This post originally appeared on Mumbrella.
There are some other great articles about what we did at COP 21’s Fossil of the Day.
Buzzfeed’s “Meet The People Trolling The Fuck Out Of The Paris Climate Talks”
The Guardian’s Live Blog + “Australia wins ‘fossil of the day’ for Julie Bishop’s coal speech at Paris climate talks”
Slate “The Fossil of the Day Award Is the Best Part of the Paris Climate Summit”
There are two phrases that put people to sleep faster than “anthropogenic climate change”, the others are “Look at this picture of my kids” and “I think I have a rash”. For the last couple of weeks I had the challenge to make climate change sexy for the world’s media.
But that was the challenge faced each night by myself and the team from Woody at the COP climate conference in Paris. We were tasked with putting a Fossil Of The Day on stage in the middle of the conference centre. We presented to a live audience of media, conference delegates and bored security a diet jokes, and sketches to entertain and make sense of the negotiations that happened nightly in that conference centre, but with the intent to shame governments who were making complete arses of themselves.
The conundrum of course is that the importance of the COP21 Paris Agreement was inverse to how heinously boring Climate Change is. My job; distil the buckets of bullshit down to manageable bite size nuggets of bullshit.
The COP climate conferences are essentially the Olympics for policy wonks. Every night during the negotiations the members of the Climate Action Network would be dispatched to observe the talks first hand. CAN is an organisation of 950 NGOs from 110 countries, they’re full of the most hardened climate literate junkies.
Some of these people had been at the talks for over 20 years, they mostly spoke in English, however the language they speak is cluttered with so many acronyms to the untrained ear it sounds like they’re all learning the alphabet for the first time.
They’d honorably stay up all night, observe negotiations bicker over the bare minimum they’d be willing to do to prevent the end of civilisation, semantics, syntax, and the placement of punctuation. Hollywood has us believe that the end of the world will end with a huge explosion, but if this agreement goes wrong, the world will end with a 23 year long protracted argument about the definition of “differentiation”.
During the CAN Daily meeting, around 300 members gathered to share the intel on the negotiations from the night before, and would nominate who would win the Fossil each day. At this point 30 minutes of debate, arguing, and sometimes tears would ensue. Members would then vote on the merit of the Fossil nomination, a highly tedious democratic process that makes dictatorships look appealing.
I would then have roughly 2 hours for the CAN members to break down the issue for me, point by point, then I would translate it to something a normal person could understand and write 10-15 minutes of jokes to go with it. Writing in Google Docs to allow contributors to chime in at the same time, and with a Slack window open ordering quick turn around graphics from the Woody production team.
We then would then put on a show; try to make it loud, funny and visually interesting, just something big and shiny enough for a tv journalist to turn into a 90 second news package.
And unlike the jokes I’ve cracked throughout the most of my career the effect was immediately tangible. After receiving a fossil on the first day of the COP, Belgium changed their position on signing onto the EU targets after receiving 48 hours of negative media coverage based on the shame of being awarded a Fossil Of The Day.
Argentina received a Fossil for promoting the new ambitious 1.5° target, but at the same time, during that day’s parliament was voting on the nationalisation of coal assets. The vote failed under the pressure from the opposition, after press from the Fossil of The Day reached Buenos Aires, the nationalisation didn’t go through, the coal assets will probably be stranded and the country committed to more aggressive funding for renewables.
Even Saudi Arabia, a country with a press as free as a bird trapped in cage, in quicksand, in a dungeon, received the Fossil of The Day three days in a row. Rumor has it Saudi negotiators got a call from a frustrated King Salman, who basically said “look I’ve been reading BuzzFeed tone it down a notch”. When it comes to the Saudi’s that’s a radical progressive shift in policy.
Very rarely do you get an opportunity to do Kardashian jokes that have such an immediate effect on public policy. The COP is such a walled ecosystem of politics, lobbyists, and NGOs, and “civil society” it’s understandable that the information coming out of it is dense and perplexing, it was an absolute privilege to take that two weeks of bullshit in Paris and make it palatable to audiences around the world.
I once did a gig with Rod Quantock who when asked why he does so many joke about climate change said “because if I don’t, there’ll be nothing else to make jokes about.”