Science in Society Archive

The Age of Stupid Steers Towards 2010

Climate change, the most important story of all time is dramatized in a film that just won’t go away. Sam Burcher

The Age of Stupid

The 10:10 Challenge for Copenhagen

Greenpeace is strongly behind the re-release of The Age of Stupid that aims to create a fuss about climate change [1].  The film’s green carpet premier in a solar powered eco-tent in London earlier in 2009 was well received, but did not make the impact that many thought it deserved.  Its recent simultaneous world-wide screening via satellite is a reminder that the countdown to the UN Meeting on Climate Change (COP15) in Copenhagen has commenced and the need to set sensible and achievable targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is pressing.

Britain and the EU are ready to commit to a 20 percent reduction of carbon emissions by 2020 [2] (Europe Unveils 2020 Plan for Reducing C Emissions. SiS 37). But Fanny Armstrong, the film’s director believes that we need to do something sooner than that.  She has challenged the energy secretary Ed Milliband to pledge that the British Government will be the first government to cut emissions by 10 percent in 2010 [3]. Greenpeace is calling on the world’s leaders to come together at Copenhagen in December to agree tough and binding measures to prevent the reality and consequences of catastrophic climate change [4].

The campaign for a 10 percent reduction [5] urges everyone to make small changes to their lifestyle.  For example by using energy saving light bulbs, turning down the heating, flying less, driving a bit less and slightly modifying food habits.  Reaching targets of 30-40 percent may require more than simple public participation, says Armstrong. However, proponents of renewable technologies say that it is possible to be 100 percent renewable by 2050.  (see ISIS’ Green Energies 100% Renewables by 2050 [6]) which will be distributed at Copenhagen)

Green OBE for climate activist

The Shakespearian actor Peter Postlethwaite plays the last human survivor in the year 2055 who looks back to the present time and asks why didn’t we do something about climate change when we had the chance? The actor has taken personal action on saving the climate by insulating his home and installing a wind turbine.  He has also pledged to return his OBE to the Queen if plans for the controversial Kingsnorth coal powered fire station go ahead.  Postlethwaite recently received a new “People’s OBE” made from recycled materials, which was given on behalf of people calling for more urgent action on reducing carbon emissions [7]. 

Paradoxically, director Fanny Armstrong’s carbon footprint was dramatically increased by The Age of Stupid.  Although, she feels that the 96 tonnes of CO2 she used to make and promote the film was well worth it.  The film’s overarching message is one of personal responsibility. We are the first generation to know about climate change; therefore it is our responsibility to do something about it.  Those that came before didn’t know about the effect of human behaviour on the climate and for those that are to follow, it will be too late, she says.

The Age of Stupid plays to the theme of a disenchanted and dystopian society that ultimately destroys its own environment.  From the isolation of his watch tower surrounded by a sea of water and some artefacts of our time, Postlethwaite, with the aid of a touch screen computer, narrates the stories of six characters who experience events such as Hurricane Katrina and the effects of corporations on the environment as we approached 2015, the year average global temperature must be stabilized within 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels.

Postlethwaite’s voice is the last voice to say, “We had an unspoken collective pact to pretend that climate change wasn’t happening.  As though, as long as we ignored it hard enough, it would not be true.  Not absolutely everyone, some of us were shouting ‘Fire’.”

Modern life is made of oil

Modern societies have gorged themselves on ancient sunlight.  And, as peak oil approaches instead of using the remaining reserves to build a society that could run without oil (see ISIS’ Food Futures Now *Organic *Sustainable *Fossil Fuel Free [8]), billions of barrels are indiscriminately being burned off every day.  In Nigeria the gas flares that rage day and night could be converted into energy for the locals, but instead each year the oil equivalent of powering 10 million homes annually is wasted. 

Pioneering architect Jim Archer has come up with a solution for generating heat for cooking and hot water for washing by recycling refuse in Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum. (see The Community Cooker, SiS 44 [9].)

One of the notable characters is a young woman in Nigeria who desperately wants to train as a doctor after the death of her sister.  To fund her studies she catches fish from the local river the Shell Oil Company polluted and never cleaned up. The small fish that can be salvaged are washed off with detergent and sold. She shows us the empty half built school buildings that the company promised to complete with the 13 percent of £1.5 million per hour oil profits that are supposed to benefit the local community. Another character is an Indian aviation entrepreneur who dreams of getting the 15 million people who travel by train everyday in India into the skies.

Participation is the key

This film follows in the green footsteps of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.  However, the shocks come from The Age of Stupid’s capacity to reflect on imperialism as the root of capitalism and fast forward to the future where the consequences of infinite economic growth destroy humanity.   It also asks important questions like, “Why didn’t the USA sign the Kyoto protocol?  The key facts and statistics of the bloated overuse of the worlds’ resources relayed to us by a child is emotive, but perhaps lacks the punch of Gore’s  potent PowerPoint presentation that explicitly measures the impact of global warming on the planet.

On the other hand, this film gives us a good insight into the mentality of the anti-windfarm protestors in the UK who say they believe in renewable energies and climate change, yet fight tooth and claw to prevent wind farms in their back yard.  The anti-wind farm protestor says, “This is a fair fight and I hope you lose.” This denial of any problem is a sharp contrast to the efforts of individuals in Africa who are striving to generate renewable energy for the local community by any means possible (see Harnessing the Wind with Scrap, SiS 44 [10].) These local perspectives are telling in the fight against global warming.

Ultimately, there is nothing helpless or hopeless about social participation on an unprecedented scale to turn the climate issue around.  I haven’t flown since I saw the film in March this year. The urgency, energy and creativity of The Age of Stupid must motivate us beyond consumerism to realise our worth and to do something positive to build a better society and make the planet a secure and habitable home for all. 

Article first published 28/10/09


  1. What to do about climate change.  The Age of Stupid Website
  2. Ho MW. Europe unveils 2020 plans for reducing C emissions Science in Society 37 16-17,  2008
  3. The Age of Stupid, author
  4. Take Action – Demand our leaders lead. World Leaders take responsibility – personally attend Climate conference in Copenhagen
  5. Cutting 10% emissions in 2010 everyone’s at it
  6. Ho, MW. Cherry B. Burcher S. Saunders P, Green Energies 100% Renewables by 2050, The Institute of Science in Society and Third World Network, London and Penang, 2010.
  7. Positive News International Network, Pete Postlethwaite is given a green OBE.  Positive News, Summer 2009 Another World is Possible
  8. Ho MW, Burcher S, Lim Li Ching and Others Food Futures Now Organic and Fossil Fuel Free Food Futures Now *Organic *Sustainable *Fossil Fuel Free
  9. Burcher S.  The community cooker turns rags to riches. Science in Society 44
  10. Burcher S.  Harnessing the wind with scrap. Science in Society 44

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There are 4 comments on this article so far. Add your comment above.

David King Comment left 29th October 2009 18:06:15
I was unable to view this film when it was shown locally. I have been attempting without success to purchase a DVD of it. Can one be released to encourage its mass viewing. It is undoubtedly a film all politicians should see, especially right wing politicians.

Rory Short Comment left 29th October 2009 23:11:57
I am not in the habit of going to the cinema and I do not know whether the film will be shown in South Africa or not but like just about every country on earth people here are in dire need of a climate change wake up call. This is especially true of the national electricity provider Eskom which has a new build program focussed on coal and nuclear. In a country supremely well endowed with sunlight the creators of this program can only be categorised as stupid.

Nicole Venter Comment left 30th October 2009 04:04:29
I can only add a resounding cheer to your remark that, as a species, we must somehow be motivated beyond the shallow ideals of consumerism and step valiantly into the realization of - at the very least - our own worth. Realizing this as indeed the very core of the issue I am urged to question what has degraded humanity to such a suicidal degree of consumerist mania and what is it that hedges those remaining there. Can all of human history really have been in vain? Can no one remember a more beautiful, peaceful, healthful and inhabitable earth?

STEVE KELLY Comment left 12th November 2009 00:12:36
If you still wish to buy a copy of this , or better still set up your own viewing, so that anyone can see the film in your country, please go to this website and look around...purchase the C/D. TAKE ACTION