Surviving Progress, a film by Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks, is inspired by Ronald Wright’s book A Short History of Progress. As mentioned by other members of this blog, our Ecological Anthropology class read Wright’s book earlier this year. This film covers the same basic framework that Wright’s book does, but also expands on it and approaches the issue at hand from numerous perspectives. Essentially, like Wright’s book, this film deals with the ever-pressing issue surrounding the need for a global system change. Everyday, the world becomes more and more crowded, while more and more resources are being used. The world is a finite system, one in which an infinite number of human beings surely cannot exist. The 20th century has seen an unprecedented amount of human growth. We are progressing at a rate far beyond our evolutionary capabilities. This film not only outlines the major conceptual ideas in Wright’s book, but also, through a variety of sources, expands on this notion of a global system malfunction, something that will surely occur if we, as a species, continue progressing at this immense rate.

The main concept behind Wright’s book, as well as this film, is centred around the immense toll that humanity is putting on natural systems; systems vital for our very survival. Wright outlines one of the keys to humanity’s potential undoing: the Myth of Progress. He makes a clear distinction between what could be called good progress and bad progress. For example, the Stone-Age hunter who discovers a method to kill two herd animals, rather than one, has made impressive progress. But the Stone-Age hunter who discovered how to kill an entire herd of animals by forcing them off of a cliff, has made too much progress. Wright believes that this is the path that humanity is on, in terms of our greatest experiment, civilization. Civilization is a behemoth of an experiment, one that has allowed humanity to progress and accomplish inconceivable goals; but how much progress is too much progress?

This film features a variety of renown authors, scholars, economists and numerous others. For instance, Margaret Atwood speaks about the finite nature of the Earth, referencing the fact that our contemporary society treats the Earth as an “endless credit-card”. David Suzuki speaks about conventional economics as a “form of brain damage”. Overall, this film features approximately two dozen well-known individuals, including Jane Goodall, Stephen Hawking and Ronald Wright himself. This, in my opinion, was a fantastic film, one that really and truly highlights the key issues surrounding the crisis that humanity is leading this world into. I recommend it to anyone interested in Wrights book, or simply to anyone looking to get informed behind a system crisis that will affect us all.


In terms of the Occupy Movement, this movement correlates with this film and Wright’s book in the sense that it is acting to change the present state of our global system. Humanity is perilously close to the brink of collapse, and social movements, like this one, that advocate for global system change will surely become important as we progress into the future. Change is needed, that much is for sure, and the Occupy Movement highlights key issues behind our human system’s current crisis. If we, as a global community and a biological species, do not act soon, there could be dire consequences, ones that could ultimately lead to the collapse of humanity as we know it. As Wright puts it in his book “if we blow up or degrade the biosphere so it can no longer sustain us- nature will merely shrug and conclude that letting apes run the laboratory [the earth] was fun for a while but in the end a bad idea (Wright 2004: 31).


The following is a link to the Surviving Progress website, which includes a preview of the film. Hopefully you enjoy it as much as I did.