At the time of writing this, alarming developments are pouring out of the United States. The stir is so significant, that even an initially lighthearted conversation being had in Germany or Portugal or the UK easily turns to Trump. In the wake of the Women’s March on Washington, protests continue internationally, and one can sense the rumblings of a large movement mobilizing.
There is little doubt that Jared P. Scott’s latest documentary, The Age of Consequences, which tackles climate change largely from the less-trodden national security angle, will be useful material to the activists who have long since rolled up their sleeves for this fight. But the film is carefully constructed to gain traction well beyond this cohort. While NASA’s “Vital Signs of the Planet” page lists off the observable consequences of climate change (loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise, and longer, more intense heat waves), The Age of Consequences points its viewers to a levelheaded analysis of how climate change feeds a range of preexisting international conflicts. Studded with grim but effective interviewees—many of whom come from the US military—and sleek 3-D visuals mapping the interrelated problems, the film has the aesthetic of an eye-catching security briefing.
Asked about this, Jared stresses that this is indeed the intention. “There is still a dissonance in American society where climate change is overly politicized,” he says. “We wanted to spark a kitchen table conversation around this issue of climate security. For the US audience, it’s important to have admirals and generals and security insiders speak directly to them—when you say ‘this is a security threat’ people go ‘huh, I didn’t think about it like that.’”
To this end, Jared notes that the film purposely skips interviews with high-ranking Democrats and Republicans in favor of a nonpartisan appeal: “The climate community at large has gone to great lengths to not come across as partisan. We didn’t want politicians discussing this—the movie is intended to educate.” And insofar as the US military can be perceived as a politically neutral agent, the film excels in selling climate change as the growing catalyst of augmented security threats.
Despite this notable feat, I can’t help but ask about the connection to Jared’s past films, some of which (see for instance, Requiem for an American Dream, which is essentially an extended interview with Noam Chomsky) are more overtly in line with progressive viewpoints. “People who haven’t seen my other films might see this movie and think ‘wow, this person is to the right,’ and I actually like that,” he says. “I’m not narrating the film, I’m not putting myself in the film. I try to take my opinions out of it.” This demarcation from his other work is also a product of disciplined storytelling. While I would have personally been pleased to see The Age of Consequences delve into the interacting mechanisms of capitalism, inequality, and climate change, Jared points back to the primary message of the film. “We have to stay on topic. One might criticize the film by saying it’s like the repetition of a single note: Why don’t they talk about the health crisis or the economic aspect? And I’d say those are films in and of themselves. We wanted to keep it focused.”
This focus has certainly been an interesting one to the policy community. The film has been shown to viewers from NATO to Capitol Hill and London’s Chatham House, a prominent think tank dealing with international affairs. Part of the impetus, aside from aiming to strike up a conversation with those Americans who currently see themselves as somewhat indifferent to the issue, is to “give policymakers a way to understand climate change.”
At a time when the international community is on edge, with many eyes trained on Donald Trump and the US military apparatus, The Age of Consequences’s sharp observations on climate-fueled security crises certainly have a timely angle. But like many climate analysts, Jared understands that it is the US—at a national, and even state level—that remains one of the main stumbling blocks to enacting meaningful international action on climate change. The director and his team are thus working with a number of veteran’s groups—setting up screenings of the film with organizations like Operation Free, among others—to engage and activate a promising audience. “They understand the need for an acceleration to a clean energy future,” Jared says. And perhaps with such a carefully structured, nonpartisan message, The Age of Consequences will be able to reach even further beyond party lines to help weave together an otherwise divided public on a topic that is long overdue for more serious attention.
The Age of Consequences will screen for NASA at the Ames Research Center south of San Francisco on April 20, 2017. The film is now available for digital purchase on iTunes.