Stupid, feckless, greedy: that’s you that is

spiked reports from the premiere of The Age of Stupid, a cretinous film that unwittingly exposes the elitism and dodgy science of the green lobby.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

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Imagine a film in which an Asian businessman who spoke loftily of ‘eradicating poverty’ was cast as the villain, while an insufferably middle-class wind-turbine developer from Cornwall was held up as the hero.

Imagine a film in which the audience was encouraged to giggle at the sight of the wealthy Asian using a red carpet to board his plane – ha ha, who do these foreigners think they are! – and was then cajoled into crying when the wind-turbine developer phoned his mum to break the news that Bedford Council refused him permission to build 10 new windmills. Imagine a film which played so promiscuously fast and loose with the ‘scientific facts’ that it strongly implied that the Asian businessman’s penchant for flying was responsible for fatal rainstorms in Mumbai, and that Bedford Council’s rejection of our heroic wind-turbine developer’s planning application led to Bedford’s ‘worst ever floods’ in 2007.

No one would make such a morally warped film, right? Wrong. All of the above comes from The Age of Stupid, a half-documentary, half-‘peril porn’ hybrid, which has been hailed by commentators as ‘the most powerful piece of cultural discourse on climate change ever produced’, but which left this reviewer feeling more than a little nauseous at its solar-powered, carbon-lite premiere in London yesterday. The film is so cretinous it makes Michael Moore look like a modern-day Bergman; so scientifically vacuous it makes Lysenko look like Einstein; so achingly middle-class it makes The Good Life look like a kitchen-sink drama about miners’ wives.

Indeed, the film’s only virtue – and admittedly this is a big plus in its favour – is that it has exposed finally, beyond all reasonable doubt, the ugly elitism and end-of-days mania of the environmentalist movement.

It is hard to do justice to the eye-swivelling witlessness of The Age of Stupid in everyday English. But I have my thesaurus by my side, and I will try. Directed by Franny Armstrong (McLibel), the premise is that it is 2055, the world has been devastated by global warming, and someone called The Archivist is guarding a huge tower in the middle of the sea north of Norway which contains every book, work of art and scientific report ever created by humans. It’s the only safe place for them, since Australia is burning and Europe has been submerged by flood waters. It’s like a modern-day version of Noah’s Ark, only without the nudity, drunkenness and curses upon sons that sexed-up that earlier end-of-the-world morality tale.

Played by Pete Postlethwhaite (why, Pete, why?), The Archivist looks back on 2008 and 2009, a time when the world was populated by half-wits and morons like you and me who flat-out refused to fly less or recycle our waste despite all the dire warnings of future doom. The Archivist wants to know what ‘state of mind’ people must have been in to ‘face extinction and yet just shrug it off’. So he peruses real-life interviews and news footage from the Age of Fuckwits – the meaty documentary part of the film – to work out why people were ‘suicidal’.

In the factual bits (well, I say factual), it is instantly striking who gets idolised and who gets demonised. After The Archivist’s pondering over the crazed state of mind in 2009, the film cuts straight to Jeh Wadia, the founder of GoAir, a low-budget airline based in Mumbai. He’s the bad guy of the movie. Plump and with a toothy grin, he talks about creating a one-rupee flight so that everyone in India – ‘even rickshaw drivers and servants’ – can take to the skies. His ultimate aim is to get the 15million people who use India’s railways everyday on to aeroplanes. Preferably his. In the only sensible comment in the entire two-hour movie, he says: ‘Aviation contributes less than 1.6 per cent of total greenhouse gases. So why don’t people go and talk to the business or the industries that contribute more than 1.6 per cent and come talk to us after they’ve spoken to the rest?’

It’s a good question. Why is Wadia made into the ugly face of contemporary consumerism, which is presented in The Age of Stupid as being even more successful than fascism in invading and warping our brains? It’s because – never mind those CO2 tallies! – everyone just knows that flying is unnecessary and destructive and evil. Especially cheap flying. Especially cheap flying in India, where people are perfectly happy (or at least they should be) riding bikes and clinging to the window railings of jampacked trains. The moral of the Wadia section of the film is that the last thing the world needs is for those Indians to become as recklessly consumerist and travel-happy as we Westerners. In one scene, Wadia is shown walking up a very short red carpet to board a jet. The message is clear: he has ideas above his station; he is ridiculous. The audience dutifully laughed, but it reminded me of when old colonialists looked down their noses at newly independent Indians and Africans indulging in pomp and ceremony, trying to be like us. In contrast, the celebrity environmentalists attending the premiere of The Age of Stupid – far higher up the eco-caste system than the untouchable Wadia – walked up a green carpet.

There’s an early warning of the film’s deeply disingenuous use of ‘science’ when footage of Wadia defending his flight plans is spliced with news reports about ‘the worst rainfall in living memory in Mumbai’, with ‘many dead’. So, what, GoAir’s six aeroplanes are responsible for flooding? Wadia’s cockiness leads directly to peasant deaths? None of this is directly said, it’s just hinted at, nudged and winked into the viewers’ consciousness. And this from a film that opens with the words: ‘All of the facts in this film are based on scientific evidence.’

Wicked Wadia is contrasted with one of the main heroes of the film, Piers Guy, a developer of alternative energy who grows his own food and uses chip fat to motor his car and who – you’re not going to believe this – first became convinced that ‘the Earth is destabilising’ when he and his family could no longer ski in Bergerac, France, due to the melting of glaciers. It is testament to the desired target audience of The Age of Stupid that we are expected to boo a rotund Indian who wants servants to fly and cheer a windfarm developer from Cornwall who says that, where most people stupidly go along with catastrophic consumerism in the same way that earlier generations went along with ‘massacres and Holocausts’, he wants to take a stand against it – by, for example, finally cancelling his annual trip to Bergerac. At one point he compares his creation of windfarms to the RAF’s attacks on the Nazis during the Second World War, in the sense that both are about stopping a ‘global threat’. Such self-delusion is impressive.

Guy is shown fighting against locals (yokels?) in Bedford who want to stop him building yet another windfarm in their beautiful countryside. His campaign – during which he accuses them of talking ‘complete bollocks’ – is presented as something heroic and historic. In truth, he’s being every bit as much the ruthless capitalist as Wadia, only he’s learned to present his business interests in green, self-denying, anti-holocaust, just-like-the-RAF lingo. When he phones his mother to tell her that evil Bedford Council has rejected his windfarm plans, big movie-style violin music kicks in, and – I kid you not – we are expected to well up. Call me a cold-hearted, climate change-denying Stupid, but my eyes stayed drier than the Sahara in the year 2055 – even after, in another flagrant abuse of science, the news of Bedford Council’s rejection led straight to news footage of Bedford’s floods in 2007. Isn’t that astonishing, the implication that floods are the result of rejecting Guy’s windmills? If Martin Durkin did something so slyly unscientific they’d pelt him with GM tomatoes.

The naked elitism and prostitution of science that lies at the heart of The Age of Stupid is best captured in the interview with Mark Lynas, the film’s climate change adviser. He explains why people are behaving so insanely in the face of the coming enviroholocaust: because our brains are evolutionarily hardwired to deal only with short-term threats, such as being approached by ‘attacking animals’. In short, we’re still cavemen: irrational, thoughtless, obsessed with sabre-tooth tigers. He isn’t, though; he’s one of the tiny minority of Not Stupids mentioned by The Archivist, one of those who ‘cried fire’ at the dumb ones in 2008 and 2009 but none of us listened because we were too busy taking cheap flights and protesting against windfarms.

Then, sitting in a shed, Lynas takes out a piece of paper and draws a graph on it with a pencil. It has an x axis and a y axis, and a curved line in the middle with the year 2015 written on it. This, he explains, shows that we have only another six years to save the world. This is the only ‘proper science’ in the whole film. Seriously. It makes those L’Oreal adverts – ‘here comes the science!’ – look like summaries of the quantum-physics debate between Einstein and Bohr.

But then, this film – like environmentalism itself – has next to nothing to do with science. It is moralism dressed in pseudo-scientific garb. Alongside Wadia, Guy, Lynas, glaciers and windfarms, the film crowbars in the war in Iraq (started by oil), China (developing too fast), consumerism (worse than fascism) and Africa (killed by climate change). And the message is always the same: people’s greed is causing death and destruction and possible extinction. Even when a poor Nigerian woman, another of the film’s heroes, says she wants to live in a ‘big house’ and have a ‘flashy car’ like they do in America – a life so beautiful ‘you would never want to die’, she says – the director responds by flashing up images of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Rough translation: this is what you get if you behave like a greedy American – consumerism-induced natural catastrophe. The only solution to our ‘more, more, more’ culture, the film says, is a system of government-enforced carbon rationing to make us in the West consume less and to allow people in the Third World to consume a little more. This is what they would like the world to look like under their ‘Not Stupid’ governance: a vast system of official control of our personal habits and freedom of movement, and an ‘equality’ based on sharing out the misery.

This is one of the worst films I have ever seen. And bear in mind that I have seen both Digby the Biggest Dog in the World and Miss Congeniality II. It strikes me that where officialdom and the environmentalist lobby have created a new elite language to validate their petty and pious political outlook – talking about ‘tipping points’, ‘future generations’, ‘The Science’, ‘denial’ – there is currently no clear, positive cultural defence of aspiration, ambition, the desire for material wealth and more personal choice. So in The Age of Stupid the grinning Indians boarding a GoAir flight can be presented as so many deluded picaninnies and even a Nigerian woman living in poverty can be subtly chastised for wanting more. We urgently need to stand up for the concrete interests of humanity over the paper-plotted fantasy interests of The Planet, if we are to prevent ours from fully becoming the Age of Rationing, of Restraint, of the Rule of the Few.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his website here. His satire on the green movement – Can I Recycle My Granny and 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas – is published by Hodder & Stoughton. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)

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