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16 Mar 2009

The Age of Stupid Premiere at the Eden Project

Spent the weekend in Cornwall for the People’s Premiere of The Age of Stupid.  The film got into the Guinness Book of Records for being the largest simultaneous premiere in the history of films, being premiered in 65 places (of which Eden was one), connected together by a webcast.  At Eden, a sell-out audience drawn from across Cornwall and Devon saw, on the screen, the celebs and others arriving for the greenest film launch in history, with emissions just 1% of the normal Hollywood premiere.  Then, we saw the film.

I have seen an early version of The Age of Stupid, when a rough cut was shown at the 2008 Transition Network conference, where, to be fair, it had a mixed reception.  Some felt that its message was unremittingly negative,and that it offered no insight into what the path to avoiding our own mass extinction might actually look like.  Others felt that, inspite of that, it was still the best film about climate change yet made, and found it a very powerful and moving experience.  Since then, with the final editing, it has, for me, morphed into a quite extraordinary telling of the story of climate change, drawing in other issues such as oil consumption, human rights and consumerism (although the criticisms of it not offering any chink of light still, possibly, stand).  For anyone who hasn’t seen it, here is the trailer to give you a sense of what it is about.

At the premiere in London, various people spoke after the event, and the President of the Maldives announced that his country was going to go for zero emissions, as part of trying to nudge the rest of the world’s governments to do the same.  Then Minister for Energy and Climate Change Ed Milliband was interviewed onstage, which you can see below… .  Interesting to hear him say that the Government feels it has to argue that we can sustain economic growth while tackling climate change, because that is what China and India want to hear, and we won’t get them engaged if we talk down economic growth.  Felt to me, reading between the lines, that he, personally, wasn’t entirely convinced about it himself, but if it was what brought the Chinese to the table, then so be it.

For me personally, I feel that it offers an amazing leg up for Transition initiatives.  What it does is to tell, graphically and powerfully, the results of out not doing anything.  It opens up beautifully the space for the telling of the other story, told so powerfully in Shaun Chamberlin’s Transition Timeline (available via. Transition Culture from today), of the generation that did sort it out.  After the screening at Eden, I was asked to say a few words, to offer some reflections.  Here is what I said (or rather what I wrote that I was going to say, and then kind of improvised around…)

“It is a great honour to be invited to speak at this historic occasion. The Age of Stupid is, by any measure, an amazing achievement. The drawing together of a huge team of volunteers, the thousands of ordinary people who gave what they could afford in order to make the film you have just seen a reality.

Animators, designers, editors, one extraordinary actor and two extraordinary film-makers, drawn together because they knew that this was a film that HAD to be made. It had no choice, and neither did they. As challenging and potentially ghastly as these times are, they also draw extraordinary things out of ordinary people, and this film is a great example of that.

The Age of Stupid very powerfully tells the story of the generation that chose to stick its head in the sand, to ignore the evidence, to stick with what is comfortable and familiar. It is the generation that clung to business as usual, that put its own wants above future generations needs. The results of such an approach, as having just seen the film you are probably feeling right now in the pit of your stomach, are too horrible to contemplate. That is not the world I wish to hand on to my children, or for anyone elses for that matter.

While waking up to the scale of the challenge facing us is crucial, feeling despondent and powerless is not a great place to start from if we want to respond creatively and effectively to it. So often our cultural stories let us down. What would a world that reduced its emissions to the extent necessary look like?

What are the cultural stories we tell ourselves about what that might look like? My friend Albert Bates likes to think of these future scenarios in terms of 1970s Hanna Barbera cartoon characters. Will the future be like the Flintstones? Or perhaps more like the Jetsons?

I tend to veer more towards Wallace and Gromit. While the Age of Stupid is the terrifying telling of the story of the generation that did nothing, for me it’s wonderful, glorious potential is how is sets the scene for another, more urgent, more exhilarating and ultimately more useful tale to tell. It is the tale of the generation that looked the issues of climate change, energy security and inevitable economic contraction square in the eye, and responded with creativity, imagination and compassion.

It is the tale of those who discovered that the world beyond air travel, traffic jams, the April strawberry and the paraffin heater was actually a better place to be. It tells of our reconnecting with the soil around us, of our moving from being passive consumers to being active producers, of the rebuilding of resilience, the local, the seasonal, the reusable, the mended, the repaired, the handmade. It is these new stories that we need.

The Age of Stupid film crew filming events at Eden

Of course, those stories only have real value if they translate into action, into change, into a rapid decline in carbon emissions and a rapid rebuilding of resilience in this country and around the world. This is starting to happen, and it is thrilling to see. Transition initiatives, Low Carbon Communities, and the many many organisations embracing these challenges, are, as Paul Hawken puts it, the Earth’s immune system kicking in. Here in Cornwall for example, where we are this evening at the Eden Project, there are over 20 communities actively involved in the Transition Cornwall Network,, and there are many thousands of such organisations across the country with their sleeves rolled up, insulating roofs, planting gardens, working with schools, creating resilient businesses and helping those around them to see the extraordinary potential inherent within the changes we now need to make.

We need Government too, of course we do. We need a powerful and binding agreement to emerge from the talks in Copenhagen at the end of this year. We need the regearing of industry, and we need to stop putting the precious financial resources that we have into the banks, and use it to insulate this country’s lofts and start putting in place the scale of post-carbon infrastructure that we so urgently need.

Government can, if so minded, unleash a Green New Deal for this country, one founded on the idea that the only way to revive our fortunes is to put energy security and climate change at the heart of that. If they drag their feet on that, then we, the people, need to lead by example.

We can be, we need to be, and we must be, the generation that future generations look back to as the one that turned this round. Then, and only then, would we be worthy of the tales they would tell and the songs they would sing about us.

Categories: General

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16 Mar 11:00am

Saw the film in Norwich. I hope an edited version of the Leicester Sq. Q&A is added as an extra when the film is circulated on DVD, it would serve as useful starter for discussions (and if nothing else worth it for the look of terror on Ed Milliband’s face when he realised he’d have to stand at the front and say something meaningful…)

16 Mar 11:14am

I was at one of the events in Leeds – all but packed out (think a few ticket holders did not turn up).

The audience was mainly the converted but still pretty stunned afterwards. Lots of action here re airport expansion and new coal, as well as TTers.

As some say unremittingly bleak but the live feeds from the premier in London made it the most amazing event. The feed from Eden did not work, but to see people like Betts and Stern speak so eloquently of the need for action and the veracity of the science behind the film was great.

Some of the folk who opposed the airfield wind farm are going to be SO embaressed by their performance – like Monckton in the Climate Change Contraversy earlier this year.

chris White
16 Mar 12:20pm

i saw the film in exeter… i’ll be honest i left feeling very angry and useless (like having my first peak oil moment again, but a year down the line) i felt like we were talking to ourselves, that no matter how hard we bang on the door it won’t open. still, onwards and upwards, we are going to put on two screenings in exmouth (where the directors cousins live) and personally invite the whole business community and councillor reps… i want everyone who has an interest in local affairs to all see this at the smae time in the same place. Well done to everyone who made this happen.

Graham Burnett
16 Mar 12:56pm

Not seen AOS yet, but from the comments I’m reading I don’t think its a film I feel very sure about in terms of showing at meetings, advising people to watch, etc, I feel ambivalent enough about showing End of Suburbia, and at least that has a bit of a sense of humour…

I’m of the view personally that most of the folks who make it as far as coming to a Transition Westcliff meeting or film show have an awareness of climate change issues if not so much peak oil, and are looking for solutions, and not coming to be hit around the head with more doom, gloom and despair. I’m much more in favour of solutions focussed films like Power of Community, although we do need examples that are closer to home than Cuba, which often brings an audience response of “Yes, well, thats all very well for Cuba where its nice and sunny and you can grow lots of crops/there is an oppresive political regime to ensure everybody tows the line, but what are we going to do in cold, wet, (relatively) liberal England??”

Roll on the Transition Movie, in the meantime heres our little contribution to creating a positive post oil age at the top of our homepage

Neil L
16 Mar 1:36pm

I’ve not seen the film as of yet either but maybe the post-film approach needs to be more along the lines of support sessions…

Seen Age of Stupid? Feeling angry and dispondent? Not sure what to do? Well come along to xxx to get some suppor tand hlp focus your energy on what we can do as we move towards a low carbon future

…just a thought

16 Mar 2:02pm

Watched the film in Edinburgh, in a sellout 260 seat cinema. As in most of the other posts above, it was a case of preaching to the converted, but I think it worth me trying to get as many people as possible to see this film. Pete P. gave it an air of something that could appeal just enough to the mainstream so as to make it viable and get the general population mobilised. Roll on the Not Stupid campaign!

Annie Leymarie
16 Mar 2:26pm

Watched it in Plymouth. Felt that despite the lack of any happy post-carbon-living scenario the film was energising, but the live discussions in the (relatively) low-tech setting in London after the film were even more inspiring. The raw energy of the speakers felt contagious.
At the end of the show, we were asked to turn to a neighbour we did not know and discuss what we disliked about the film, what we liked and how we were going to act. That exercise felt very useful, reinforcing the need to connect for empowered action.
So yes, let’s promote the film, but with forums to discuss possibilities of action…

Tracey Todhunter
16 Mar 2:34pm

For more responses from dozens of speakers from low carbon communities who volunteered to speak at screenings across the UK take a look at
Our featured video this week is the eye watering exchange between Pete Postlethwaite, Ed Milliband and Low Carbon Communities Network Patron, Mark Lynas at the London Premiere of Age of Stupid. It is great to see so many Transition Initiatives getting involved in climate activism too. Thanks Rob for speaking at Eden Project.

Steve Atkins
16 Mar 5:23pm

Watched the premiere in Bristol last night.

Coming up to one year ago I watched a rough edit of the film at the 2008 Transition Conference, the film really stuck in my mind for some time. On arriving back home it felt as if the film was continuing in real life, especially in the news.

2.5 million people shouted loudly and were not heard/ the UK army got sent to a war they did not want / to a government that wants to build a 3rd runway, build a coal powered station AND cut emissions by 80% in 2050, etc…

Houston, London, Beijing, Tokyo, Bognor Regis, Piddletrenthide; ‘WE have a problem’…

welcome…to THE Age Of Stupid!

Steve Atkins
16 Mar 5:25pm

p.s…Pete Postlethwaite gets my vote for a ‘People’s OBE’

16 Mar 5:40pm

Has anyone seen the ‘1973 version’ – Soylent Green (see youtube for the stunning opening scene and ‘Sol goes home’)?

16 Mar 7:20pm

Yep….I’ve duly been at the People’s Premier of this film. I thought it was worth watching – if a tad amateurish at points. It does make the point pretty clearly re carbon rationing. The thing that strikes me though is – if my memory serves me correct – that it seems to be advocating that carbon rationing should be worked out on a “per person” basis and set at a certain level – and that that level is then reduced year on year. This is, I believe, a pretty common view of how carbon rationing could be implemented. However – it totally ignores the fact that overpopulation is still continuing – including in this country. If the population of Britain was static then one could say – “okay 60 million people plus an estimated 1 million illegal immigrants” equals divide Britain’s share by 61 million to get the “carbon ration per person”. There is a BIG snag to this though – our population is still increasing though….hence those with less than 2 children per woman will instantly turn round and find ways to get round any decrease in ration that happened with the passing years. Reason: it wouldnt take 2 seconds to work out that Britain as a whole still had the same “carbon ration” but it was being divided between more people – as the population continued to increase. Unless and until people dont have more than that “replacement value” of children (ie 2 per woman) on the one hand and illegal immigration is stopped once and for all – then people will just think “why the heck SHOULD I have a smaller ration because some people insisted on that apparent right to have more than 2 children per family?” – and it saddens me to admit that I am fairminded enough that I would be one of them.

If carbon rationing was done on a “per household” basis however – ie on the assumption that every household was no bigger than a 2 child one – and, if people chose to have 3 or more children, then – thats their choice – but they must accept that their “household ration” would not be increased to allow for the extra children – so that same “x level ration” would have to do for 2 children/3 children/4 children etc etc and therefore their OWN household were the ones that were suffering the “carbon ration” cuts from them having chosen to have those extra children (rather than expecting the rest of us to share those cuts with them – when we wouldnt have had any say about the size of their household!!!!) then it would be possible to “sell” us all on the idea of a carbon ration.

Until its accepted that the smaller households wont be expected to “cover” on the carbon ration front for those households that are too large (ie too many children) – then carbon rationing is in the “Nice idea – but it wont happen in a month of Sundays” category – as it would be far too biased and most people will reject it outright.

16 Mar 7:24pm

Just seen above comment – yup – I have seen “soylent Green” and was appalled at this vision of a possible future – and I still think its all too appallingly likely. One of the reasons I keep banging the “please be responsible – stick to 2 kids max” drum is because I know a Soylent Green scenario is far far too likely to be what our future consists of – if people dont learn to be a bit less selfish. I’d be at the “voluntary euthanasia” temple myself all too quickly if thats what happens – as life wouldnt be worth living.

16 Mar 9:44pm

I think it’s worth reflecting on the fact that Soylent Green was over 35 years ago, had a national release (perhaps ‘B’ movie) and much more explicit about the effects ‘on the street’ than Age of Stupid (so definitely NOT for a Transition audience). 35 years is a long time for this message to be around, don’t you think? It’s hardly surprising that people have become complacent about it. I think that TIMING of events is the most difficult thing to predict (e.g. we knew that a financial downturn would happen – but when?). Ecosystems might adjust themselves for a considerable time – until that final, fatal flap of a butterfly’s wings.
The makers of AoS were very wise to base the film around the interesting stories of half a dozen different people – 90 minutes of climate change statistics would have been unbearable. I was in a bad temper when I saw the film, having left my sunny garden to go into the city for the showing but all the celeb stuff at the beginning really cracked me up. I really resented being forced to watch all those people trying to arrive by bike.

Stuart Walker
16 Mar 9:48pm

Watched the premiere in Plymouth. Rather more documentary and less drama than I expected, but the present day situation should strike home. The one image that will remain with me is the Nigerians having to wash their fish in detergent to remove the oil spilled by the multi-nationals in their river. As always, this film will be supported by those who know the problems of Peak Oil and climate change are fact not fiction, but the detractors will rubbish it as one-sided and politically motivated. Its success will be measured in how many views are changed, but don’t be disappointed if the film fails to harness nations. At the end of the day, Transition will happen because communities want it to, not because they feel they are forced to do it.

Stuart Walker
Chair Transition Penwith

NB: I was the person in the Plymouth ‘Vue’ cinema who had to leave early to get the train home, but urged everyone to join their local Transition group and write to the Devon and Cornwall Business Council and Western Morning News to say road and airport expansion is not the route to prosperity. I hope you all did.

Shane Hughes
16 Mar 10:00pm

Sore the film in London…. best film on climate change so far (it’s difficult to get past the feeling of, here’s another film about climate change). couple of things that i liked;
1. the film made me realise that it’s not necessarily bad people wanting to do bad things, it’s too often good people just getting on with what they think is right but doing what ultimately is turning out to be damn stupid.
2. i think the “not stupid” campaign could have some legs and we should all add to it’s momentum, i like it’s focus on Copenhagen.
3. The live link ups were great and the future of low carbon events. an event of national relevance with a localised travel pattern.
4. how amazing watching PP pledge to give up his OBE!!! that’ll get the ball rolling.

Derek Wall
16 Mar 10:26pm

excellent film and good on the economics, you can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet…which sadly is how capitalism works.

17 Mar 6:58am

I was in Newcastle, which was packed out, fun and engaged with the film, with plenty of campaigners, including Transition Initiative Newcastle, handing out flyers.

17 Mar 9:08am

I was in Newcastle, which was packed out, fun and engaged with the film, with plenty of campaigners, including Transition Initiative Newcastle, handing out flyers.
Oops…forgot to say great post! Looking forward to your next one.

[…] here to read the […]

Shane Hughes
17 Mar 4:01pm

not all films have to paint the positive, in fact not all films should address a balanced perspective, if they did we’d end up with a watered down diversity. we need a balanced view of course but it was clearly the objective of this film to focus on the negative scenario. now we need another film painting the abundant and beautiful world that will manifest when we get it right.

Mike Grenville
17 Mar 5:58pm

The challenge is, as Rob has so elequently said many times before, is that the environmental movement has been painting doom laden future pictures for decades – 35 years as someone above has said. Added to that all the mainstream media plays the same game of describing a future of apocolypse. And the effect has been for most people is to go into denial.

What we need is a film called the Age of Wake Up that perhaps has a doom scenario that we wake up from and engaged in a great turning. Hopefully The Transition Movie will be a step in this direction that will encourage others.

In the meantime take a look at this film called The Green Beautiful’ in English (La Belle Verte) which has both a positive vision and also playfully looks at the way we live now.
Available in parts on YouTube here

17 Mar 8:31pm

“the President of the Maldives announced that his country was going to go for zero emissions, as part of trying to nudge the rest of the world’s governments to do the same.” Anyone got any more details on this? According to wikis the Maldives has 600,000 visitors per year, nearly all arriving by plane. If I were cynical then I’d guess that he won’t include the emissions from foreign tourist aircraft..

18 Mar 12:00am

I hope the sequel is ‘Age of Love’ (or at least ‘Age of Wisdom’).
What sort of choice is ‘stupid’ or ‘not stupid’ – not very inspiring is it?

18 Mar 12:01am

Maldives president an amazing man – heard him on the radio… he is putting aside a big share of tourist revenues to effectively buy land in another country so his people can move there when his country becomes flooded. I imagine that if you have thought that far ahead you understand the impact and contribution of flying. He also sounded like an incredible man in a personal sense – very strong principles and very grounded.

18 Mar 8:55am

Now I realise why I feel uneasy about the post showing debate in London! This Age of Stupid/Not Stupid thing is a ‘CAMPAIGN’ – isn’t it? It’s like a military campaign with ardent campaigner foot-soldiers. It has celeb leaders. It focuses on what other people should do. It thinks that the promises of politicians are important. It lays great emphasis on how it manipulates the media. The great attraction of Transition was, for me, a supposed absence of leader/led divide, an emphasis on direct action at community level and an idea that politicians and media would be made to follow the activists, rather than lead them. I suspect I’m in a big minority here but am I seriously supposed to get excited about ANOTHER politician’s emissions promise made at an international conference. What’s it worth?
I was a ‘campaigner’ in the 70’s – sitting on a derelict street corner in Stapleton Rd Bristol on Sat morning campaigning for allotments or running through the streets of some depressing northern town on a anti-nazi thing shouting ‘the workers united will never be defeated!’ and dozens of other similar things. I consider that part of my life largely a waste of time.

[…] Green Blog created an interesting post today on The Age of Stupid Premiere at the Eden ProjectHere’s a short outlineIt is the tale of those who discovered that the world beyond air travel, traffic jams, the April strawberry and the paraffin heater was… […]

Shane Hughes
20 Mar 9:03am

in response to the Age of Stupid “Some very naughty people calling themselves the Clever Crew have been up to all sorts of photogenic shenanigans involving petrol stations, RBS, train stations and wind” turbines:

[…] So, this film warns us what might happen if we don’t do something and tries to frighten us into action. The latest film in this genre is ‘The Age of Stupid’ which presumes that we ignored all the warnings that The End of Suburbia is trying to give us and shows the consequences. I have not yet seen this, I believe quite depressing film, but for a couple of different and interesting reviews see here and here. […]