United Nations Secretary-General Challenges Hollywood to Sound the Alarm on Climate Change

UCLA Hammer Museum hosted a "Global Creative Forum" on February 22, bringing together United Nations representatives, environmental experts and entertainment industry leaders to brainstorm on the critical role Hollywood can play to communicate the urgent issues of global climate change.

Larry King, with trademark suspenders and dry wit, moderated panel discussions, and actor/UN Goodwill Ambassador Don Cheadle interviewed the gregarious UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Celebrities who participated included Edward Norton (UN Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity), Charlize Theron (UN Messenger of Peace), Ed Begley Jr., Djimon Hounsou, and musicians Kenna and Michael Franti. The audience also heard from two Nobel Laureates: Wangari Maathai (UN Messenger of Peace) and Rajendra Pachauri (Chairman of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

The full day began with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon warning that climate change is not a distant threat. "The impacts may be felt by you, your children and your grandchildren." He warned that should we fail to reverse the trend of climate change, our families "will have a miserable life." "I have traveled the world to see melting glaciers, disappearing lakes and disappearing species. Some believe we have 2 or 3 planets, but we don't. This is the planet we have to preserve and hand to future generations." The Secretary-General spoke of the message he has heard around the world from youth who argue that we have not inherited this planet from past generations but have borrowed it from future generations.

Ban Ki-Moon expressed his belief that world leaders have a moral obligation to preserve and protect the planet, but they often neglect this duty when they become hostage to interests of those who put them in power. Even leaders with the best intentions and a clear understanding of the dangers inherent in climate change, like President Obama, need great support to overcome the influence of those tied to the old, dangerous energy model of fossil fuels. Ban Ki-Moon implored Hollywood to provoke world leaders into action with the power of compelling and convincing messages told on screen. Hollywood has "the creativity, the knowledge, and the technology to communicate the threats of climate change. I urge you to use these skills to help humanity."

Ban Ki-Moon concluded on a positive note that the challenge to avert disaster is not insurmountable, but tied to the many benefits of a green economy. "As long as the sun exists, we have free energy. Development that is not sustainable is false because you can't make a profit without paying the bills." He stressed that it is up to the developed nations of the world to provide alternative energy technology to the developing world.

Rajendra Pachauri, a climate change scientist who shared the Nobel Prize with Al Gore, spoke about the difficulties scientists have in communicating the results of their work and welcomed Hollywood creatives to serve as messengers. He lauded the film An Inconvenient Truth for bringing attention to the issue of climate change, but said the film did not address what needs to be done to avert crisis. He regrets that the term Global Warming has become widespread when the effect of excess carbon in the atmosphere is irregular weather patterns of all extremes, not just warming.

Screening a trailer for the popular MTV documentary Summit on the Summit, Musician Kenna provided an example of how celebrity can draw attention to critical environmental issues. Kenna organized his celebrity friends to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in order to raise awareness and funds for clean drinking water. The result was an entertaining adventure documentary with "concept placement" concerning the issue of water shortage. Kenna argues that using the currency of celebrity to promote an idea can accelerate the mainstreaming of the idea into the public consciousness, and he encourages his friends to use their celebrity for the greater good.

Producer, writer, director Marshall Herskovitz most directly answered the Secretary-General's call for creative direction to address climate change. Herskovitz mentioned the Chevron Oil Company "Human Energy" advertising campaign, stating that the campaign is so slick "you would think they were solving climate change not creating it." With the fossil fuel interests investing so heavily in promoting their products, Herskovitz called for environmentalists to counter the fossil fuel industry claims with equally sophisticated messaging in the public service. He is soon to unveil his own such campaign. "Hollywood is the perfect conduit for the urgent message about climate change. We raise awareness all the time. We routinely take a film that nobody knows about and get 80 percent of the public to know about it in just 30 days. That's called marketing. We need to harvest Hollywood for climate change awareness."

See http://www.unep.org/ for more information about the environmental mission of the United Nations.