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)  

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)  

UNU and YouTube Think Green

In recognition of World Environment Day 2009 which takes place on 5 June, UNU is collaborating with YouTube Japan to support a special channel called Think Green.

More than 15 million users access YouTube each month in Japan. In order to help this community find videos that encourage them to think about environmental topics, YouTube has collaborated with some of its premium partners to create this new channel that will remain active for one year.

thinkgreen1In addition to the UNU, the content partners include NHK, National Geographic, Asahi and Diginfonews. Around 100 videos are showcased in the channel, including five video briefs published in Our World 2.0 produced by the UNU Media Studio.

World Environment Day (WED) was established by the UN General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment.

WED is one of the principal vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and action. The day’s agenda is to:

- Give a human face to environmental issues;

- Empower people to become active agents of sustainable and equitable development;

- Promote an understanding that communities are pivotal to changing attitudes towards environmental issues;

    - Advocate partnership which will ensure all nations and peoples enjoy a safer and more prosperous future.

    The theme for WED 2009 is ‘Your Planet Needs You-UNite to Combat Climate Change’.

    by Brendan Barrett on June 4, 2009 - Comments (00)  

    Discovering our Bubu: Indigenous perspectives of Climate Change

    Attending a summit with over 300 Indigenous peoples is an incredible experience. Glancing around the room your eyes are bombarded by a sea of traditional costumes: Amazonian feather headdresses, Mongolian Dels, Saami hats, Maasi head jewllery. Its easy to feel the buzz and excitement of such a collective who against many odds have managed to come together. Waved off by loved ones, from the remote corners of the world they journeyed here to Anchorage. Each having been chosen to carry and intimately share their community’s story and concerns. And with each hour that passes, we hear yet another heartfelt statement from the  frontlines of Climate Change. Stories from traditional peoples whose life is land, whose way of survival and knowing is ancient and whose concerns run spiritually deep.

    I write from Anchorage where I am a part of the small UNU delegation attending the Indigenous Peoples Summit on Climate Change. The summit has brought to together over 300 Indigenous spokespeople to discuss and strategize the best possible position for Indigenous rights within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

    Coupling with the UNU-IAS Traditional Knowledge Initiative, the Media studio’s contribution has been the makings of a 5 part video portfolio of “Indigenous perspectives of Climate Change”. The five 6 minute videobriefs were made for Our World 2.0 in collaboration with communities and storytellers in Papua New Guinea, Australia and Borneo, Indonesia.

    Colin recording narrationMarilyn and Citt work on translations

    I think its important to quickly mention the process…With each videobrief, we worked on telling the story the community wanted to tell about Climate Change. After a day or two developing a rough script with the community designated storyteller, a cameraman and producer shot the film. Afterwards, we stayed on to translate then edit the story with participation from the storytellers. We cared for the Indigenous Intellectual Property by developing a talent consent form that granted us a non-exclusive license to the storyteller’s story.  At the end of the process,  we screened the film to the community involved for translation and cultural consent. Then the community were given a small hard drive with all the raw materials and a non-exclusive licence to use the materials we had created. We took a copy of the materials back to Tokyo for polishing, uploading and eventually back-up archiving. Usually the process took 10-14 days. These films are now to be distributed widely through UN, community and broadcast/online media networks.

    The first video in the series “Walking on country with spirits” was recorded in the wet tropics “Kuku Ngungkal” country (near the Daintree) with Traditional Owner, Marilyn Wallace. She shows Paul Bell (camera/editor) and I how Climate change is being experienced by her mob.

    I needed to be very, very sensitive and respectful to what’s really going on.

    Although not explicit, the learning I received came from a little word called “bubu”. Whilst doing the translations, Marilyn explained to me the word bubu means – my home country, the land, the soil beneath, the ecosystems (all plants/animals), the biosphere above and beyond, my identity and my responsibility.  This idea of bubu is a profound and spiritual paradigm shift and I urge you to also get in tune with your bubu’s needs!

    And so without further a due, I present you with the UNU’s Indigenous Perspectives of Climate Change video brief series… screening tomorrow night at the global summit.

    Local solutions on a sinking paradise, Carterets Islands, Papua New Guinea from UNUChannel on Vimeo.

    by Citt Williams on April 21, 2009 - Comments (02)  

    TEDxTokyo Volunteers

    Screenshot from TEDx Introduction
    Screenshot from TEDx Introduction

    We in the Media Studio are long-time fans of TED. Consequently, we jumped on an opportunity to participate with a local group of dedicated volunteers who are putting together what will be Tokyo’s first TEDx event.

    TEDx is a new experiment by TED to allow local communities to organize and host their own “unofficial TED-style events” of TEDTalks videos and live speakers.

    TEDxTokyo is one such licensee and is gearing up for its first event on May 22nd. To make it happen, volunteers with a variety of backgrounds and interests have banded together, rolled up their sleeves, and taken on a range of roles and responsibilities. For us, this is a great chance to join another community, meet many interesting people, and contribute to promoting “Ideas Worth Spreading.”

    by Jason Hall on April 8, 2009 - Comments (00)  

    Al Jazeera launches Creative Commons repository of free footage

    The Al Jazeera news network today made a bold and innovative world first – a Creative Commons repository of free news footage.

    Through their fresh repository site http://cc.aljazeera.net global media makers now have access to both Arabic and English news coverage from Al Jazeera’s correspondent network. The timely site launched with a library of exclusive and scarce material from within the Gaza Strip.

    The footage is available under the ‘Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution’ license which allows for commercial and non-commercial use.

    Mohamed Nanabhay who heads New Media at Al Jazeera and launched the project stated, “As one of the only international broadcasters in Gaza, our coverage of the war has been unsurpassed. The launch of Al Jazeera’s Creative Commons Repository means that our Gaza footage will be made available under the most permissive Creative Commons license (CC-BY). With the flexibility of the license we expect to introduce our outstanding coverage to an even wider audience across the world. This means that news outlets, filmmakers and bloggers will be able to easily share, remix and reuse our footage.”

    by Citt Williams on January 13, 2009 - Comments (00)  

    Change our world through film

    08-09-26_191635Over two hundred people turned up for the Peace and Creativity Salon at the United Nations University on Friday, 26 September. We set up a screen and video projector in the UNU courtyard, and Global Lives built their installation at the front of the campus (photo credit – Jason Hall).

    The event began at 5pm with the first public screening of the Wisdom Years, a new documentary from the UNU and the World Health Organization. The documentary looks at ageing in Japan.

    This was followed by the world premiere of the new documentary from Director Tim Wise, entitled Soldier of Peace. We had a video conference link up with Tim and he explained that his intention when making the filmq was to “put peace back on the agenda in the 21st Century.”

    We then went into salon mode with plenty of time for people to interact over food and drink. At this point in the evening, we held a screening in the UNU Media Studioof the award winnng documentary from the UNU entitled Voices of the Chichinuatzin. We rounded the evening off with a dance performance from PeaceBoat.

    The event was organized by the UNU, in collaboration with Temple University, Global Lives, and many more.

    by Brendan Barrett on September 29, 2008 - Comments (02)  

    Silver College Screening

    s-080908who1The Wisdom Years documentary was screened at Silver College in Kobe on 8 and 9 September 2008 and colleagues from the WHO Centre for Health Development were on hand to answer questions.

    Silver College appears in the Wisdom Years documentary as an example of how communities can provide educational facilities for retirees. The screenings were well recevied by the college students and over one hundred attended.

    Also this week, we completed the English and Japanese versions of the website that suppoorts the documentaries. We call it an e-case study (similar to Saving the Ayuquila River).

    Take a look and let us know what you think.

    by Brendan Barrett on September 9, 2008 - Comments (00)  

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