This is a transcript of the podcast interview recorded for Sustainability Explored on 30 of January 2020.
This is Season 2 Episode 18.
You can listen to it here, or join on any of your favorite podcast platforms.
Anna: Hi and welcome to Sustainability Explored — a podcast where we discover and explore corporate social responsibility, environmental and social risks, the benefits of the circular and green economy, culture, leadership, and so many more. And here’s me, your podcast host — Anna.
Today is Thursday, and as always, a new episode is released on this channel.
Once I read a story, a saying “If you want to be successful and occupy a professional niche, to be unique, take two seemingly uncollectable things and connect them and you will become unbeatable.”
My today’s podcast guest did exactly this — he connected his passion for filmmaking and his calling for climate change fighting.
How?, you would ask.
About five years ago, he created a platform, or a framework if you wish, engaging creative innovators in the complex process of cooperative filmmaking for the sustainable development goals promotion.
The platform is called “youth4planet” with “4” in the middle as a digit, and it’s providing a unique action, learning, and storytelling concept for the digital world.
My guest today is Joerg Altekruse.
Anna: [00:01:29] So, my guest today is Joerg Altekruse. Joerg, I let you introduce yourself before we kick-off. Can you tell me more about yourself and how you became a filmmaker?
Joerg : [00:01:40] Well, this is a rather long story. You want the short version?
Anna: [00:01:45] I want an inspiring one!
Joerg : [00:01:47] Yeah :) I decided to become a filmmaker when I studied literature, language studies, psychology in mass communication, and architecture. From then on, I said, well, this is something I want to do. I want to create something rather than just analyze it, and I don’t want to do any kind of teaching.
So, teaching on a mass level, which means you have millions of people watching your films when they run on television, is something that I find most attractive.
So, I did. And I started a long time ago, in the 80`s, middle of 80`s. I think I’ve made my first film in 1982, which is now 38 years ago, and from then on I’ve made films about all sorts of topics.
Many, actually in the Soviet Union. [Anna’s wow] And quite a few in Ukraine as well, because in 1991 I’ve made a film for German television about Chernobyl. I started in Russia, but I filmed it in Kyiv as well. Again, I returned to Chernobyl and this region in 2011.
So that’s my, my journey as a filmmaker. And because I was always on environmental topics, I came across the idea that somehow people need to learn in a different way and not just watch films, but they learn better by creating films.
And I’ve decided to create a platform and the concept that allows many people, as many people as possible to actually create their own films. And by doing so, learn much more about the topic, about themselves, about working together as a team, and that started “youth4planet”. Just five years ago.
Anna: [00:04:02] That was “youth4planet”. But before that, did you always have a passion for the environment? What was the first film that you shot in 1982 that you mentioned?
Joerg : [00:04:13] Well, that was actually about food. It was a film about fast-food. And I did not only films but audio stuff about fast-food for German broadcasters because I was fascinated by it and so, you know, potatoes, for example.
Later I made a film about potatoes and I filmed in South America about it.
The fast-food I found very interesting. Because this was the time when people normally not really went out to eat out in the streets. Today, it’s much more normal and you probably know from Kyiv that this is normal, that you just walk around and buy something and eat it in your hands, coffee to go and all this kind of stuff at that time.
Anna: [00:05:05] All right, yeah. It is true. That’s another problem :)
Joerg : [00:05:07] Yeah, yeah. But this is in the, in the early 80s, the time when it started to become an issue, you know, when you had more and more places, like, fast food places where people went to get serialized food. And at that time, we didn’t know that this would become such a big problem.
A big problem in terms of environmental issues. At that time we only thought “ Oh, this is bad food! You know, it’s bad for your health!” And it’s something that you, you know, while you are walking to eat while you’re walking is bad for your health. But the food in itself is concentrated, industrialized. Stuff is not good for your health either. It was both in this.
Anna: [00:06:00] I personally know you as a producer, director, and writer of documentaries about the planet Earth. In 2014 you made “Earth`s Survival: Decoding Climate Science”. Then I looked up the one year earlier before that, 2013, TV series documentary the “Tipping points”, comprised of six episodes, right?
Have you been there to all those places that you shot six episodes in the Amazon, Oceania water crisis, and so on?
Joerg : [00:06:33] Not all myself, actually, this was a series I have produced together with my colleague from Australia, Liz Courtney. So, Liz traveled to India and Africa and South America. Yes, I have been to these places. I haven’t been to Africa, actually. Never. And of course, this was lead by a presenter and she had to travel to all these places, of course. So that made the continuity in terms of storytelling.
Anna: [00:07:12] So, there were only six episodes. Are there any plans to continue filming more of the “Tipping points”?
Joerg : [00:07:21] Well, we had the feeling that we, at the time, this was the most important series, and it was broadcast, it’s over 60 countries now.
That this was the most important series of that time about climate topics. And everything that was set in these films is still true. So, there’s actually nothing more to add.
Of course, you could always do an update and say, okay, now we know that the prognosed temperature rise in the Arctic is really taking place and it’s quicker and faster than expected. Okay. That’s something maybe it was telling about. But we never really meant to do that because it’s so depressing and because people didn’t pick up the message from the first series.
Of course, lots of people watched it, millions around the planet. But it didn’t create a kind of action. Now, there was no uprising. It was the same reaction as to any kind of these messages. People just kept on with their normal business.
And it’s only now, only since 2019 second half, together with this “FridaysForFuture” movement, that this is starting to change and, you actually see the people, see the world differently.
Anna: [00:08:58] Exactly. You made the movie seven years ago and now you’re saying back then it was depressing to watch. I can only wonder how depressing it became now in reality.
Joerg : [00:09:11] Well, actually I knew about this climate issue for 30 years, like all people who are engaged in this topic. They know that, and the scientists told us.
Yes, we started in 1988 and made a publication, that was the first time scientists really spoke up and this eventually formed the climate conference series. But they said in 1988, actually serious: “We speak up!” And now they expected the government to react.
And nothing did happen. It didn’t create any kind of change or movement and that was very disappointing because the scientists said: “Oh, we know the truth, actually listen to it and then do something! That’s serious!”
And the same happened actually when I, as a filmmaker, made a series. You know, I could tell people: “Okay, watch it!”. And when the people watched it and said, “Okay. So, what now? What to do next?”.
And we already tried to implement some action points, but it was very difficult at that time. Because when people don’t understand your action points, they don’t feel it. They don’t feel the urgency. And they don’t see what they actually can do themselves.
And when there is no, in society, no receptive point, no structure where you can make a reference to, you know, when there is no reference point for people to say: “Okay, this is something that our government is doing, or the companies are doing or my company, I work for, is doing.”
Then the individual is completely helpless and doesn’t know what to do, and then people say: “Okay, then I rather do nothing”.
Anna: [00:11:16] Yeah. As a spectator, when you’re watching a piece of art, when you’re watching a movie, can you really expect the filmmaker, the creator, to really tell you what to do? Or did they just not get the message properly?
Joerg : [00:11:32] No, no. This is what I meant with reference point. When you give somebody an information and you say:” Okay, now it’s very important to keep the Amazon rainforest intact”. And people live in Europe very far away.
Then there’s no direct connection. They have to go to that government to say, you have to influence the government of Brazil or Ecuador or Bolivia to do something differently. This is a very indirect option. So, this is something that people don’t do, and of course in public television, you can’t say: “Go to your government and ask them to do something about it.” This, again, is something that you usually don’t do as an artist.
You only create images in the heads of people and then the action is actually induced in them when a reference is possible.
Just to give you an example of what I mean: when people in the, let’s say 2010, 2011 and later, especially after Fukushima incident happened, then said: “Okay, let’s make this energy protection! Something that we do ourselves. I’m ready to pay more to put solar onto my rooftop now.”
This actually created a movement in Germany, where almost 2 million people invested in energy production. Sometimes very small, sometimes they’ve participated in larger projects, but they had the feeling: “Yes, I’m not helpless. I can do something.”
And to their disappointment, the government then said: “Okay, these are too many energy producers. We can’t handle this. We want to cut this down.”
So that’s what is happening at the moment. So, people are very frustrated because, for example, no more wind turbines are being built at the moment. It’s very difficult because of government rules to do that in Germany.
So, when you have an option to act, and you then have a film that is describing how you could do it or why you should do it. Then, people actually will do something.
Anna: [00:13:52] Right. So, together with Liz, you created this six TV series, “Tipping point” that did not kind of engage people, so to say. But then you made something different. As I explained at the beginning of this episode, you took two unconnectable, seemingly uncollectable things, filmmaking and the passion for climate, for the environment, and connected them. So together with Liz, you created youth4planet.org, correct?
Joerg : [00:14:27] Yes.
Anna: [00:14:27] What is this platform about? How did you get the idea? How did you create it, and how does it work now?
Joerg : [00:14:35] As I explained earlier, this frustration about not really getting heard on television led to the idea before the Climate Conference of Paris to do something about the, let say, getting people to become eyewitnesses. So that you have more and more people that say: “Oh, yes. You are right.”
So the idea was to find money, which we did. Not enough, but we managed to do it anyway from companies and from public television to take young people from around the planet to Greenland and put them on the ice sheet together with scientists and then find out together with them what’s actually happening.
So, to their astonishment, Greenland is melting down, at almost 10 liters per year, which was very impressive. And they together made a film about this and took it to Paris and showed it in Paris. And some of them represented even their government, Indonesia, at the conference.
So, this was already a connection between, let’s say, kind of aesthetic action: now we presented the film on the largest screen in Paris, the IMAX cinema there, at the science center. And on the other hand — become a part of a political process.
And luckily enough, there was some kind of outcome in Paris. So that we could say, well, maybe a millimeter of the big jump in Paris must be partly due to our action.
Of course, this is motivating a lot. What is it about? This was the first idea as young people become eyewitnesses of change and what you could do in order to stop it or in order to work with it. And this then led to the idea of creating a platform for learning and doing and using filmmaking to accelerate the learning curve.
And so “youth4planet” became over time by experimenting within schools and in universities, a so-called learning process. Which is organized in a certain way: you start with the idea creation, let’s say three hours in the school. In these three hours, we tell people, show them a film, we tell people how to actually use their mobile phone to make a film.
“Oh, it’s possible! -They say. — This is interesting!” Then in the first hour, the first actual editing will take place on their mobile phone and it will be presented to the others. So, people actually learn how to present their stuff at the same time. So, within these three hours, they start developing a topic for themselves. Out of the full range of the so-called Global Goals or the SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals. Which is almost about everything. So, every part of life is just described in these development goals.
And then people pick their topic, let’s say, water or forest or food, and then create a story around it. And the main and most important point here is that they form teams. Nobody’s alone. It’s about cooperation and co-creation, and this works really nice.
Because then they start discussing: “Oh, water. Okay. The water topic. What do you really mean with water? What does it mean for us in our environment?” For example, in the school in Luxembourg, they found out that the water in their school is bottled in plastic and sold by “Coca Cola”, so they have to pay for it when they want to drink water.
And so they decided to make a film about this and say, well, this is really impossible. We want to have a station where we can actually come with our own bottles and get the water and fill it into our bottles and then have water for free. So, this happened, and now it’s possible to have water in schools in Luxembourg for free. And you will get the bottle from the school.
Anna: [00:19:34] Such a cool example from the idea to implementation, you know, over storytelling for a sustainable solution that actually worked. Can you recall any more examples like this? And actually, if we can see those films on the platform, are they available?
Joerg : [00:19:52] Well, not all are translated, but some are subtitled. This is something that we need more resources for. But we have subtitles in French now because of Luxembourg. I will tell you in a minute about it, but we have subtitles in English because we need this for international presentations.
But another example is something that I’ve found very astonishing.
I did a course in University in Darmstadt, in the center of Germany, and they have 50 students working alongside the topic of sustainability in cities and resources of their cities. And according to the 2030 process, you know, 2030 is a certain limit that the EU had given to these processes.
So, I came in. And I had a team of these 50 students and then five or six professors at the same time, and we ran a workshop telling them how to actually make films. And no one of these people had ever made a film before. This was really interesting. They eventually had 12 teams and these teams produced films up to 10 minutes of duration.
And one film, for example, was about recycling furniture in a city. And they started this film with actors. They’ve asked their friends to act and then they ask the people from the delivery service to actually come with cars and help them visualize their idea. So, they showed how furniture gets thrown away and destroyed.
Then they say if you change that process and you would repaired, and somebody like a student can buy it for little money, like small money, then you’d actually save a lot. Then they made an animation and together with the professor, they calculated how much actually would be saved in terms of forest, for example.
So, the calculation set per year in the city of Darmstadt, which is a small city of 160,000 people, you could save almost 10 hectares of forest per year. If you did that.
So, this was part of the animation, and then this had another animation describing the process. You know, when you collect stuff, some stuff really has to get thrown away and will be burned, and other stuff that can be recycled or upcycled is collected in a different car and then repaired and sold again.
And we showed this film at an event to the mayor of the city, and at the other films as well. The mayor said, “What a perfect example! I would give this to my people. And they will do it.”
So eventually the city of Darmstadt has decided to introduce this process of recycling and upcycling of not only furniture but used stuff that can be repaired again and be sold, and now it’s actually happening.
It’s a reality in Darmstadt.
And there was another project, that is already happening, that is measuring the humidity in the soil under the trees. So that you know if trees need water, especially because of climate change, which is affecting trees in Darmstadt because of a long, several months long, drought. So, this has really created a problem.
And now people can know, the citizens can know on a platform — “The trees in my street need water.”
Anna: [00:23:51] These examples are extremely inspiring, and you know, it’s such a real life in action. I liked actually to see on the website of, let me get to the youth4planet.com storytelling section. Somewhere over there it’s mentioned: “Produced stories are rich and inspiring solution source for cities, communities, companies, or institutions closing the gap between “Creator” and “Decider.”
And this story of the mayor is exactly that. I was curious to know whether any of the student films got the attention of the decision makers, and that’s a perfect example of how it was brought to life. Amazing!
Joerg : [00:24:39] And actually what we do now… The next week I will be in Luxembourg. And Luxembourg is a tiny country, but it’s a country and not a city. There, it has 500,000 people. But the funny thing is they understood the idea right away because they have some green ministers in that government, they picked up the idea of “youth4planet”.
And now we have people working full time for “youth4planet” in Luxembourg. Which is amazing in itself.
Because now this only is happening since November 2018. But now we are working almost in every school. The reason why I go that next week is: Luxembourg is the first country worldwide that is introducing free public transport for everybody starting in March. And the proposal is to actually use that idea of public free transport and make film about it from the perspective of young people.
Because these are the ones that are most flexible in their minds and in the way they travel. And the idea is to create a system where in every school, let’s say 10 teams of young people make films about what free public transport is actually changing in the life of the citizens. And how it could become a more important and more, more important sector.
Anna: [00:26:15] Here is a question though, “youth4planet” as a platform is only available for certain countries like Luxembourg, Germany, I don`t know, maybe some other European countries? Or any pupil, any student from anywhere in the world can submit their films to the platform and get their message heard and promoted?
Joerg : [00:26:38] Yeah. Idea is, yes! That this can happen. And one example is that we had a meeting, you know, we did a three-week course with people from five continents in Northern Germany. They met for the first time and made films about justice, which is one part of the SDGs, the global goals.
Justice in terms of environmental and climate justice, but at the same time, you know, justice in terms of treating people well and do whatever they need to live as proper citizens. This was about gender equality and so on. They made six different films and already this is part of the globalization of the platform.
And at the same time, in the summer, we started to produce an app, and this is happening right now. And the app is almost ready for testing.
And the idea came up because we met at the SDG Action Conference in Bonn, which was inviting us to present our concepts at the UN level in May last year, and there we met a guy from India. He runs a company that is supporting ideas of global education 1GEN.IO. And he said: “Well, let’s work together to make this more available and accessible, let’s say in India or in the USA.”
And from there on, we developed this app and this platform, which is now ready to be tested in India, in schools in Luxembourg in certain regions in North America and the United States.
Anna: [00:28:35] And the basic idea is to allow students to make their own films?
Joerg : [00:28:39] Well, the basic idea is to have easy access to tools that allows them to cooperate on projects.
And this cooperation means that you have an app on your phone and then you say, okay, now my friends are here sitting next to me, we together form a team, and the app is organizing this in a way that you let your friends shoot some scenes and you yourself shoot some scenes. This is all going to be uploaded.
You can share these scenes with others as well. People can actually send in stuff from abroad. If, let’s say, you make a film about the global topic and you say: “I want to have some scenes from Ukraine. How do people live in the Chernobyl region”, for example.
And then you try to find people who actually live there. You tell them what you need, and then they will go out for free, of course, and shoot something. And maybe you could even cooperate in editing the film together online. This is the final phase.
The idea is that you have young people cooperating on their topics on a global level. Because lots of things that we experience here in Europe have a very strong connection with other countries.
For example, when we eat meat from pigs in Germany or Ukraine, very often the soybeans come from regions like Brazil, and for sure this is because they took down Amazon forest to plant soybeans.
Anna: [00:30:23] Yeah. For agriculture. It's true.
Joerg : [00:30:25] Yeah -to send them to us and then we don’t know about it. But now we can have people in Brazil actually showing us what the consequences are, what it looks like.
So actually we can have in our film images from the region, with people telling us what they see and put this into one film that we can show to our audience in Germany or Ukraine or any other place, which makes it more convincing.
Anna: [00:30:56] Yeah. Do you already know the name of the app that you are going to be using? To easily find it later on.
Joerg : [00:31:02] Youth4planet.
Anna: [00:31:03] So it’s going to be the same? Youth4planet?
Joerg : [00:31:07] Yeah.
Anna: [00:31:09] Joerg, what is sustainable development for you? You, as a person who is actually working on one of the Sustainable Development Goals, which is education, in a way. What is it for you? What is your definition of sustainable development?
Joerg : [00:31:24] What I find over time is very interesting, actually, that people now have the feeling of a global unity. Which means we know now that we only have this one planet and that we have to share its resources.
And that the most important resources are, actually, what Earth and the biological systems giving us. So it’s the sun producing energy in plants, and we all feed and eat from plants. So, we are completely dependent on these circles of biological production by Mother Earth.
And now, in the past years, we have started to understand this on a global level. And I think this is something that I want to help to be implemented in every culture — that people know that everything on this planet is connected with everything else. And we have a global responsibility and that everything that we do on this side of the planet is affecting people on the other side.
And because we have this digital information devices now, we can actually act upon it. That’s the new thing. You know, we have smartphones only for 10 years now. So, this really was a huge change. And for me working in this field of sustainability means we take the responsibility for everything that we do.
And, for example, if we buy an electric car, we think: “Oh, this is a very clean car!” But it has been produced from resources that come from some other place, let’s say, in South America — lithium, or from Africa — cobalt. And so actually when we use this car and when we buy this car, we take responsibility for these countries as well.
This is storytelling in the best sense! When you, actually, as a consumer or as somebody who lives here, when you do something, you should know the complete story: where does it come from and where does it go to! So, when you have the car, it’s nice to have it for, let’s say, 20 years. What will happen then, afterwards?
Anna: [00:34:01] The life-cycle.
Joerg : [00:34:02] Yeah. The complete life-cycle, cradle to cradle. This is the principle, and only by using these means of information and production, we will be able to support the life of 8 or 9 billion people on this planet. Only then.
And I think this is crucial now to rapidly learn for everybody on this planet, for young people especially, to rapidly learn this interdependence and what your place on this planet actually is. And what you can expect.
So that’s the idea of “youth4planet”- that you can interact with everybody on this planet and ask him or her: how do you feel about this? Is it good to have a battery, driven from lithium that is from the other country?
And this will actually be my next film for the cinema. This is about storytelling, about electric cars. So, let’s see what will happen.
Anna: [00:35:10] How cool! I did my Master thesis on the e-waste. Massive topic. I researched it with the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada and trying to implement the findings here in Ukraine. Of course, it’s, you know, it’s a field “yet to discover”. The lifecycle including and so on and so forth.
Looking forward to your next movie, and I’m really excited to have you as my guest today.
Thank you for sharing. Sharing is caring! :) For sharing your inspiring stories.
Probably one last question. Using the application: would it be possible for, let’s say, Ukrainian students, to make these movies and to have them delivered it to the international audience?
Joerg : [00:35:56] Yes. In the second stage, yes. At the moment, we lack the resources to run the platform because this eventually could become really very big. We try to build it up from… country by country. But of course, nobody will be prevented to download the app and start using it.
So, if somebody is listening to this, yes, please try and comment and test it. To become practical, we want to inspire teachers and peer teachers to actually instruct people how to organize the social process around it — so people can actually cooperate in doing this.
And the second part of what you said, you asked for publication. Yes, publication on the platform is nice. I always ask people to actually publish it in their environment, let’s say, in their village, in their school, in their city, in order to have a practical effect.
Like I’ve described in my example about the city of Darmstadt when we invited the mayor to actually do something about it. This is an important part that the filmmakers get the feeling: “Yes! What I’m doing has an effect!” And this is very empowering.
Anna: [00:37:17] That’s true. I’m leaving this interview personally, very inspired and pumped, and ready to work on the next Sustainable Development Goals too.
Thank you very much, Joerg, for your time, for sharing, for being here with us. And best of luck with your next film and the next, next, next after that. We’ll be following your work online.
[37:48] Dear listener, thank you so much for being with me and Joerg today, for listening to this episode.
If you like the Sustainability Explored podcast, please leave a review, rate, comment on the platform you’re listening on.
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It is very important, I find it personally very important these days when parts of our planet are on fires, like recent Australia situation and Amazon earlier last year already, in 2019.
Other parts of the planet are in floods, currently happening in Brazil, in droughts, and so on.
I thank you again for listening, and until next time, take care. Stay sustainable!
Podcast host Anna Chashchyna
Episode guest Joerg Altekruse
Transcript editor Anna Kharybina