Film Festival: The Age of Consequences
A lone polar bear floating on a shrinking iceberg. Plumes of smoke billowing from a factory. Hundreds of gas guzzling SUVs inching forward in traffic. These are all images commonly associated with climate change, but for some people, these warning signs still don’t register. The Age of Consequences, directed by Jared P. Scott and just shown at the tail end of the Carnegie Mellon International Film Festival, approaches climate change from an unusual angle, United States national security, in a bid to convince those who still don’t believe in climate change of how dire the situation has become.
As Scott discussed in a question and answer discussion following the showing, the idea for the film came after a conversation with his uncle, where Scott learned that his uncle still didn’t fully believe in climate change. Scott thought that by looking at climate change through a lens of conflict and national security, conservatives like his uncle would more easily understand the direct impact of climate change on their lives.
The Age of Consequences’s main message is that climate change is an accelerant to instability — it is not climate change alone that causes conflicts, but unexpected or particularly brutal natural disasters can help exacerbate growingly unstable situations, and these volatile situations can be a threat to the United States’ national security. Scott provides global evidence, like Syria, where a years-long drought drove unemployed young men to urban areas where ISIS easily recruited them; later, ISIS would use precious water as a way to hold communities hostage. He later brings the issue home by discussing Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing violence caused by this storm. He also uses a more unique example, showing how the U.S.’s ability to help with humanitarian situations and lessen the chance of a resulting conflict will be hindered as rising tides threaten Naval Station Norfolk, where many of the missions embark from.
The documentary presents a new, intriguing perspective on climate change and several useful narrative examples, but it quickly becomes repetitive. While Scott dissects the film into several chapters (“Instability” and “Conflict” for example), the actual ideas within each section differ very little from each other, making the titles seem arbitrary. The basic idea behind the documentary is certainly interesting, but becomes tedious after it has been rehashed again and again. Scott claimed in the Q&A that it was his intention to hammer in the message that there are immediate national security effects of climate change, but he pushes the idea a few too many times.
The repetition also rears its head through the overwhelmingly dismal outlook of the film. Images of desperate refugees, rioting civilians, and armed terrorists dominate the documentary, and after a while this catastrophic onslaught grows tiresome. The overdramatic music score makes the depressing images even more ominous. There is a brief glimmer of hope near the end of the film, which encourages action, shows video of wind turbines and wave energy converters, and claims that the technology and money is available and that change simply relies on having the wisdom to act. However, this section is short and while the rest of the film may feel pertinent to the target audience, complex alternative energy technology and vague call-to-actions are not as relatable or effective. A more extended and focused section on what can be done in daily life would have been more successful.
Finally, it is important to consider that such a barrage of imagery — violent riots, terrorist convoys, and refugees sneaking across borders — that mostly involve people of color could prove to be harmful even as the film tries to promote climate change awareness. Terrorism, civil unrest, and illegal immigration are important issues for many members of the target audience, so perhaps by constantly showing those images and associating them with threats to U.S. security, the film may just be reinforcing xenophobia and fervent nationalism. Might The Age of Consequences be increasing support for Trump’s wall while also teaching new audiences about the effect of climate change? It can’t be known for sure, but it does seem possible that the constant negativity matched with images of people of color, as well as the fact that the people interviewed about U.S. national security are almost entirely white, could have unfortunate consequences.
The Age of Consequences has noble intentions, a compelling main topic, and numerous convincing examples to back it up. However, the repetitiveness of the argument and constant deluge of bleak, disastrous imagery cause the documentary to grow redundant and difficult to continue watching.