The independent documentary film, the Age of Stupid, is about climate change and how our developed societies allowed the planet to be ruined in a period of collective stupidity. It follows a number of individuals in different parts of the world - USA, England, France, Nigeria and India - and shows their responses in intimate profiles. A narrator from the future reflects upon clear warning signs and contrasts these with the plausible deniability of the consequences of unbridled carbon fuel burning.
The film’s director, Franny Armstrong, has developed a reputation for her radical approach to political subject matter including the story of McLibel, the longest trial in British history which started when the fast food chain sued some leafletters. Her latest film does not disappoint in this respect. It raises awareness of a wide range of environmental issues and placing these in a personal context, the film is a powerful refresher on what is at stake.
Where the film fails to convince is in finding remedies. There is a presumption that a sustainable future will be low-carbon, with non-nuclear renewables making up the majority of power generation. We are shown beautiful vistas of the Alps as well as the rolling Cornish countryside. This is presumably before these areas are covered in windfarms and solar panels.
The reality is that too many countries want to bring their populations out of poverty before being prepared to compromise on economic growth. Furthermore, the richest country of all, and the most wasteful of energy, the USA, is never going to accept a reduction in living standards so that India and China can catch up. Carbon rationing will only become a political reality when people can see the effects directly for themselves. The problem is that by the time this point is reached, it is too late to save the world from runaway warming. The conventional economic mechanisms simply do not work to reverse the climate detriment.
Using up the earth’s resources is foolish given the rapid rise in the global population and the growth in consumption per head. This goes to demonstrate that mankind does have a collective suicide urge - which happens to be the subject of Armstrong’s university thesis when she studied zoology at UCL. Are we all to die like the doomed Easter Islanders?
I remain optimistic that a tradable personal carbon allowance can serve as the basis for a solution. Each person would receive say 1000 energy units a month (kilojewels?). They can use these all up on buying energy for themselves or they can sell them to someone else who places more value on them. Ultimately carbon is rationed but those who place more value per unit can trade with those who place less value to their mutual benefit. Maybe people are not so stupid after all.
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