How the open source culture could impact climate change

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Ever wonder what you get when you leverage the power of the open source culture to combat global warming? I didn't. Until I heard about Coalition of the Willing--an animated film about an online war against global warming in a post-Copenhagen world. This is collaboration, participation, and meritocracy coming together to tackle a world-wide issue.

We got a chance to catch up with Timothy Rayner, a writer and philosopher based in Sydney, Australia, and asked him to tell us more about this project. He wrote Collation of the Willing with British film-maker Simon Robson. I exchanged a few emails with Tim, we chatted  on the phone, and I couldn't  wait to share Coalition of the Willing with the opensource.com community.

This collaborative effort intends to raise awareness about global warming—exposing the reality of the situation by removing the political propaganda and using the open source way to tackle a problem that impacts every human being on Earth. We put Timothy Rayner on the hot seat and encourage you to watch the video at the end, then spread the word.

1) Tell us about the Coalition of the Willing.

Coalition of the Willing is a short film and collaborative project. Simon Robson and I started the project in 2008 with a plan to make an issue film about global warming. Rather than riff on the message of The Inconvenient Truth, we decided to make an animated short about open source culture and the role it could play in the war on global warming. We imagined this as a film for 2012 or 2015. I wrote the script with Simon, who directed and produced the film. Simon assembled two dozen top animators from the UK, Europe, the USA, and Australia to bring the ideas to the screen. The evolution of the project was assisted by a joint presentation in New York at the F5 Creativity Festival (April 2009). It was here that we met many of the people who came to be involved in the project.

The most remarkable feature of the film is its collaborative execution. Once we had a script, Simon divided the film into 32 sections. After F5, Simon apportioned sections to different studios, who worked independently on their parts, timing the animation to coincide with a voice-track recorded by Simon. Really, it wasn’t until the whole film was completed that any of us had a sense of how (or if!) the sections would work together. Some animation teams completed one section; others completed a string or sequence of sections. Each team employed a different, divergent, style of animation to the rest. The result is an anarchic collage of styles and themes that aptly expresses the underlying message of the film, which is that collaboration can achieve incredible things!

We made the film in order to intervene in contemporary debates on climate action. For the millions of dollars that environmental campaigns have spent on pressuring governments to take action on climate change, little has been achieved. It is time for a new strategy. Political, technological, and cultural developments make this the perfect moment to explore an open source approach to global warming. We wouldn’t need to drum up enthusiasm for using the internet as a vehicle for social change: nonprofits are leading the field in social media adoption. We probably wouldn’t even need to build the sites that we describe in the film in order to get a prototype system off the ground: approximations of these sites already exist. The challenge lies in finding creative ways to link sites with different functions, so to place different audiences in touch with one another and to enable them to work in concert. This is a golden opportunity for developers that is crying out for realization.

2) Help our readers make the connection between Coalition of the Willing and the open source way.

We believe that open source culture has the potential to transform the war on global warming by creating the conditions for a creative swarm offensive. Think of how the 60s counterculture transformed the culture and society of its time. The countercultural movement was made up of various different groups and struggles: the civil rights movement, the peace and student movements, the hippies, feminists, and so on. All of these struggles were pushing in slightly different directions.  Yet, all of them were all pushing in the direction of social change, away from the culture and world of their parents’ generation. This is what made the counterculture more than the sum of its parts – in a word, a swarm. The counterculture swarmed the 60s status quo and transformed it from the bottom up.

The open source way has the potential to catalyse a comparable culture shift on a global scale. There are currently a vast number of groups and online organizations pushing for social change in response to global warming, but they have failed to cohere into a global movement. What is lacking is a common point of focus that is [1] enabling and empowering for all involved, and [2] revolutionary in the sense of representing something that could change the world. The open source way meets both these criteria. Why not set up an online network, based in open source principles, to facilitate a new generation war on global warming? This is what we propose in the film. The 60s radicals drew strength from their common struggle. The open source way could unite contemporary struggles into a global movement – a movement to change, and perhaps even save, the world.

3) I understand that you're getting some mainstream attention from the likes of MTV and others? How has that helped the project?

The week after the June release was surreal. MTV Europe blogged on the film. Ashton Kutcher tweeted the film to his millions of fans. The manager of LA band Maroon 5 got in touch to ask how the band might help with the project. It was a shock, to be honest. Simon and I hadn’t anticipated much mainstream attention. None of it would have happened if the Guardian website hadn’t put the film on its environment page a couple of days after the release. Our Vimeo viewing counter recorded 10000 hits the day the Guardian posted the film – a major bump. All in all, Coalition of the Willing had an extraordinary reception for a self-funded film coming out of theoretical left-field.

The mainstream attention has certainly helped get our message out to a broad audience. At the same time, it has helped us define our core audience, which is a mix of designers, developers, activists, and thought leaders. Interestingly enough, when Ashton Kutcher passed the word around on Twitter, our Vimeo hits went through the roof, but our ‘likes’ were approximately 30% of what they had been when the Guardian posted us. Ashton liked us, but his audience was less sure. Ultimately, a provocative thought piece like Coalition of the Willing is not going to appeal to everyone.  

4) How did you collaborate with 24 artists from around the world?

Simon and I were invited to speak about Coalition of the Willing at the F5 Creativity Festival in New York when the project was in its early stages. In his closing remarks, Simon put out a call to anyone in the audience who’d like to help on the project: meet us at the bar. We thought that maybe one or two takers might step forward. We were literally swarmed by respondents. It took our breath away.

5) What's next for Coalition of the Willing?

Since the release, we’ve been contacted by a number of organizations keen to partner with the project. The result is that we’ve managed to assemble an incredibly diverse list of contacts. At this point, we are still talking to people and figuring out what we can do together. It is too early to say what will come out of it, but the future looks bright for Coalition of the Willing.

Right now, we are incubating a Coalition blog to get some of these people and groups talking to one another. In the coming months, we’ll be inviting people to contribute to the blog, and to join in a discussion of what an open source enviro-action platform might look like. We’d like to see a community emerge that is cross-platform, cross-initiative, cross- all the existing efforts. We are trying to craft a unique identity – green activism meets open source culture – and to use this as a basis for further projects down the line.

Meanwhile, Simon is putting together subtitled versions of the film. We have French, German, Spanish, and Chinese subtitles on the way. We are also crowdsourcing translations on a Coalition wiki. So far, our community has completed Portuguese, Italian, Serbian, and Romanian translations, which is amazing! The enthusiasm people have brought to the translation wiki is incredibly inspiring. If we could inspire a similar level of enthusiasm among developers for the open source website project described in the film, the vision of Coalition of the Willing could easily become a reality.

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5 Comments

honeymak's picture
Open Enthusiast

we need The Earth 2.0
^_^

Anders Feder's picture

Very impressive video! Not sure if framing it in socialist terminology is necessarily conducive to the goal, though. I mean, who the heck talks about 'capitalists' anymore?

2wheeler's picture

Bioneers, biomimicry institute and TED would be natural partners on something like this. I sense that the (r)evolution is already happening, just not in the graphical way shown in the video.
There is also the possibility of a swarm of ignorant misinformed climate deniers, "you betcha mama grizzlies". or of other destructive hater-remakers of the word according to some other, fascist recipe book. The 60s were a turbulent time and we're lucky it was not more woodstock-y up-in-smoke.
Technology has increased in speed exponentially since the 60s, the challenge is to channel the flash-mob potential positively at all times, while staying back from global resource and system tipping-points. It may be too late already for biodiversity, unfortunately... climate change is just one symptom of the sixth extinction underway (anthropogenic).

Jörn Hendrik Ast's picture

Nice interview Tim! Liked the bits of information behind the scenes. The "making of coalition"! ;)

I just wanted to give my little something to motivate every reader here to collaborate. Since watching the film I am totally amazed by the idea of "changing via collaboration". I then posted some comments on vimeo and they almost imediately catche dup with me. We're now a team of volunteeers from all over the world. Chicago, Mexico City, Hamburg, Hong Kong it's awesome. As a first collaborative work the coalitionblog came to live a few days ago (http://coalitionblog.org) which again was a collaborative and volunteering work from software developers in germany.

I am pretty energized and optimistic about the message of changing by using the web and creativity of volunteers worldwide. Will be sticking to it! See you around?
;)

Michael Maranda's picture

First a bit of disclosure - I've been supporting Tim with the Coalition Blog, and we coauthored the first statement on Open Stewardship there.

I'd like to draw everyone's attention to our "next steps" beyond the video -- we're convening Coalition Movement Camp - 10-10-10 - Work Party, in solidarity with the 350.org campaign.

Here's the invite:
http://www.coalitionblog.org/2010/09/coalition-movement-camp-1010-10-work-party/

While the film addresses the green movement and suggests a new model for coordination of efforts and knowledge sharing globally, the model would be applicable throughout the Social Benefit Sector, and it's development would interest all who are committed to Social Justice and an Open Internet Ecology.

We welcome everyone's involvement!