UNU Media Studio – a fine 2009

From January 2009, my world changed a little for the better. You could say I was in a good place at a good time. After publishing my research on bottled water in Asia for the Our World 2.0 webzine, Media Studio head Brendan Barrett decided to take a chance on me. I stuck around as one of two part-time editor for the magazine (Carol Smith is the other), complementing my research and editing work for the UNU-ISP.

12 months later and after seeing 100 published articles and 14 video briefs in both English and Japanese go through the cyberspace gate, I can say sincerely it has been a privilege to work with the UNU Media Studio team. It’s always advisable to avoid clichés, but on this occasion I can’t, simply because I honestly believe: 1) the team is committed and talented and 2) the work is, people tell me, of good quality.

Media Studio Team Sans Luis Patron and Rie Hayafune

These reasons, and the support we have received from our contributors, funders and audience, have helped to ensure that a total of 1,103,381 people have been reached by our work this year (up to November). This includes audiences through the Our World 2.0 webzine, our YouTube and Vimeo channels, our online learning resources and of course through our Facebook and Twitter communities, where for the latter we have more than 1700 followers.

Much of this reach can be put down to our content being embedded in an extensive number of blogs, online magazines and other websites such as the popular Treehugger.

But numbers don’t mean everything, especially in cyberspace where attention spans are short, and the list of options of where to go to read, watch or listen to anything, is getting longer and longer all the time.

Although hard to measure, what matters is the impact you have in terms of education and behavioural change as a result of creating awareness.

The Media Studio’s video briefs are being used as powerful education and capacity-building tools for academic institutions and training events including for the up-coming UNU masters degree programmes. More recently, a DVD containing 12 of our video briefs was disseminated at the Summit on Climate Change organized by the UN Secretariat in New York on 22 September, 2009.

Our World 2.0 turns 1.5

Education does not have to be quarantined to traditional lectures and textbooks. Content and discussion is moving online and the tools to educate are also diversifying. One of the UNU’s responses to the seismic shifts in the way in which the world communicates, has been its support of the Our World 2.0 webzine. Inaugurated in July 2008, the magazine has completed it’s first full year and increased content from 1 to 3 postings a week. By sharing the stories of outstanding people working for a more sustainable future, the magazine aims to promote positive change in millions of people in the areas of climate change, peak oil, food security and now biodiversity. Biodiversity was added in recognition of its importance as a core theme for the research activities of the UNU.

Diversity in who you reach and what you write also matters. After all, this is the UN. The readership for Our World 2.0 is global, with the US, Japan and the UK providing the top three countries for visitors, and with India and China in the top ten. Although we can do better to attract contributors from the global South, we are receiving more and more contributions from writers in developing countries and those with a more immediate stake in the global pressing issues we discuss.

Interestingly, our recent reader survey showed that 80% of our readers are under the age of 40, that 68% of them hold a bachelors degree or above. Hopefully this means we are reaching the leaders of the future.

In any business or work operation, constant innovation is critical. Some things you try will work and others will need to be re-thought. Our Debate 2.0 features have been met with mixed success: some like our discussion on the environmental impacts of meat garnered a critical mass of comments and others, frankly, did not. How we encourage more direct involvement with our audience is something we’ll keep working on. In the last 6 months we have also expanded our range of communication tools to include podcasting thanks to Megumi Nishikura, and photo slideshows thanks to Sean Wood.

In recent times we have started sharing and sourcing content with our peers in the online green community. For instance, through an agreement made in August 2009, Our World 2.0 became part of the Guardian Environment Network, allowing us to source their world renowned writers in George Monbiot and Nicholas Stern and provide them with our own unique content.

Since then, the website was included as the official blog for the Gateway to the UN System’s Work on Climate Change and on 6 November 2009, won the 2009 Society for New Communications Research Excellence Award in External Communications and Communities.

Together is best

It’s hard to single out one quality that makes the UNU Media Studio effective in the work that it does. But since I have to, I would mention collaboration, both internally and externally.

This year we significantly enhanced our partnerships with other UNU research and training centres/units along a continuum of informal and formal learning activities. To date, researchers from UNU-ISP, UNU-IAS, UNU-MERIT, UNU-EHS and UNU-GTP have contributed articles.

We have also been sourced to produce videos and develop websites. For example Luis Patron has supported UNU-EHS implement the project on Sustainable Land Management in the High Pamir and Pamir-Alai Mountains (PALM) by producing two video briefs and e-learning materials on sustainable land management and climate change in Central Asia.

Citt Williams has worked with the UNU-IAS Traditional Knowledge Initiative, as a contribution to the Indigenous People’s Climate Change Assessment (IPCCA), to produce video briefs. These videos were screened at this months COP15 indigenous voices on climate change film festival in Copenhagen where Citt and Megumi are attending. This groundbreaking initiative has been conducted in partnership with indigenous story-telling communities, the National Museum of Denmark and the Christensen Fund.

In maintaining our strong links to our Japanese audience and supporters, David Jimenez and Sean have designed the International Satoyama Initiative portal and Kaori Brand has produced two satoyama videos with funding from the Ministry of the Environment Japan.

Led by Brendan and working closely with Ahkilesh and Darek from UNU-ISP, we have also partnered through the Asia Pacific Initiative – a multi-institutional educational programme involving the implementation of two semester-based courses (10 to 15 weeks) – with the University of Hawaii and a network of universities in the region. Courses on (a) Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance and (b) Climate Change, Energy and Food Security are organised in real time via video conferencing that connects classrooms at each university. Students and lecturers are also able to communicate through the Moodle online learning management system.

In the fall semester of 2008-2009, the courses were completed by 55 and 117 students respectively. Student enrollment for the fall semester of 2009-2010 courses increased to 97 and 182 respectively.

Finally, in the last twelve months we have also struck up agreements to contribute video content to the United Nations Television (UNTV) and Google Japan to collaborate with the launch of a channel on YouTube entitled Think Green and on the YouTube Food Channel. These strong relationships and the Studio’s smooth operation have been made possible by the behind the scenes work of people like Jason Hall, Rie Hayafune and Oleg Butuzov.

The future is what we make of it

While I work mostly on the Our World 2.0 website, I genuinely feel a sense of team spirit with the work that all our staff have been doing, whether it involves me directly or not. As they say in climate change, a rising tide lifts all boats.

I hope we can kick-on with your support through your contributions, feedback and comments. Our work is worthwhile doing if you are part of the conversation.

From January 2009, my world changed a little. I hope yours did too.


A special thanks to all my colleagues for their support, guidance and creativity. A super special thanks to my editorial buddies Carol Smith and Brendan Barrett, for they have spent the most time putting up with me in this first year…

by Mark Notaras on December 9, 2009 - Comments (02)  

Ending November on a high!

artivistWell, we have had a great month and it is always nice to end on a high. This morning I had two important feeds in my news reader. First, one of our articles, “Does climate change cause armed conflict? was picked up in the Guardian. Always good to get wider exposure for our writing. The article was writing by Mark Notaras and includes an interview with Vesselin Popovski, one of the leading academics in the UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace.

Next, Treehugger has an article on Traditional Fire Management Helps Fight Climate Change which includes a video that was produced by the UNU Media Studio in collaboration with the Australian National University. The article includes a qoute from Sam Johnston, head of the UNU-IAS Traditional Knowledge Initiative.

Finally, one of our documentaries, Dayaks, produced by Citt Williams and Luis Patron, is screening at the Artivist Film Festival and Awards in Los Angeles from 1-5 December 2009. It will also be screened in New York and London in 2010. The theme of this year’s Artivist Festival is “Raising Awareness for Humanity, Animals and the Environment,” so the Dayak story fits perfectly. It tells about how the Dayak people in Borneo are sustainably managing their local forest.

by Brendan Barrett on November 30, 2009 - Comments (00)  

Great new media ideas this year -> IDFA DocLab 2009

This year’s IDFA (International Documentary Festival Amsterdam) is off and racing. For those interested in keeping abreast with documentary’s new media “genre”, check out their rich IDFA Doclab 2009.

Their blog says “IDFA’s Doc Lab investigates the relationship between documentary film-making and new media. The program is open to all media that can be used to tell a documentary story. During the festival, Doc Lab presents films, web documentaries, and installations that innovate the documentary genre.”

From the projects I’ve explored so far, I am impressed with multi-format, interactive “choose you own adventure” story of  The Big Issue (although the content is very graphic and confronting). The global film wiki idea behind Man With A Movie Camera: The Global Remake could definitely be applied to other globally themed topics. The beautiful serenade Waterlife, shows us an example of how tone can be achieved in new media. And, for documentary boffins, dig deep into a lively discussion about Capturing reality: the art of documentary.

by Citt Williams on November 20, 2009 - Comments (00)  

Third time lucky – award for New Media Creation

awardsWe are delighted to announce that for the third year in a row we have been recognized with an award from the Society for New Communications Research.

This prestigious awards programme honors individuals, corporations, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and media outlets that are pioneering the use of social media, ICT, mobile media, online communities, and collaborative technologies in the areas of business, media, journalism and professional communications, entertainment, education, social initiatives, government and politics.

It was announced on 9 November 2009 that the United Nations University recieved the award in the New Media Creation category (academic division) for the Our World 2.0 webzine.  According the Jen McClure, President of the Society “These winning case studies provide impressive examples of how organizations are successfully using new tools, technologies, solutions and practices in innovative ways to enhance their communications, relationships and improve their organizations.”

Other awards included Amazon.com and Lab126 for the Kindle as the SNCR Innovation of the Year, the Iranian political bloggers as the SNCR Humanitarians of the Year and David Plouffe, President Obama’s campaign strategist as the SNCR Visionary of the Year.

This is the second award for the Our World 2.0 webzine, which also won the best blog design in the 2008 Weblog Awards.

by Brendan Barrett on November 13, 2009 - Comments (00)  

In the fields with the locals: documenting and raising awareness of climate change in Central and Inner Asia

TIAN SHAN MOUNTAINS, KYRGYZSTAN – Outside, the hot sun beats down. A flock of sheep, horses, and cows munch summer highland grasses. Inside our little felt yurt, it is cosy. Kyrgyz shepherd Dootkasy and his wife Anarkul, head our small circle. We sit crossed legged around a smorgasbord of fresh cream, butter, wild berry jams and homemade bread. Later, Anarkul brings the boiled goat’s head. The eyeball is a treat.

For over 2 months now, Russian filmmaker, Ivan Golovnev and I have been travelling through rural Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Russian Altai. Working closely together with local storytellers, NGOs and scientists, we are recording and screening local people’s perspectives of climate change for the United Nations University and The Christensen Fund.

[Picture: An informal Our World 2.0 screening in Dootkasy and Anarkul’s Kyrgyz Yurt]

Grassroots perspectives on climate change are valuable and most importantly local. With deeply spiritualized and centuries old knowledge of the earth’s systems and cycles, local people guide livestock, plant crops, and shift winter camps. Often, none of this knowledge is written down. The traditional songs, carpet motifs, clothing, architectures, daily rituals and the mythological epics of these places are encoded with the survival information. Moreover, these cultural peculiarities provide an ancestral code of how to live harmoniously with and within the local nature.

Imagine, at minus 30, when the sacred mountain pass is blowing its blizzard and you’re bringing home the sheep, great-great grandpa’s knowledge of how to live is useful… you remember his pattern of conduct or perhaps sing his specific clan song.

Today, the national assessment reports flowing into the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention for Climate Change) website are chock full of statistic, long term modeling projections, and serious expert recommendations. The country’s leading scientists add their Institute’s research whilst Government’s task force committees implement achievable solutions and damage control.

Out in the fields and pastures where the livestock is born and dies, people are also talking and taking stock. Everybody has an opinion about the weather… as if they know life depends on it.

“The glaciers that provide all life are getting smaller or have disappeared completely.” “The rich sunny slope grasses are drying out and changing species variety”. “Dry highland animals like yaks, camels and horses are being incorporated into sheep flocks”. “Rain patterns are extreme and unreliable”. “Sacred totem animals, plants and geographic sites are taking on new behaviors”. “Sun’s radiation is increasing and damaging the children’s skin.” “Planting calendars and thanksgiving ceremonies are moving weeks later. Unseasonal heavy rains are eroding valuable time and soil… “.

Further towards the bigger villages and power lines, government built community housing and infrastructure is sinking into melting permafrost. River levels and their hydro-electric power outputs are decreasing. The fresh produce yield in the markets and bazaars is not as big or as juicy.

All the while, the old people try to remember and teach great-great grandpa’s language, whilst their young immerse themselves within foreign entertainment screens.

[Picture: Our World 2.0 climate change video festival screening where a big crowd gathered in Khorog Park, Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan]

After travelling many miles and sharing tea in many rural kitchens, it can be observed, those amongst us still living closely with nature, are consciously and rapidly participating in a process of short-term survival and climate change adaptation.

Remarkably, its can also be observed, swift local awareness and adaptation often correlates to how well a community has maintained its bio-cultural relationships. Noticeably, this ancestral survival knowledge also bestows the custodian with a guidebook to wise climate adaptation.

In some places, traditional resource management systems, almost eradicated with the event of techno-industrialization are being discussed, revitalized and even systematized. From diversifying crops, flocks or architecture, an ancient encyclopedia of simple adaptations is being identified. For example, there is much to learn from traditions that understood and culturally enforced zones of environmental conservation centuries before today’s ecological movement.

[Picture: Interviewing Altaian Telengit leader and shaman, Slava Cheltuev about their knowledge of the inter-connectivity of natural systems, and human behaviour]

At such a time in history, the harmonic and responsible knowledge of our ancestors should not to be discarded or arrogantly overlooked as folklore. There is no used by date on age-old proven methodologies.

Today, traditional knowledge custodians are as diverse as all the spoken languages on the earth. With this and climate change adaptation in mind, a large challenge lies ahead. Can we globally recognize, nurture and enhance these diverse communities with disappearing traditional knowledge systems?

For the benefit of those generations ahead of us, we must responsibly act like those generations before us. Pay heed to great grandpa’s wisdoms, and re-energize it as a respected opinion and pillar of our globalized culture’s way of being, doing, and of knowing.

[Our World 2.0 climate change video screening to the young minds of Gorno-Altaisk State University, Russia where climate scientists, government officers and local television were also present.]

by Citt Williams on October 20, 2009 - Comments (00)  

Videobriefs in Central Asia

Powering the Pamir Mountains - still from documentary video
In the last months the Media Studio team has been exploring the mountains and valleys of Central Asia to produce a series of videobriefs dealing with energy, land management and climate change issues.

Two of the videobriefs are part of the activities of the Sustainable Land Management in the High Pamir and Pamir-Alai Mountains (PALM) project, a United Nations initiative to support the communities of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in the conservation of their environment during their  difficult transition from the Soviet Union into the globalized economy.

The videobrief on Tajikistan traces the problems people face to access energy on the Eastern Pamir mountains after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The high cost of heating and cooking fuel has prompted people here to massively uproot the few shrubs that grow in this high altitude environment, severely degrading the land and drastically reducing its capacity to feed domestic and wild animals.

The videobrief on Kyrgyzstan show the changes in the use of land of Kyrgyz herders after Independence in 1991, which have led to increasing numbers of livestock which in turn is degrading the land, threatening its ability to feed the animals the people here depends on.
It also shows Kyrgyz, Tajik and UN experts and officials  as they try to bring in solutions to the situation.

The videobriefs were shown on October 5 in a PALM project meeting to a group of Kyrgyz, Tajik and UN researchers and officials in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where they were well received. The videobrief on Tajikistan was particularly shocking to participants, as although they were aware of the situation they did not know to what extent the lives of people were being affected by lack of access to energy sources.

The two videobriefs will be soon published in UNU’s webmagazine Our World 2.0

by luis on October 14, 2009 - Comments (01)  

Course on Climate Change, Energy and Food Security in Asia-Pacific

china In 2008, the world faced rapidly rising oil prices peaking at US$147 per barrel and a global food crisis with riots and unrest in a number of countries as prices increased. At the same time, total annual emissions of CO2 stood at 31.5 billion tons, the highest ever annual emissions, and the concentrations in the atmosphere now stand at 388 ppm, far higher than at any point since human civilization began. These three issues – climate, energy and food – present immense and daunting challenges for the region. They are further exacerbated by the fact this region is home to 65% of the world’s population and has two of the largest oceans on Earth.

About the Course

The course is divided into three parts – (1) understanding climate change, (2) exploring the interactions between climate change and other issues such as food, energy, health, biodiversity and (3) examining possible solutions. The course is multi-disciplinary in nature and will appeal to students from the sciences and humanities. It is designed to inform experienced policy-makers and practitioners, and to enlighten graduate students, keen to learn more about how the world works and how we can make it a better place.


The classes are organized via video conference and hosted in the Media Studio of the United Nations University. Classes begin on 25 September 2009 and continue every Friday for 15 sessions. Each session is one and a half hours in length from 13:oo-14.30.

How to enroll?

To enroll you must be a student at one of the following collaborating institutions: Asian Institute of Technology, Aoyama Gakuin University, Keio University, Waseda University, Okayama University, University of the Ryukyus, United Nations University, University of Hawaii, National University of Samoa, TERI University and University of Gadja Mada. If you are resident in the Tokyo Metropolitan area you can enroll in the course via Foundation for Advanced Studies on International Development. For further information please contact the UNU Media Studio. Photo Credit: World Bank

by Brendan Barrett on September 17, 2009 - Comments (00)  

Course on Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance

The United Nations University-Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP)  is delighted to announce the 2009 Advanced Seminar Series on ‘Disaster Management and Humanitarian Affairs’.  The Course is offered under the aegis of ‘Asia-Pacific Initiative (API)’ which is a multi-institutional/university collaborative education programme.  This Course has successfully been offered for the last six years in collaboration between prestigious education and research institutions from the Asia-Pacific region and has benefitted over 350 participants. Partner universities from Japan, USA, Pacific,  Thailand, Indonesia, India and many other countries participate in the Course which is  offered through a multiple site video teleconference system that connects all participating educational institutions with students on their respective campuses.

courseThe course offers graduate students and in-service professionals in the Tokyo area interested in disaster management and humanitarian assistance issues, an opportunity, to learn from a diverse faculty from throughout the region as well as distinguished guest lecturers from regional and international organizations. Students are expected to prepare for each class session by completing assigned readings, web-searches and/or recommended readings.  Students should be prepared to provide perspectives from their home countries related to the nature of the issues under discussion, including the legal and institutional policy frameworks that exist, or that or lacking, to address these issues. Students will be able to access the ‘eCourse Management System’ for reading assignments, discussion forums, quizzes and other materials and activities for this Course.

About 12 ‘one-class-a-week sessions’ will be conducted this year beginning from 29th September which is scheduled to finish by mid-December. In the Tokyo, the classes are hosted in the Media Studio located on the ground floor of the UNU (http://www.unu.edu/access/).

The Course, which will be offered in English, covers a range of topics.  Introduction to the concepts and models of disaster management will be followed by focused lectures on specific hazards prevailing in AP Region. Discussions on social vulnerability, community resilience, early-warning, institutional response, disaster recovery and rehabilitation will help developing better understanding of this emerging discipline. Interlinkages between disaster management, climate change, poverty reduction,  migration etc is also expected to arrest participants’ perspective on cross-sectoral development context.  A certificate of completion will be awared to the participants upon satisfactory completion of the Course.

The deadline for applications is 21st September 2009. Please send your CV (maximum 3-4 pages), one-page write-up justifying your interest in the Course and its relevance in your future endeavor, and one relevant publication (if any). Please note that we receive high number of applications from highly qualified candidates every year. The review and selection process may involve short telephonic interview (please mention in your CV your preferred date and time for telephonic interview on working days between 22-26 September).  Following this,  only the selected candidates will be informed individually.  Please keep in mind that selected candidates will be required to visit UNU Media Studio once a week (most probably on Tuesday afternoons for about 2 hours) for receiving the lectures and interations offered during the entire Course period.

For further inquiry about this Course, please write to Dr. Akhilesh Surjan at: mbox@unu.edu

by Brendan Barrett on September 9, 2009 - Comments (00)  

Making connections

It has been a busy few weeks and a very hot summer.

GEN1The good news is that Our World 2.0 is now part of the Guardian Environment Network. The purpose of this network is to bring “together the world’s best websites focusing on green topics. The network connects sites from across the globe that provide high-quality news, opinion, advice, blogs, data and tools.”

This is a big step for the Our World 2.0 team and we are delighted to part of this network that includes GRIST, SciDevnet, the Ecologist and the World Resources Institute, amongst others.

The other news is that Our World 2.0 was listed on the Best Green Blogs website from 21 August 2009. Someone was kind enough to nominate us!

Finally, the other big news is that Our World 2.0 is now accessible via the newly redesigned “Gateway to the UN Systems Work on Climate Change.” Just go to the navigation menu on the right hand side and click on “blog.” That will bring you to Our World 2.0.

by Brendan Barrett on September 6, 2009 - Comments (00)  

Our World 2.0 in China: Just another country, just another conference

The First International Undergraduate Conference on Climate, Water, Weather and Society was held last week in Shanghai, China.  The conference was attended by about 50 talented students from countries including China, Korea, Indonesia, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Romania, Australia and the United States.

The students learned about climate systems and society’s responses, including positive ones, to environmental challenges, and also presented on their own initiatives such as Three Degrees.  They pledged to partner across borders to strengthen the student movement’s role in addressing climate change.

China, with 20% of the world’s population, is not just another country.  If China’s coal fired power plants continue to grow in number at the present rate, the world’s temperature will rise 3 degrees Celsius by 2100, regardless of what anyone else does.  So, in solving climate change, the Chinese dragon must be understood.  In short, history, culture and language do matter in international negotiations.

I attended this conference to seek out exciting stories from young leaders from all over the world.  Establishing a more even playing field in reporting of global affairs, especially the climate crisis, is critical.  The vast majority of scientists, writers, academics and policy makers are either from, or located in developed countries (yours truly included).  However, 80% of the world’s population is not.
Despite our best intentions, we cannot honestly address global problems without a truly global conversation that empowers the majority world, including those marginalized within South countries.

Likewise, despite immense good will and camaraderie, simulated international negotiations between the students demonstrated the depth of the challenge to democratize environmental advocacy, through the web and in international institutions and forums.

That is why, building upon this philosophy, I am eager to see creative communicators from the global south penetrate though the cyberspace mire and reach audiences consumed by happenings in their own backyards.

I am particularly inspired by the young and articulate Chinese undergraduates I met.  We should hope that these future leaders continue to champion real progress in the world, and are not lured by the comparatively better re-numeration in the corporate sector.

While these human distinctions are important, the planet does not care whether we are from Sweden or Swaziland as it goes on breathing under the stresses we place upon it.  It is tempting to feel helpless when people speak endlessly about the extent of the glacial melt or the predicted rises in global temperatures.

ilanHowever, I was encouraged by the face that despite their lack of experience, some members of the “eco-generation”, so-labeled by their professors, are ready for the fight for what they believe in.  They are armed with open minds and open eyes, and if the Chinese Government allows, open tools for communication.

Today’s 20 year olds, “digital natives”, can better visualise a world beyond the growth economy.  They are not responsible (yet) for the broken system we have.  I believe that they, and not the current generation of leaders who will meet at Copenhagen this December, will have the credibility and courage to stand up against the vested corporate interests of the fossil fuels, forestry, farming and fishing sectors.  Experienced scientists who presented at the conference (including Ilan Kelman – photo above) confessed that they had learned much from the students’ collective imagination and attitude – I certainly did.

Let’s not be complacent.  The potential leaders of tomorrow are already struggling against our biggest enemy: the apathy of the masses.  My Chinese colleagues tell me that this is as much a problem in their society as it is in Western democracies.  More climate education is needed at the school and university level to inculcate a progressive mindset about planet Earth into society.  This has been a longtime passion of Professor Michael Glantz from the University of Colorado’s Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), the brains behind the conference.  INSTAAR and the organizers from the East China Normal University deserve credit for enabling such a collaborative, intimate and activist vibe for the conference.

While the fruits of this conference will not be seen immediately, I don’t feel this was just another conference.  Keep an eye on Our World 2.0 in the upcoming weeks for more upbeat stories from conference attendees.  We also look forward to more of your positive tales about how our world responds to climate change, peak oil, food security and biodiversity challenges.

by Mark Notaras on August 5, 2009 - Comments (00)  

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