Get Woke Before It's Broke
The end stops here
Last month was 4.5 billionth birthday of the planet, apparently. You may have missed the party, but it was marked by the good people of Albert, the BBC/BAFTA-led consortium known as ‘the home of environmental sustainability for the UK screen arts’.
It was a nifty hook for the Albert gang to hang their incredibly important message on. It was also a timely moment to launch Planet Placement — an initiative created in conjunction with Futerra that gives producers and commissioners a step-by-step guide on how to blend environmental messages into the development of programming, from docs to scripted to kids. You can download it here: www.planetplacement.co.uk.
Albert held a whizzy reception at BAFTA for top production and commissioning people, the highlight of which was a speech by the remarkable Christiana Figueres. They were queuing down the street — a first for Albert, if not for Figueres. As you’ll know, she’s the UN’s top climate-change diplomat who was one of the chief architects of the historic 2015 Paris agreement and is now dedicated to saving the world from extinction through climate change.
And what an absolutely cracking signing Figueres was. She delivered in no uncertain terms the message that we have just 10 years to halve global carbon emissions or we are literally fried. What’s more, sustainability as a concept can only be managed after that target is reached.
So time really is up for our beautiful, embattled planet.
Since Figueres’ visit to BAFTA, the Extinction Rebellion movement has brought Central London to a standstill, and Greta Thunberg has visited our leaders today with her heartbreakingly simple message: if your house was on fire, you wouldn’t be sitting around talking about possible insurance policies. I’d strongly recommend following Kate Raworth, the renegade economist at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute (https://twitter.com/KateRaworth) to hear the latest thinking on the economic reforms that could provide some of the answers to the environmental emergency. And heed this word from central banks, finance fans: https://bit.ly/2DxHklP
Meanwhile, isn’t it time TV people got off the fence. We have the privilege of easy access to resources, skills and tools, plus the reach to change and challenge the collective mindset. Over the years, cash-strapped producers — and let’s be honest, even rich producers — have hidden behind the excuse that TV programmes about the environment are uncommissionable, unless they have a Blue Planet-sized budget and the sainted Sir David attached. I’ve also been told that programmes about human impact on our planet are simply not ‘sexy’ and that only people with bad hair wearing WWF badges (I don’t mean wrestling) want to make or watch them. They’ll be nothing remotely sexy unfortunately about fighting for food, water and oxygen.
On a positive note, there seems to have been a shift in culture. For far too long, anything that’s ‘good’ for people, society or the environment; anything that’s not rampantly capitalist and dedicated to the pursuit of growth and accumulation has been seen as Utopian nonsense. That at least seems to be changing as we face up to the scale and reality of the challenges ahead.
Our TV shows could do more than reflect society as it is. They could also show generosity and share visions of how we could run things in a way that’s more respectful and nurturing of our physical and social environment. Look no further than the role of TV soaps in changing society’s attitude to drink-driving, which is now seen as totally unacceptable. Powerful storylines in the likes of Emmerdale, EastEnders and Corrie have proved to be far more effective in recalibrating behaviour than finger-wagging ‘Don’t drink and drive’ campaigns. We could address many more problems in this way if we decided, collectively, to do so.
Albert’s Planet Placement guide is an effort to persuade our creative community that entertainment, far from being a diversion from the problem of planetary meltdown, can actually help us to avoid it. By intelligently folding behaviours and messages into the development of our entertainment, by contextualising the reality of the environmental crisis, we could help to change hearts, minds and attitudes. And we should certainly be trying.
I’m not a producer, so it would be great to hear from those of you that are on how useful Albert’s guide is, and how it could be evolved and improved. For my part, I want to listen carefully to all views. But most of all, I want to do something — and do it now. The inconvenient truth, as somebody once said, is that we have to reach those carbon-reduction targets in 10 years’ time. There really isn’t a plan B.
And nobody’s clearer than Christiana on this. Check her one-minute message here: