The One-Hundred-Year Plan

Documentary Film Synopsis

By Jim Merkel

The One-Hundred-Year Plan film is a search for a path through turbulent times. We are the generation watching humanity devour earth.  Will we pass on a parched planet or figure out how to live within earth’s limits? Travel along to far-flung and unlikely places on a quest for a world that works for all.   

Currently the reins are in the hands of powerful corporate interests and governments. Through globalization, extreme extraction and land grabs our planet races toward catastrophe. Critical planetary boundaries are being exceeded leading to climate disruption, the 6th great extinction, grinding poverty and wars. Most leaders have no other plan but to grow the economy, stimulate consumerism, and stimulate couples to have more children--the very things that drive this crisis.

This film seeks to discover if a sustainable future is even possible and if so, what adaptations and practices would be necessary. The late systems thinker and author of The Limits to Growth, Donella Meadows, using extensive modeling suggested that humanity could avoid a dramatic collapse in the 21 century by having smaller families and footprints while using technology to reduce impact and enhance wellbeing.  

Sustainability comparisons of societies. Sources: World Bank, CIA, Global Footprint Network, Human Development Report, Kerala 2005

Sustainability comparisons of societies. Sources: World Bank, CIA, Global Footprint Network, Human Development Report, Kerala 2005

The film’s director, Jim Merkel, became dedicated to world peace and sustainable living after an ethical hemorrhage while designing and marketing top-secret military electronics.  Following the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, Jim quit work to begin an experiment in simplicity, limiting his earning, spending and impact. He traveled to Kerala India in 1993 to study their sustainability achievements and returned to found the Global Living Project where five teams of researchers attempted life as global citizens. Jim has traveled, often by bicycle, searching for sustainable societies and documented his findings in Radical Simplicity – small footprints on a finite Earth.

In an exciting new collaboration, Jim is joining forces with The Arthur Morgan Institutefor Community Solutions who will serve as producer with Susan Jennings and Eric Johnson contributing to the film’s production. Emmy-Award winning filmmakers Robert Maraist of Fulcrum Films and Julia Reichert of New Day Films will contribute their creativity and skilled cinematography work to create the documentary film, The One-Hundred-Year Plan.

Source: Living Planet Report. By 2050, with business-as-usual, humanity will need almost 3 planets.  However, by reducing population and footprints, we can live again within the one planet reality. 

Source: Living Planet Report. By 2050, with business-as-usual, humanity will need almost 3 planets.  However, by reducing population and footprints, we can live again within the one planet reality. 

The filmmakers voyage into the bowels of the untidy world of throwing off the yoke of imperialism in Cuba and Kerala India.  50 years ago these societies made their systems work for the poor and for women and ensured all citizens had access to health care, education, food and housing. Far from utopias, they face ongoing challenges.  Their sovereignty came under attack for their decisions to advance land reforms and release key resources from corporate control so that their population might benefit from their development. 

Although these societies have low-incomes and thus, small footprints, they have literacy, infant mortality, and longevity rates similar to the wealthiest nations. They break the myth that industrialization and globalization are the only approach to development. Both these cultures have focused upon women having equity in society, extensive educational opportunities, contraception and control over their own bodies – the very conditions that lead to small families. 

The blue lines indicate the difference in total world population in 2100 by either increasing or decreasing family size by 0.5 children.

The blue lines indicate the difference in total world population in 2100 by either increasing or decreasing family size by 0.5 children.

Susan Jennings will travel to China as the government ends the one-child policy. What are the feelings now, among women and families? What can be learned from this top-down approach? Traveling to Vietnam, Susan will explore the story of women recovering from war and napalm and returning to their socialist journey. What were the hopes of the Vietnamese people before the U.S. invasion and what are they now? 

In Budapest we will film the 5th International Degrowth Conference and travel to Slovenia to experience family policies that have led to the lowest at-risk-children and gender-pay-gap levels in Europe while having the highest female employment. 

Filmmakers will attempt to locate these five women in Kerala, 22 years after Jim Merkel photographed them in 1993.  What are they doing now, and has the society offered a supportive environment?  What opportunities were available for education and employment?  Do they now have children? What do they attribute the high life quality indices to in Kerala? 

Filmmakers will attempt to locate these five women in Kerala, 22 years after Jim Merkel photographed them in 1993.  What are they doing now, and has the society offered a supportive environment?  What opportunities were available for education and employment?  Do they now have children? What do they attribute the high life quality indices to in Kerala? 

Filming in our own backyards in the US, we’ll interview those who’ve chosen a low-impact lifestyle having tasted modernity. How do women feel and think about their fertility choices and family size?  What support did they have or wish they had as a young mother? We will learn about their education, views on contraception and family planning and how society adapted to smaller families. Progress in the places we will visit accompanies challenges such as high unemployment, embargoes, foreign hostilities and certain restrictions on personal freedoms.   

Jim Merkel travels by bicycle in Cuba in 2009.

Jim Merkel travels by bicycle in Cuba in 2009.

Biologist E.O. Wilson said, “Our species might just luck out, with enough dropping population, improved production, and shrinking ecological footprint that we can win the race to save the rest of life.”  Wilson’s forthcoming book, Half Earth, suggests that by leaving at least half of the earth’s areas intact, we could avert the 6th great extinction. If family size were to lower to the European levels of 1.5 children per family and footprints were more equitably distributed, in 120 years we’d lower population from 7 billion to 3 billion people and go from overshooting earth’s capacity by 50 percent to leaving 50 percent for nature.   

Girls in Cuba can look forward to lower infant mortality rates, free education and health care in Cuba.  Film makers will try to locate these girls and speak with them and their parents 7 years after being photographed by Jim Merkel

Girls in Cuba can look forward to lower infant mortality rates, free education and health care in Cuba.  Film makers will try to locate these girls and speak with them and their parents 7 years after being photographed by Jim Merkel

This unlikely mid-course adjustment has been tested in several countries and we will film their experience. Could the poorest win by exiting poverty and having fewer children? Could those with “too much” win by realizing that happiness is not linked to consumerism and that by being our sister’s keeper, we have an ethical path forward? Could it be that a kingpin in turning toward a sustainable future lies in the status of women and creating a more equitable society?

photos from the one-hundred year plan Film production team