I just finished watching the documentary, The Age of Stupid. Again, the credits are still rolling and I am inspired to write.
My overall feeling after watching this film is WHY. Why are we doing this to ourselves? It is such a simple and honest question. What is the answer? Most people must not fully know the issue at hand. Either that or we just don’t care enough about ourselves, our humanity. We selfishly fail to focus on this issue. I feel so frustrated. This movie has lit a fire under my butt to try and do more… MORE!
We are not leaving this world a better place than what we found it, obviously. We buy so many consumer goods, we eat food from half a world away, and we burn cheap energy. We use our precious resources as if they had no end. The scary thing is that they will end. We are using them all up, saving none for future generations. Even those who don’t believe in climate change (against 97% of climate scientists) must still concede that oil will eventually run out. What then? The world will be faced with the same problem that we have now, without the added bonus of any hope of reversing catastrophic climate change and an Earth worth saving.
The movie takes place in 2055. The world has succumbed to catastrophic climate change, and most of humanity has been destroyed. Near the North Pole there is a huge tower rising out of the now-melted Arctic Ocean. It is a storage facility, housing all the important artworks of humanity, and in massive banks of computer servers, containing all the history and music and literature and scientific discoveries of all of humankind. It is a time capsule of sorts, on a massive scale. The narrator is the storage facility’s keeper. For all we know, he is all that is left of humanity. He has at his access, news and documentary footage. From this footage he creates a cautionary tale for some future non-human generation to find. All footage he uses is from current day real life, and is not fabricated or fictional.
He follows a young woman in Nigeria, age 23, who lives in a rural town where Shell Oil has moved in. The agreement was that 13% of the oil revenues were to go to community development. Here in this community, she sees nothing. No clean water, no medical facilities, no secondary schools, nothing. It is probably a case of corruption at the government level, as well as Shell not living up to its original promises and not being held accountable. There is now oil in the river, killing the fish, a key food staple for these people. Natural gas that is found alongside the oil is burned instead of stored or transported, as it is the cheapest option in this region. This country has the riches of oil and gas, but the people do not benefit, and are instead suffering with a damaged water supply and air pollution due to gas flares (emitting 70 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year). This young girl wants to build a better community, a better life, so she is working hard to raise funds to get admitted to college to become a doctor. In the end the only way she can raise the funds she needs is to sell diesel fuel on the black market.
Next he follows a British family, trying to reduce their carbon footprint and live off the land. Their goal is to reduce their footprint to one carbon tonne per person per year, as compared to the 10 tonnes per year on average for the UK. The father is involved in wind turbines and wants to install a wind farm on a local farm. The farmer is all for it, but the neighbours are not. The neighbours essentially, do not want their view to be ruined. One lady, who was instrumental in the protest against the wind turbines, says later that she is concerned about climate change and that everyone should do their part. Then she laughs awkwardly, knowing that her actions do not match her words. However, her actions are mostly typical, as we are all mostly, worried. But few of us are willing to give anything up of value to change. She was not willing to give up her view.
The narrator also follows a businessman in India, who is about to launch a new Indian airline. This man indicates that his overall goal and purpose in life is to work toward eliminating poverty in India, a noble goal, to be sure. However, to accomplish this, he is putting more airplanes into the sky, thereby contributing in a large way, to carbon emissions in India (airplane travel is very carbon intensive – one long haul flight would equal driving my car for 8 months).
He also follows an American man who worked for an oil company, who lost everything to Hurricane Katrina. With his small boat, he ended up saving over 100 people stranded in their homes, including a 92 year-old man and a 2 week-old baby. Are catastrophic weather events like this going to increase in number and severity? Some would argue it is already happening.
There are two children from Iraq, now living in another country as refugees. Their father was killed in the war. The reason for the Iraq war? The film implies that it was for oil and these two little kids are paying the price.
Then there is the mountaineering guide in France, who at age 82, has seen the landscape and climate change in the mountains significantly in his lifetime. He has watched the glaciers shrink. He has watched the summers grow hotter. He has seen car and truck traffic through his small, quiet mountain town grow exponentially. He has a love of nature and he sees the path that we are on and is physically pained by it. He has a beautiful quote near the end of the film:
I think everyone in the future will perhaps blame us for not thinking how to protect the environment. We knew how to profit but not how to protect.
These stories from around the world remind us that we are all interconnected in this thing. What goes on in India and Iraq and Nigeria and the UK impacts me here too. It impacts my children. It impacts you. We are all here on this little planet Earth, living together on this miracle of creation. This is our only home, no other place yet discovered in all the Universe could sustain us. It is like a tiny spaceship, careening through the immense dead of space. How will we treat our precious aircraft, so that it can continue to support us? Will our personal self interests override the needs of our vessel, so key to our very survival?
If we do not change, it is not the Earth that will suffer. It is us. The Earth will continue to careen through space, whether we have a place on it or not.
The scariest thing about this movie came from Mark Lynas, who wrote Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet. He told us that we will have to reduce our emissions by 80% by 2050, which is something I have also read elsewhere. However what I had not seen before, was his assertion that in order to achieve that, we have to peak on emissions by 2015. That is only 4 years away. I am so frustrated because I see this train wreck coming at us so quickly, and we are so busy squabbling about having to change our way of life that we don’t realize that before we are even done squabbling, it will be too late.
How can I accept that? In short, I can’t.
That is why I write in this space, that is why I am actively greening my life from top to bottom. But I need to do more. I need to reach out to people and get involved in the flesh, in person. I want to do more, and need to carve out time for it. There is absolutely no excuse for not doing so.
My children deserve it. You deserve it. We all do.