The Age of Stupid

On Friday, I almost bought teal converse sneakers, just for the fun of it. I know people who have lots of converse sneakers in lots of colors. Why not be one of them? But I ended up putting the shoes back and I am so glad I did, because on Saturday, I decided to be hip and politically correct and invite my friend and roommate to see The Age of Stupid at MoMA, which, I deduced from a brief scanning of MoMA’s listing, was about global warming.

Cool, I thought. It’d be fun to tell everyone that I’m so environmentally careful that I see movies about global warming. After giving away my fake engagement ring on Halloween to some guy dressed as Run DMC, I’m no longer able to pretend to be married, so I figured appearing more eco-friendly would a good way to fit in in Park Slope for the time being.

Little did I know, seeing The Age of Stupid would not just make me feel like I didn’t belong in Park Slope, but it made me feel like I don’t belong on the planet. The premise of the film is that by ignoring climate change now, we’re basically guaranteeing that the whole planet will be destroyed, and we’ll all be dead by 2055. I may not be good at math, but I know that is soon. I will be 81, if I don’t die in one of the hypothetical hurricanes or food riots that occur in the years before.

The movie is part documentary, part cartoon, and part fiction. Pete Postlethwaite plays an archivist who has collected specimens of planet earth as we know it in a Noah’s Arc sort of way, and uses an iphone-like computer to make a documentary about how we knew better in 2008 but were too dumb to do anything about it.

The documentary footage is real, and it is interspersed with cartoons demonstrating how gluttonous Americans are. Postlethwaite also offers commentary, while scrolling ferociously and tapping his screen to make selections. He has the iphone mannerisms down to a pat (which scares me, I don’t know why.)

The documentary sections feature: “Fernand Pareau, 82-year old French mountain guide, Jeh Wadia, starting a low-cost airline in India , Alvin DuVernay, Shell oil man who rescued 100 people after Hurricane Katrina , Layefa Malemi, living in Shell’s most profitable oil region in Nigeria, Jamila and Adnan Bayyoud, two Iraqi refugee kids trying to find their brother, Piers Guy, a windfarm developer fighting the anti windfarm lobby in England.” (see full synopsis.)

They are all trying to better the world in some way, but they are all either misguided or doomed to fail or both. The point of the movie is to convince us that we know how to fix global warming, but are committing suicide by ignoring it and doing nothing. I’m sure the point of the movie was to inspire action, but it inspired a total panic attack. Jamila and Adnan Bayyoud note that while they wear shoes until they fall apart, Americans throw away shoes the minute something breaks. It literally made me want to punch anyone I knew who buys shoes for fun. (file under: my career as a yoga teacher is as doomed as the o-zone layer.)

The movie does a good job of showing us how stupid we are, but less of a good job demonstrating how we can help it. Rather, the world of the film is filled with really stupid people. And it made me think that I knew a lot of stupid people too. (I also felt physically violent towards anyone I knew who had ever suggested it was a good idea to take a cab.)

That said, I do recommend checking out the site, seeing the movie if you can and joining the movement, “Not Stupid.” On the site, you can e-mail politicians and learn to cut your emissions by 10 percent. You can learn more about the conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 that might help to set policy that will reverse the effects of global warming.

I joined, and hope to convert my hopelessness into action, but unfortunately, what I drew from the film is that humans are sort of biologically wired to consume resources until they’re gone. Postlethwaite reflects that maybe we’re committing suicide because we don’t think we’re worth saving, but I think maybe we’re just driven by the laws of entropy. Maybe we’re doomed by genetics to feverishly use everything until it’s gone. If you agree, I encourage you not only join the Not Stupid campaign but also to join my movement, which involves pledging to never have children, throwing teal converse sneakers at shoppers in SoHo and then moving a farm with the next person I find who I can stand for more than an hour.


17 thoughts on “The Age of Stupid

  1. Gotta admit, I don't even know what “teal” is…I mean, I know it's a color, but that's about it.

    A big problem with the environmental movement, I think, is the attitude that “if we scare the living shit out of people, they'll act.” When, actually, the apocalyptic stuff (even when it's accurate) is more likely to inspire depression, causing people either to go into denial (see statistics on what percentage of Americans believe climate change is happening), become fatalistic, or move toward some kind of millenialist religious belief that tells them there's nothing to worry about because God's going to take care of his own (and that, I believe, is what's brought big business and the religious right together).

    Anyway, at 43, I seem to be doing pretty well at not having children, but I've also been just about the only eco-hippie I've ever met who's never wanted to live on a farm…which I suspect has something to do with the fact that I've actually shoveled shit out of a barn….

    Anyway, the best way to live eco-consciously is actually NOT to move “back to the earth” but to stay living right where you are, in the big city, where it's possible to take public transportation, walk, or bike anywhere you need to go (including to stores that sell eco-friendly products), people live close together, thus sharing heat and using up a minimal amount of land, etc.

    As for me, I'm visiting my mom for the weekend, out here in the outer suburbs, and, seeing how nice it is out the window, am gonna hop in the car and go drive to the park for a nature walk…

  2. well i am glad you didn't get the team converse…..they are really really uncomfortable and you would have never wanted to wear them…

    and yeah, the scary stuff depresses me more to inaction than anything else – I know I do my part, i recycle, i combine trips out in the car, I didn't reproduce, i use both sides of office paper and use refillable water bottles and cloth shopping bags…and all i can do is hope my little bit is useful to the BIG picture!

  3. I think it's really sad- there are so many other ways to create change- “scaring” people isn't the way, as Dr. Jay so rightly put it.

    This is why I adore Colin Beaven's No Impact Man's blog and cannot wait to see his movie. Which is about all the things we CAN do. It's about hope, and how living more environmentally (or in connection with our Earth- very yoga) will be GOOD for our humanity, for our relationships and for our communities.

    it doesn't have to be about sacrifice.

  4. I think it does have to be about sacrifice, and that sacrifice has initial and unimagined deferred rewards (one of them being we get to continue on as residents of this planet). Sacrifice can be a moral decision and doesn't have to come from fear. It can grow from hope, and hope can grow from it.

    I'll definitely head over to the website and sign on.

    Never once have I regretted not having children. And I've never understood women who love and collect shoes as if they are art. Jeez!

  5. Let me just add that what I think is a problem with the americans and ecology is that most of you only see the individual actions as a solution. Of course, individual actions are needed but not everybody is eco-conscient and that's why political action must be taken too! It's really weird you guys have just two main political parties. Why no more? Why no ecological party?

  6. In response to those who would like to believe that Climate Change is not happening,
    is not dangerous and is not man-made I say this.

    1) Heatwaves, droughts, cyclones, floods, severe storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, uncontrollable wildfire,
    coral bleaching, ocean acidification (due to elevated carbon absorbtion), coastal erosion,shrinking mountain
    glaciers and polar ice caps,growing areas of desertification, water scarcity,spread of pests and diseases
    into hitherto unaffected areas.

    All these have been occuring with ever increasing frequency and severity in the past 25 or so years.
    If that is not climate change I cannot imagine what you think it is? As to whether it is caused by human behaviour
    well perhaps, and if most of the reputable scientist on the planet believe it is, then who are we to argue?

    2) Yes, there is corruption in the world – there always will be those who think they can get something for nothing,
    but we must have some modicum of belief in better human nature too – if everybody was criminal
    government could not work anywhere at all – that is simply not the case.

    3) I for one am not prepared to sit back and watch whilst the planet destroys itself, if there is a chance that by changing
    behavior we humans may be able to reverse the trend (which unchecked could lead to apocalyptic “runaway”
    climate change).

    4) We must take positive action. Stop tearing coal and oil out of the earth, start using what
    nature gives us – the sun, the wind, the tides. There is SO much that can be done. There is so much that the rich
    half the world does not really need – we can afford to share it with the poorer half.

    If we can learn to conserve better what we have, we can do this.

    (There is more to say but that is the essence.)

  7. I am a US citizen. A mechanical engineer by edu. Ultimately I retired at 50 by creating my own company that continues to save save $80m in electrical energy in CA. I live on a sail boat 50% of the time with 2 130W solar panels and we use 10lbs of propane for cooking. Home is 1600Sq Ft no AC.
    I have no children by choice. I am VERY concerned with the future. I have some hope. Many US citizens are aware and concerned with Climate Chg. The great majority as you know are moronic in nature. US Chamber of Commerce, the largest lobbyist to our government (fact check me please), is anti: Climate Chg, Health Care ref., etc. Our congress is made up of mostly whores that sell us out to CORPORATE AMERICA (the moraless, souless profit driven Moron that runs us). We need help in this. HELP! The Republican party married the Christian enangelicals whom are pushing for God's call for the End of All Tmes. My parents, 90% of my cousins and I are estranged due to “religious/political” divides. President GW Bush and the repulican party created this bonded nightmare. Obama is a breath of fresh air.
    I told my mom that there are too many people on the planet. She said why don't you and your partner go off yourself! I have told my mom on many occasions that having less kids is the idea. This is the typical mind of the right wing. “It's not Climate Change, it's just weather, it's normal, how can you be so arrogant to think humans could affect God's earth?” Ahrrrrrrrrr!!!
    Murdock owns most of the press and he is corporate america.
    US laws are designed in a way that supports only 2 p. partys unfortunately.
    We need a WAKE UP call bigger than Katrina or 911 for sufficient change thus far.
    I hope this helps enough, i'm going on way too long. I Hope someone reads this to understand the US dilemma from a Green Party member.
    Gary O

  8. I think one of the main problems with people living in England (and probably in America, too, I imagine) is that our legal system is obsessed with giving us all our 'human rights'. I would love to have children oneday – I truly wish I didn't want them, as I don't know if I'll ever even be in a position to have them financially, etc., but I do! – but I really believe that the government should limit the amount of children each couple/person can have. Maybe China went a bit far with limiting it to just one child (I can't bear to imagine what they do with the 'second' child if someone finds they're expecting twins), but how about limiting it to two or three? Surely that's enough for anyone. It almost feels hurtful that I feel 'guilty' for wanting children someday, when I have some friends who have four to six children. Okay, most have only two, but hardly anyone I know chooses not to have any. What if we could spread out the creation of a future population to make it fairer, and also to spread out the genetics – let's face it, if millions stop reproducing, and the others have many kids, genetic abnormalities and diseases would gradually be on the rise…if, that is, humans live long enough to see this occur.

    Oh, and one last thought before this turns into an essay – if every newbuild house or office block or theatre or swimming pool was built with its own personal roof garden, filled with food for its local town or village, then I reckon we could combat half of the problems we're facing all in one go. The answer has got to be 'local, local, local'…oh, and do whatever they're NOT doing in the States…

  9. Hi,
    Nice post.
    Just two small things to add there : another useful thing everyone can do is reduce their meat consumption or stop it altogether. Not too difficult once you get started.

    All these animals that we raise for food and dairy, create between 20% and 50% of global greenhouse gas emissions (that's depending on wether you take into account the methane they produce whilst digesting, the land use and… respiration).

    That leads to my second point which is, that i'm not totally confortable wit the idea of telling people (or of doing it ourselves) not to have children.

    In my opinion, the problem is more how we use our ressources and how we share it, than how many of us are living on the planet. This meat consumption subject is a good example of that : with all the food used to feed animals instead of people on a vegetable basis, you could feed about 8 times more people.

    In certain parts of the world, having enough children is about the only ressource that enables you to survive. And this is by the way, people who almost don't consume and don't generate any greenhouse gaz emissions.

    Oh and yeah, one last thing… Individual steps sadly aren't enough to really tackle the problem, but political action can be fun and insipring and actually enable us to get rid of that feeling of helplessness. Lots of things are happening for the Copenhagen summit ! One website for example that i'm thinking of with stuff going on in the US, is beyondtalk(dot)net. (Honest i'm not here to advertise ;))

  10. Want to do something really positive, check out the Transition Towns movement and watch 'The Power Of Community'-google it. Good antidotes to the fear. There is loads to be done beyond a change in shopping habits. Maybe the fear, if you can allow a little of it, will bring about a shift in the fundamental way we look at things. Happy Transitioning to a lower carbon life.

  11. We showed Stupid in our village hall …..and then I read Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road', then I felt pretty bleak for a couple of days, then I decided to help set up a transition movement in our area. I can't save the world on my own,but with a little help from my friends, your friends, and all the inspiring and diverse grass roots movements that are springing up all over…we could just do it, I reckon. This has the potential to be one of the most exciting and fulfilling periods in our recent history, for each of us, all of us. Here's to each of us who commits to having a go, here's to all of our tomorrows, cheers, Selena

  12. Gary O, you are a breath of fresh air. It's lovely to know that there are people able to think for themselves in America. All is not lost!

  13. Hi Anna,

    Thanks for commenting on my post. I completely agree that the current demand for meat is only adding to the global problems, and I personally have greatly reduced my red meat consumption which in some small way I hope will help. It would be great if the land currently used for farming could instead be used to grow our food – but I can't help thinking that this wouldn't be the case. The land would have to be quickly protected in order to stop it being acquired by yet more developers, building on flood planes and thereby increasing the damage caused as global warming increases.

    I also agree that we need to learn how to better share our resources – how can we be facing obesity problems when people are starving abroad? But as far as having children is concerned, it isn't that I think people should not have any at all, but just reduce the number. Admittedly, in certain countries children are people's only means of survival, but in the western world our society is structured in a way which allows us to survive without having to rely on hoards of children. We have set ourselves up for a nightmare – our population has grown so large that people believe it needs to grow larger in order to provide for all those already born. But isn't this just a short term fix? Afterall, we can't go on forever expanding, even if we do share our resources more carefully. Eventually all that spare land taken from meat farmers and used to grow food, will have to instead provide housing and facilities. I'm not at all comfortable with being told how many children I can have, but I'd be quite happy with two or three, and quite frankly if people aren't going to make sacrifices on their own initiatives, and the government can't force them, then most people I know wouldn't make any necessary sacrifices in order to make changes happen. I think if politicians were to set the example first and not consider themselves exempt from most policies, the masses wouldn't feel so angry about being told what to do. I'd be wiling to have fewer kids in order to try to save the futures of the ones I already had. I think if everyone made a similar sacrifice (and I don't consider that much of a sacrifice, considering what we set to face without it), we'd all feel more integrated with the rest of our society, and at last feel powerful enough to make a real difference. More people mean more food production, more clothing production, more medicine (and thus more plants to help produce them), more energy to heat homes, more energy to light homes, and more people to pollute the air with vehicle fumes and germs, etc.
    I once saw a documentary on a lost civilisation – can't remember where right now – and it was concluded that the entire civilisation died out simply because the population had grown too big, and used up all their resources. Maybe they weren't very resourceful people mind you, who knows…

    And lastly I also entirely agree that political action is needed in order to change things. And I truly wish I had faith in politians. But as they only pander to the mass population who, lets face it, only want to shop and consume, I can only hope I'm proven wrong in thinking that any environmental promises any government makes won't in the end amount to much. If we had more time we could pander much more, but we don't, so in my view we need some drastic action to take place, and no government is willing to take such action as this doesn't get them elected..unfortunately, as they'd get my vote.
    I DO have a very positive outlook on what CAN be done about the future, but I have real issue with no-one being willing to be the ones to make the sacrifices. What if we all did, then we'd all be equal?
    Anyway, rant over!!

  14. Well, I refuse to have children and when I buy a pair of shoes, I wear them until I would need massive amounts of duct tape to hold them together. Hopefully this helps…


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