On Creativity

by Chris Colvin

The famous Einstein’s quote “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” makes a lot of sense in the context of climate change. In fact, creativity is a key element in finding solutions and agreements to stop the warming of our world. Creativity to find alternative sources of energy, creativity to implement efficient policies on the ground, and creativity to put aside self interests for benefit of the common welfare is the way. We can easily get bored and apathetic while listening to the never ending negotiations and reading texts full of brackets being proof of a lack of consensus. This is dangerous. Fortunately, there are many people working hard to avoid the stagnation of the discussions and move forward.

Creativity exploded last Friday when the civil society and NGOs manifested their need for climate justice, food security and for effectiveness at the UNFCCC negotiations. Colorful clowns, huge inflated balls rolling around the parade, a hanged man, huge African dolls, among others, were vibrating with the beat of African songs outside the building where the world leaders were seated discussing the fate of our planet. Dozens of creative messages were displayed by activists, indigenous peoples and women from South African rural communities. One of the banners lying on the street captured my attention. It said ‘The Cure for climate change is Empathy’. I had a moment of epiphany. Then I read: creativity is positively related to Empathy (affective sensitivity) and inversely related to dogmatism (Carlozzi et al. 1995). I took the banner with me but when I tried to get into the Conference Center a policeman stopped me. “What are you carrying under your arm?” he asked seriously.  I unfolded it and said ‘It’s a good idea’. He told me I was not allowed to come in with that. I couldn’t avoid asking him ironically “good ideas are not allowed at the conference?”

Despite that fact, it is possible to find many creative things and creative people at the conference. Something to highlight is the work done by Pablo Suarez, the Associate Director of Programs for the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre. When he began teaching farmers, fishermen and emergency volunteers about rising sea levels and extreme weather patterns using powerpoint presentations, people were falling asleep in their chairs. Eventually he decided on a very different approach. “I had to convey the idea of a storm, of an extreme weather event, and I had a Frisbee and I just threw it into the audience,” he told on the sidelines of a global climate summit. Soon Pablo began using games to explain more complex ideas like micro insurance to mitigate risks for subsistence farmers. He also teamed up with the Parsons School for Design in New York to create a number of climate games geared at communities, volunteers and policy makers (www.reuters.com).

Creativity is also found in written forms. The Jurassic Park t-rex announces everyday at the ECO daily newsletter the ‘Fossil of The Day’ awards, giving them to countries that have performed badly in the climate change negotiations. The award is judged regularly by Climate Action Network’s 700 and member organizations. When earned, these slightly sarcastic yet highly prestigious awards are presented daily during climate talks. The Fossil of the Day awards were first presented at the climate talks in 1999 in Bonn, initiated by the German NGO Forum.

It is also possible to find creativity in some speeches (although is not very frequent). We have heard many delegates quoting Nelson Mandela and Gandhi in very evocative ways and using smart analogies. A delegate from Congo claimed “we won’t allow that the African Soil become the graveyard of the Kyoto Protocol”.  In the same line, a minister from Grenada claimed “was in Africa where humans came into existence and his should not be the continent where we condemn the continuity of humankind”. The South African Minister for Agriculture said at the forest day in her opening speech that in our presentations concerning climate change, this issue should be “a spoonful of words and a bucketful of thought”. These words triggered inspiration.

If negotiators, ministers, advisers and all of us here at COP 17 were able to get rid of unconstructive assumptions, self-imposed constraints and self-limiting inhibitions, i.e. being creative, the “Nopenhagen” tendency could be reversed. Let’s imagine alternatives to reality. Let’s keep brainstorming!

(Thanks Rocio and Rita for sharing quotations, and Chris for the picture!)