World Write — an educational charity that produces excellent videos made by volunteers in East London — invited me to appear on their talk show about environmental movies and emotionalism recently. The three films discussed were The Age of Stupid, An Inconvenient Truth, and The Day After Tomorrow.
Movie chat has rarely captured what’s at stake so effectively as this bar room banter. In a discussion on three well known apocalyptic eco-films, An Inconvenient truth, The Day after Tomorrow and Age of Stupid, a trio of guest experts take us beyond the usual finger pointing at doom-mongers. A palette of emotions: fear; loss and regret, are used to shortcut politics and convince us to change our behaviour or be seen as morally circumspect. Worse still, we learn, these films portray us as unable to deal with problems altogether. This is environmental determinism summed up; what matters to ecologists is what the climate or science will make us do, not what we decide we want to do about our future. Our options to think big, take control and develop what we need to manage climate change should we want to, are closed down. Given their hysterical claims of looming catastrophe, planetary extinction and ice ages it’s revealing that all we are advised to do is change a light bulb. Treating us like children consigned to the ‘naughty step’, as a scourge on the planet and ultimately ‘stupid’, these films are profoundly anti-human. While these films resemble ‘the rant you’d get from an eco-warrior in a pub’ we’re told, they nonetheless represent ‘the full download of prevailing perceptions’. These films are worth discussing because they represent a political culture that needs to be challenged if we are serious about reclaiming the idea of destiny as something we should control.
Here’s the result.
What a smart bunch of people! The only thing that might have made it better would have been someone who could make a more spirited defence of the films. It might have spawned even more excellent arguments from the sceptic side. The voices in this are what most mainstream depictions of AGW debate (ok whitewashes) lack and in a similar way they fail to muster the best arguments because it descends into a friendly chat amongst the converted.
Watching this makes me wonder how people like Gore, Franny Armstrong, etc think they can mobilise the global population without allowing people to voice their opinions. I also wonder how long they will keep trying the same techniques that have already failed.
I agree with TinyCO2; this is a refreshingly non-alarmist discussion of alarmism – although, slightly eerie in that I kept expecting someone to suddenly go full-on alarmist during the conversation, and it never happened.
The Day After Tomorrow is an interesting case, and what you said, Ben (around the 28:48 mark) about the films reflecting the processes going on in society at the time is especially true about this one.
In a sense, of course, the film is a product of 2004, when it came out, and when climate change fears were building. Roland Emmerich is something of a climate activist and was part of the “Raise Your Voice” campaign for COP15 in Copenhagen, five years later.
However, TDAT is also based on a book called “The Coming Global Superstorm” by Whitley Strieber and Art Bell, published in 1999, which describes, effectively, the end of civilisation. It’s millenarian in tone – as well as describing the superstorm itself, which is basically the storm that happens in the film (except over a longer time frame) the writers speculate about previous civilisations which may have fallen prey to similar recurring events (Graham Hancock – of “Fingerprints of the Gods” – gets a mention.)
Art Bell is a radio talk-show host, whose main area of interest is the paranormal. Whitley Strieber is well-known for his horror novels, and for the “Communion” series of books in which he reports his experiences with aliens (NB. Strieber, like many other purported alien contactees, reports visions of environmental catastrophe – runaway global warming, in his case.) Here’s an article by Strieber in July 2000 in which he expresses his belief that ecological collapse would occur not over decades but in the next few years and would be something that the next US President – either Bush or Gore – would have to deal with:
He refers in his article to an interview with a sceptical Matt Lauer, which you can still see on YouTube, and there’s a transcript here:
The authors are asked about what measures people could take, and there’s an interesting difference of views. Art Bell says basically there’s not much that can be done. “It’s going to happen again.” Whitley Strieber says it’s preventable. “There’s a list of things in the book that any individual can do that are not intrusive into your life at all, that if everyone did them, would substantially reduce global warming.” One of them, I think, is drive more energy-efficient cars, but can’t remember the others.
Basically, though, aside from the climate-change angle, the book comes across as a product of its time – very 1999. Art Bell:
A GOOD WAY TO BRING MORE PEOPLE INTO THE DEBATE
This is a most welcome discussion. It’s good to shine a light on the climate scare media machine and take lessons from it. I think this video indicates how more people from different backgrounds can enter the debate from different disciplines other than just debating climate science – which most people find rather dull.
In these films the use of emotions, like fear and values – even moralising and using guilt has been a miserable failure. Why is this?
Also, it was good to hear Ben discuss the “grassroots” 10:10 campaign – which of course was another more embarrassing failure, because all of the politicians signed up to it – whilst the public didn’t! Such a joke. This lack of a mass movement tells us more about the state of politics in Britain than anything else.
So I think there needs to be more tv talks like this to:
a) discuss the non-scientific aspects, because more people will want to participate.
b) ask questions like – whose interests do the environmentalists serve? Are they really a grassroots movement?
c) ask Ed Miliband why climate change didn’t become a mass movement.
Really interesting film. It got me thinking, not about the climate debate, which I’m too much involved in, but about the wider, more longterm question of the decline of public participation in politics discussed by sociologists like Christopher Lasch, and no doubt by many others.
I’ve had discussions like this, long ago, in pubs, in meetings of the Labour Party, and in groups further left. Which is not to belittle the film, but to question whether the world has changed irremediably, because of Facebook and Youtube.
Have you offered this film to Alice Bell or any others among the numerous Green and the Good who claim to want to construct a dialogue between the people and the experts who are guiding us towards their brave new world? Would they listen?
Reply to Geoff
“longterm question of the decline of public participation in politics”
I agree, the decline in public participation in politics is the most interesting issue. I guess this factor has had a negative impact on the Green’s strategy – because they hadn’t really considered the knock on effects of disengagement from politics and massive reduction in political affiliation. People just don’t bother joining parties or vote, because they know agendas are set by others [ironically NGOs like the WWF-UK] and their actions make no difference.
And money didn’t help either – over a $1 billion was thrown at Green NGOs to create a grassroots movement to make us give up carbon. As Ben put it “politics is inverted”. And because it is inverted – it was never going to work.
Because people don’t share the same values and ideology of the filmmakers, and because the whole concept of decarbonising the economy is so impractical and just plain stupid.
Having made this film at WORLDbytes I am interested in the responses and we received this one on our site:
“Climate change alarmists do tend to behave (and make films with almost messianic conviction) that there is no argument and so resort to personal, psychological, guilt tripping, ‘you’re the wrong sort of person’ abuse. I think the world may be, but it’s not certain, warming a bit. Even so, we shouldn’t be alarmed and adjust ourselves to the new situation as it emerges – maybe at last the British could even have some decent vineyards is Sussex!”
We would be interested in suggestions for ways of tackling this problem in film if anyone has a good idea. http://www.worldbytes.org/eco-films-emotionalism/
How far do you want to abstract the question?
For me it starts off with the notion (sometimes claimed to be by Winston Churchill) “Not to be a socialist at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head.”
The “climate concerned” tend to be young and emotional. “Something must be done”… “think of the children” and so on. When you are drunk on self-righteosness and up with girl-guide enthusiasm then the only reason anyone can have for standing in your way or questioning your ideas is because they are evil.
This makes everything easy – noble scientists fearlessly speaking truth to power, heroic activists bravely gluing themselves to gay whales, versus pantomime villains who are all in the pay of Big Oil. A cartoon view of the world.
@Andy (comment got chopped)
maybe your film could show some of the glaring defects in the greenies? Fat salaries for their bosses, astro-turf funding from the govt and the EU, ugly views on de-populating the world.
Maybe pin David Attenborough down on his “optimum population” ideas about a world with only 2bn people – and how they plan to achieve their dream?
Or Oxfam campaigning to prevent development in Ethiopia – a latter day Marie Antoinette view where the shepherds are condemned to stay shepherds for evermore.
Very encouraging to see young people thinking for themselves despite the barrage of propaganda they have had to endure all their lives on climate being dominated by growth in CO2 due to humans.
I’m awfully sorry, Ben, but you will not make a demagogue – too intellectual. Though I notice you have lost weight!