Health & Safety

Climate Change Warning – The Age of Stupid

Are we in ‘The Age of Less Stupid’?

Recently while I was away working in Glasgow I was in a hotel room with little to watch on normal TV, I decided to take a look at BBC iPlayer to see if there was anything worth watching. I came across a film called ‘The Age of Stupid’. I’ve got to admit I’d never heard of this film and didn’t really know much about the content. It turned out to be a TV gamble worth taking and contained themes that are relevant to my day job as an environmental trainer and consultant. 

The Age of Stupid – Background

I really enjoyed watching the film and it made me interested in finding out more about it, eventually leading to me writing this blog post. ‘The Age of Stupid’ protagonist is an unnamed individual that is the sole custodian of an archive of records and other materials played by the late, great Pete Postlethwaite. It is based in 2055 in a world that has been devastated by climate change. The film is a drama documentary where the archivist reviews real life stories and news articles trying to determine where it all went wrong, and why humanity did not react to the warning signs when we could clearly see they were present.

The Age of Stupid was released in 2009, so it is a little old (see ‘The Age of Stupid revisited’ for an update), and most of the documentary footage looks slightly dated but it is still a worthy watch. The film eloquently mixes real-life documentary footage with the archivist’s views, largely based around the evidence being so clear yet we did little to tackle the climate emergency. 

Compared to other films on climate change, such as the more widely known and discussed ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ or David Attenborough’s ‘Climate Change – The Facts’ the film is very hard hitting (still both very good films by the way). For example in 2055 the archivist lives in a world where London has been consumed by floods, the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed by overheating, snow has disappeared from the Alps and he is the sole survivor on planet Earth. He mentions that it is too late for humanity, but the archive serves as a record for those (maybe from another planet?) who arrive in the future to not make the mistakes that we did. I think this aspect of the film is effective, juxtaposed against the others that cover the here and now. This film does incorporate documentary footage, but it applies artistic licence to postulate what the climate will be like if we take no action.  

“‘It’s our future’ Berlin 2019” by Ithmus is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Are we still in ‘The Age of Stupid’

Are we still in the ‘Age of Stupid’? Well I guess it depends who you ask! For the past twenty years since I have been professionally involved in environmental management, in the UK at least, there has been progress in tackling the climate emergency. Furthermore, when I first started working in the industry government policy regarding climate change was extremely limited. The amount of policy and policy instruments (such as economic instruments and laws) at the International, European, and UK level has grown massively. It is now arguably the most controlled area of environmental management. There are, for example, many requirements for industry covering climate change such as; carbon taxes, greenhouse gas emissions trading, energy limits for electrical equipment, energy targets for buildings etc. The UK government declared a climate emergency on 1st May 2019, and UK net zero carbon emissions by 2050 has been enshrined into law by an amendment to Climate Change Act 2008. Therefore some progress has been made, and there has been a 42% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 to 2017. However, a fair proportion of this has been achieved by the shift from coal to natural gas which generates electricity. 

My view is that we are approaching the end of the ‘The Age of Stupid’. In that the majority of people have recognised that a climate emergency is occurring and something significant needs to be done about it at the political, business and personal levels (we all have a personal responsibility).  However, progress towards decarbonisation does seem to be slow and there is much still to do. Maybe we are entering the ‘The Age of Less Stupid’

John Binns BSc (Hons), MSc, MSc, MIEMA

With over 19 years’ experience working in environment management, John Binns BSc (Hons) MSc MIEMA is an experienced environmental tutor and consultant with knowledge of health and safety management.

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