Tyler Durden, Agent Smith and Thanos take the stage at COP...

Imagine sitting in the front row at the main stage of COP.

For several hours you have been watching as world leaders have taken turns stepping up to the podium. They have spoken with passion and urgency about the need for change. About the critical situation in which we find ourselves, and the steps that they believe need to be taken to secure a sustainable future.

At the end of each appeal you offer a polite round of applause, and then adjust in your seat whilst the room takes a moment to settle down.

And then something strange happens. Three characters that you recognise, but did not expect to see, make their way, jointly, to the podium.

27 February 2024 | Ten minutes

Standing before you, straight out of the movie Fight Club, is Tyler Durden. He is wearing his signature brown leather jacket, the collar of his oversized floral print shirt protruding out over the lapels. Next to him, from The Matrix, stands Agent Smith in his sharp black suit, black tie and dark sunglasses, a tie bar holding everything perfectly in place. Rounding out this unusual trio is Thanos, signature foe of The Avengers from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Standing over 8 feet tall, Thanos is a towering presence in the room; his purple skin encased in glistening golden armour.


And then, they begin to speak.



Tyler Durden: “Reject the basic assumptions of civilization, especially the importance of material possessions.


Agent Smith: “I believe that as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering.


Thanos: “Dread it, run from it… destiny arrives all the same. And now, it’s here.



Tyler Durden was iconically portrayed by Brad Pitt in the 1999 pop culture sensation that is Fight Club.  Whilst the movie is perhaps best known for its infamous first two rules, Fight Club is actually a powerful social commentary about consumerist culture and masculinity.


The movie is narrated by Ed Norton, an insomniac insurance claims assessor, who is depressed with his mundane life.  On a flight Ed Norton’s character finds himself sitting next to Tyler Durden, a soap salesman with a deep dislike of capitalism, consumerism and attachment to material possessions. The two strike up an unlikely friendship, eventually opening an underground fight club for other similarly depressed men.


Throughout Fight Club, Tyler Durden explains his world view in what have become some truly infamous scenes in the world of cinema. More than twenty years on from its release, Fight Club continues to attract analysis, philosophical comment, and even coverage in the media – most recently when the authorities in China sought to change the ending of the movie because they were concerned about the message portrayed by the original version.


Amongst his many iconic speeches is the following, which Tyler Durden gives at the beginning of one meeting of Fight Club, to resounding agreement from those who are present:


I see in the fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy sh*t we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War, no Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised by television to believe that one day we’d be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very, pissed off.




The Matrix is often argued to be the greatest movie of all time, breaking new ground in the world of cinematography with its clever use of cameras to capture the slow motion movements and fight sequences which helped make The Matrix so iconic.


Also released in 1999, The Matrix tells the story of a group of rebels seeking to free humanity from an AI, which has found a way to use humans as an energy source. To occupy the minds of these humans, the AI has created The Matrix, a simulated reality which appears to those who are plugged in as a mental projection of the world as it was at the end of the 20th century. The Matrix is policed by a series of programmes called ‘Agents’, which the AI has created to keep the simulation running smoothly.  The villain of the movie is Agent Smith, a programme which has malfunctioned and is now seeking to shut down the simulation, which would kill the humans currently plugged into it.


Brilliantly portrayed by Hugo Weaving, Agent Smith is a compelling villain with some strong views about humanity, which he shares during the course of one particularly chilling scene whilst he is interrogating Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne), the leader of a band of rebels trying to fight back:


I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve I had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply, and multiply until every natural resource is consumed, and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague, and we are the cure.



Since Robert Downey Jr first brought Iron Man to cinema screens in 2008, Thanos, the Mad Titan, was floating around in the background as a threat that our heroes would eventually have to face.  He made his entrance properly in the movie Avengers Infinity War (released in 2018) which currently stands as the sixth highest grossing movie of all time, taking over USD $2 billion at the box office.


Thanos first appeared in comic books in February 1973. Like all great villains, Thanos truly believes that he is a hero. The population on his home world grew too large for the planet to support and when the problem became clear Thanos suggested a radical solution – that half of the population should – at random – be culled.  He was cast out as a madman, and what he foresaw came to pass in the collapse of his civilisation.  In a bid to save half of all life in the universe and avoid a repeat of what happened to his home more widely, Thanos sets out to wipe out the other half of all life, putting him on a collision course with Iron Man and his fellow Avengers.


In one conversation with his adopted daughter Gamora (who he took from a planet that he attacked) Thanos reveals his genuine belief in his mission:


Your planet was on the brink of collapse. I’m the one who stopped that. Do you know what’s happened since then? The children born have known nothing but full bellies and clear skies. It’s a paradiseLittle one, it’s a simple calculus. This universe is finite, it’s resources finite. If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correction! I’m the only one who knows that… at least, I’m the only one with the will to act on it.”



A few facts and figures which Tyler Durden, Agent Smith and Thanos would want COP delegates to know:


– It is estimated that, globally, we produce up to 150 billion items of clothing each year.


– Because cotton is a highly water intensive crop, it takes about 700 gallons of water to produce a cotton shirt, or 2,000 gallons of water to produce one pair of jeans.


– The fashion industry is believed to be responsible for 20% of all industrial water pollution worldwide, and dying processes use enough water to fill two million Olympic-sized swimming pools every year.


– In 2022, more than 66 million cars were sold globally. There are estimated to be about 1.4 billion cars in the world today.


– In 2022, around 1.4 billion smartphones were sold globally. There were more than 8.58 billion mobile subscriptions in use worldwide in 2022.


– In 2022, we are estimated to have mined 2.6 billion metric tonnes of iron ore, consumed 97.3 million barrels of oil per day and lost around 6.6 million hectares of forest (an area larger than Sri Lanka).


– In November 2022, the global population passed 8 billion people, up from an estimated 2.5 billion people in 1950. The UN currently expects the global population to reach 9.7 billion people in 2050.



I cannot help but think, whenever I watch one of these movies, that the antagonists were not entirely wrong in their views.


If Fight Club were written in 2023, whilst Tyler Durden might describe the work against climate change as our generation’s purpose, I have no doubt that he would continue to blame our obsession with material possessions and culture of mass consumerism for the precarious situation that we find ourselves in today.


If Agent Smith could see the Earth in 2023, I expect he would still conclude that humans behave more like a virus than mammals, consuming resources, multiplying and then spreading in the fashion that we do.


If Thanos were to come to Earth he would see a place that, in his view, needs correction. A finite planet with finite resources. A place where the population is racing through natural resources and growing too fast to be sustainable. A place where, left unchecked, life would eventually cease to exist.



The Matrix is centred around a character named Neo, famously played by Keanu Reeves.


Morpheus believes, with an unshaking certainty, that Neo is the ‘chosen one’, destined to save humanity from The Matrix. Throughout the movie Morpheus never waivers in his belief, and whilst Neo struggles to understand his true potential at first, there is a defining moment in the movie where he begins to believe in himself. Rather than running from Agent Smith, he chooses to stand and fight. And for a moment, we see what Neo might be capable of achieving.


When Neo does eventually understand his full potential, he realises that he can re-write the rules of The Matrix itself. And that gives him incredible powers. It gives him the opportunity to change the narrative of the world around him.



Let’s go back to our three speakers, standing together on the podium.  They are looking out across the convention hall, reflecting on humanity, and contemplating the message that they each want to share.


Whilst Tyler Durden would see a world which remains obsessed with material possessions, he would also see a world in which notions of responsible consumption are genuinely starting to take root. He would find millions who are moving away from a lifestyle of consumerism, in favour of repairing broken items, purchasing second hand and buying goods which are locally sourced and responsibly produced. He would see consumers who are becoming increasingly aware of the carbon and water footprint associated with the products that they purchase, and businesses that are becoming increasingly transparent in making that information available to their customers. And he might have hope for the “spiritual war” about which he spoke in Fight Club.


Agent Smith would see a species that is rapidly working to re-define itself. Whilst humans undoubtedly have a significant negative impact on the planet, there are millions around the world who are working tirelessly to repair and restore our home and its natural environment.  We show empathy towards trees and rivers and animals and plants. We are increasingly seeking to preserve and enhance these things, and learning to value them for their inherent, as opposed to commercial value. We are trying, at a global level, to find the “natural equilibrium” with our surrounding environment that Agent Smith associated with mammals in The Matrix.


Thanos would see a species that is seeking to correct itself before it is too late. Which is trying to get a grip on the speed at which it is racing through natural resources and which is moving away from harmful practices like burning fossil fuels and intensive use of chemical fertilisers towards renewable energy and regenerative agriculture. He would see a place where the population, whilst still growing, is soon set to peak, and a species which already has the technologies that it needs to live sustainably within planetary boundaries, even as the population continues to grow.


Whilst none of our hypothetical speakers might yet be ready to abandon their world views, I do believe that they might just pause before reaching the same conclusions once again.


They would see that, like Neo, we are beginning to understand our full potential. That we are starting to re-write the rules of this broken Matrix within which we live. That we have immense power to do so.


And they might just concede, however begrudgingly, that the ending of our own story has not yet been written.















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