11/22/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Brilliance (and Stupidity) of The Age of Stupid

Last night I attended the global premier of The Age of Stupid here in NYC. It was really exciting to be in a movie theater and see not just a film but a live, global premiere event complete with statements addressing the issue as well.

Congratulations to the filmmakers for creating this significant innovation in the art (and science/technology) of movie openings! ... and for getting the actress Gillian Anderson, the musician Moby, and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to speak at the event! Wow!

Regrettably, this brilliantly staged premiere was for a motion picture that was not really all that brilliant itself. In fact, in some ways, the film is rather stupid. Which may ultimately be a good thing - and may turn out to be why, in a sociological sense, the film was made. That's because when such a well-meaning attempt to solve a problem is as incomplete as this film is, it opens a door for those who know what's missing to take responsibility for the situation and fill in the gaps.

So, let me be clear. I think "The Age of Stupid" was made by people with tremendous heart and for whom I have nothing but respect and admiration. It took them years to make this film. And they enlisted the support of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people, many of whom donated their time to the cause. The filmmakers were very innovative in how they financed their project too, using what they call crowd-funding. It's fantastic that they were able to fiance this film using a "we, the people" model.

However, after all that innovative thinking, the film they made tells the same old people keep doing stupid things - like not building windmills because they spoil the landscape - and we all die story. It's essentially the same rant against stupid behavior we've heard for years, dressed up in an elaborate, well-intended package. "The answers are right in front of us, but the masses - and their leaders - aren't using them yet. Stop being so stupid!" it yells at us.

Well, protest marches - in whatever form they take - have their place. But what these filmmakers don't realize is that global warming isn't going to be prevented by some higher form of protest march. It's not going to be prevented by one side of the issue doing a better job of brow-beating the other side into seeing things their way.

Global warming is going to be ended by something that's never been part of the mainstream stop global warming movement's strategy for change.

It's going to be ended when the focus becomes not What do we want to stop? but What do we want to start? instead.

And what do we want to start?

A Cultural Transformation.

The crisis that awaits us will only be averted when we realize that the Root Cause of the challenge we face is one of human beings relating to human beings, not of human beings relating to mother nature, and that a Transformation in that relationship is what will make solving our global warming crisis possible.

The story The Age of Stupid could have told is how - because the efforts to create a culture of peace between all the peoples on Earth failed - all the energies humanity spends fighting with itself were never applied to the challenge of preventing global warming.

You see, for the cost of one Iraq War (including caring for all the wounded for the rest of their lives), the US could finance the construction of a solar energy installation in the sub-Sahara desert that could provide electricity (with zero-cost fuel from the Sun) to a large portion of the planet. See preliminary reports here and here.

For the cost of one bailout of the global economic system, the world's economies could finance the complete transition to a sustainable developmental model of the kind developed and championed by people like Amory Lovins and William McDonough.

Unfortunately, humanity is currently locked in a many ages-old mindset that says:

The First Law Is Survival. And since there isn't enough for all of us, that law means survival of just me and those people I like to spend time with: family, friends, and neighbors. If the differences between me and 'the others' are too great... too uncomfortable to deal with... then I'll make sure those people don't get what they need. That's because we live in a world of 'winners and losers'.

This us-against-them mindset underpins every social structure on Earth, including our global economic system. The only exceptions are those communities that consciously practice a "we're all in this together" philosophy. (Examples here.)

And the funny/sad thing is that living in an us-against-them world is not even necessary any more. Because - as people like visionary Buckminster Fuller and Scientific American founder Gerard Piel first lectured in the 1960's - we have the capability to feed, clothe, house, and educate every man, woman, and child on Earth. We still do, despite all this "We need more than one Earth" limited capacity talk. Such nonsense - or, more properly, "non-science"!

Because - if you're a scientist who thinks systemically - you know that humanity does not just live on Earth. Humanity lives in the Earth-Sun system, in which the Sun sends more energy here every day than we humans could ever need. All we need to do is capture it, like the plants already know how to do. In fact, there are scientists right now who are developing the technology of artificial photosynthesis.

While watching The Age of Stupid, I hoped that the man from the future would show all the attempts to heal the divide between the peoples of Earth that had failed. I had hoped the videos he watched would have included Eleanor Roosevelt delivering the Declaration of Human Rights to the delegates at the UN... the efforts of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to create social change through non-violent measures... the call for all nations to develop strategies to transform their societies from unsustainable to sustainable ones at the UN's 1992 conference on the environment (which led President Clinton to launch the President"s Council on Sustainable Development in 1993)... and the speech by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at the World Economic Forum in 1999 that led to the launch of The UN Global Compact (the corporate social responsibility initiative that has the power to transform the values underlying the world's business community, including Wall Street).

If the man from the future in The Age of Stupid had talked about all of these global missed opportunities from the past, then this film would have been as innovative in the story it told as it was in how it was financed and how it was premiered.

But I can't blame the filmmakers for not doing this. They made this error because they don't see that world peace and global warming are connected. Like most people, I suspect they see the world as having many, separate problems, each one having its own, separate answer.

They don't think systemically, which would enable them to see how all the world's problems are interrelated... and how humanity's inability to live in peace with itself is the macro problem to end all macro problems... because, if this macro problem were to solved, then the solutions to all our other problems would fall into place.

There are a great many things the man from the future could have said humanity failed at doing. But he never spoke about the failure to heal what prevents the human family from working as one.

He never spoke about all the wasted time, energy, resources, and money spent on pushing us apart... and how much good all of that could do if applied to - not just stopping a catastrophe from happening - but to creating a peaceful world.

He never spoke about the failure of our world's leaders to offer a vision of all cultures being free to develop their diverse and creative talents in the arts and sciences... a vision of humanity being able to exercise its innate desire to explore new worlds.

This demonstrably provable opportunity - to live in a world free of both the fear of the catastrophe that is global warming and the fear of the catastrophe that is war - is the opportunity I wish The Age of Stupid had shown humanity as being too stupid to make happen.

He could have pointed out that this capability - while off the radar screen of the majority of people - did exists in the past... in our time... today!


If you think my talk of a missed opportunity for peace is naive and ignores the "facts" of human nature, then I request you do two things:

Read the speech Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave on July 15th in which she laid out the principles for designing an "Architecture of Global Cooperation".

And read Dr. Stephen R. Covey's classic work on human development, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which focused specifically on the "maturity continuum" from dependent to independent to interdependent thinking.

It's possible for humanity to get out of the Global School Yard that is where so much of our political activities exist. We have learned how to get along with our selves and our families, through individual and family counseling. (Not everyone may be using what counseling has to teach, but those principles exist.) And we have learned the principles for cooperation in the workplace, thanks to management gurus such as W. Edwards Deming. (Every workplace may not be using these principles, but they exist as well.)

Some of us know that these same principles and processes can be applied at the community, national, and international level as well. It's just a matter of scaling them up.

We can do this. Especially now that you know the information is out there... and how important it is not just to the cause of preventing a global warming catastrophe... but to the cause of building a world of peaceful cooperation between all the peoples on Earth.

We can do this. We can be wise not stupid, learn what it takes to grow up and work together as one human family, and have the world of our dreams!