Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Age of Stupid

I finally watched Franny Armstrong's Age of Stupid last night on BBC4. The film is effectively a series of modern day mini-documentaries of people with different attitudes to climate change around the world, but framed as archive pieces being assembled by Pete Postelthwaite in an armoured repository in post-apocalyptic 2055. There are also some animated sequences, but these were undoubted the weakest part of the film as they tended to slip into a standard activist polemic-by-numbers, whereas the real life elements really got across the complexities, self delusions and frustrations in the response to climate change.

There was the small scale wind farm developer, losing a planning application in the face of NIMBYs. The head NIMBY, a middle aged woman who had apparently managed to stop a farm "on her Scottish estate" said to the camera "of course I'm worried about climate change, of course we must expand renewable energy", leaving the "but not in my back yard" unspoken.

There was the Indian entrepreneur who was on a mission to bring air travel to the poor through a low cost airline, the Iraqi kids scratching a living in Jordan whose father had been killed by the Americans, the American who saved hundreds in the aftermath of Katrina but who used to work in the oil industry, the elderly French alpine guide who was campaigning against a second Mont Blanc tunnel.

But the story that really struck home for me was the Nigerian woman trying to get into medical school while living in the shadow of a Shell Oil refinery. A standard line from the sceptic/denial camp is that acting to stop climate change will divert funds away from poverty reduction and lock the poor into a doom loop. What utter nonsense. Shell flares enough gas in Nigeria to be equivalent to about 10% of the UK's carbon emissions. They could sell it cheaply to Nigerians for cooking, vehicles etc, but no they just burn it off. Nigeria, with all its natural wealth, is stuck in a rut of corruption, poverty and pollution. So the $6m question is, what has the high carbon economy ever done for the poor?

As I said before, the animations didn't add much and the Postlethwaite bits could be a bit mawkish, but the heart of this film is a powerful story of how we can be so stupid - and I use that word in as nice a way as I can as few people featured were being particularly greedy. It is both a warning and an insight into the trajectory we are locked into by the dint of what is between our ears.

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