Since the Enlightenment, progress has taken on the express idea of improvement and advance. But in 2004, Ronald Wright published a book exploring the notion of ‘progress traps’, with progress often leading to dead ends. This book was the inspiration for Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks’ new docu-feature, Surviving Progress. Featuring a vast collection of interviews with world intellectuals, from geneticists and economists to activists and primatologists, the film debates the future of our planet from a post-2008 perspective.
After predicating the narrative trajectory on what separates humans from chimps is our ability to ask ‘why’, the film proceeds pessimistically by comparing cavemen getting too good at hunting and wiping out mammoths with our exploitation of the earth’s resources. It further comments (at moments in a dangerously Malthusian tone) on the fact that the planet, at present, wouldn’t be able to support China and India having Western affluence. The film continues in this way, explaining the numerous reasons why the world cannot continue on its present path at its present speed, before coming to the conclusion that we need a more holistic outlook focusing on the long term. However, as interesting as this is, some of the solutions finally offered seem ironically ad hoc. Still, Surviving Progress is an informative and entertaining way to debate these questions.