In class with David Attenborough: active participation in the time of social media

Sir David Attenborough is one of the most important science communicators of our time. Mostly known for his natural history programmes on BBC, he has recently turned his attention to the climate change issue. For this reason, he was invited to participate to the COP24 opening ceremony taking place in Katowice, Poland, on December 3rd 2018.

The well-known British journalist opened his address by citing the preamble of the Charter of the United Nations: “We the people of the United Nations”. By doing so, he highlighted how these words give people centre stage and promise to give voice to all the people that live on our planet and are confronted with the consequences of human-induced disasters. “Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years: climate change”, Mr Attenborough stressed. And added: “At this crucial moment, the United Nations has invited the world’s people to have their voice heard, by giving them a seat”.

He therefore presented the “Take your Seat” initiative. By using social media, millions of people were allowed for the first time to take part at COP – one of the most important events of our time- even before it started and to make their voice being heard. Through the #Takeyourseat hashtag, ordinary people had the chance to send their video in response to Sir Attenborough’s call. He invited everybody to share their stories and experiences as a way to influence the negotiations and decisions made here at COP24.

We also had the opportunity to listen to what Sir Attenborough had to say not only on climate change, but also on the importance of science communication and of individual responsibilities. Sir Attenborough invited world leaders to be more aware of what is happening outside of the conference rooms, where rules and protocols are often negotiated without thinking about the men, women and children that are actually suffering from climate change impacts. He also addressed all the people like him that are in the position of using media and can employ them to send out powerful rather than trivial messages. These people have the responsibility to educate the sceptics towards the need for a change, and to become witnesses of the truth and the extraordinary beauty of our endangered nature.

Following the People’s Seat address yesterday morning, the bot ActNow was launched on Facebook Messenger as a tool for helping people to discover simple everyday actions that they can take so to reduce their climate change impact. As Sir David would say: “A change is possible, and we have no other choice than acting!”

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