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10 green viral videos you should watch now

What is the sustainability world watching? These will keep you on top of the trends in climate innovation and activism, and inspire your communications efforts.

The ticker-tape nature of how we consume media today often allows for ideas to proliferate, but not to take root. As information sweeps across our social networks, we mindlessly click on a link, spend seconds on it and move on to the next piece of content.

Yet new forms of media coax you from just scolling by — such as animated GIFs, which offer quick shots of pop culture humor. And video is having a moment, thanks to the growing video capabilities of smartphones and the autoplay features on many social networks. 

When produced with appealing graphics and audio, quick editing and brevity, videos can tell a quick, memorable story. For those working in sustainability, videos can encourage employee or client engagement, whether to get the team up to speed on trends at the beginning of a meeting or to lighten the mood at a conference. 

Media companies are jumping on the video bandwagon, as evidenced by the deluge of new programming by Condé Nast, The New York Times Company, Hearst Magazines Digital Media, Vice and AOL/Verizon at the Digital Content Newfronts underway this week in New York. 

Each video below is a lesson in effective communication and green messaging.

1. The Future Starts Today

The WWF’s official video for Earth Hour 2016 puts the world in reverse from a "saved" future.

In an uncanny but dramatic style, an elderly woman in a little girl’s voice begins to list the highlights of humanity’s achievements: “In 2090 the world celebrated as we avoided a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees.” From there the punches keep coming as the narrator grows younger, Benjamin Button-style, and the rewind button is hit on the calving of a glacier and the felling of a tree. A coal plant’s emissions are sucked back into its smokestacks.

We travel from the future to the year 2016, marking the present as a turning point in history. The scene provides a hopeful vision of the future for the pessimists and a call the action to those dragging their feet.

2. Soil Solutions to Climate Problems

We all know that there’s too much carbon in the air, but do you know that there’s not enough in the earth?

This video from the Center for Food Safety, narrated by acclaimed journalist Michael Pollan, argues that soil is a secret weapon to solve climate change. The solution harkens back to grade-school diagrams of the carbon cycle: We need more photosynthesis, the tried-and-true system that sucks in CO2 from the air and sends it into the ground where it stays.

Healthy, carbon-rich soils also happen to be more fertile, biodiverse and resilient to erosion and drought. Plenty of land practices, such as composting or using cover crops when letting land lay fallow, that can recarbonize soils and decarbonize the air. The video was created to promote efforts for governments, organizations and companies to support the adoption of such better practices by creating an initiative for a multilateral policy to boost the amount of carbon in the soil by 0.4 percent every year.  

3. Open Your Eyes

“Every bit of plastic that has ever been created still exists,” says Jeff Bridges, using the Dude's matter-of-fact inflection from "The Big Lebowski" that manages to make "plastic" sound like a dirty word.

As a member of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, Bridges wants to bring attention to a part of our everyday lives that we don’t typically think of as problematic. He gives a long list of environmental and health concerns of our continued unfettered use of plastic, and then issues a call to action with the coalition’s REFUSE Campaign that could make you swear to never buy a single-use water bottle again.

4. Nature Is Speaking

Sometimes you have to return to the fundamentals in order to change a person’s entire world view. Conservation International's “Nature Is Speaking” video series aims to spark new reverence for nature by anthropomorphizing the elements and ecosystems.

With heavy-hitting celebrity narrators such as Julia Roberts as Mother Nature, Harrison Ford as the oceans, Kevin Spacey as the rainforest, Penélope Cruz as water and Robert Redford as the Redwood, “Nature Is Speaking” uses the power of a celebrity voice to propel environmental stewardship onto the screens of millions. The videos highlight the anthropogenic impacts to nature’s well-being, and each ends with the stinging warning: “Nature doesn’t need people.”

5. What People Get Wrong about Climate Change

Vox’s video follows the communications directive to “make it personal!” by connecting the dots between climate stability, the development of agricultural societies and civilization.

The video gives a perspective that extends back into the Paleolithic Age to show that mitigating climate change isn’t just about conserving an ecosystem or a particular endangered species, nor is it about living in a world where the air we breathe is exceedingly polluted. Rather, civilization itself is at stake since climate change could throw off the reliability of seasons necessary for growing crops.

6. Sustainability Illustrated

The “Sustainability Illustrated” series uses the engaging whiteboard animation style popularized by RSA Animate to explain CSR concepts.

Created by Alexandre Magnin, a sustainability consultant moonlighting as an illustrator, the videos cover topics such as natural capital, the business case for sustainability, the triple bottom line and most recently, a video on biomimicry. Concepts of sustainable business are explained with diagrams and helpful metaphors paired with real-world examples and annecdotes.

7. The Amazonian Tribespeople Who Sailed Down the Seine

This video by the Guardian follows members of the Kichwa people indigenous to Sarayaku in the Ecuadoran Amazon as they build a traditional canoe to paddle down the Seine River in Paris during COP21.

Since 2002 the Kichwa people have been waging a continued resistance against oil drilling plans that had been illegally sanctioned on their lands by the Ecuadorian government — which, in turn, depends on income from oil exports to pay the national debt. The tribe’s experience stoked them to send a delegation to Paris to present their "Living Forest" proposal, which states in no uncertain terms that the existence of a rainforest as a thriving biome is diametrically opposed to logging, mining and oil extraction efforts there.

The video clearly illustrates the often-forgotten cultural effects of destructive industries when they take place in someone’s home, and brings to the fore the absurdity of putting a price on a way of life.

8.  Carbon Pricing, Explained with Chickens

When concepts traditionally couched in esoteric vocabulary seem unnecessarily complicated, as is often the case when policy jargon seeps into the vernacular, a short vignette goes a long way.

This video put out by Earthfix Media tells a tale of two chickens to explain carbon pricing. It describes why a society should assign a price on the use of the shared atmosphere as a repository for carbon dioxide, and deftly explains the difference between a carbon tax and a cap-and-trade scheme.

Pitting a solar-powered chicken against a chicken grown on fossil fuels, the video explains why we can expect low-carbon renewable energy sources to become more cost effective when we make emitting carbon more expensive.

9. Network Earth

Produced by the Nature Publishing Group, this video brings data to life with graphics.

It  illustrates how the degree of resilience of an ecosystem is dependent upon a strongly interconnected network of diverse organisms. In a paper called “Universal resilience patterns in complex networks,” a new model has been developed that predicts the changes in the resilience of certain ecosystems as they encounter environmental changes. This model can then be used as a crystal ball to better predict and prevent ecosystem catastrophe.

10. Environmental Justice, Explained

This video from Grist spells out why sustainability and environmental justice are intertwined with social justice. It complicates the familiar narrative of a polluting homo sapiens versus a beautiful planet by showing that unsustainable policies and practices disproportionately impact the lives of the people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.

Where landfills and incinerators are built, where oil is drilled and coal is mined, and where there is a dearth of green space, that is often where the poor live. The video gives a quick run-down of how the effects of the pollution concentration around the poor affect their quality of life.

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