"We are running 21st-century software — our knowledge — on hardware [our brains and bodies] that hasn't been upgraded for 50,000 years, and this lies at the core of many of our problems," Ronald Wright explains in Surviving Progress, the film loosely based on his book A Short History of Progress. (If you haven't seen the documentary yet, watch it here.)
From an overpopulated China to the depleted Amazon rainforest in Brazil, the documentary takes us across the globe, exploring how humans are single-handedly destroying the planet's finite resources. While these issues may seemingly be unrelated, their root causes are connected. Rapidly evolving technology — that which allows us to produce things quickly, cheaply, and at the detriment of the environment — is at the heart of many issues, but the more insidious reason for these destructive global circumstances is economic progress without consideration of the needs of future generations.
"Unlimited economic progress in a world of finite natural resources doesn't make sense," famed anthropologist Jane Goodall says in the film. "It's a pattern that is bound to collapse."
Do you agree? Do you think there is any hope for humanity given the damage that has already been done?
Possible Discussion Topics
1. Do you agree with the film's assessment that economics is destructively disconnected from reality?
2. Of the nearly two dozen interviewees in the documentary, there weren't really any opposing viewpoints. Do you think that may cause opponents of these theories, particularly the ones blaming the world's wealthy oligarchy, to view this film as propaganda?
3. Old civilizations used to forgive debts. Do you see this ever happening in our modern world? Would debt forgiveness be a viable economic solution?
4. Do you think there's any reason to feel optimistic about the world's future? Can we humans change our course? And is moral progress the solution?
5. Let's talk about algae. Is it the fuel of the future?
6. Do you think the film could have benefited from a discourse similar to the one between Julian Simon and Paul Ehrlich?
Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Sonia Halbach is the winner of the Studio@Gawker Netflix competition. She lives in New York City and moonlights as a young adult writer with an emphasis on 19th-century historical fantasy.