We experienced it first-hand in the bubble we inadvertently created at COP21 as guests of Place
to B. After various venue-wrangles, we set up our Creative Factory in the front room of the hostel, a sort of shop-window bar area that gave us plenty of room to shuffle our ideas around but also had the added advantage of only being a plate glass window removed from the real world outside…
a street surging with a wonderful mix of local Parisians and commuters cutting between Gare de l’Est and Gare du Nord…
So we only had to glance up from our notebooks and iPads to remind ourselves of the general population we needed to impress with our concerns over climate abuse and man-made extreme weather change. Several times we ventured out with our embryonic thinking, to stop passers-by and pausing pedestrians and ask them to respond to our new campaign thoughts. We ventured into local bars and tabacs, stopped street cleaners and hi-jacked the odd cab-driver to solicit a reaction.
Invariably it was the same: mystery and confusion at first. A remote, what-has-this-got-to-do-with- me distancing, but then something in the creative idea hooked their attention, sparked a moment of connection, empathy, that dispelled the chasm and slowly drew them into the debate. They got their personal introduction to the cause. For the first time, climate change manifested itself in the neighbourhood, on their doorstep.
So for me, that was the modest triumph of the Creative Factory we created during COP21. It conjured up the strange chemistry of such potent collaborative thinking that we could start building bridges, opening doors into that other world. Breach the indifference. Break through the blank reactions.
Make the climate change connection with the wider world. So at the heart of the Creative Factory, that was the brief.
We had guest speakers covering off eco-sikhs and eco-hedonism. We contrasted the human economy versus the wasteful economy. We discussed the ‘finite pool of worry’ and the ‘zombie systems’ that perpetuate bad habits. Place to B organiser, Anne-Sophie Novel popped in to wonder, ‘Rather than thinking what earth are we leaving to our kids, should we be asking what kids are we leaving to our earth?’
Her wingman and vibrational poet, Joe Ross declared ‘Language is a broken system’. We argued that one as well – not that words were broken, but their meaning subverted and re-purposed for the benefit of the super-rich 1% economy.
We varied the themes and target audiences, cycled through new topics and strategies every two days, but always it was a creative quest for connectivity. To forge new empathy with strangers to the climate change story.
Our teams responded brilliantly. From the speakers at the top of the day who set the stage with incisive explanations and examples of their own work, to the ramshackle teams of disparate talents that we nailed together and nurtured into mini creative factories. They hesitated and argued, they went down dead ends and made false starts, but the Factory was a space of endless experimentation where nothing was dismissed as a waste of time and everything considered a mighty seed of creative possibilities. Every team grew in stature and confidence over those 48 hour marathons of imaginative idea-engineering. Often the process spilt out into the bar, over dinner, late into the night, press-ganging other people, COP21 guests that suddenly found themselves in the middle of a fierce debate about how to climate-engage pregnant mothers or urban teenagers.
What was truly humbling was the dazzling array of well-crafted ideas that emerged at the end of those two day creative cycles. There’s nothing guaranteed about the creative process – despite the Factory name, there’s no formula to setting up a production line to deliver imaginative, engaging ideas.
Sure, there’s a certain amount of research and number-crunching you can do, mapping out the context, audience, message and outcome. Setting rules, reading up on the topic. But there comes a time in the process when you have to take a leap into the dark. And that takes faith – in yourself and the people you are working with.
Thankfully there seemed to be a lot of faith in that space we created. And a lot of the credit has to go to the creative volunteers we had supporting our endeavours on a daily basis – from the wonderful Tiphaine to Arthur, Nicolaos and Thomas for their work on pictures, video and editing. And also Hariette.
From smart phone card games to street art interventions, from a viral dance craze to a proposal for a unifying minute of global reflection – the creative thinking flowed out in so many different directions.
There was PLANETMUM.COM - the very smart re-purposing of pre-natal support groups as a platform to reach young couples about to turn their lives upside down (and usher a new life into the world) - and persuade them to err on the side of sustainability when it came to those life-switching decisions. Tom Old and his team hand-crafted this into an exceptional opportunity to talk to a group of people at the trigger-point of change.
And then CONFLUENCE - the re-inventing of COP as a coming together of spiritual leaders dedicated to inspiring mass-action through the channel of personal faith.
Every time we were connecting new worlds. A dating service for new ideas.
Sometimes wildly ambitious, always provocative, each idea grew out of the topic of the day to gain a creative life of its own and take its co-creators off into uncharted territories.
And alongside the big messages, we tried to stay in touch with the Paris that lived on the other side of the shop window. We kept half an ear to the ground and an eye on the breaking local news so we could create climate change narratives that related to people’s daily experiences…
And so it was that in the second week of the Factory we picked up on the local French election results and the worrying swing to the anti-immigration right. That inspired one team of creative collaborators to develop the extraordinary ‘WOULD YOU HAVE SEX WITH A CLIMATE MIGRANT?’ project idea.
More of that later.
Talking to the next generation became a recurring theme over several of the workshops, generating a range of new narratives and communication concepts that targeted young school children and teenagers, inventively seeking to inject an engaging climate change conversation into their everyday routines.
College drink parties will be a lot livelier for the invention of WILD LIFE, an idea for a downloadable card game that you can play on your phone and helps inspire students of drinking to also celebrate their more remarkable memories of the natural world. And if they have no recollection of singing on top of a mountain or kissing in a forest, perhaps it will inspire them to go out there and create those memories.
Film-maker and artists, Shiraz Bayjoo helped us explore another side of memories by back-tracking the team he was working with to the childhood memories they had of life touched and enriched by nature.
Both elegiac and prescient, magical and melancholic, the finished film (a miraculous achievement in less than two days) connected all of us to that green world that has been a haven and sanctuary for generations – ‘personal loss woven into a tapestry of collective memories’. I probably wasn’t the only one to flash back to the start of Naomi Klein’s last book where she mourns the disfigurement of the starfish of her childhood.
Factory co-founder Ophelia Noor worked her creative magic with Paris fab labs and street activists to bring in the Urban Gardening Collective Pierre Cattan and Maria Concetta Sangrigoli to re-green the local street, Rue L’Alsace. It was wonderful to see several generations of a local street community galvanised into participating in this act of simple rebellion against the concrete uniformity of the city.
Then Karl Walker and his team added an artistic intervention by planting pop-up speech-bubbles giving voice to the nature we found stranded in the concrete canyons of the city.
Graphic designer and collage artist Paul Beer spent a week with us, first of all printing off a raft of street action posters we’d created in advance of the workshops, art pieces that used advertising tropes and vernacular to connect economic and lifestyle choices with climate change impacts.
Then Paul turned his hand to a series of masterful collages that smartly connected the first stirrings of 50s mass-consumerism with the hyper-capitalism fuelling our contemporary climate change woes.
The work spread virally throughout the building, then out onto everyone’s social media before returning to the real world to be re-purposed as street march posters.
Speakers turned Factory workers, Nigel Kelaepa and Rev. Keith Joseph, both from the Solomon Islands, helped keep teams stayed grounded and were a shining example of how those people living on the frontline of climate change defiantly adapt and survive whilst refusing to lash out and blame the rest of the world.
A lot of the teams talked about the overwhelming nature of the climate change debate – the monolithic challenge it represented to everyday folk. So they set about downsizing the goliath to a more manageable form.
One group led by high school teacher Soren Wuerth presented the simple idea ‘FUCK THE CLIMATE. SAVE THE HOOD’ as a strategy for engaging urban teenagers with climate change on a local, neighbourhood level where it might have a more direct connection with their daily lives.
Another team translated the task into an unexpected art form – ‘FLOW’ was a wordless, visceral response to climate change through the creation of a new dance. It reduced the issue to the fundamental rhythms of life, the breath of a person synced with the breathing of the planet, a percussive communion of limbs and life and elemental forces that ebbed and flowed like a restless landscape. It was a beautiful thing to witness, a global dance crazy waiting to take flight. Click and watch and pass it on. We all need to breathe in the flow of life.
Finally that idea about climate change and refugees and sex.
Sure it was shocking and provocative. The team acknowledged they’d been inspired by an Israeli film called ‘Would You Sleep With An Arab?’ but wanted to take the provocation even further. To go beyond the very real issues of trafficking and sex-slavery and challenge the people of Paris on a more universal basis, to reconnect with the humanity we all share, whether long-standing residents - or recently arrived refugees. And of course it did something else. It put the words ‘climate change’ and ‘refugees’ together. It car-crashed two worlds together that a lot of people still refuse to connect.
Understandably, it stirred up a lot of debate. That’s what strong ideas do.
In terms of a personal epiphany, that came courtesy of a man dressed up as a slightly raggedy Father Christmas: ‘Sustaina-Santa’ attended several workshops and provided useful dispatches from his life out in China, but the day his Factory Team produced an idea pointing out that ‘Consumption Is Climate Change’, something stuck with me. For several days it was an itch I couldn’t scratch.
It bugged me. There were anodyne posters around Paris featuring smiling, air-brushed families proclaiming ‘We are the Climate Change Generation’. They could have equally been the Pepsi-Max, iMac or Ben & Jerry’s Generation. They looked passive, neutered – like the things that happened to them just washed right over whilst they smiled patiently and waited for it to be over.
The posters were everywhere and they really bugged me. Not just because they packaged up climate change as another advertising prop, reducing it to a tool to flog a point of view (and there’s enough greedy and cynical car manufacturers already doing that) but because what they were saying was almost right. It was just missing one fundamental piece of the comms puzzle.
Then it struck me.
The message isn’t ‘WE ARE THE CLIMATE CHANGE GENERATION’ ie a group of bland stereotypes that just happen to be unfortunately living through a particularly unsteady moment in the planet’s history. Two distinct worlds joined by some embarrassing temperature changes.
No - the message is shorter, more to the point. It needs to be an admission of complicity. It needs to crash the two worlds together so there is no escaping our involvement in what is going on.
The message is simply, ‘WE ARE CLIMATE CHANGE’.
It exists because we do. It happens as a result of our actions. This is the moment when we have to stand up and confess. Take responsibility for our life styles. As any addict has to acknowledge ownership of their actions so we have to declare our authorship of climate change.
I worked with Paul on a new set of posters.
And I’m just putting the thought out there. Three months on from the Factory and its where my head is at.
BIG MACS ARE CLIMATE CHANGE. BERMUDA SHORTS ARE CLIMATE CHANGE. ART GALLERIES ARE CLIMATE CHANGE. WE ARE CLIMATE CHANGE.
The wall between the two worlds is dissolving. We need to make sure that means something. Words and ideas need to translate into everyday actions.
That’s why we set up THE POND. To keep the flow going, to channel all those wonderful ideas into real world change-makers.
Finally, back to the start and a little clarification on the title of this article: ‘Doomsday’ of course needs no explanation, but perhaps the ‘boiling frogs’ and ‘democratic bees’ are a little more of a mystery.
The title is in no way intended to be a sideways swipe at our French hosts, but rather it celebrates a rather wonderful piece of graphic storytelling we encountered by Camille Bissuel (nylnook.com ).
His ‘3 Boiled Frogs’ short graphic novel brilliantly takes the slow-burn climate change metaphor of a bunch of doomed amphibians not realising the gradual temperature increase of the water around them has set them on a fatal path, and transforms it into a charming bedtime storybook that could engage any eight year old with the issues we’re all facing. Two worlds cleverly meshed into one message.
When he presented it to the Creative Factory we were all spell-bound by the simplicity of the idea – and the humour of its delivery that nevertheless got a very serious point across.
It deserves to be translated into every language and become a mainstay of primary school teaching about the climate. The 3 Boiled Frogs should be our weekly oracle on all things climate-related.
As for the ‘democratic bees’ that was a theme explored by Jerome Veil, an activist bee-keeper at Miel de Quartier. More than a bee-keeper, he was a ‘planet-keeper’ offering the art of husbandry up-scaled to a planetary level and relying on the wisdom and collective intelligence of Nature’s billions of years of R&D.
It was a nice vision of an optimistic, connected future. Something that we are going to have work hard to realise and protect.
Chris Aldhous March 25th 2016
Co-Creator THE CREATIVE FACTORY/ FOREVER SWARM + Creative Catalyst
THE POND + Creative Director STRANGE CHEMISTRY Ltd
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