The Age of Stupid – it certainly is that.

After watching The Age of Stupid (2009) I felt resolved to do a bit to benefit the environment, to help save our civilisation. So I turned off a few appliances and walked to the local recycling centre with a bagful of plastic, paper and tin. Of course, I shouldn’t kid myself that this is helping; it’s simply reducing my impact. Less bad does not equal good. But even this half-hearted effort didn’t last long.

And why should it? As the film’s narrator, Pete Postlethwaite, puts it, we’re all engrossed in our beach games as a tsunami approaches beyond our vision. We have been warned, but that warning is drowned out by the hundreds of advertisements we each see every day. And so we carry on as normal.

Americans have been advertised to for the longest, and thus they are consummate consumers. One Americans consumes enough for two Europeans, nine Chinese or fifty Kenyans. And all this consumption is already doing damage, with climate change clearly visible in the Alps and the Arctic, and the devastating effects of our thirst for oil plain to see in Nigeria’s Niger Delta and Iraq.

Still, we all want the lifestyle of the American – the big house, big car, big television and big travel budget. Yet unless the resources of the world increase fivefold, we won’t get it.

It is possible, however, for all of us to live happy and equal lives. It would need the neutering of capitalism, for capitalism demands infinite growth which cannot be provided in a finite world. The model would put a global cap on emissions, with countries allocated a share based on current emissions, adjusted yearly until their shares reflect population. This would allow Third World growth but enforce green reforms in the First World. Such a system might even mean we avoid the climatological feedbacks which could lead to uncontrollable changes.

According to Mark Lynas if we do not stabilise greenhouse gas emissions by 2015 and then reduce them to pre-industrial levels over the next half-century, temperatures will rise by 2ºC and keep rising until the world is nigh-on uninhabitable. Trouble is, the Copenhagen conference proved our politicians lack the courage to act. Popular pressure could change that, but if environmentalist cannot even defeat nimbys in the battle for more wind farms, what hope have we?

The documentary’s premise is that, looked at from forty years into the future, our current age could be labelled the age of stupid. As a fan of science fiction I would have liked to have seen more in the film about life in the 2050s, but with a shoestring budget that was always going to be little more than wishful thinking. Still, The Age of Stupid’s final message, beamed through a ring of space junk to the stars far above, was a powerful one worth waiting for.

William Coffin

Zarg writes: 2055? You’ll all be dead long before then. Human civilisation is prone to over-reacting. A 2% reduction in economic activity could easily be absorbed by a functioning society, but here on Earth it produces enormous strife – evident in today’s levels of unemployment and hunger, and in street protests from New York to Athens. If in a decade’s time the Ganges dries up and a 100 million Indians flee their country, a working world could find food and shelter for all of them. But unless a great deal changes between now and then, such a migration is more likely to trigger global nuclear war.

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