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.
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.