Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Age of Stupid - Global Premiere

'The Age of Stupid' is the new cinema documentary from the Director of 'McLibel' and the Producer of the Oscar-winning 'One Day in September'. This enormously ambitious drama-documentary-animation hybrid stars Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite as an old man living in the devastated world of 2055, watching 'archive' footage from 2008 and asking: why didn't we stop climate change while we had the chance?

The frightening vision of the near future depicted in The Age of Stupid is not science fiction.

The world in which the Archivist lives is the clearly visible destination of present - 'business as usual' (BAU) - policies regarding greenhouse gas emissions. Whether we get there in 2055 or 2075, we don't need to do anything different from what we are doing today to arrive in the terrifying future shown in our film.

The Global Premiere of The Age of Stupid

One week from now on September 21st / 22nd, on the eve of the UN General Assembly's climate session, The Age of Stupid will be launched internationally at the biggest and greenest live film event the world has ever seen. A-list celebrities will walk the green carpet to a solar powered cinema tent in downtown New York, linked by satellite to 700 cinemas in 50+ countries.

As an INclusive, rather than EXclusive event, everyone is invited to go to their local theatre to watch the VIPs arrive in Manhattan by bike, rickshaw, electric car and sailing boat, before braving the paparazzi on the green carpet (made from recycled soda bottles). Following the screening of The Age of Stupid, there will be a further 40 minute event featuring Kofi Annan, Gillian Anderson, Mary Robinson, the film's director Franny Armstrong, the star of the film Pete Postlethwaite and other leading thinkers, celebrities and political figures from around the world. There will be live music from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and satellite links to scientists working in the Indonesian Rainforest and at the melting glaciers in the Himalayas. A group of children will speak from the very room in Copenhagen in which all our futures will be decided at the UN climate summit in December.

The scientific basis of "The Age of Stupid" By Mark Lynas
  • Mark is the author of "High Tide" and "Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet", both published by Harper Collins and translated into more than a dozen languages
  • Winner of the 2008 Royal Society Prize for Best Science Book ("Six Degrees")
  • Climate change supervisor on the film's production, 2002->2008
The opening text card of Spanner Films' new film, The Age of Stupid, makes the claim that the film is based on "mainstream science predictions". This is more than just a rhetorical device to make the film seem realistic: we mean it. This is not The Day After Tomorrow 2, a cinema spectacular featuring climatic events which are so unrealistic that they contravene the laws of physics. All the science in the film is based on peer-reviewed papers, together with the latest predictions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - the world's biggest-ever consortium of scientists.

The bottom line is that the mainstream scientific predictions about what will happen in the next few decades are so frightening that we didn't need to exaggerate for dramatic effect.

The film is set in 2055, a little less than half a century on from today. Pete Postlethwaite plays a man living alone in a devastated future, looking back at our world of today and asking why we didn't save ourselves when we still had time. His character is not the last survivor, as is often misquoted: groups of individuals are seen in the devastated scenes preceding Pete's introduction and the camera pans past a large, populated refugee camp. Many people are left alive, but there has clearly been a collapse in both the human population and the structures of civilization we know today.

In the world depicted in the film, the inhabitants are suffering the results of all the cumulative emissions that we have already put into the atmosphere (between the start of the industrial revolution in1850 and today, 2009), plus additional emissions which will have been added over the future decades - during which, according to the conceit of the film, humanity continued with its business-as-usual fossil fuel use and did not make dramatic emission reductions.

Over the last decade or so, the rate of emissions increase has nearly tripled. We are currently on, or a little above, (depending on whose figures you use) the IPCC's worst-case emissions scenario - here, today, in the real world. The film is pessimistic in the sense that it examines in imaginary hindsight from the vantage point of 2055 why humanity failed to reduce its emissions - but, more than fifteen years since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed, we should already be asking this question. From a policy-as-usual perspective, it is a reasonable supposition that we will probably keep on failing. (This is not to suggest fatalism or denial: the film is a clear cautionary tale, and one which is already backed up by a campaigning effort aimed at inspiring its viewers to become climate activists: 'Not Stupid', www.notstupid.org)

Given that the temperature change is realistic, how realistic are the impacts portrayed resulting from it? The opening sequence may raise some eyebrows: London is flooded and silent, the Sydney Opera House is shown against a backdrop of raging flames, the Matterhorn in Switzerland is denuded of snow, and Las Vegas is buried in shifting desert sands. Surely these are all exaggerations? Sorry, they're not.

Suffice to say that the social collapse scenario is realistic enough to be being taken seriously by the military in both America and other countries. One of the reasons why Al Gore and the IPCC were awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize was in acknowledgement of the fact that if efforts to reduce climate-changing emissions fail, global warming will be one of the main drivers of human conflict in decades ahead as resources dwindle and competition increases. The Age of Stupid looks at precisely this world - where efforts to reduce emissions have failed, temperatures are soaring, and humans are battling it out for the scraps of civilisation.

We should not take this analysis too far, however. The Age of Stupid is a creative, artistic work, presenting an imaginary future. It is not a filmed version of the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report. We expect scientists and everyone else who watches it to have different reactions. Some may love it, and be moved by it; others may hate it and refuse to accept its lessons. All we ask is that you do not dismiss it - and thereby deny your own responsibility to act - on the basis that it is 'alarmist' or unscientific. I'm afraid that is simply not true.

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