Behind the scenes of the plan to save the planet


Kaia Rose knew she didn’t know enough about what the world is doing to solve cli­mate change, so she’s mak­ing a film (in sev­er­al parts, pre­sent­ed on YouTube) for young peo­ple like her to watch and learn. And it’s become a record of the steps up to the piv­otal meet­ing about the fate of the plan­et, which starts at the end of next mon­th in Paris. 

Rose’s project is a fas­ci­nat­ing tour of peo­ple and orga­ni­za­tions com­ing togeth­er over the course of 2015 to ham­mer out an agree­ment that can be approved in Decem­ber, and set the world on a path of hope. Ang­ie Koo talked to Kaia to find out how she got start­ed ear­lier this year, what it’s been like, and what she plans next:


What moti­vat­ed you to make the series? Who did you want to tar­get to watch it?

It’s fun­ny when you look back because it’s like, “When did that idea pop into my head?” I moved to New York to start mak­ing films that were more polit­i­cal­ly engaged, social­ly engaged. I have always been very polit­i­cal­ly mind­ed and just work­ing in ani­ma­tion wasn’t ful­fill­ing that side of me. So I took a cou­ple MOOCs (Mas­sive Open Online Cours­es), three cours­es online given by SDSN (Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Solu­tions Net­work) and they were all on cli­mate change.

This was just a year ago. It was inter­est­ing because I knew cli­mate change was a big issue. I knew it was bad and I thought we were a bit doomed. Then I start­ed tak­ing the­se class­es and I didn’t real­ize there was this big con­fer­ence com­ing up. I didn’t know about COP (Con­fer­ence of the Par­ties). I’d heard of the Kyoto Pro­to­col but I didn’t know that it was part of COP. I didn’t know 2015 was being called this “Our Last Chance” kind of thing and so the way the MOOCs, espe­cial­ly the Cli­mate Change Sci­ence and Nego­ti­a­tion, talked about this COP was “if we start now, we can real­ly thin that curve of emis­sions. We can do it. We just have to do it.”

I thought, “Well, why aren’t we doing it and why don’t I know this? I’m the audi­ence that should know about this because I’m polit­i­cal­ly mind­ed and I care, and I just had no idea.” I lis­ten to the news. I read the news. I may not watch cable news but I feel like I’m pret­ty tuned in and aware, and I just had no idea. I start­ed talk­ing to friends and none of us knew.

So that’s real­ly what start­ed it. I should do some­thing on this; I should make some­thing. I decid­ed on New Years that I am going to be in Paris, doing some­thing. I don’t know what, but that’s my deci­sion. Then this video series devel­oped through talk­ing to peo­ple. It was going to be a film, but then I real­ized it would be more inter­est­ing and more up to date if it was build­ing aware­ness as it went and updat­ing because it was so much about this time lead­ing up to COP21 and rais­ing aware­ness about it.

So the audi­ence is fol­low­ing along with you.

The main audi­ence I had in mind were peo­ple who were in my posi­tion. I guess the mil­len­ni­al gen­er­a­tion. I nev­er real­ly know who is in that gen­er­a­tion but [they are] usu­al­ly younger peo­ple who care about cli­mate change, would get involved if they knew what was going on, and who are turned off by the old nar­ra­tive of doom and gloom. 

All of the cli­mate change doc­u­men­taries I had seen, which there were not that many actu­al­ly, were about how bad it’s going to be or say­ing [cli­mate change] is hap­pen­ing. I thought, “I know. I know that. I don’t need…” 

Then you just think that you need to unplug from mod­ern soci­ety and go live in the woods because you’re part of the prob­lem. You start feel­ing guilty and hor­ri­ble about things like, “Do you know how much ener­gy your phone uses?”

You can’t go trav­el. You can’t real­ly eat any­thing that’s not local or sus­tain­able. You can’t dri­ve.

Exact­ly! Exact­ly. You end up feel­ing real­ly dis­em­pow­ered. I think trav­el­ing is impor­tant and I would just feel guilty when I trav­el. Then I wouldn’t feel like I could do any­thing and I also wouldn’t feel inspired to do any­thing because I felt so bad about it all. That was the nar­ra­tive I was stuck get­ting. If you say a film about cli­mate change, every­one thinks, “ Oh, it’s going to be depress­ing.” I want­ed to change that and skip over the whole debate about if it’s hap­pen­ing or not. I wasn’t inter­est­ed in that. 

So I start­ed with the fact that it’s hap­pen­ing. What are we doing about it? What can we do? What are we doing? What do we need to do? Why isn’t it hap­pen­ing? [I want­ed it to be] very solu­tions-based and very ratio­nal. We’re in this cri­sis; we have the tools, tech­nolo­gies, and the basic ideas of how we can get out of this cri­sis. So how do we do that, and if we aren’t doing that, why aren’t we doing that? How do we as citizens—how do I find a way of help­ing make it hap­pen?

I remem­ber you men­tion­ing in the video that we have the mon­ey and we have the tech­nol­o­gy; we just aren’t polit­i­cal­ly will­ful enough to make the changes that we need to. That’s a pes­simistic thought, that we have every­thing we need but what’s stop­ping us is our­selves.

Yes. That quote helped me struc­ture upcom­ing episodes because I felt that gives us three areas of focus. You need the mon­ey. So where is the mon­ey? Where do we need to be and what’s that gap? So I know there’s the gap of the Green Cli­mate Fund – there are gaps still there. How are peo­ple work­ing to gath­er the mon­ey and put it in the right places? As for the tech­nol­o­gy, where are we in all the­se dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies that we need: renew­ables, bat­ter­ies, car­bon cap­ture? I know the terms, but I don’t real­ly know what’s scal­able.

Or what’s prac­ti­cal?

Yes, exact­ly. So where are we in that? Where do we need to be and what’s the gap? 

As for polit­i­cal will, where are we and what are peo­ple doing to build polit­i­cal will? I feel that this is prob­a­bly the place where most cit­i­zens can make a real­ly big dif­fer­ence. The pop­u­la­tion and cit­i­zen­ry can build polit­i­cal will. They can push polit­i­cal will in the right way.

To fol­low that up, do you think enough peo­ple fol­low cli­mate change news? If not, why? Peo­ple in my cir­cle who fol­low it have stud­ied it or were involved in envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions in col­lege. Then I have friends who are fair­ly well edu­cat­ed, keep up with the news, and know that cli­mate change is hap­pen­ing, but they don’t care to do much about it, or find out more about it…

I think that’s social. I jumped into the cli­mate world and so now, I have a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive from where I was before. I’m not an out­sider but I still feel a lit­tle bit like an out­sider. I def­i­nite­ly think [cli­mate change is] grow­ing in the pub­lic con­scious­ness, but actu­al­ly I think the prob­lems are grow­ing in the pub­lic con­scious­ness. You say droughts in Cal­i­for­nia and peo­ple think cli­mate change. Hur­ri­cane Sandy. Cli­mate Change. Peo­ple are mak­ing the links but I feel that the solu­tions, prac­ti­cal solu­tions, aren’t so much in the pub­lic con­scious­ness.

For instance, solar; peo­ple know about solar or wind. But I didn’t real­ize bat­ter­ies, bat­tery stor­age, and smart grids are just as impor­tant, if not more impor­tant right now. We can’t just have a bunch of solar pan­els. We still have to fig­ure out the grid. So the­se areas, new ways of using mon­ey to invest, or ways of using the lit­i­ga­tion sys­tem to do things are all real­ly inno­v­a­tive solu­tions that peo­ple are work­ing on that I don’t feel like are in the pub­lic con­scious­ness.

Anoth­er thing that start­ed us off and I think is miss­ing is that we’re in a cri­sis, but we have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to become a sus­tain­able soci­ety and that’s real­ly excit­ing. There are real­ly cool things being done and I feel like [with] our gen­er­a­tion, it is cool to be green or sus­tain­able.

Like a new trend. 

Yes. I feel like with all of those tech­nolo­gies, [it’s bet­ter] if you got peo­ple to look at cli­mate change or cli­mate action as an excit­ing pos­si­bil­i­ty of how to make our soci­ety bet­ter and not just avert­ing doom. 

If you phrase it as we have to avert doom, peo­ple think, “Ugh.” Where­as if it’s about how we’re going to have elec­tric cars or green roofs, peo­ple think, “That’s cool and awe­some.” Then it fol­lows that if we’re going to have elec­tric cars, we need to first clean up the grid because that is what makes sense. Then what are we miss­ing from there? Oh, bat­ter­ies! Who­ev­er invents the next type of bat­tery is going to be a bazil­lionare. Kids going to uni­ver­si­ty say­ing, “I’m going to work on bat­ter­ies.” That’s excit­ing and dif­fer­ent.

I feel like there’s so many excit­ing entry points. That’s what I’m hop­ing with the series, that I’m intro­duc­ing all of the dif­fer­ent facets of how we solve this prob­lem and each per­son can find their own lit­tle entry point. Not just, “Oh god, I got to do some­thing, let’s do that.” It’s more about, “That’s real­ly inter­est­ing, I’m inspired by that. I want to work on that.” I feel like it’s such an over­ar­ch­ing issue. It real­ly con­nects every­thing. It under­lies so much. No mat­ter what you’re inter­est­ed in, you can be work­ing on some­thing to solve this prob­lem just by rear­rang­ing the way you think about it. 

Okay, so what am I? Me? I’m a film­mak­er, so I’m not going to invent the next bat­tery. What can I do? Well, I can make a web-series about this. Who knows how much it’s impact­ed on me but I’m real­ly enjoy­ing it. I’m find­ing it inspir­ing and invig­o­rat­ing.

Filmmaker Kaia Rose (Photo: Angie Koo)

Film­mak­er Kaia Rose (Pho­to: Ang­ie Koo)

I’ve learned a lot from your series. I stud­ied Kyoto. I didn’t know much about Copen­hagen, and I heard about Paris this past sum­mer, but didn’t know how it all inter­con­nect­ed.

Thank you. We’ve been hav­ing good feed­back; it’s real­ly nice. It’s been used in a class at Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin. A guy’s using it for his UNFCCC (Unit­ed Nations Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change) class; it’s great. It seems like it’s hit­ting the right tone I want­ed. I was talk­ing to my mom the oth­er day. She was talk­ing to one of her real­ly good friends and said, ”Oh, have I sent you Kaia’s web-series about cli­mate change?” The friend then said, “Oh, it’s going to be depress­ing, isn’t it?” My mom then said, “No, it’s not, actu­al­ly.”

That’s what I was real­ly aspir­ing to do, mak­ing it acces­si­ble, engag­ing, inter­est­ing, and not exclu­sive. Since I’m learn­ing as well, I fig­ure if I get it, the audi­ence will be able to get it. I’m not on the inside of this and the way I like to work out prob­lems is by think­ing, “How do the­se pieces inter­link? This needs that, and that needs that. That needs that, so that kind of goes back to this and that’s inter­est­ing.” You start to see how the puz­zle starts to fit togeth­er bet­ter.

A thought just came to me. Peo­ple are talk­ing about Mars and how we can go to Mars. If we don’t change and become a sus­tain­able soci­ety, we’re going to do the same thing to Mars when we get there. 

I know. There’s that quote peo­ple have been say­ing a lot, “There is no plan B, because there is no plan­et B.” Then the next day, we find water on Mars! Here I am think­ing, “Oh no! I think we should stop say­ing [that quote] because there might actu­al­ly be a plan­et B and we don’t want that. We want to try to fix plan­et A.

The thing is we can. We can, actu­al­ly. It is def­i­nite that cli­mate change is hap­pen­ing. It’s def­i­nite­ly hav­ing an effect. It def­i­nite­ly will con­tin­ue to have effects. So it’s not like we can stop it from hap­pen­ing. There’s going to be a lot of dis­as­ters and that’s all true, but we can [fix it]. It’s just a mat­ter of sur­vival and not sur­viv­ing. It seems like a real­ly sim­ple answer, you know what I mean? “Do we want to sur­vive as a soci­ety or not? We do? Well okay, we need to actu­al­ly do some­thing, so let’s just do.” 

With Kyoto and Copen­hagen, every­one came togeth­er and decid­ed there what to do. Now at Paris, the coun­tries have to sub­mit their IND­Cs (Intend­ed Nation­al­ly Deter­mined Con­tri­bu­tions) before­hand. So my ques­tion is, what is going to hap­pen in Paris then? Are they going to dis­cuss and then they hag­gle over their plans?

There’s def­i­nite­ly a lot of nego­ti­a­tions still going on. I think what’s inter­est­ing about Paris, from what I under­stand, is that it real­ly is a dif­fer­ent approach to the ear­lier COP process. Peo­ple say that the COP process has been going for  21 years and they haven’t been able to solve it yet, which is true. But Copen­hagen and Kyoto were top-down approach­es and Paris is much more bot­tom-up. It’s get­ting coun­tries to be more invest­ed in the solu­tion by hav­ing them own the solu­tion, rather than telling them what to do. 

It’s like, you tell us what you can do and we’re going to bring every­one togeth­er.

So the INDCs—actually, today is the dead­line for the IND­Cs. So they’re going to do a report by the end of the mon­th about where those are so we’ll know the lev­el of ambi­tion.

[The good news is that coun­tries have sub­mit­ted them; the bad news is that we’re still shy of the 2°C tar­get. For an exam­ple of the process, you can see India’s recent­ly sub­mit­ted INDC doc­u­ment here.]

It is con­fus­ing as [the coun­tries have] all dif­fer­ent tar­get years, base years, and meth­ods, so they’re going to pro­duce a report. The way the text is right now in Paris, there are two kinds of groups. One has a whole group of issues we don’t know where any of which should goes. Basi­cal­ly peo­ple want to fight for issues to get it out of that [group] to go in either an agree­ment or a deci­sion.

There’s a whole Paris pack­age that they’re still decid­ing what it’s going to look like. It’ll include the IND­Cs, a financ­ing ele­ment, the agree­ment, and  some kind of cli­mate action plan, which includes busi­ness­es, indus­tries, and and civil soci­ety. As I under­stand it, the deci­sion is pre-2020 action and the agree­ment is post-2020 action. But that’s all very in flux.

It all seems very vague. I’m try­ing to wrap my head around it. 

It is pret­ty vague, but I think it’s pret­ty vague because they haven’t decid­ed yet what each doc­u­ment should be, so that’s up in the air. Every­one sub­mit­ted the IND­Cs but the big con­tentious issues are whether loss and dam­age is in the agree­ment and there are peo­ple that are work­ing to try get car­bon pric­ing in. A lot of nego­ti­a­tion is going to be financ­ing, who is going to pay for what.

Do all the nations have to agree?

The thing about the UNFCCC is that they rely on con­sen­sus so that’s why things move so slow­ly. You have almost 200 coun­tries com­ing from very dif­fer­ent domes­tic agen­das and capa­bil­i­ties. There’s this con­tentious issue of respon­si­bil­i­ty and capac­i­ty. Who’s most respon­si­ble for car­bon emis­sions? His­tor­i­cal­ly, they have been the devel­oped coun­tries. Who has the capac­i­ty to do more? The­se are also main­ly the devel­oped [coun­tries], but then also Chi­na.

Who can help devel­op­ing nations finan­cial­ly and with tech­nol­o­gy? How do we work togeth­er to get this done? Who has the most respon­si­bil­i­ty and who has the most capac­i­ty? That’s all very touchy.

[And this very issue has been hold­ing up the last min­ute prepa­ra­tions, on the issue of cli­mate adap­ta­tion and mit­i­ga­tion finance for poor coun­tries.]

Is there a chance the nations won’t agree to it? If so…

I don’t think—I mean, I guess there’s a chance, but I think they’ll get an agree­ment. They’re work­ing very hard to make sure there’s an agree­ment. The lev­el of ambi­tion, I think, is what we’re not sure on. It might be an agree­ment that every­one agrees on, but it’s not that ambi­tious. When I was in Bonn, it was inter­est­ing because it’s a real­ly dif­fer­ent atmos­phere when you’re there and in the room with about 200 peo­ple, each rep­re­sent­ing a whole coun­try.

I wish I could have seen footage of that. 

I know, I know! We can’t film inside the room but they’re lit­er­al­ly like group edit­ing a text. If you can imag­ine even try­ing to do that with a group of 200 stu­dents, all agree­ing how some­thing is writ­ten is just like…

I think I get it. We have some­thing very sim­i­lar at my col­lege where we revise our school Con­sti­tu­tion every year and requires ⅓  of the stu­dents to be there. It’s just a word doc­u­ment that they’re edit­ing and it requires can eas­i­ly over an hour for one sen­tence to change.

Yeah. So it’s basi­cal­ly like that, but on a glob­al scale and with the fate of the world. It’s kind of mind-bog­gling but when I walked away from Bonn, and oth­er peo­ple are talk­ing about this as well, but I think we have to put the UN and the UNFCCC in the right con­text. The pow­er that they have is to con­vene. They have amaz­ing con­ven­ing pow­er. They can bring almost all the coun­tries of the world togeth­er to talk about how we’re going to address cli­mate change and to agree that we need to address cli­mate change. That’s huge. And the fact that they got so many coun­tries to sub­mit their INDCs—actually, that’s nev­er hap­pened before that you have many coun­tries say­ing this is what we’re going to do to reduce our emis­sions. Even if it doesn’t add up to enough, that’s kind of amaz­ing. There’s some­thing in that I think, and peo­ple will say that’s not enough but they [the U.N.] don’t real­ly have a lot of legal pow­er to say you have to do this. They’re try­ing to con­struct this in a way so that coun­tries are part of the deci­sion mak­ing process and real­ly want to be involved in it. 

Anoth­er issue that they’ll talk about in Paris is the mon­i­tor­ing, the record­ing, how to make sure coun­tries car­ry through, and also how to work in increas­ing the ambi­tion lev­el over time. There’s talk every 5 years, check­ing back in on the plans, reassess­ing, and try­ing to increase [the ambi­tion]. I think the peo­ple orga­niz­ing COP21 are very deter­mined to get a good agree­ment and they know that it is not going to be as ambi­tious as it needs to be. So they’re try­ing to fig­ure how do we gal­va­nize non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions, like busi­ness and indus­try, civil soci­ety, and also like sub-nation­al lead­ers to help raise the ambi­tion after Paris. 

Also, how do they build into the agree­ment a way that the ambi­tion increas­es over time? They don’t want this to be the top of what we do; this to be the bot­tom of what we do. This is where we start. Then we’re going to need to go on from there and get bet­ter and bet­ter.

[This is part one of a two part inter­view about the cre­ation of Kaia Rose’s new web series on COP21: Cli­mate Count­down]