Published on January 15th, 2018

graphic showing evolution of downsizing

“Downsizing” in contemporary vernacular has come to be associated with reducing possessions – “stuff” – to live more simply. But in Alexander Payne’s new film, “Downsizing,” the word has a completely different meaning.
In this clever, highly original and quirky work of auteur Payne, downsizing means a human can be shrunk to a 5” height. Thus, the problems plaguing the planet of overpopulation, environmental degradation and climate change can be mitigated by a smaller environmental footprint – you create less waste when you’re only 5” tall. It’s a win-win, because those downsized can claim altruism while also living large – $100k in a full-size world translates to $12 million in a downsized world. So that McMansion isn’t out of reach!
But as the storyline goes in this wild thought exercise, neither altruism nor living large by going small ends up appealing to enough people. Not the necessary number of folks sign up for the reduction plan to stave off the predicted environmental calamity. So the original scientist who discovered the shrinking technology and his small colony, who had the foresight to develop Plan B, make another bold leap for Mankind by going underground to a mini-world with all their needs met below ground to survive what they believe will be a complete collapse above ground.
That failure to make necessary changes is not unlike the real world. We have the information available to us; we know the problems we’ve created by overpopulating the planet, engaging in unsustainable practices and exploiting resources. Yet, we continue to choose poorly, forcing us to contemplate more and more complex solutions to the problems we’ve created for ourselves in a world now of 7.6 billion consumers. And we’re still growing those numbers. No downturn in overall numbers is expected for decades ahead, as we add a few billion more in the interim. This is the growth of human numbers never before seen, growth taking its toll on natural resources and all other living things.
Of course, the idea of shrinking us is pure fantasy, although one bioethicist actually has proposed selecting embryos for size in the belief that a 15-centimeter reduction in height correlates to a 23 percent and 25 mass reduction for men and women, respectively, which he says would be “enough to offset the effects of climate change.” As in the shrinking option in “Downsizing,” it’s unlikely many people would sign up for that program – this one only has an altruistic angle, at that.
But there are real changes 7.6 billion of us can make that can change our course. We can be advocates and educators of stabilizing population and then lowering population, and for using resources more wisely. Most certainly we need to be more optimistic that we have the power to make the changes we need to than does filmmaker Payne, who says, “That the film summarily proposed miniaturization as the only possible solution for overpopulation and climate change reveals how totally screwed we are.”

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