The Age of Consequence, a 2017 documentary directed and written by Jared P. Scott, explores Climate change. The potentially controversial opinion, often ignored by traditional media, is that climate change is linked directly to international and civil warfare, mass population migration and global instability. Scott, using case studies and interviews from former high ranking US military personnel, activists, politicians and journalists, uses the 40 minutes to delve into how conflicts like the Syrian Civil War and Iraq wars. The film develops the argument that the world has been negatively and irrevocably influenced by our climate issues.
This essay will examine the ways The Age of Consequence constitutes an effective, but ultimately deficient, example of science communication. It will also explore the documentary’s overarching portrayal of climate change and the context with how the film has been distributed and received; the representation of science and technology; the possible political agendas behind the film’s development, and whether it contributed or altered the public’s understanding of science and climate change.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is not one to shy away from broadcasting programmes that are seen as conventionally controversial and thought provoking (Paola, 2017). It isn’t unusual that their programme Four Corners decided to show the controversial new documentary film by Jared P. Scott for Australian audiences this year (2017). The portrayal of climate change and its subsequent effects on the world in a conflict scenario adds to an already controversial subject. From watching the film it is evident who the film is aimed at in regards to who will watch it, and who will show it.
The ABC television show Four Corners itself is a well-respected, award winning piece, it specialises in “exposing scandals, triggering inquiries, firing debate, confronting taboos and interpreting fads, trends and sub-cultures.” (ABC.net.au, 2017). The Age of Consequence fits in this well. The film sits in the current affairs and documentary genre, simultaneously engaging and informing the audience of the documentaries meaning.
Scott’s The Age of Consequence comments on the controversial area of science that is climate change. The way that the director has framed his content is that climate change has been spun as a significant occurrence which has created and stimulated massive economic, political and social unrest. Through his use of a documentary style film, the serious music/voiceovers, interviews with scientists and stakeholders; the film has been created in a way that makes it easy for the audience to decode its intended message. I agree this technique contributed to the strength of the director’s argument. The stance throughout the film is that climate change has been the systematic and direct catalyst for many conflicts throughout the world, especially in the Iraq, Syrian and Sahel area. Climate change in this film has been accused of being a main contributor to instability and interacts with pre-existing national security threats.
The Age of Consequence has been released at a time where President Trump has already started to roll back previous steps made by the Obama Administration to curb the effects of climate change and limit environmental pollution (Greshko, 2017). The administrations attack on the environment has already been seen through his executive order to rescind the 6 climate change and carbon emissions executive orders that Obama had put in place, and even to remove (Merica, 2017) the Presidential Memorandum put in place that states “Climate change poses a significant and growing threat to national security, both at home and abroad.” (whitehouse.gov, 2017).
The finality of the message though, and the unwavering position that climate change is the underlying cause of the global problems leads to a false balance of sides. As this topic is quite political, those who are in opposition to the climate change issue, could claim that the sceptics are not given a voice. It’s obvious that there are political motivations behind this film, although it could be argued because of the target audience and how it’s being shown, it’s a case of preaching to the already converted.
The Age of Consequence portrays climate change as a real threat to both national security, populations and the environment. The interconnected problems that stem from the climate change risk factors are at the forefront of the discussion. The ultimate repercussions of not taking action are the images shown throughout the film and it shows how climate change is a promise of peril if nothing is done now.
Words play a large part in the film to help the audience decode the message. The way that Scott has compiled the images, the interviews and the narrative each have a purpose in how the film is intended to be received. The images and the interview content do not automatically assume that there is a literacy deficit within the audience. It can be assumed that those who watch this film will already have intelligence on the matters of how climate change occurs as well as a general knowledge of the past and current conflicts in the world.
Metaphors are used as a tool of persuasion to help communicate the military relevance and understanding to the message. Former U.S. Army Captain Michael Breen explains that to ignore the intelligence of a majority and still go down the road of an ambush would be “negligence on an unfathomable scale” (Breen 2017). This is a metaphor of the threat faced to humanity by ignoring the mass scientific evidence that climate change is real and a threat. To the audience now through his explanation of a life and death situation, they can understand the intensity of the message he is trying to communicate. The dissection of the film into chapters helps the audience follow the breakdown of the information, and doesn’t distract from the main argument. If anything it allows the viewer to decode the flow of information smoother.
The Age of Consequence already has an assumption about the public’s understanding of climate change, and it is primarily positive. The film doesn’t speak down to the audience, it gives what it needs to make sure that the film is understood in its message.
The film The Age of Consequence is intrinsically political stemming from the content and topic it explores. Although the film was broadcast on an ABC programme in Australia, it is an American film, with American politics in play. In a post Trump era the controversial subjects such as immigration, national security and climate change are those that will bring the most scrutiny on themselves. As mentioned above, climate change and carbon emission policies in the United States have been cut dramatically and the effects have already caused alarm from other world leaders (Glen, 2017).
The political agenda of Scott’s film is evident in the message his interviewees are communicating. The moment at 39:55 when Madeleine Albright, Former Secretary of State, states that the solution is a matter of cooperation and “American leadership within a system that other countries play a part in,” is a clear political message to the Government at the time, which was Obama. The full speech though is interchangeable now with who it could be directed towards. Albright makes a statement in that same speech although not seen in the film that states –
“On a global level, the United States must also seize the opportunity of this year’s UN Conference in Paris to assert our leadership on the issue of climate change, which the Pentagon recently highlighted as an urgent national security threat. While more tough work lies ahead, the agreements reached with China and India have laid the groundwork for global action on this defining challenge of our time.” Madeleine Albright, 2015 (Femia, 2017)
This testimony to the importance of climate change and action in regards to national security is pertinent to the political and environmental attitude shown by the Trump administration in 2017.
The Age of Consequences is a documentary that is so effective in its delivery and examples of climate change and its effects on conflict and national security, that it is hard to think that before the film most of it had been disputed. The documentary itself is in its own way an effective communicator of science in a post Trump, Fake News era. Yet it was only in 2012 was there a study in the Journal of Peace Research that Scott’s films claims that climate change is a direct contributor to conflict were mostly unfounded.
“Our empirical analysis does not produce evidence for the claim that climate variability affects economic growth. However, we find some, albeit weak, support for the hypothesis that non-democratic countries are more likely to experience civil conflict when economic conditions deteriorate.” (Koubi et al, 2012)
As Koubi et al. explain in the article, policy makers and scientific literature had all but revealed “little consensus on the climate-conflict relationship” (Koubri et al. p. 114). With this in mind is it still viable to class Scott’s film as a scientific communicator to the public when the premise of their film has already been reduced casual and unambiguous argument (Koubri et al. p. 114)? Objectively the answer would be yes, it can. Political, environmental and social shifts have occurred since 2012 when the article was shared; therefore it’s possible for the information to have been aged.
Is The Age of Consequence an effective or deficient communicator of science? Through my analysis of the film I have found that although there are articles disputing Scott’s claim. There are grounds for the film to be an effective, but ultimately deficient, example of science communication. This essay has explored the documentary’s overarching portrayal of climate change and the context with how the film has been distributed and received; the representation of science and technology; the possible political agendas behind the film’s development, and whether it contributed or altered the public’s understanding of science and climate change.
The Age of Consequence 2017, video recording, PF Pictures, America. Written, Produced and Directed by Jared P. Scott
Abc.net.au. (2017). Four Corners – About Us. [online] Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/about/
Abc.net.au. (2017). The Age of Consequences – Four Corners. [online] Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2017/03/20/4637278.htm
Femia, C. (2017). Sec. Albright & Sec. Shultz On National Security, Climate Change & the Arctic. [online] The Center for Climate & Security. Available at: https://climateandsecurity.org/2015/01/30/sec-albright-sec-shultz-on-national-security-climate-change-the-arctic/
Glen, E. (2017). Emerging nations urge rich countries to honour climate finance pledges – statement. [online] Reuters. Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-climatechange-idUSKBN17D0X4
Greshko, M. (2017). A Running List of How Trump Is Changing the Environment. [online] News.nationalgeographic.com. Available at: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/how-trump-is-changing-science-environment