This Blogger is Over-capacity: We’ll be back soon!

Please bear with us while we're out makin' an honest living...

When Twitter experiences over-capacity (i.e. too many demands on its system), users see this delightful image. Known as the “fail whale” error message, it is an image created by Yiying Lu, an artist and a designer in Sydney, Australia. The New York Times Magazine called it ‘a successful failure’.

Well, I’m over-capacity too these days! That’s because I’m out there earning an honest living and that takes most of my waking hours. As a result, I’ve been blogging less and less in recent weeks. On such days, I have just enough energy for a quick tweet or two, but not for a fully-fledged blog post. (Yes, I take my blogging seriously.)

Sorry about that folks! I don’t look anything like the Fail Whale, although I’ve always been fascinated by these creatures. Right now, I’m as over-capacity as Twitter sometimes gets.

As Woody Woodpecker used to say: Don’t go away! We’ll be back soon….

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Saving Biodiversity…from Evolution’s Most Dangerous Creature!

The United Nations designated 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB). It is a celebration of biological diversity and its value for life on Earth, taking place around the world throughout the year 2010.

The 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 10) of the Convention on Biological Diversity is being held in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, from 18 to 29 October 2010.

To mark these twin events, we feature some short videos on biodiversity found online.

Official video of the International Year of Biodiversity 2010

This video, produced by our friends at dev.tv in Geneva for the CBD Secretariat, is superbly crafted and engagingly presented. It visualises the core message of IYB 2010:
Biodiversity is life
Biodiversity is our life

Biodiversity Countdown 2010 video
In the puzzle of life each element is essential. Man has the power to do good, do bad, destroy or protect. What will you do?

Nature Our Precious Web: A photo montage

The exhibition is the result of a collaboration between Geo Magazine, GTZ, Countdown 2010, the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Development Programme.

And finally, here’s an example of how not to produce a video on biodiversity. This 2006 film, made for the CBD Secretariat, has a good sound track and some excellent still photos. But it’s evidently been put together by a committee of UN agency officials and/or researchers who wanted to pack everything into 5 mins. The result – a wasted opportunity.

Political Satire: When making fun is no laughing matter

Paper paper shining bright...but for how long? Cartoon by Mike Luckovich

My regular readers know my deep interest in political satire, and fascination with cartoons of all kinds including those political. On this blog, we’ve also discussed the worldwide decline in mainstream journalism.

I’ve just blended my thoughts in these strands in my latest op ed essay, ostensibly a book review. It has just been published by Groundviews.org as Political Satire in Sri Lanka: When Making Fun is No Laughing Matter

Here are the opening paras:

Political satire is nothing new: it has been around for as long as organised government, trying to keep the wielders of power in check. Over the centuries, it has manifested in many oral, literary or theatrical traditions, some of it more enduring — such as Gulliver’s Travels and Animal Farm. And for over a century, political cartoonists have also been doing it with such brilliant economy of words. Together, these two groups probably inspire more nightmares in tyrants than anyone or anything else.

“Today, political satire has also emerged as a genre on the airwaves and in cyberspace, and partly compensates for the worldwide decline in serious and investigative journalism. Many mainstream media outlets have become too submissive and subservient to political and corporate powers. Those who still have the guts often lack the resources and staff to pursue good journalism.

“If Nature abhors a vacuum, so does human society — and both conjure ways of quickly filling it up. Into this ‘journalism void’ have stepped two very different groups of people: citizen journalists, who take advantage of the new information and communications technologies (ICTs), and political satirists who revive the ancient arts of caricaturisation and ego-blasting…”

In this essay, I revisit a question I first posed in my July 2009 blog post: News wrapped in laughter: Is this the future of current affairs journalism?

Read the full essay:
Political Satire in Sri Lanka: When Making Fun is No Laughing Matter

You might also like to look at these other related blog posts:

August 2009: The XYZ Show: New horizon in political satire on African TV, but room to grow?

Sep 2009: XYZ Show controversy: Kenyan politicians forgetting ‘Hakuna matata’?

Nature, Inc. TV series: Exploring the planet’s largest ‘enterprise’!

Nature is priceless -- or is i? The answer might save us all!
Nature is priceless — or is it?

If we put a cash price on the economic services that, say, watersheds or insects or coastal mangroves provide, would we value Nature more? Would we be prepared to change our ways of measuring wealth and economic growth? And if we did, would that slow down the extinctions and collapse of ecosystems?

These are some of the issues that are explored in Nature, Inc., a path-breaking TV documentary series that puts a price-tag on environmental services such as forests, wildlife and coral reefs.

First broadcast in 2008 and 2009 on BBC World News, Nature Inc. broke new ground for environmental programming by seeking out a new breed of investor – those who believe they can make money out of saving the planet.

Watch Nature, Inc. series trailer:

Nature Inc. offers new insights into valuing the benefits of natural systems and biodiversity. It takes its lead from economists who have worked out that ecosystem services are worth more than the total of all the world’s national economies.

The first and second series are now available from TVE Asia Pacific (TVEAP). Each series comprises six half-hour episodes, compacting stories filmed in different parts of the world. Broadcast, civil society and educational users across the Asia Pacific may order copies at the cost of duplication and dispatch, and without having to pay a license fee.

The series was produced by One Planet Pictures of the UK, in association with dev.tv of Switzerland.

“There is new green thinking out there and some of it is grappling with pricing renewable assets. As such we felt it was a legitimate new area to take as an organising theme for the new series,” says Robert Lamb, series producer of Nature, Inc. “Perhaps the global recession has made viewers more aware of the ‘eco’ in economics”.

Robert Lamb

The series is based on new research and analysis being done on the subject. Among these new studies is the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), a major international initiative to draw attention to the global economic benefits of biodiversity, to highlight the growing costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, and to draw together expertise from the fields of science, economics and policy to enable practical actions moving forward.

But adding a price tag to Nature is not something that pleases all scientists or activists. Robert says the producers received “an overwhelmingly positive reaction” to the first series, but there was also a small minority who wrote in to say they hated the premise of the whole series.

He adds: “That’s good, we want to foster discussion in Nature Inc. which is why we are encouraging viewers to contribute ideas for the next series.”

Read Robert Lamb’s reflections on the Making of Nature, Inc. TV series

Here’s a sample episode from the series, titled Coral Cashpoint. In this, Nature Inc investigates a claim that our coral reefs are worth $30 billion a year. In this fourth episode, we go diving on the Great Barrier Reef, the Maldives and to the bottom of the North Sea to find out how coral reefs supply 500 million of us with food and work. But we are destroying the reefs so quickly, they could vanish entirely in less than a hundred years.

Nature, Inc: Coral Cashpoint – Part 1 of 2

Nature, Inc: Coral Cashpoint – Part 2 of 2

No Pressure, Just Plain Stupidity: UK climate film scores ‘own goal’ for campaigners

Still from No Pressure film: We do live in The Age of Stupid!

Shock therapy is known to work, when handled carefully. We can sometimes shock people out of apathy or indifference, for sure — but the same shock, if overdone, can also numb people or turn them off completely.

That’s certainly the case with a new climate advocacy video film called No Pressure, released on 1 October 2010 by the by the climate mitigation campaign named 10:10.

Written by Richard Curtis and Franny Armstrong (who made the acclaimed 2009 climate documentary, The Age of Stupid) and directed by Dougal Wilson, the film is a tragi-comic attempt to ridicule those who don’t share the same level of concern on global climate change as the climate activists do.

The four-minute film consists of a series of short scenes in which groups of people are asked if they are interested in participating in the 10:10 project to reduce carbon emissions. Those failing to show sufficient enthusiasm for the cause, including two schoolchildren, are gruesomely executed by being blown to pieces.

Well, see for yourself. Caution: this video contains violent scenes that can be offensive to most sensible people:

The normally balanced UK’s Guardian newspaper, which got the online exclusive, introduced the video on 30 September 2010 calling it “attention grabbing” and “pretty edgy.” There were a few others who found artistic or creative merit in the film, which has got high production values — no basement production, this.

But where it fails miserably is in winning any new friends for the climate cause, or at lease to influence people to change their high carbon lifestyles.

Amdrew Revkin

As Andrew Revkin, who writes the Dot Earth blog for the New York Times, wrote on 1 October: “If the goal had been to convince people that environmental campaigners have lost their minds and to provide red meat (literally) to shock radio hosts and pundits fighting curbs on greenhouse gases, it worked like a charm.”

He isn’t alone. Bill McKibben, author, educator and environmentalist — who founded the serious climate group 350.org — wrote on the same day: “The climate skeptics can crow. It’s the kind of stupidity that hurts our side, reinforcing in people’s minds a series of preconceived notions, not the least of which is that we’re out-of-control and out of touch — not to mention off the wall, and also with completely misplaced sense of humor.”

His group, 350.org, issued a statement that emphatically said they had nothing to do with this misplaced British climate extremism. McKibben added, more reflectively: “What makes it so depressing is that it’s the precise opposite of what the people organizing around the world for October 10 are all about. In the first place, they’re as responsible as it’s possible to be: They’ll spend the day putting up windmills and solar panels, laying out bike paths and digging community gardens. And in the second place, they’re doing it because they realize kids are already dying from climate change, and that many many more are at risk as the century winds on. Killing people is, literally, the last thing we want.”

Bill McKibben

Now contrast such concern with the initial reaction from British film maker Franny Armstrong, who wrote a half-hearted, almost defiant apology on the 10:10 UK website, saying: “With climate change becoming increasingly threatening, and decreasingly talked about in the media, we wanted to find a way to bring this critical issue back into the headlines whilst making people laugh. We were therefore delighted when Britain’s leading comedy writer, Richard Curtis – writer of Blackadder, Four Weddings, Notting Hill and many others – agreed to write a short film for the 10:10 campaign. Many people found the resulting film extremely funny, but unfortunately some didn’t and we sincerely apologise to anybody we have offended.”

Adding gross insult to injury, Armstrong signed off saying: “As a result of these concerns we’ve taken it off our website. We won’t be making any attempt to censor or remove other versions currently in circulation on the internet.”

Both the 10:10 UK campaign and its sponsors Sony have been more unequivocal in their apologies in the days that followed. But that’s too little, too late. Enough damage done — climate activists and campaigners worldwide will take months, if not years, to live down this one.

And nothing really goes away on the web — this video will be lurking somewhere for a long time. YouTube currently carries the video in several places, with the warning: “This video or group may contain content that is inappropriate for some users, as flagged by YouTube’s user community.”

Andrew Revkins has posted comments from those who condemned as well as those who found some merit in the offensive climate video. Some of these comments take a dispassionate view, which is to be welcomed.

This incident teaches all of us engaged in environmental communication some important lessons. Environmentalists have over-stated their case before, and every time, that did them (and their causes) far more harm than good. Crying wolf, and ridiculing the non-believers, are never good tactics in winning friends or influencing people.

As Bill McKibben noted: “There’s no question that crap like this (video) will cast a shadow, for a time, over our efforts and everyone else who’s working on global warming. We’re hard at work, as always, but we’re doing it today with a sunk and sad feeling.”

One more thing: even in this age of globalised media, humour doesn’t travel well across cultures and borders. As mainstream corporate media companies have often found out, British humour sometimes doesn’t even cross the Atlantic very well — let alone to other parts of the world. Perhaps this is a key point that this all-British team of film makers and campaigners simply missed.

The world is a bit bigger — and more diverse — than your little island, Ms. Armstrong. By failing to grasp that, and with your crude display of insensitivity, you have really proved the premise of your good climate film.

We do live in the Age of Stupid.

PS: Marc Roberts says it all in this cartoon:

Et tu, Armstrong?