His Virgin Air and Virgin America airlines have a combined fleet of 66 aircraft (according to the Civil Aviation Authority and Planespotters), compared to Wadia’s eight (with ten more optioned). This is the double standard we are imposing on the developing world. Flying less is by far the most important thing we can do do divert climate catastrophe, but if we are not willing to give up $9 trips to the Caribbean, who are we to tell Indians that the cannot fly across their country for a rupee? It is true, Wadia is probably clueless about much but running a successful business, but, as he says, it’s all about supply and demand.

Layefa Malemi paddling in the Niger Delta. Gas flares and pollution from Shells oil drilling are destroying the local environment.

Layefa Malemi paddling in the Niger Delta. Gas flares and pollution from Shells oil drilling are destroying the local environment.

Layefa Malemi lives in absolute poverty in a small village in Nigeria from which Shell extracts tens of millions of dollars worth of oil every week. She dreams of becoming a doctor, but must fish in oil-infested waters and sell diesel on the black market for four years to raise the funds. She hopes that as a good doctor, she will become famous and someday live like an American, with “a comfortable house, flashy cars, drinking good water, eating good food.” With a distant gaze, she continues “It’s a beautiful life. If you were living that life you wouldn’t even like to die. You’d just want to stay on Earth forever.” With government corruption and large oil companies draining all the resources from the land she calls home, there is little stuff left for dreams to be made of.

Jamila Bayyoud experiences a brief moment of being a carefree kid, sticking her head out yelling from the window of a taxi.

Jamila Bayyoud experiences a brief moment of being a carefree kid, sticking her head out yelling from the window of a taxi.

An 8-year-old girl, Jamila Bayyoud, is an Iraqi refugee living on the streets of Jordan after her home was destroyed — and father killed — during the US-led invasion of 2003. She’s trying to help her elder brother, who was badly burned in an attack, make it across the border to safety. With her other brother, she gathers and mends used shoes from the west and sells them on the street. When they play, it’s all about guns and pretend-dying, Jamila lying still on the ground, playing dead, while her brother drags her away and covers her with a sheet. This is their reality, their experience of the real world. In their hearts, there is a deep-rooted hatred for the Americans that killed their father.

Piers Guy, a British windfarm developer struggling against conservative opposition.

Piers Guy, a British windfarm developer struggling against conservative opposition.

Piers Guy is a windfarm developer from Cornwall fighting the NIMBYs of Middle England. For years, he has struggled to convince the (aging) local population to give him permission to build a wind-farm on an old WWII bomber-field. The farmer who owns the land has been on Guy’s side all along, but the vicious battle fought by the villagers eventually put an end to the windfarm. Says Guy, “It’s an emotional campaign, it’s about fear and mostly based on complete bollocks frankly, but never mind, facts are not a problem.” The campaigners voiced concerns about, among other things, how the windmills would be loud and produce noise that would make them unable to sleep. Never mind that there is a massive race track nearby. How can we expect developing countries to give up their quest to live our kind of good life when we cannot even bare to look at a windfarm from our car window? It is this kind of uninformed ignorance that can no longer be tolerated. Guy explains: “You only have to look at the terrible things in our history, which everyone regrets now: massacres, the Holocaust etc, and a lot of that was just going along with what was the predominant thinking at the time.”

Fernand Pareau has witnessed drastic changes to the climate of the alps over the past few decades.

Fernand Pareau has witnessed drastic changes to the climate of the alps over the past few decades.

82-year-old French mountain guide Fernand Pareau has witnessed his beloved Alpine glaciers melt by 150 metres since he moved to the Chamonix region. He now has to use ladders (that constantly have to be extended) to bring climbers down to the glacier. Since the Chamonix tunnel was built, there are now thousands of trucks going by his quaint village everyday, and there is talk of expanding the road. “We were naïve,” he says, “I think everyone in the future will perhaps blame us for not thinking to protect the environment. We knew how to profit, but not to protect.” In one scene, he joins a group of villager on a bicycle ride protesting the tunnel expansion. They all seem liberated by the feeling of having stood up for themselves.

A vision of Las Vegas in 2055, when man has once and for all lost the battle against desert.

A vision of Las Vegas in 2055, when man has once and for all lost the battle against desert.

What a post-climate catastrophe London may look like.

What a post-climate catastrophe London may look like.

While the first public sneak preview of the film was held in (virtual world) Second Life, on One Climate Island, the global premiere of The Age of Stupid was set to coincide with a massive (real) world event. The UN Climate Week in New York is among environmentalists commonly known as the last chance for world leaders to come together behind a policy change that would make possible the goal of stabilizing carbon emissions by 2015 and then ensure a rapid decrease in the years after that. The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in November is where the new agreement replacing the failed Kyoto treaty is to be signed, and world leaders are still not able to agree on the terms.

Celebrities were encouraged to arrive to the green carpet using climate-friendly means of transporation. Ritt Bjerregaard, Mayor of Copenhagen, chose a bike.

Celebrities were encouraged to arrive to the green carpet using climate-friendly means of transporation. Ritt Bjerregaard, Mayor of Copenhagen, chose a bike.

Director Franny Armstrong says the decision to make this movie was not a hard one. “Either we seriously tackle climate change or we wipe out most life on Earth. So it’s not a tricky decision, as a filmmaker, to decide which subject to work on. I find it hard to understand how anyone who grasps the problem can work on anything else.”

Producer Lizzie Gillett & Director Franny Armstrong at the New York premiere.

Director Franny Armstrong (right) and producer Lizzie Gillett arrive for the world premiere of the film The Age of Stupid in New York on 21 September, screened during Climate Week. Photo: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

On the strengths of film as a medium for portraying big, complex issues like climate change, she says: “I think independent documentaries are currently the number one way to pack the biggest emotional punch while disseminating ideas to the most number of people with the least number of editorial restrictions. Because it is a mixed-media format — i.e. spoken words, images, music, graphics — the size of the emotional punch it packs can be so much bigger than single-media formats like books, songs, photographs or newspaper articles. Plus, the 90-odd minute length has been shown by the history of cinema to be the perfect slot for people to follow and feel a story.” The way the filmmakers turned this premiere into a major event — a cultural happening if you will — certainly speaks to how the way we think about movies will change drastically in the years to come. One million people in 50 countries tuned into the global premiere, broadcast live from New York City on September 21. Talk about power in numbers.

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan spoke at the event.

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan spoke at the event.

Ed Miliband, UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, was criticized by Franny Armstrong on stage for with a watered-down climate deal only "giving us a 50/50 chance."

Ed Miliband, UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, was criticized by Franny Armstrong on stage for with a watered-down climate deal only “giving us a 50/50 chance.”

The event was hosted by MTV’s Gideon Yago, Moby and Thom Yorke performed (bike-powered and acoustic, respectively). Celebrities who arrived via boats, bikes and solar cars to the Green Carpet included Gillian Anderson and Heather Graham. The premiere was said to have only 1% of the environmental impact of a Hollywood-premiere. Dignitaries like former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, President of the Maldives (the first nation to commit to going carbon neutral), Mohamed Nasheed, Chairman of the IPCC, Dr R.K. Pachauri and UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband.

Franny Armstrong & Lizzie Gillett presenting President Nasheed of the Maldives with a "Not Stupid" certificate for committing to be the first country to go carbon neutral.

Franny Armstrong & Lizzie Gillett presenting President Nasheed of the Maldives with a “Not Stupid” certificate for committing to be the first country to go carbon neutral.

The Yes Men - holding plans for their SurvivaBall - attend the premiere. The group of pranksters yesterday distributed phoney copies of the New York Post, with headlines warning: "Global warming kills" and "World leaders slip on UN summit slope." Photo: Janette Pellegrini/WireImage.com.

Left: A man reading the Yes Men’s fake edition of the New York Post with the headline reading “We’re Screwed”. Photograph: Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters. Right: The Yes Men – holding plans for their SurvivaBall – attend the premiere. Photo: Janette Pellegrini/WireImage.com.

So, like the Yes Men say, we may be screwed, but we do have the power to prevent that from happening. To quote Journalist and Author George Monbiot: “The very fact that the crisis is taking place within our generation, that it’s happening right now, means that we are tremendously powerful people. So this position of despair and I can’t do anything and there’s no point is completely illogical, it’s exactly the opposite.” One point that is stressed in the film, is that public outrage and protest have been absolutely instrumental in creating a lot of the monumental changes our world has seen in the past centuries. Our display of quiet discontent will only make people like those who killed Piers Guy’s windfarm project more powerful. Franny Armstrong is very outspoken, she does not apologize for her opinions or try to be politically correct. We should all take a cue from that. As I was leaving the movie theatre, the people in the row in front of me were discussing how Armstrong’s lack of PR savvy would be a hindrance to the success of this movie. Isn’t PR’s savvy way of creating mirages part of the problem that put us in this situation in the first place? Throw your politeness out the window, make a placard, sign every petition for causes you support, call up your representatives and ask those hard questions they need to hear, tell your friends, do whatever you can do, but make sure that you do something. Otherwise, soon we will all live in the age of stupid.

Demonstrators in San Francisco march in the streets in protest against delays to the climate and energy bill that is currently awaiting a crucial Senate vote. Dozens of protesters from the group Mobilisation for Climate Justice held a demonstration outside of the offices of Chevron and US Senator Barbara Boxer. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images North America.

Demonstrators in San Francisco march in the streets in protest against delays to the climate and energy bill that is currently awaiting a crucial Senate vote. Dozens of protesters from the group Mobilization for Climate Justice held a demonstration outside of the offices of Chevron and US Senator Barbara Boxer. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images North America.

Environmental and human rights activists hold up symbolic alarm clocks in front of the Sacre Coeur in Paris, during a "wake-up call" event. The banner partially obscured in the background reads: "We do not negotiate with climate, we act. Mr Sarkozy, wake up!" Photo: Thibault Camus/AP.

Environmental and human rights activists hold up symbolic alarm clocks in front of the Sacre Coeur in Paris, during a “wake-up call” event. The banner partially obscured in the background reads: “We do not negotiate with climate, we act. Mr Sarkozy, wake up!” Photo: Thibault Camus/AP.

Make your commitment, join 10:10 and pledge to cut your carbon footprint by 10% in 2010, test your climate knowledge by taking the quiz on the official COP15 website, sign tcktcktck’s petition to show your support for a fair and binding climate deal, join the movement to turn Copenhagen into Hopenhagen, and, of course, go see the film.

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
1 comment on this postSubmit yours
  1. Good review. I will pass this one on to everyone. We’re showing the film in Hendersonville, NC, at the Library on October 31, along with the Global Warming Taskforce. Thanks for posting this. Well thought out.

Submit your comment

Please enter your name

Your name is required

Please enter a valid email address

An email address is required

Please enter your message

About

What constitutes the good life? It’s a question we’ve asked ourselves since the dawn of time and something we all strive for. To us, the good life is not a destination but a journey. We want to see more positivity in the world. Thinking happy thoughts makes for happy people, and happy people are more productive, innovative and at peace with the world. We believe in the transformative power of good news.

Goodlifer © 2019 All Rights Reserved

Designed by WPSHOWER

Powered by WordPress