Science - October 8, 2009

Age of Stupid leaves viewer in a daze

The Age of Stupid premiered worldwide on the evening before the UN climate summit. Will this climate film have a positive effect on the conference in Copenhagen? It puts blame on the oil industry and the Western consumer. The viewer is jolted into stupor.

Actor Pete Postlethwaite in The Age of Stupid
Lecturer in Communication Science at Wageningen University, Barbara van Mierlo: 'I look at its power of persuasion, and on how it exhorts people into action. I'm not concerned with the climate change itself, but with how the film-makers present the truth. I'm concerned with the impact of this film on the public.' Resource joins her as she analyzes the film.
Van Mierlo raises four questions:
1. Which problem does the film address?
'In The Age of Stupid, the last surviving earthling looks back in 2050 to our time. Amazed at how humanity has wittingly eradicated itself, the key question is posed: Why didn't we save ourselves when we had the chance?'
2. Who is to blame; who is the victim?
'The narrator reconstructs man's own undoing based on documentaries about common people. These people can't be described as just good or bad. Some of them suffer from environmental pollution problems or climate phenomena. Others try to fight these, but to no avail. Whatever happens, all of them are consumers. The images portray a complicated system where individuals have little control. This contrasts sharply with the animated footages, in which the blame for climate change is simply and explicitly placed on oil companies. Above all, with the quote Oil business ís the US government. the American government is implicated as well.'
3. How credible is the film?
'The film opens with the text: scenarios are based on mainstream science predictions. This subsequently gives the film a 'scientific' label, although the basis for hypotheses remains vague. Scientific debates concerning climate change are not given any airing. Climate change is presented as a hard and fast fact. The extinction of the human race in 2050 is a doom scenario, which makes the film itself difficult to believe. The 'truth' about climate change is pieced together from news reports. The film-makers use these to show that we are aware of the dangers.'
4. What solutions does the film present?
'The producers bark up the wrong tree with the fatalistic question 'why haven't we saved ourselves?' This leaves us with very little room for choices. There are no positive future vistas to inspire the viewers, who are exhorted to rise to the occasion and take action. But for what? World leaders are not addressed to take action.
If the producers want to show how complex the problem is, they should have been more explicit about it. Do they want to incite people to action? If so, they did not offer enough ideas on what to do. An Inconvenient Truth has made climate change visible and people are already aware of the problem. The Age of Stupid emphasizes this problem again, which can lead to a paralyzing stupor. Especially when there is no light at the end of the tunnel.'