Monday, October 19, 2009

The Age of Stupid

It was a film about climate change written and directed by Franny Armstrong. Watched the Manila premiere recently, organized by Greenpeace, Oxfam GB, Christian Aid, the World Wildlife Fund and other groups. Found out from the Wikipedia that Franny Armstrong also directed the film McLibel in 1997 about that famous court case which pitted these two London Greenpeace (not connected with the more popular Greenpeace International) activists against corporate giant McDonald's. McDonald's, the corporation, sued the activists for passing around pamphlets which claimed, among other things, that the fast food company is responsible for starving people in the Third World, destroying tropical rainforests, selling all these unhealthy and addictive food, even torturing and murdering animals.

But I’m digressing. Back to The Age of Stupid. The movie features actor Pete Postlethwaite (In the Name of the Father, The Usual Suspects, The Shipping News, The Constant Gardener) as the lone Archivist – one of the remaining homo sapiens in the post-2050 Earth devastated by a runaway global warming. The Archivist stays in a tower-like, multi-storey structure that stands somewhere in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. This futuristic building houses preserved plants and animals in formalin-filled containers, and a whole floor of these computer servers that store all the accumulated knowledge of human civilization. From these electronic files, the Archivist collates and composes recorded messages that he then beams to space for anybody (read: aliens) who may be listening.

The real meat of the movie though are the separate documentary stories that look at climate change issues from the eyes of people in different circumstances around the world: the Indian executive who is setting up the first cheap airline company in the country; the green activist in the UK who faces tough opposition to his proposal of building wind farms in the countryside; the poor African woman who dreams of becoming an excellent medical doctor and of enjoying the good life in the First World; the two Iraqi kids who are trying to deal with the war’s impact on their young lives; the bike-riding geologist who used to work for Shell’s oil exploration business and who had some philosophical insights after losing everything to Hurricane Katrina. By linking and putting such narratives side by side, Armstrong has created a powerful picture of this intricate web of causes and effects that constituted climate change issues and the contradictions that defined efforts to navigate such complexity.

Like that conflict between seeing the film and babbling all night about how powerfully it conveyed the urgency of acting to address climate change, versus actually doing something. Coming out of the movie house, thought about how many of those who watched the film that night for instance would seriously consider cutting back on their plane rides in the coming days. Perhaps the planet would be extremely lucky if there were just one or two jet setters in that crowd who would volunteer to do so. But the very sad fact is that once we’ve come to know the impact of our actions, we seem to always find some clever ways to justify our environmentally destructive lifestyles. Drawing that line between what is stupid behavior and what is not may not be enough to push us out of such complacent attitude to global warming. I would still love to wear that shirt though (if only I could get one: attention Greenpeace).

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