The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

September 23, 2009

Living in the Age of Stupid or the Age of Compassion?

Monday began with me in a classroom in Benicia, teaching children about plastic, and ended in a cheesy piano bar in San Francisco’s Union Square. In between, a phenomenal global event.

Sitting in a Century movie theater in downtown San Francisco, I was taken over by waves of grief for our planet and especially its people. As I emailed to a friend, I think I must have held my breath for the entire length of the Age of Stupid premiere, a film event broadcast to 440 cities in 63 countries.

View the trailer:

Set in the year 2055, after the effects of global climate change have basically wiped out most humans and other animals on earth, a lone archivist records a message, illustrating it with a handful of the billions of stories he’s collected in a massive database he calls the Global Archive, before transmitting the entire collection into outer space as a cautionary tale to future civilizations. The big question: Why didn’t we save ourselves when we had the chance?

I tried to scribble notes as furiously as possible to report back here. But finally, I just gave up and let the words and images wash over me: a Nigerian woman who wants to become a doctor but whose life has been devastated by the effects of a Shell oil operation in her community; an Indian entrepreneur who, in the face of evidence that air travel is one of the major emitters of greenhouse gases, is committed to bringing cheap air travel to the masses in his country; a Louisiana paleontologist who finds oil for Shell, and who lost his home during Hurricane Katrina; an English engineer fighting massive community opposition to building wind farms in the countryside; a French mountaineer who grieves the loss of the glaciers each year; and a young Iraqi refugee whose father was killed by American troops and whose brother was badly burned when the plastic clothing he was wearing melted into his skin during a bomb attack.

The images are personal and stunning. The facts may be harsh: every part of modern life is made of oil; every calorie of food requires 100 calories of oil to produce; finding oil usually increases a country’s poverty, as wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few; we are cutting down the Indonesian rainforest at a rate of 2 million hectares per year to fuel our insatiable appetite for stuff, and as a result, indigenous peoples and animals are losing their homes; as the Himalayan glaciers disappear, millions of people are left without water. But seeing the faces and hearing the stories of individual real human beings, their wants and needs, their pain and grasping, is gut-wrenching. And the issues are not black and white.

The narrator says we stand on the beach fixated on the small patch of sand at our feet, not noticing the enormous tsunami on its way. We must have a broader vision. And yet, to my mind, we must not lose sight of the suffering going on before our faces every minute. My question: Why don’t we save those who are dying NOW when we still have the chance? If the future is not a strong enough motivator, or if you still think that global warming is just a leftist theory, how about focusing on alleviating suffering now in such a way that as a side-effect we might also happen to save the planet for future generations?

The narrator surmises that perhaps we didn’t feel we were worth saving. And sometimes, in the face of institutionalized greed and injustice, it can feel as if we are not. That there is something inherently wrong with us, and that without humanity, the planet would be better off. And yet that, too, is just another human idea. An illusion that we are somehow separate from each other and the earth. Which is why I ended up in that piano bar after the film, surrounded by tourists from Sweden and Korea and New Jersey, calling out requests (The Swedes could not understand why they can’t find a pianist in any bar in the U.S. to play Iron Maiden) and singing their hearts out. Just wanting connection.

The night ends with me in tears once again, as a Korean lady, whose husband has tipped the piano player sufficiently, is allowed to sing the Beatles’ “Yesterday” into the microphone. Her sincerity, her utter lack of irony, her earnestness are palpable. Yesterday. How appropriate. And yet this singing is happening today. In our world. Now. Yes, of course, we are worth saving. We are here. Hear us!

While I can’t give you the voices of those rowdy international singers, I can share the voice of one lone Thom Yorke whose haunting performance ended the Age of Stupid event. Radiohead, another part of life worth saving.

For more info about how to make your voice heard to our leaders, please check out the following links:

NotStupid.Org Age of Stupid’s action web site

350.Org Participate in the Global Day of Climate Action on October 24.

The Age of Stupid will not be shown in movie theaters, but you can watch it on Netflix or order a copy of the DVD to watch yourself and share with friends.

Individual action is crucial, but it is not enough. Our governments must commit to addressing this problem on an institutional level, and they must hear from us that we believe we are all important enough to save.

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Kelly Coyle DiNorcia
12 years ago

Wow. Thanks for sharing. The movie really sounds like a drag LOL but such an important thing to see. It’s so true – we all live in this bubble where we have no idea what suffering people are enduring in other parts of the world. It is the people with the most money who feel it least, or at least last.

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Beth – brilliantly written and succinctly said. Will tweet it, and hope that others RT. I have continued to reduce my wants and needs over the years. We had these conversations when I was in college, which, sadly, was 40 years ago. And somehow, the greed has gotten worse, the exploitation of everything from people to animals to nature has expanded.

I have often joked that I "want to be God for an hour" — not as some grandiose delusion, but to just FIX some things. Go back in time when cars that run on water were invented (they still exist) and NOT allow GM to buy the patent and squash it. Go back in time to the Solar Power expansion and make that work. Take away the need of masses of insecure humans to believe "I have more than you, therefore I am better than you" is the best life plan… it goes on.

Yes, the whole planet is fixated on their 20 square feet. How can they have MORE? How can they buy MORE? Yet they don't know what they have at their fingertips. Thus the explosion of Storage companies. Let's buy MORE so we can stuff it in a storage unit. And they are blind to the miracle of a blade of grass, deaf to the sound of a baby bird, the hoot of a Great Horned Owl.

The gift of right now – of the mortgage meltdown, the economic collapse- may actually be the saving of the planet. People are starting to do with less and liking it. I've been selling off the few things I still have that I don't absolutely need, and it is liberating. Perhaps in this time we will be reminded what really matters. Unfortunately, we will first have to deal with the fear responses that people have. And that's the job of people like you and me, bloggers, readers, speakers — to assuage the fears and point them in a healthy direction.

All wars fought over oil. All this meltdown comes down to – oil. All plastics made – of oil. An odd center to human existence.

I share your frustration, but I don't know that the future in 2055 will look like that. Mom Nature knows how to clean house. And Clean House she will. It will not be pretty, but it may save what's left of the planet. After all, the planet was not made FOR humans. We are just part of the ecosystem. Let's hope the humans left after the housecleaning will be smart enough to create a viable planet going forward.

You do our name proud. Thank you for your compassion, your caring, your passion, and your articulation of problems that need to be out there.

The Other Beth Terry

14 years ago

Thanks gang, thought that might be the case, couldn't keep myself from checking though. That said, what a great premise for this film. It would be great if it could be shown in our high schools and colleges.

14 years ago

I am afraid you are being overly sensitive. I hate to start dropping names here, but some of us actually know each other in real life. Beth and I are friends and though I now live in San Francisco, she knows that I am from NJ. I'm pretty sure she also knows her husband is from NJ. If that's not enough backstory… GARDEN STATE FOREVER!!!!!

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Su, take a breath. monkeyjen75 is from New Jersey herself and was just having fun. No worries. :-)

14 years ago

I hope I'm not being overly sensitive, but I felt I had to respond to the person who felt it necessary to denigrate the home of my beloved woodlands. I enjoy reading the posts and comments of fellow green-minded souls. Imagine how disheartening to be reading about the sorrows of our environment to come across a comment clearly suggesting the people from a certain state are less than articulate. I'm hopeful the stereotypical comment about people from New Jersey was from someone who was poking fun at their own residence in an urban section of New Jersey? That is a small part of our beautiful state; I hope other states are not similarly judged by the skewed portrayals the media chooses.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

Lisa Sharp
14 years ago

I wanted to go to this so much but I don't drive and the people I knew would want to go with me couldn't go. I hope they put it on DVD!

14 years ago

Suppose virtual worlds become so attractive that people prefer them to the natural world?

Instead of further increases in flying, driving, etc. there is a decrease as people prefer the sensations and virtual experiences they get synthetically?

Suppose that our insatiable desire for more of everything and endless novelty is what ultimately disables us from further harming life on the planet – as we stimulate our minds with an electronic world, voluntarily shutting ourselves away from the real one?

Pretty spooky! Try reading Exodus to the Virtual World The author's conclusion is not what I have just described but the book gives lots of food for thought on the subject you have raised.

14 years ago

I wish they would show films like this in theaters. That way more people might be convinced they need to do something about what is happening to the environment. With just special screenings you run risk of "preaching to the choir" about climate change and damage to the environment. For those of us who don't live in a city, it's harder to get to see these kinds of things.
That said, it sounds like a great movie and I hope I get to see it. Thanks for letting us know about things like this and keep up the good work!

14 years ago

What of the tourists from New Jersey??? Was it a lot of Bon Jovi and fuhgeddaboudit? You can't leave me hanging like that.

I PRESUME I will see you this Saturday. Is Michael coming? Come early, stay late. cya