"Greenhouse gas emissions keep growing. Global temperatures keep rising. And our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible…We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator. Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish.” U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres at COP 27, Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
The COP 27 strapline shouts boldly from every screen at the Sharm El-Sheikh desert location: ‘Together for Implementation’, yet the reality is -- so far, we haven’t been together. The latest analysis shows that if we continue with our current production, emission, and consumption levels, we are heading for a rise of 2.7˚ well beyond the 1.5˚ threshold needed to protect our planet and everyone on it. So as creatives, as the media industry at large, what can we do about it? A lot it seems.
Producing one hour of TV emits 9.2 metric tonnes of CO2, and streaming burns through 30g of CO2 per hour. That’s not to mention the screen-influenced impact both negative and positive achieved through the content we choose to commission, write, produce and broadcast. Every one of us could rapidly reduce the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions by 5%, through lifestyle changes – from reducing our meat consumption to using less energy. The latest study says human activity can make a difference – and quickly.
Storytellers and the media industry at large have the power to deliver widescale impact, changing the course of history.
The IPCC study reveals, “Narratives enable people to imagine and make sense of the future through processes of interpretation, understanding, communication, and social interaction.” In other words, the stories we choose to tell, the content we select, the campaigns we run, and the productions we commission can help reverse catastrophic climate change.
This call for conscious content has been formally adopted. In November 2021, at Cop26 British broadcasters united with Albert to deliver the Content Climate Pledge, taking the discussion to audiences and committing to producing material that not only informs and inspires climate action but showcases impactful initiatives and solutions that are already positively impacting the planet.
But the challenge is a creative one – how can we tell compelling stories that positively impact the planet in an engaging, informative, and entertaining way? According to Alf Lawrie, Head of Factual Entertainment at Channel 4, the response to the channel’s Climate Emergency Brief was poor but production companies argue that they’re pitching strong climate content but it isn’t getting through.
At Futuretivity, we believe in the power of creativity. Whether we’re commissioners, producers, directors, editors, or writers, we all need to consider the climate in a more imaginative way. A recent episode of the BBC’s Climate Question podcast posed the question ‘does climate change have an image problem?’ The podcast examines the imagery typically used for this all-important topic of our times and found it sadly lacking – stereotypical, repetitive, unimaginative – from polar bears to melting icecaps. Where are the real, human stories showing what climate change means in the here and now? Perhaps we need to reframe everything we do and develop a sustainability lens. There’s even a case for sustainability by stealth. But what we can’t continue to do is repeat what we’ve done before – or worse, do nothing. Yes, we need to up our game, to rise to the biggest creative challenge of our time. From raising issues in a way that inspires audiences to take action or normalising sustainable behaviours on screen, or taking the biggest creative risks we’ve ever taken because our lives literally depend on it.
Images, words, and sounds are powerful and they impact the world. Research shows that exposure to negative events, violence, and aggression via a screen or direct experience is more likely to result in negative actions toward the planet and others. Conversely, positive events, stories, formats can inspire positive action and quickly.
According to leading environmentalist, economist, and activist Paul Hawken, the reality is that we are already successfully solving climate problems but we don’t share these stories. Paul is the brainchild behind Project Drawdown, a comprehensive plan to reverse global warming, showcasing the 100 best climate solutions that are already out there. “We have the means at hand to achieve the goal within a reasonable amount of time, he says. “We didn’t make this plan. It’s a map of what’s happening. It’s here and it’s scaling. We are used to hearing that we are failing and falling short. The reality is that underneath all that, humanity is mobilizing to seriously address climate change and global warming. We caused global warming and we can undo it. And when we undo it, we will create a world that is so much more interesting and kinder to each other and to all living things than the world we live in right now.”
Importantly, viewer interest in content addressing the environmental challenges of our changing world is greater than ever. This isn’t about simply more nature docs highlighting the climate crisis, but inclusion within the dramas, comedy, kids, current affairs, and other genres that make up schedules and content libraries – the need for an authentic, creative, informed and brave editorial voice is clear.
So whilst leaders at COP 27 wrangle over who will pay for the climate crisis, with calls for the polluters to pick up the $1 trillion tab, it’s time for the media industry to take action – because we can. As storytellers, content producers, commissioners, broadcasters, and responsible human beings, let’s ensure the shift to a responsible, positive, optimistic narrative is central to our work and that sustainability becomes engrained at the core of everything we do and the decisions we make.
At Futuretivity, we believe that true sustainability in film and TV comes from integrating sound environmental practice and social value throughout the industry’s culture and operations powering its businesses, productions, and supply chain. Only then can we ensure our editorial voice speaks authentically and with impact.
It's time to rise to the ultimate creative climate challenge of our time. By doing what we do best. Yes, ‘humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish,” for the media industry, when it comes to climate our choice is to create or perish, so let’s get on with the job.
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