16 Mar 2009
The Age of Stupid Premiere at the Eden Project
Spent the weekend in Cornwall for the People’s Premiere of The Age of Stupid. The film got into the Guinness Book of Records for being the largest simultaneous premiere in the history of films, being premiered in 65 places (of which Eden was one), connected together by a webcast. At Eden, a sell-out audience drawn from across Cornwall and Devon saw, on the screen, the celebs and others arriving for the greenest film launch in history, with emissions just 1% of the normal Hollywood premiere. Then, we saw the film.
I have seen an early version of The Age of Stupid, when a rough cut was shown at the 2008 Transition Network conference, where, to be fair, it had a mixed reception. Some felt that its message was unremittingly negative,and that it offered no insight into what the path to avoiding our own mass extinction might actually look like. Others felt that, inspite of that, it was still the best film about climate change yet made, and found it a very powerful and moving experience. Since then, with the final editing, it has, for me, morphed into a quite extraordinary telling of the story of climate change, drawing in other issues such as oil consumption, human rights and consumerism (although the criticisms of it not offering any chink of light still, possibly, stand). For anyone who hasn’t seen it, here is the trailer to give you a sense of what it is about.
At the premiere in London, various people spoke after the event, and the President of the Maldives announced that his country was going to go for zero emissions, as part of trying to nudge the rest of the world’s governments to do the same. Then Minister for Energy and Climate Change Ed Milliband was interviewed onstage, which you can see below… . Interesting to hear him say that the Government feels it has to argue that we can sustain economic growth while tackling climate change, because that is what China and India want to hear, and we won’t get them engaged if we talk down economic growth. Felt to me, reading between the lines, that he, personally, wasn’t entirely convinced about it himself, but if it was what brought the Chinese to the table, then so be it.
For me personally, I feel that it offers an amazing leg up for Transition initiatives. What it does is to tell, graphically and powerfully, the results of out not doing anything. It opens up beautifully the space for the telling of the other story, told so powerfully in Shaun Chamberlin’s Transition Timeline (available via. Transition Culture from today), of the generation that did sort it out. After the screening at Eden, I was asked to say a few words, to offer some reflections. Here is what I said (or rather what I wrote that I was going to say, and then kind of improvised around…)
“It is a great honour to be invited to speak at this historic occasion. The Age of Stupid is, by any measure, an amazing achievement. The drawing together of a huge team of volunteers, the thousands of ordinary people who gave what they could afford in order to make the film you have just seen a reality.
Animators, designers, editors, one extraordinary actor and two extraordinary film-makers, drawn together because they knew that this was a film that HAD to be made. It had no choice, and neither did they. As challenging and potentially ghastly as these times are, they also draw extraordinary things out of ordinary people, and this film is a great example of that.
The Age of Stupid very powerfully tells the story of the generation that chose to stick its head in the sand, to ignore the evidence, to stick with what is comfortable and familiar. It is the generation that clung to business as usual, that put its own wants above future generations needs. The results of such an approach, as having just seen the film you are probably feeling right now in the pit of your stomach, are too horrible to contemplate. That is not the world I wish to hand on to my children, or for anyone elses for that matter.
While waking up to the scale of the challenge facing us is crucial, feeling despondent and powerless is not a great place to start from if we want to respond creatively and effectively to it. So often our cultural stories let us down. What would a world that reduced its emissions to the extent necessary look like?
What are the cultural stories we tell ourselves about what that might look like? My friend Albert Bates likes to think of these future scenarios in terms of 1970s Hanna Barbera cartoon characters. Will the future be like the Flintstones? Or perhaps more like the Jetsons?
I tend to veer more towards Wallace and Gromit. While the Age of Stupid is the terrifying telling of the story of the generation that did nothing, for me it’s wonderful, glorious potential is how is sets the scene for another, more urgent, more exhilarating and ultimately more useful tale to tell. It is the tale of the generation that looked the issues of climate change, energy security and inevitable economic contraction square in the eye, and responded with creativity, imagination and compassion.
It is the tale of those who discovered that the world beyond air travel, traffic jams, the April strawberry and the paraffin heater was actually a better place to be. It tells of our reconnecting with the soil around us, of our moving from being passive consumers to being active producers, of the rebuilding of resilience, the local, the seasonal, the reusable, the mended, the repaired, the handmade. It is these new stories that we need.
Of course, those stories only have real value if they translate into action, into change, into a rapid decline in carbon emissions and a rapid rebuilding of resilience in this country and around the world. This is starting to happen, and it is thrilling to see. Transition initiatives, Low Carbon Communities, and the many many organisations embracing these challenges, are, as Paul Hawken puts it, the Earth’s immune system kicking in. Here in Cornwall for example, where we are this evening at the Eden Project, there are over 20 communities actively involved in the Transition Cornwall Network,, and there are many thousands of such organisations across the country with their sleeves rolled up, insulating roofs, planting gardens, working with schools, creating resilient businesses and helping those around them to see the extraordinary potential inherent within the changes we now need to make.
We need Government too, of course we do. We need a powerful and binding agreement to emerge from the talks in Copenhagen at the end of this year. We need the regearing of industry, and we need to stop putting the precious financial resources that we have into the banks, and use it to insulate this country’s lofts and start putting in place the scale of post-carbon infrastructure that we so urgently need.
Government can, if so minded, unleash a Green New Deal for this country, one founded on the idea that the only way to revive our fortunes is to put energy security and climate change at the heart of that. If they drag their feet on that, then we, the people, need to lead by example.
We can be, we need to be, and we must be, the generation that future generations look back to as the one that turned this round. Then, and only then, would we be worthy of the tales they would tell and the songs they would sing about us.