Planet Earth is on Red Alert, and there is no Planet B. If one thing can and will unify humanity and keeps us all awake at night, it is the climate emergency and its existential threat to the human species. #DontChooseExtinction is not just a compelling and catchy name for a climate action advertising campaign. It is the message that Boaz Paldi is spreading worldwide as the UNDP’s Chief Creative Officer. The UN Secretary-General António de Guterres and the United Nations are deeply concerned about the climate crisis and the inaction or inadequate action by major stakeholders to help course correct humanity. It is time to rethink, act, and lead in a radical new way to survive and thrive. Paldi joins Anne Pratt on the show to share ‘the story behind the story’ of #Don’t Choose Extinction,” how our media can help, and ways we can become part of the solution to save humanity.
Listen to the podcast here.
“Don’t Choose Extinction” with United Nations Boaz Paldi in the USA
Stop Climate Change – Now Or Never!
In this episode, our thoughtful bold leader joins us from New York City in the United States of America. He is the United Nations Development Programme Chief Creative Director and the strategic brain behind the successful global campaign, Don’t Choose Extinction, which has had over two billion views worldwide. Previously, he spent more than seventeen years as a successful TV news journalist working on covering stories around the world on conflicts, natural disasters, and human interest stories in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Southeastern Europe.
He worked for the BBC and the Associated Press and spent over twelve years with Reuters as their TV News Executive Producer. Stay tuned as he shares more with us about the climate danger red alert, how he persuaded the United Nations to let Frankie, the dinosaur, into the UN General Assembly, and current media challenges for democracies and within democracies. Also, a childhood story that happened in apartheid South Africa triggered his passion and purpose to help make this world an equitable, lasting, and better world for all. We warmly welcome my passionate and creative friend, Boaz Paldi. Welcome to the show.
Boaz, thank you so much for coming on to the show. I have been super excited to have this conversation.
Thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited to be here.
I would love to begin. You have been a TV journalist for seventeen years. You’ve also been an executive TV news producer for twelve years, covering many dramatic topics like natural disasters and human-interest stories. What about this career excites you, and how important do you think the role of the journalist and the media is in telling these stories for the world and to the world?
When I set out on the career of being a journalist, I only wanted to go to wild and wacky places. I was shocked and surprised pleasantly that people were willing to pay me to do that and pay me well. In fact, it was a marriage made in heaven. I wanted to experience the world, and somebody was willing to pay me to experience the world. That’s how it started. As I became more and more involved in journalism, I realized the importance of telling stories and of telling people what was going on.
Now, I’m pretty convinced that that is the most important thing about our governance system, our democracy, and our way of life. It’s impossible to have a functioning democracy and society without a free press to be able to relate the stories to shine a light on various issues, to investigate, uncover, and express what’s going on out there in the world to everyone. It’s vital. I think it’s in extreme danger at the moment. I’m not happy with the state of journalism and media right now and what’s happening. It’s very scary and dangerous, but the profession and vocation are of utmost importance, as it always was. I believe that very strongly.
That is a powerful entry point, and I’m curious to hear. What message would you like to send out to your fellow colleagues and friends in the media industry? You’ve expressed your current concerns. If there’s one thing they could do differently, what would you suggest or request that they made and change?
Unfortunately, it’s not the journalist that’s the problem. It’s the media houses behind them. First of all, social media is the biggest issue we have, verifying what’s true information and what’s not. The New York Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, and all of the big papers of the world have editorial boards. The editorial board is responsible to its readers as a verifier of true information. Social media does not have that, and that’s what we’re lacking.
We lack the ability to understand what’s real and what’s not. False news, misinformation, and misleading information are so rampant that it is a large crisis. I don’t think the journalists can do anything about it. I think people need to understand that a crisis is going on with communication and media. Also, try and sift through what’s real and what’s not and figure out if they should be sharing a certain post or not.
I’m not a journalist anymore, and I rely on certain news outlets that I know have an editorial board and that I know are responsible to their readers, for their viewers and do not make up news. That’s where I get my information from. That’s what people need to do. They need to seek out information that’s not misinformation and false information.
It’s more incumbent on society to figure this out than the journalists themselves. The journalists themselves are covering the stories that they’re covering. They’re heroes. They do heroic work. They cover conflict and disasters. They are away from their families constantly. I have nothing that I could say to the journalists themselves. I can say to big media houses, ensure your editorial board is working. Make sure that you’re responsible for what you’re writing.
Avoid yellow journalism and inflammatory statements, and report the news as it happens. As much as possible, be as objective as you possibly can. It’s impossible to be completely objective. Even though I, as a journalist, know that I wasn’t objective, I tried my best to be objective. Reliable news sources are so important. It’s up to the news sources themselves to make sure that they’re reliable, and it’s up to society to hold them to that.
For those of us who are not steeped in that, can you define ‘yellow journalism’ and then follow on from that, there are incredible presenters with a substantive following. People like the Rachel Maddow or Tucker Carlson at Fox News. What would you say to those who hold much sway within these media houses? If you could respond to that for us.
I will respond to your second question first. Be responsible. Understand that what you are saying affects many people, how they live their lives, who they vote for, and their choices. The choices are extremely important right now. We all have to make choices both in terms of the people that we elect into power if we are lucky enough to live in a democracy and also our personal choices as it relates to the various crises that we’re facing.
The people who have influence should be aware that it translates directly into people following their advice and living their lives according to what they say. If someone out there says, for instance, that ‘the climate crisis is manmade and that we shouldn’t be worried about it,’ that’s a very dangerous statement to make at this time. I think I would ask that they be responsible. They look at the facts, and they report the facts and only the facts.People who have power and influence should be aware that the influence translates directly into people following their advice, of people living their lives according to what they say. Click To Tweet
Rachel Maddow is a left-leaning journalist with an editorial slant toward the left. Tucker is slightly leaning to the right, if I may say so. You should consider that, and that will be part of the equation as we move forward, but even within those constraints of left-leaning, right-leaning, etc., one should be as responsible as possible.
When I say yellow journalism, I mean sensationalism. That’s basically what I mean. Sensationalism has gotten more and more rampant since I was a journalist. Even very distinguished news organizations sometimes use click bait use inflammatory headlines to try and attract readers because they’re a business, and I understand that, but we should always try and realize that the media is the third part of democracy. It’s what shines a light on democracy. It’s what allows democracy to live on.
That’s a powerful statement, Boaz, and I guess the follow-up question from that is, we know sensationalism sells; what is the red line?
The red line is false, misleading, and misrepresenting facts. Those are all red lines for me. I think it’s extremely important, especially in this time of crisis, that we all are responsible to each other and try to relate the news as we see it as it happens. For me, false information and misinformation are the red lines. I honestly think it’s the second largest crisis we face as humanity.
Moving into that thought, what do you think are the biggest leadership threats facing the United States and the world now? What are the big challenges that keep you awake at night?
To be honest with you, it’s the climate emergency. It keeps me awake at night regularly. I am extremely worried about it. I believe it is an existential threat to humanity, not the planet. The planet will survive us but humanity; we face an existential threat like never before. If we do not take urgent climate action now or in the next 10 to 12 years on the outside, we will live in a Crazy Mad Max world. I don’t know if you know the reference, but it’s a societal breakdown. There will be no society as we recognize it now in the future if we don’t get it right now.
To that point, Boaz, I’m struck that many climate scientists defined 2030 as our point of no return, where we have these tipping points and move into what you call this Mad Max society. You have done remarkable work as Chief Creative Director at the UN and the fantastic campaign, ‘Don’t Choose Extinction,’ with our wonderful dinosaur friend. From a UN perspective, can you share with us what you think the role of the United Nations is in galvanizing global action to deal with the biggest existential threat facing humanity?
The role of the United Nations is to galvanize. It is to try and get people together around a common issue that will look at it as humanity rather than as member states or sovereign nations, but rather think of it as an existential threat to humanity and act like we are humanity. Not like we’re a dispersed bunch of people sitting in capital cities and worrying about their personal issues. We need to all work together as much as possible, as quickly as possible, and it will only be possible to address this crisis if we all do that.
The United Nations has many roles. We have incredible programs in mitigation of the effects of climate emergency already. We have adaptation projects. We are trying to address what’s already the effects of climate change now on a massive scale. We are addressing the drivers of the climate crisis. We are helping countries work through their NDCs and National Determined Contributions to the Paris Climate Agreement. Those are all credible pieces of work that the UN does that I discussed, but my colleagues are busy doing. More than that, we also have a role to bring people together to galvanize, to convene, to make sure that countries are talking to each other, and to make sure that we have a forum where we can all work together to try and address this issue.
What strikes me about what you say is if you had to highlight the critical drivers and help us zoom in on where we as humanity can have our biggest impact, what do you think the key strategic drivers are, number one? Secondly, do you think the United Nations is best designed to respond to those in its current format and structure?
Decarbonization. That’s what we need to do. We need to decarbonize as quickly as possible, as fast as possible. We need to electrify and decarbonize. How do we do that? There are many different ways to do that. The issue that we dealt with in the campaign is a critical issue. Fossil fuel subsidy reform, in 2021, $700 billion was spent on fossil fuel subsidies. Eighty percent of that goes to manufacturers; that’s the oil manufacturers.
Inequality amongst people is at the highest level it ever was, instead of trying to address that issue together with the climate issue. The heart of it (the climate issue) is the type of energy that we use. The cheap (carbonized) energy that we have to move away from. We have to decarbonize the economies. We have to find sustainable (renewable) forms of energy and use those sustainable forms. It’s also a huge opportunity because those sustainable forms of energy are a multi-trillion-dollar industry that we need to create for the world to live off that energy and have economies related to that energy, and that’s a massive boom that we can expect to happen.
There’s a huge opportunity here as well. We need to move away from the idea that this will be a hardship and that we won’t be able to handle it in our lives. Yes, there will be changes that we need to make, but there are also big opportunities. The UN isn’t perfect. It’s not for everything, but it’s our only vehicle. There’s no other place where 192 member states come together and talk about issues. It’s a forum to be able to do that. It’s not a world government.
We don’t have the power to put behind the Paris Agreement and force countries to reduce emissions, but it’s the best we have within our systems. I think it needs to be protected and grown. I believe very strongly in the United Nations mandate and where we are, in our leadership, and where we’re going. He (our Secretary General) is very strong on climate change. He is outspoken on climate change. He is saying the right things, and we follow him. Although we admit we’re not the perfect vehicle, we know we are the only vehicle. There’s no other forum that can replace the UN at this time.
The UN plays a significant role. I have been super inspired and impressed by the UN Secretary-General. He talks about climate as being a red alert for humanity. If there is something that the UN could or would do in addition to all the remarkable programs it’s already doing, what additional value-add do you think the UN can play in stepping up its impact in energizing, galvanizing, and inspiring nations to move along and take the action that’s required?
What strikes me is the idea that we’re not galvanized as humanity. We don’t act as humans. We act as nation-states, and we act in our own interests. I think the United Nations needs to lead on exactly that. We need to think as humanity. We need to be galvanized as humanity. We must all roll up our sleeves and take the action we can. Each one to his own action. Some of us can take big action. Some of us can take small actions, but we can all play a part in this.
It reminds me a little bit of facing the evil Nazi empire in 1942. Everyone in the Western world, in the Free World, was galvanized to fight against this evil threat that we have, a threat to our freedom and our lives. No one was on the sidelines and was saying, “Yeah, it’s a threat, but I don’t want to get involved.” I don’t think that happened. I think we had this galvanization of most of humanity against the threat we faced, and I want to see the same thing happen to climate. This time, it’s manmade.
The crisis was made by us, not by Nazis or any other evil empire, but by humanity. It doesn’t make a difference. We still need to roll up our sleeves and ensure that we understand that we can all do this together and take serious action. Every single day of our lives, when you walk out of a room, shut down the light. Conserve energy. It’s the simple actions that we live through that also contribute to it. It’s not the most important part. The most important part is changing our energy policies, but we all need to roll up our sleeves.
I think the United Nations can play a part in galvanizing that support across humanity. It will take much more than that. I think we need Hollywood. I think we need the entertainment industry. I think we need media. Everyone needs to play their part, but it’s also important that we all are leaders in this. We see it as a human problem, not as a nation-state problem.The climate emergency is a human problem, not a nation or state problem. We are all leaders in solving it. Click To Tweet
It’s such a powerful statement you make, Boaz. I also know that you’re responsible for impact partnerships within your current role as Chief Creative Director at the UN. You’ve already alluded to Hollywood and ‘we the people,’ who do you think the primary impact partners are? Who do the UN and other interested parties need to reach regarding the different stakeholders and the powerful impact and changes they can make? Who would you define as those critical impact partners?
The private sector. That’s where the solutions are going to come from. This is going to be a marketplace solution. There’s no point in all of us going around screaming that we’re going to die, and nothing happens about it. What will change our minds is that we live in a system based on an economy that we’ve lived in for a long time, and it will be very difficult to change. However, if we work within that system and those economic values, that’s where the change will come.
I saw that clearly when I was in COP27 in November of 2022. Although the COP process has flaws, we’re not accelerating at the needed rate. There’s a parallel process to the COP27 process, or the COP process, that is, the private sector, the youth, the civil society, and the NGOs getting involved and all of them. That’s where you see the solutions.
That’s where you see the entrepreneurial spirit that will solve these issues. It needs scale. I believe that we have the technology, the willpower, and the know-how how to solve it. If it’s a marketplace-driven solution, then it’s going to work. For me, the most important part of this is trying to galvanize the private sector to understand that the marketplace is going in that direction, and the sooner they get on board, the better.
I love your passion. It’s exciting. Also, I know that COP is a UN initiative. It’s a partnership. Could you expand a little more for our audience around what COP is, who consists of, and what these different COP collective conferences are?
COP is a Conference of Parties. That’s how we define it. The Conference of Parties for the Climate was convened by the UNFCCC in Egypt, in Sharm el-Sheikh, in November, the 27th convening of those parties. The Climate Agreement was the convening of those parties in Paris in 2015, and that’s where the Climate Agreement came from. The multilateral, multinational process is essentially where the treaties are made around climate.
Now, a treaty is also being made through another Conference of Parties, the Biodiversity Conference of Parties, around biodiversity loss and what we need to do about that. Essentially, the UN-led initiatives and conferences bring member states together in negotiation around these major climate and biodiversity issues.
It’s a phenomenal partnership, and to your point about these multiple stakeholders, I’d love to turn to something that you have been personally directing the remarkable campaign. We know the power of the media and of getting that message out so that the average human being can internalize the message, access the message, and then be galvanized into some kind of action. Let’s talk about your two billion viewership of ‘Don’t Choose Extinction,’ the fantastic campaign you put out. Firstly, congratulations again. It’s remarkable. It has a powerful impact. Tell us about the campaign, ‘Don’t Choose Extinction.’ How did it come about? Share with us some of the stories behind the campaign.
In January 2020, a few weeks before our world became increasingly a world that we didn’t recognize and everything was turned upside down by the coronavirus, we had an office retreat with some of our main policymakers at the time. I was sitting across the table from the person who leads all our nature, environment, and climate work, a guy called Pradeep. He is a good friend of mine. I said, Pradeep, “If you had one issue that you needed to campaign about right now, what would that be?
Without blinking, he said, “Fossil fuel subsidy reform.” Frankly, I needed to Google it because I had no idea what he was talking about. I quickly googled it. I understood this was very important, but I didn’t know about it, and I’m a practitioner. I’m part of the conversation. It would be hard to imagine how anyone else would know about it. As we continued speaking, I understood how important that is. Fossil fuel subsidies are paid for by countries all over the world.
They’re paid in order to keep our energy prices down, like gas prices, heating prices, and all of our energy use down. They’re paid by countries, but in fact, they’re paid by our taxes. This was in 2021. $423 billion was paid in 2021 into fossil fuel subsidies. Eighty percent of those subsidies go to manufacturers. That’s the manufacturers of fossil fuels, which is an absurd situation to be in as we’re facing this climate emergency. It skews the economy towards fossil fuels and away from renewables. It’s very hard to decarbonize when we have this very cheap fuel source that governments are making cheaper. That’s one of the problems.It's very hard to decarbonize when we have this very cheap source of fuel that's being made cheaper by governments. Click To Tweet
The other problem is that it’s a negative deficit. If you are spending $423 billion to pay fossil fuel manufacturers, then any positive impact you have on the planet is still negative because it’s a deficit. Let’s say the hundred billion promised in Paris to the developing world to help them mitigate the effects of climate change, which still hasn’t fully been paid. If you pay $100 billion, you still have $323 billion left. It’s a huge deficit in what we’re doing. It is vital and very important, but it’s complicated. I took about 3 or 4 minutes to explain this to you and to the viewers, but you don’t have that.
If you’re doing a campaign, you certainly don’t have 3 or 4 minutes to explain what you’re trying to do. You have about seven seconds to get to grab people’s attention. We had a problem. I was told that I needed to create a campaign around this issue. I had no idea how. Luckily, I have some friends in the creative industry. I called some of them, leading me to an incredible creative agency in California called Activista. A guy called Beto Fernandez and Paco Conde is this firm’s creative director and founder.
I said to them, “I’ve got this issue. I need to campaign around this issue. What do you think we can do about it?” They happily took it on and said it was the most important creative brief they’d ever had in their lives. I went away for a few days. I had talked to a lot of people in the UNDP, a lot of the experts, and the policymakers, and we had lots of meetings. They went away. They thought about it, returned, and said, “We have an idea. It’s going to be complicated, but we like it. Maybe you will too.”
They said we need an outsider to tell us how absurd we are because, essentially, we’re destroying ourselves. We’re killing ourselves, and that’s where the dinosaur was born. What better manifestation of an outsider than somebody who’s a fossil himself and was destroyed by an event that was beyond the dinosaur’s control? The dinosaurs went extinct because a giant meteor hit the earth, but we are making those choices consciously.
Essentially, we are going extinct by our own hand, and that’s the absurd thing. We decided that the dinosaur will march into the United Nations and give a speech. We were using the icon of the United Nations as a place because that’s important. What’s said on the United Nations podium is iconic. You’ve had iconic speeches there. Some good and some bad. You’ve had Yasser Arafat speaking there. You had Che Guevara speaking there. Nelson Mandela gave that incredibly moving speech at the United Nations General Assembly.
It was so iconic, so we decided to have the dinosaurs speak there. When the dinosaur marched on and spoke, one of the first things he says is, “If we humanity are paying for asteroids to hit our Earth years before they hit our Earth, that’s as if what we were doing if we were dinosaurs and we’re doing it consciously.” That’s the absurdity of this. The dinosaur continues to say, “Don’t choose extinction. Choose a different path. Try and figure this out.”
These funds were spent on fossil fuel companies; why don’t we use them to reduce poverty? We could institute a universal basic income for many people stuck in poverty and alleviate that poverty. We could create green jobs and better education for girls and women. We could do so much more and have a meaningful impact with that amount of funds. Instead of that, we pay fossil fuel subsidies to keep the price of fuel low, skew the economy, and not allow for the natural marketplace to take us where it needs to go, which is renewables.
That’s such an important point, and I love the fact that it is the ‘outsider,’ Frankie, the dinosaur. On a lighter note, why Frankie?
We are being frank with humanity. Paco, Beto, and I were sitting over a bottle of wine, and we decided he was Frankie and then rationalized it.
Having worked in the advertising industry and being an ex-marketing executive myself, as we’ve shared previously, the power of the message, at heart, hits one between the eyes. I love that it’s an ‘outsider’ and that it’s Frankie who is frank. He has a wonderful charm about him in how he addresses the United Nations.
It was the voice of Jack Black, by the way.
A shout-out to Jack Black and the wonderful creative team that has made this all possible. He’s got a beautiful resonant voice, and I think it also comes across as very engaging. It’s not judgmental. Talk to us a little about the tonality (of the communication) and how Jack Black, Frankie the Dinosaur, talked to all of us, number one. Number two, in terms of the scripting of the message, talk to us about why you elected, “Yes, the absurdity of what humanity is doing.” I think that’s very powerful. Can you share with us other thoughts about what went into the script and why those elements were chosen?
The tonality, first of all, is we’re a little bit funny, and we’re a little bit tongue-in-cheek. We decided consciously to do that because doom and gloom campaigns don’t work. They leave us scared and paralyzed, even myself, and we don’t want to be in a position where everyone tells us that we’re going to die because then we shut off and go into our house, live our lives, and don’t think about it.
We were trying to find a way that wasn’t a doom and gloom campaign that wouldn’t be super scary and show the impending disaster only in a negative light. We wanted it to be a little funny to engage with people and allow them to do what they do naturally. People love to watch movies. People love to watch dinosaur movies. That’s why Jurassic Park has been such a success. When the campaign opens, you don’t quite know what it is. It could be a new Jurassic Park movie. We don’t quite know.
It allows people to do what they normally do: enjoy a nice movie, a nice laugh, and a nice smile, yet be led into a message about climate action and a positive message about climate action. We don’t want to be negative about it. As I mentioned before, we want to create a positive galvanization that people have the power to change. We are empowered to do things, and that’s the analogy we were trying on. On one hand, it’s a little bit funny and engaging in a tongue-in-cheek way, but also positive.
We were very lucky that we found an incredible speech writer. David Litt wrote the script for the dinosaur. He used to be Obama’s speech writer when Obama was president. He was in charge of Obama’s funny speeches, the ones that he did at the Correspondents Ball, etc. President Obama was pretty funny himself, but David Litt helped him. We engaged with David. He was very happy to work on this and found that exact spot between politics, reality, and humor.
It’s very hard to do. I can’t do it, but he somehow managed to do it. We fed him much information, and he returned with script after script. After many weeks of working with him, we finally came upon the script you heard in the video. I think it’s very powerful. I think it hits all the spots we needed to hit in its tonality and positivity. Also, it’s still funny. It’s still engaging. We’re very grateful for all the support that we had. Much of it is pro bono.
The organization I work for, the United Nations Development Programme, has a large budget, but none comes to campaigning or communication. It all goes to saving people’s lives in the field, mitigating climate change’s effects, and working on women’s empowerment on 6,000 projects every day. That’s what we have to do. We have very little money for campaigns and communication. We had to ask for a lot of support. Some support from people willing to put a lot of effort and time into a campaign without financial gain.
Share with us a little about just this incredible generosity of humanity and how these remarkable people have come together to do this. If you can, share with us the production budget and how creative you have made this production work with a minimal cost and a lot of generous input.
There’s been so much generosity and so much willpower from people. Paco and Beto, the creative directors of the campaign, essentially worked for free, and that’s a huge commitment. They weren’t doing this as a side job. They were doing this as their full-time job for months at a time. It took away other paying clients from them. We’re so grateful for them.
As I said, this is the brief they had been waiting for. This was the brief that they wanted to work on. They created Activista, and the name implies that it has some social impact. They’ve had some campaigns before that have had a social impact, like the very famous Dove campaign. That was their brainchild, but they also do other things. They work on normal advertisement campaigns. That’s where it started.
I have a good friend with who I’ve worked on various projects in the past in Australia that was a CEO of a major creative company in Australia called Wunderman Thompson. It was part of the Wunderman Thompson Network, the Australia part of it, Lee Leggett. She generously put Wunderman Thompson’s abilities to help our youth and create the digital ecosystem behind the campaign.
We also had help from another incredible individual called Mik Thobo-Carlsen, who is Danish. He’s a friend of mine and formed a company called Mindpool, a collective intelligence company. They looked at collective intelligence in the private sector and tried to help companies through their collective intelligence needs. He put all of that intellectual power and all of his IP into the campaign, and we recreated what we call Global Mindpool, which is a place where people can go after they see the film and get involved with questions and small surveys to let us know what they think and feel.
All that is fed into a very complicated algorithm, spilling out key learnings from that. We can then take those to policymakers and show the policymakers what people are feeling in specific areas, specific genders, etc. A huge thanks to that as well. Many others gave time and effort into it, including Framestore, the production company that helped us create the dinosaur in CGI (Computer Generated Imaging). It’s a CGI dinosaur.
Frame stores were able to do this at cost. They didn’t make money off the production, enabling us to do it. The way that they did it is that we used a skeleton of a dinosaur that they already had in stock that they had built for a BBC program that they worked on many years ago, and they re-skinned the dinosaur. There are lots of discussions with Framestore on feathers, for instance. A Utahraptor, which is what Frankie is, scientists think that they had feathers, but we couldn’t afford feathers because feathers were expensive. We didn’t do feathers. (Editor’s note: Utahraptor, meaning “Utah‘s predator,” is a genus of large dromaeosaurid dinosaur that lived in North America during the Early Cretaceous period. Weighing almost a ton, it was the largest and most dangerous raptor ever.) There is a lot of discussion about how Frankie would move his mouth. If he would move his lips or he would move with all mouth. We knew we wanted to translate and dub this through as many languages as possible. Lips were financially impossible, so we had him move his mouth. There is a lot of technical stuff that we were doing, but Framestore was incredibly generous with their time. They did an incredible job over many months building and creating this film.
For our audience, can you define CGI, and can you define collective intelligence?
CGI is very easy to define. It’s computer-generated imaging (animation), essentially. That’s what animation is now. Much of the movies are made that way. It’s extremely expensive to do. It’s very tedious. They basically paint one frame at a time, 24 frames per second forever or 60 frames per second. It’s very tedious and expert work which companies like Framestore do. Framestore is one of the best companies in the world doing CGI. They’ve won four Oscars doing it, including Blade Runner, Gravity, and various other Oscar winners.
Collective intelligence is a way for us to bring up knowledge within organizations, people, or groups that do not necessarily rise to the surface. It’s non-linear. It’s a way for us to understand what people think but also what people feel. In the last few years, it’s gone a long way to bring together people’s minds. Individually, we know as a group almost all knowledge is known by humanity as a group, and collective intelligence tries to bring that out of the group and people.What we don't know individually, we know as a group. All knowledge is known by humanity as a group. Click To Tweet
To that point, I’m curious, Boaz. What have been the findings to date regarding this collective intelligence mind pool, and have you yet fed that back to policymakers? If so, what have been the key findings and recommendations to policymakers?
The main thing is that people are very interested in taking climate action. They need to know how to take climate action. They feel paralyzed by the magnitude of the issue. This is something that is on people’s minds worldwide. People are interested in trying to solve the problem. We fed that back to policymakers in an attempt to show them that taking bold decisions won’t necessarily rock the boat in a way that will impede their continued rule. It’s a delicate issue.
We are the United Nations. We don’t get involved in politics in any way. We don’t get involved in elections. We only need to facilitate elections in terms of trying to make them happen, but we don’t get involved in who gets elected and how. We work with any party that gets elected. We have to be very careful, but it’s been very useful for us to understand where some of the tensions and possibilities lie, etc.
To that point, what have been some of the recommendations that have come out of that policy suggestion in terms of day-to-day actions that ordinary people of the world can take and feel as though they’re making this contribution towards saving humanity and the planet as we know it now?
It’s not different from what we all know is the truth. It’s the simple things that we can do that can make a difference. Taking that public transportation is a very good way of conserving energy. Using long-lasting light bulbs is another good way. If you can afford it, buy an electric car. I still think electric cars’ impacts on the environment are less than the impact of carbon. There are many different ways.
We all know that we need to reduce eating a lot of meat products. That’s something that we should be thinking about. I’m a carnivore. I love meat, but I’ve tried to reduce what I can. Maybe eat it only twice a week or eat it only once a week. It’s all according to your abilities and not all at once. People shouldn’t think they must change their lives radically to take climate action. You can do a small action to change climate action.People shouldn't think that they need to radically change their lives in order to take climate action. Click To Tweet
However, I go back to the point that 73% of the problem is energy and our energy mix. If you can choose sustainable energy over non-sustainable energy, that’s a very important choice. If you can choose to put solar on your house, that’s an incredibly important choice. If you can choose to choose from your energy supplier a renewable source rather than not a renewable source, that’s an important part of the conversation and policy. The policy is important. Any influence that you can have on the policymakers that make the policy is an important decision that you can take.
Those are all very practical suggestions and insights. You alluded to bold initiatives, and I appreciate the fact that the UN doesn’t get engaged in the specifics of any political election, but from your perspective, Boaz, in witnessing so many, even covering stories as a journalist, what is your definition of bold leadership?
At this point, bold leadership as it relates to the climate emergency is taking the right decisions on energy policy that might be a bit difficult initially but will transform the economy into a sustainable green economy. That’s the kind of bold step that needs to be taken. Many governments are doing that. Biden’s plan is a sound plan. It’s the way that the United States needs to go. Many other countries are doing it as well.
We are facing a problem, and we can do nothing about it. There’s a war going on in Europe. Russia is a huge manufacturer of natural gas and fossil fuels. It’s created an energy crisis. That energy crisis is not coming at a good time because, without an energy crisis, it would be easier for countries to move towards renewables. What we are seeing is that countries are doubling up on fossil fuels at the moment. We hope that’s only a bump in the road and we’ll get back on track soon. It’s the reality that we live in.
For me, those are the types of bold decisions that we need to make bold decisions that various governments around the world made in order to move more towards renewables, away from fossil fuels. Fossil fuel subsidy reform in reducing emissions, moving towards carbon neutrality, and decarbonization.
You’ve also referenced another leader we both greatly respect and admire who spoke at the UN General Assembly, Nelson Mandela. I know you personally met with him in Port Elizabeth in the Cape Region of South Africa. I would love to hear what has been your Mandela Moment for you, Boaz. A particular moment that touched your life and perhaps shaped some of the ways you think, act, and lead now. What was the context?
When I was a kid, I was on the Kenyan Rugby team, National Junior Rugby Team. It was great because I got to see so much of Africa. When I was 12 or 13 years old, my best friend was an Indonesian guy. We arrived in Johannesburg one fine day. I had no concept of apartheid whatsoever. I’m Jewish. My father was a Holocaust survivor. The idea of apartheid is very close to my heart in a negative way because of the discrimination my own people suffered.
When we landed in Johannesburg, my best friend (we were always together) was asked to go into the colored line. That separation was the most devastating thing that had happened to me. I was completely petrified then I understood it all in a way. There was no sign of Mandela yet. I guess it was in the late ’70s, maybe. It clearly defined for me what needs to be done in the world, what needs to be taken care of, and the absurdity of judging people by color or gender or by any other means except for who they are.
That was an important moment for me. In South Africa, this happened, but it was a defining moment for me in understanding the follies of humanity in some ways that we need to address. As a journalist, I told stories of those inequalities and those difficulties in many places worldwide. At some point, it became obvious that I wanted to take more action than tell the story. I wanted to take sides. Be part of the story and not tell the story. That’s when I switched careers to work for the United Nations. For me, that is one of the most defining moments. It’s that separation in the airport in Johannesburg (South Africa).
How did you feel at the moment? What would you say was the light bulb moment?
I’m not sure how aware your viewers are of the Holocaust and what happened in the Holocaust, but essentially there’s a lot of separation going on. A lot of people are being put in different lines. One Jewish and one not. The Jewish line went to the gas chambers essentially. Although that wasn’t the case in South Africa, that’s the fear it caused in me. That separation of putting in different lines is the fear it caused in me, but the fear made me defiant. It made me want to take action and take control of things.
I became an avid supporter of the Anti-Apartheid Movement forevermore. I had my own Boycott of South Africa. I don’t think it had much effect, but I never bought South African wine or anything until the issue was resolved. It made me want to be active in human rights. It wanted to defend my friend who was put in another line. It made me want to defend humanity against these kinds of issues. That’s the light bulb moment. It was like the idea that I have the power to make a change, and I wanted to make that change.
How old were you at the time, roughly? Do you remember?
I was probably around twelve.
It is remarkable.
I grew up with the notion of something bad happening to my father when he was a child, not exactly understanding what it was. I inquired a lot into it and became obsessed with learning about World War II as much as possible, which also defined me. I also feel like the lessons to be learned from the Holocaust are the lessons you need to guard against this ever happening again. That we need to protect humanity from such activities that are extremely important. There is no excuse for this kind of behavior; we all have to guard against it daily.
First of all, I’m so sorry about the loss of your dad. I know how profound that can be. I’m struck by the indelible impact he’s had on your life. Is there a story he shared with you that you could share with us that touched him and you?
My father refused to talk about his whole ordeal. All I know is from my grandmother and from various parts. I had to find out everything from myself. He wasn’t a communicator. My dad was not a storyteller, but he profoundly impacted me. He used to take me out of school and take me on business trips because he believed traveling worldwide is more important than school. He disagreed with my mother, who didn’t think that, but he did. I went to Hong Kong when I was eleven years old with him because he decided he wanted to take me to Hong Kong with him.
He had a profound effect on me, but there isn’t a defining story I can tell you because I don’t know much. All I know is that he was a child in the Holocaust. He survived it. He ended up in a youth camp in France in 1946 or ’47. He reunited with his mother, who survived the war in Israel in 1949. That’s defined him. It defined him in many ways, so it defined me. I don’t see it as a negative. It defined me in some good ways as well. I tried as much as possible to guard against such actions every day of my life.
You continue to do this remarkable work. Fast forward a bit, Boaz; what has been a difficult moment in the world of work? A transformational moment, a defining moment in helping get this message out into the world, particularly around the issue of climate change and the threat to humanity. Is there a working example, a specific example that has been a defining moment? What is that? How did you feel about that, and how did you navigate through that?
The United Nations is a conservative organization. It’s very hard for us to communicate. We are not very good at it. We are trying to get better all the time, but it was a very difficult process of trying to get this campaign going internally, bringing all the stakeholders on board, and making sure that everyone’s happy. Making sure that we’re not going to be slammed by various member states and that our funding would be reduced because of this campaign. All that was very difficult, and it went through a process of trying to get this through, which took a very long time.
When you say this, are you talking about the Don’t Choose Extinction?
Absolutely. All our partners told me afterward that it felt like they were living through a Mexican telenovela because every day, we would like, “We can’t do this. It’s all broken. We don’t have permission. We have to stop,” and the next day it was okay. (Editor’s note: A Mexican telenovela is a Latin American serial drama similar to a soap opera in plot development, a continuing melodramatic storyline, and a permanent cast and airing in prime time). We worked through that and somehow managed to work through all the issues. It was very difficult, but it was imperative for me.
I think that we need to be very loud and clear about these kinds of messages. We need to be issue–based. We need to try and relate as much true information as possible. Going back to the beginning of our conversation and for me, it was the stubbornness of purpose of trying to get through these hardships and get through to the other side. Hopefully, it will be easier next time, and we a little bit educate ourselves, and our culture changes a little bit. That’s what it is.
We have an incredible team that works at UNDP. Insanely fantastic talented people all over the world. 6,000 projects daily for 40,000 employees and all of us are purpose-driven. It’s an incredible opportunity and honor to work with such an organization. It comes with bureaucracy, risk aversion, etc., but you work through that.
Is there a specific moment in navigating through some of the headwinds in trying to get the campaign through? Is there a particular moment, and could you share how you navigate it through that?
We are the United Nations. We weren’t allowed to film in the General Assembly. It took us five months to get permission from the powers that be to film inside. This was COVID. It was mostly COVID-related and extremely difficult to do. We had to postpone the production twice. It costs us a lot of money each time because full crews were hired and were on standby, and then we had to cancel because we didn’t get the final stamp of approval. That was very difficult.
Finally, we had to use every influence and power that we had to get it through, and we did get it through. We filmed the whole thing in one day. They gave us one day to be in the General Assembly. Only 42 people were allowed in as an audience. We had to do fragmented shots. Everyone that you see we filmed many times over and then used an overlay to create ‘more people.’ It was touch and go. If we had failed that third time, we would’ve failed. We would’ve had to let go because we wouldn’t have had the budget to continue.
What do you think was the magical shift? What got you to the finishing line?
It’s people understanding the importance of this campaign. I had to go and talk to the Chief of Security of the United Nations and sit with her. I say, “When you speak with your grandkids in the future, you want to look them in the eye and say, ‘I did something for this crisis. I was active. I allowed this to happen, and this is the result,” and you want to be on the side that took action, not on the side that stood by.
Those are my words exactly to her, which were pretty shocking because she thinks she always takes action. She’s an amazing woman. She is South African. I was like, “You want to be on the side that says yes? You want to be on the side that did something, and that’s what you want to tell your children and your grandchildren that you helped with this crisis.
That’s almost the line for a new campaign, Boaz. Turning to a couple of fun facts, what is a childhood memory that stands out as being a fun defining moment?
As I mentioned, my father used to take me on these crazy trips around the world, just the two of us. I was probably around 10, 11, or 12. We would end up in London, and my dad was a huge jazz fan. He would always take me to this jazz nightclub even though he was probably late at night, and I should have been asleep. We saw the greats of jazz performing in that small venue in London. It was one of my happiest memories and one of those defining moments. My love of jazz was born there, and my love of travel perhaps was born there.
So much of it was such a precious memory for me. That’s one memory, but I lived a very happy childhood. I was privileged. I was well off. I was fed. I was clothed. I traveled the world. For me, it’s always understanding that I was privileged, and so many are not. You must always think about the good memories and be aware of what’s happening around you.
What did your parents do, and what would they use to describe the word they most associate with you?
My dad was a hotelier. He was a hotel manager all his life. That’s what defined him. My mom was an art teacher. The word that describes my mum is very easy. It’s unconditional love. She showered love on us, and she was completely unconditional in that love. It was very warm, and it was wonderful. I was very close to my mother. It was amazing. My dad was very proud of me. He thought that I had succeeded and was very proud. This was before I became a journalist and before I set off on my other careers.
I used to own a bar in Jerusalem a very long time ago. It’s called “The Mad Hatter” I sold the bar at some point. I was like, “I’m done. I need to get on with life.” My father was horrified because I had a working business that was in the service industry that he was so close to. I was giving up this life of being a bartender, and he was horrified. Other than that, he was very proud of me.
A word that they would use to describe you. What word would your mother use to describe you, and what word would your dad use?
My mother would describe me as her only important life, the most important thing in her life. My father would describe me as ‘successful,’ I think.
The third question about a fun fact about yourself is, what would you say to your twelve-year-old self with the wisdom and knowledge you have now?
Interestingly, you asked that. I’ve been thinking about that a lot because I have my own kids now, and bringing up kids is an incredible experience. It’s so different from everything else that you do. I wasn’t very good at school when I was a kid. I’m dyslexic. Dyslexia wasn’t known then, so they thought I was lazy. My schoolwork suffered. If I were going back to my twelve-year-old boy, I would say, “Try and do a little bit better. Stop being so lazy. Don’t give up. Fight the system and try to get a better education.” I would also say to experience life to the fullest with every moment that you have and rely on your instincts.Experience life to the fullest every moment that you have. Click To Tweet
In our few moments left, Boaz, what are your thoughts about leading boldly into the future and the future of leadership? What do you think the future of leadership looks like?
If I look at youth today, they’re more engaged and empowered than they used to be. There’s so much more knowledge out there. My son knows so much. He’s a sponge of knowledge. He’s a wealth of knowledge because they absorb knowledge from everywhere now. I used to have to go to the library to look up things in the encyclopedia. Now, there’s internet access to information.
They’re so much more empowered. They’re so much more in touch and aware. We can expect incredible leadership from these generations coming up. They’re going to need it because they’re going to face some challenges that are going to be difficult, but I have trust in them. I think that they are going to be able to do it. I feel like the young people now are absolutely incredible and empowered.
As George Benson famously once sang, “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” It sounds like you think that is the future of leadership.
Our final question is, do you think Nelson Mandela’s leadership is relevant for the world now? If so, why and what do you think he would say to our generation and the next?
In the 20th century, finding a leader that’s more important than Nelson Mandela was hard. He was the ultimate leader of humanity. I wish he would’ve been more of a leader for everyone, and he was. I wished that maybe his life would’ve lasted longer. We need leaders like Mandela. That’s the kind of leadership we need. Sadly, The closest I saw coming close to Mandela is the recently retired Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, who is also a Nelson Mandela-type figure.
What she brought to the table was compassion that was different from everything else. Compassion is one of the most important parts of leadership. Seeing humanity as humanity, not as numbers and a statistic, is vital. Nelson Mandela did that so well and was infused in everything he did. If I had to put it kind of simply, I would say compassion.
When you say you wished he had been a leader for everybody, can you expand on that a little more?
It’s hard to expand it, but we need him. I wish Nelson Mandela would lead us into the new future. We need his compassion. We need his wisdom and insights. It’s wishful thinking. He was such an incredible leader for South Africa that he could’ve used that role on a larger global scale. He would’ve been an incredible Secretary General of the United Nations. There are so many things that you could see him doing and succeeding at.
He had a global role. He informally influenced the world but in a more formal position for humanity. What do you think he would say to our generation and the next generation now?
Get it done. You need to get it done, and you need to get it done now. Also, always remember that we’re all humans. We all suffer together. We all bleed together. We all love together. There’s no difference between us; we must all support each other and get it done.We're all humans. We all suffer together. We all bleed together. We all live together. There's no difference between us. We need to all support each other and get it done. Click To Tweet
On that powerful action note, Boaz, a heartfelt thank you. I greatly admire the work you and these remarkable, generous people who have come together to make this campaign possible and do this work in the world. We are hugely indebted to you. I thank you. I so look forward to doing more work with you. Thank you, my friend.
Thank you so much. It’s been a huge pleasure talking to you. I’m very happy to be here, and thank you for the opportunity.
The big existential question is, will humanity survive? We have a choice. We need a unifying and unified global human response, one bold step at a time. I had a riveting climate change conversation with the passionate and purposeful United Nations Development Program Chief Creative Director, Boaz Paldi. He led the UN global campaign called Don’t Choose Extinction with Frankie, the dinosaur’s message for humanity.
Google Megatrends reveal that anxious global citizens are asking BIG questions.
Is climate change real?
Is climate change manmade?
What causes climate change?
What can we do to stop climate change?
What can I do?
Some recent fast facts on the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) 2022 report on climate change reveal findings that underline the urgent need for rapid global action.
Restricting global warming to the targeted one and a half 1.5 degrees centigrade (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels is almost out of reach. The rapid transition to low or no carbon energy is vital, but the world is waking up. Twenty-five percent of the global population, that’s around two billion people, have watched and listened to Frankie, the dinosaur’s message to humanity.
Frankie shared with us, “I’m a dinosaur. I know a little bit about extinction. Around 66 million years ago, a massive asteroid struck planet Earth and triggered a mass extinction of dinosaurs and some 75% of all species. As a dinosaur, I have an excuse, but for you humans, it’s crazy. You are triggering and funding your own mass extinction by funding, subsidizing, and burning fossil fuel carbon energy. There is a new and exciting opportunity to make a CHOICE. You can redirect those fossil fuel subsidies. You can build a new, exciting green economy and save your species. The climate clock is ticking, but we still have a choice.”
The International Energy Agency estimated in 2022 that governments worldwide have spent around $1 trillion of taxpayer’s money funding fossil fuel carbon energy. International big oil and gas companies and coal companies in China are the biggest emitters.
In summary, climate change transcends every national border. National thinking and popular nationalism cannot help us survive. The world is interconnected. We can avert a climate crisis, but it requires a radical new way to think, act, and lead. Like the global Anti-Apartheid Movement inspired by Nelson Mandela’s life and leadership, which galvanized against the old South Africa, or the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has done it before. Yes, together we can do it again. The world can unite and unify in a united global human response, one bold step at a time.
Until next time, remember that leading boldly is about making thoughtful, clear choices. Also, bold leadership is about taking action one bold step at a time. One bold step for you, but together, a giant step to save humanity. To take care and take thoughtful, bold action.
- United Nations Development Programme
- Don’t Choose Extinction
- Boaz Paldi
- Wunderman Thompson
- Global Mindpool
About Boaz Paldi
Boaz Paldi is the Chief Creative Officer for United Nations Development Programme. In this role, Boaz oversees UNDP’s advocacy, flagship campaigns, events, activations and impact partnerships.
Most recently Boaz launched the #DontChooseExtinction campaign that has been viewed by over 2 billion people across the globe.
Before being appointed to his current role, Boaz led UNDP’s campaigns, partnerships, advocacy and communication including the co-founding and creating the Lion’s Share Fund, co-founding the Social Good Summit and creating the UNDP individual giving program.
Prior to joining UNDP, Boaz worked as a TV journalist for 17 years covering conflicts, natural disasters and human-interest stories in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Balkans first for the BBC then the Associated Press and finally joining Reuters where he worked as a TV News Executive Producer for over 12 years.
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