A Brazilian panel on fashion streamed live from Sao Paolo. The Mayor of Kyoto announcing that his city would reach zero emissions by 2050. Women in rural Africa speaking to the camera about building a society free from oppression.
As the climate changes, so too must the way we talk about it, from the language we use to the people we include in conversations to the methods we use to transmit messages around the world. In a digital age, there is more ability to do this than ever before.
In an experimental 24 hours that spanned 12–14 May across time zones, the Global Landscapes Forum Kyoto (GLF Kyoto) event entitled “Climate, Landscapes and Lifestyles: It is Not Too Late,” addressed climate change issues through many means of dialogue and communication. Divided into three ‘acts,’ the day comprised a video montage; a series of plenaries held alongside the 49th session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Kyoto; and discussion forums livestreamed from five continents. More than 100 speakers were heard from across the acts, and more than 13,500 people tuned in live to the event.
In Act I, an eight-hour screening of climate change videos, special addresses and art, here’s what happened.
Climate change is often discussed in terms of policy, financial numbers or future doomsday scenarios. It’s a challenge, an issue, a nightmare.
But how do we internalize climate change? And how do our identities, values and biases affect the climate? How can we change ourselves to change the course of the climate?
The videos from musicians, artists, authors, politicians, Indigenous groups, research organizations and youth aired in Act I of the Forum looked at climate change through the lens of the human experience, both at large and in situ in different regions and cultures around the world.
“Imagine the world that we have to hurry toward: a much better, healthier and fairer world of much stronger relationships powered by solidarity and empathy,” said former Irish president Mary Robinson in a video address.
This notion of “climate justice” – which frames climate change as an affront on human ethics and rights, and is also the title of Robinson’s book – resonated throughout the Act.
In many major cities, citizen uprisings have begun to become the norm, as seen in London where activists organized by the Extinction Rebellion group protested for more fair climate policy from their government; and in Berlin, where young people on climate strikes raised their voices for a better future. “I really have to hold back the tears,” said Christian Kroll, founder of tree-planting search engine Ecosia, at the strikes.
Indigenous peoples extended the notion of justice to Mother Earth, who should have rights of her own.
Autumn Peltier, a Canadian teen from the Wikwemikong First Nation, wept to her country’s government about the state of water, harmed by pollution and misuse. “I speak for the water because water is alive, and it does have a spirit, and she hurts every day,” she said in a video.
Matthieu Rytz, whose documentary Anote’s Ark captures the forced migration of the 110,000 citizens of Kiribati due to climate change, questioned: “What will happen to this spiritual connection once they are forced to evacuate to New Zealand and elsewhere?”
“To change the way that we live, we have to madly and deeply fall in love with our Earth. We have to love it like we do our family and friends,” said Nathalie Isaacs, founder and CEO of 1 Million Women.
The Act was divided into four segments: climate, landscapes, lifestyle and rights. In between each segment, experts from each field answered live Q&As.
Sabine Fuss of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, who contributed to last year’s IPCC special report calling to limit global warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius, spoke on the climate segment and raised the need for change in economic systems. A higher price on carbon is essential, she said, in order to make it unaffordable for countries from continuing to emit greenhouse gases at their current pace.
But she also brought economics back to the individual. “Maybe we should take a step back from this obsession with economic growth and try to also think of growth in terms of other welfare indicators – happiness or health, for instance.”
This was echoed by Tim Kasser, a psychologist at Knox College in the U.S., who holds that societal beliefs propagate money as the answer to all problems, when in fact this is the root of our collective challenges. He says we need an economic shift away from capitalism and consumerism in order to improve planetary health.
“The best data we have is that about 3,000 commercial impressions come our way every single day that have the message ‘buy something,’” he said in a Q&A on the lifestyle segment. “Imagine if we had 3,000 messages every day about carbon emissions or species extinction. Then that would activate a whole different set of values in us and potentially lead us to behave in different ways.”
The values he hopes to enact are “intrinsic values” – personal growth, health, relationships – which are proven to promote pro-environmental and pro-justice behaviors. External values such as money, status and power result in the opposite.
Positive solutions were also showcased. In Ghana, bamboo, one of the fastest-growing species, is being used to restore landscapes with haste. Caribbean youth are working to maximize coastal ecosystems like coral and mangroves to act as buffers to extreme weather events and make the Caribbean “the first climate change-resilient region in the world,” said Justin Springer of IUCN. And around the world, reNature Foundation is working to spread the gospel of agroforestry and its ability to regenerate degraded landscapes with species that turn profits.
“Imagine the world that we have to hurry toward: a much better, healthier and fairer world of much stronger relationships powered by solidarity and empathy,” said Robinson. While visualization might be the first step to achieving a new reality, the Act was a tapestry of people not only thinking about a better future but also taking concrete actions to move toward it, and hoping to inspire others to do the same.