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The Age of Stupid--a movie review

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 1:45 PM GMT on September 24, 2009

I attended an interesting film premier Tuesday night--the international release of the anti-global warming pseudo-documentary The Age of Stupid. The movie opened at 440 theaters in the U.S., plus hundreds of theaters in 63 other countries, for a total viewing audience organizers estimated at one million people. This was a Guinness World Record for largest simultaneous movie premiere, according to the organizers. The evening began with a live satellite simulcast beamed from New York City, hosted by Gideon Yago of MTV/CNN fame. We were treated to live interviews with British director Franny Armstrong, producer Lizzie Gillett, as well as movies stars like Gillian Anderson (X-files) and Heather Graham ("we need to stop climate change, or else we're screwed"). Some humorous moments were provided by several protesters pretending to be corporate CEOs, who wore Model X7 Survivaballs as they rolled down the recycled pop-bottle green carpet (survivaballs' motto: "while others look to Senate bills or U.N. accords for a climate solution, we look to our best engineers"). We also heard rock star Moby perform on a sound stage powered by four bicyclists peddling on an specially-designed stationary bike rack. Very cute.

After about twenty minutes of these preliminaries, the 92-minute long Age of Stupid movie began. It opens with some beautiful computer animation of the Big Bang and four billion years of evolution, terminating in the year 2055. As the animation screeches to a halt, we are shown jarring scenes of London drowned by rising seas, Las Vegas drifted over by sand dunes, Sydney burning (eerily appropriate after yesterday's fiery red-orange skies spawned by Sydney's record dust storm), and a ruined Taj Mahal in a scorched landscape. I thought this was a bit overdone, since it is highly unlikely that climate change will be able to cause any of these effects by 2055. The scene then shifts to a futuristic building in the ice-free Arctic, where actor Pete Postlethwaite stars as the curator of an archive of human knowledge. He begins looking at old documentary footage from 2008 and asks the question, why didn't we stop climate change when we had the chance?

Figure 1. A flooded London in the year 2055 in The Age of Stupid.

The rest of the movie is a documentary, shot over the past four years in the UK, Nigeria, New Orleans, Iraq, Jordan, The Alps, and India. Six separate stories are followed:

Alvin DuVernay, a Shell Oil scientist who rescued 100 people after Hurricane Katrina
Layefa Malemi, a woman 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 wind farm developer fighting the anti-windfarm lobby in England
Fernand Pareau, 82-year old French mountain guide
Jeh Wadia, a businessman starting a low-cost airline in India

The six stories are interwoven and told in multiple sections, with jumps back and forth to curator Pete Postlethwaite in the future, who is viewing these documentary clips on his futuristic video screen. I found this creative approach to story telling a bit disorienting, but give the film maker credit for trying something innovative. Interspersed with the documentary footage are some fairly compelling animations. My favorite was an illustration of how America's excessive consumption is responsible for at least 1/4 of China's greenhouse gas emissions, since we buy so much cheap junk from China (which often ends up back in a China landfill). A lot of preaching goes on in the movie, with the film maker criticizing our excessive consumerism and our willingness to fight wars over oil. I thought the most compelling story of the six documentary pieces was the tale of the Nigerian woman living in the toxic mess that the oil industry has made in Nigeria. Cheap oil at the pumps in America has huge hidden costs that we don't appreciate.

While the movie did have some interesting sections with messages Americans need to hear, I thought overall the movie was too long and too dull to be worth spending a full-price movie admission ticket for. At least one of the six documentary sections should have been cut--92 minutes is too long for a documentary. It's pretty hard to make a gripping documentary movie about global warming, and The Age of Stupid and Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth are not gripping. You're better off viewing these at home on DVD. Rating: two stars (out of four).

After the movie, the live simulcast from New York City resumed, and we heard speeches from Kofi Annan, former U.N. Secretary General, who called climate change "Perhaps the biggest challenge we face today". Also speaking was the President of the Maldives, an island nation mostly situated less than two meters above sea level. Sea level rise from climate change is a huge threat to his nation, and the president made a pledge to make his nation the first country to be carbon-neutral, by 2020. We also heard from the scientist who heads the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra K. Pachauri, who affirmed the movie's contention that we need to have global emissions of CO2 stop increasing by 2015 in order to avoid dangerous climate change.

The Age of Stupid as part of a media blitz
The release of The Age of Stupid this week was timed to bring visibility to the climate change issue and help mobilize public opinion in advance of the crucial U.N. Climate Change Conference, which will be held December 7 - 18 in Copenhagen, Denmark. At that meeting, the leaders of the world will gather to negotiate an agreement to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The new agreement will be the world's roadmap for dealing with climate change, and the stakes are huge. The Age of Stupid is key part of a major push green lobby push this week to publicize their key goals:

1) Reducing the 3% per year increase in CO2 emissions we've seen this decade to 0% by 2015.
2) An 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.
3) An eventual return to CO2 levels of 350 ppm--well below the current level of 388 ppm.

Activists are targeting the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh this week as part of their effort; four Greenpeace protesters hung a "Danger: Climate Destruction Ahead, Reduce CO2 Emission Now" banner from a Pittsburgh bridge and dangled beneath the bridge for two hours yesterday. Greenpeace activists were also present as I walked out of the Age of Stupid premiere Tuesday, gathering signatures in support of a petition to urge CO2 controls be agreed upon at the December Copenhagen conference.

A return salvo from the fossil fuel industry and its allies is coming in the next few weeks. They have their own British film maker, Ann McElhinney, who has created a documentary titled, Not Evil Just Wrong, which premiers October 18. They've stated their goal of beating the record for simultaneous theaters airing a movie premiere set by The Age of Stupid. I'll be sure to write a review on Not Evil Just Wrong when it comes out.

Tropical update
There is a new tropical wave that moved off the coast of Africa yesterday that is generating some disorganized thunderstorm activity over the Cape Verdes Islands. This morning's QuikSCAT pass showed an elongated circulation two hundred miles southwest of the Cape Verdes Islands. Wind shear is a moderate 10 - 20 knots over the disturbance, and some slow development is possible over the next few days. The disturbance will have to overcome some dry air to its west, though. None of our reliable computer models are forecasting tropical storm development over the next seven days.

Jeff Masters

Climate Change

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.