Did you know that 150 million Americans (53% of the population) are in danger just because they live in cities at risk for flooding? You didn’t? That’s exactly what Matt Petersen and his team at Global Green USA thought. So they created a short video featuring a celebrity cast of thousands (think Mark Ruffalo, Adrian Grenier, James Cameron, Kevin Bacon) to get you to sit up and take notice. Then do something.
The video clip titled, "I Am," clocks in at 31 seconds in length and is one part public service announcement, one part call to action and one part "how did they get all those people together to do this?" The intent, according to Petersen, who is currently attending the Clinton Global Initiative, is not only to educate but to call people to action in their communities.
Petersen tells Fast Company that climate change is "an indisputable scientific fact" and with over 12,000 miles of coastline the U.S. is particularly threatened by rising sea levels, as well increasing storms like Hurricane Irene. The flooding and erosion that follow could cost coastal cities trillions of dollars and thousands of lost lives.
"The influencers in our society in sport, music, and film, garner a great deal of attention. As an organization 95% of the work we do is substantive and technical so we reach out to them to help break through media clutter and get traction," he says.
By traction, Petersen means viral. The hope is that a star-studded PSA will be enticing enough for people to click Global Green USA’s "Join the Fight" button on its landing page or via YouTube and commit to make a difference. Global Green USA is inviting concerned individuals to upload a photo of themselves touting their pledge to improve their city. The pledge is in the form of a sign, screen printing on a T-shirt, or anything else that says "I am [insert city name here]."
All those photos are going to be pushed through Global Green’s back-end architecture, then Petersen maintains, individuals will be held to their commitment, whether it’s organizing a local awareness group or writing to a Congressional leader. "We are going to have follow-up and share their stories on our site and blog as they make progress. We will pick one person to win VIP tickets to our Oscars party," traveling in eco-friendly style, of course.
There are also plans to launch a video campaign to track progress and engage even more people. Petersen says that this shouldn’t take the place of a continued effort to work with big corporations and government to raise awareness and demand change, but he says, "To do something, big or small, we need local action. Our main push is for individuals."
Petersen concedes that the video’s celebrity status is no guarantee for success. He does have reason to be optimistic though, given examples like Crowdrise, which has managed to galvanize individual efforts into fund-raising for 1.5 million charities with a little help from Hollywood hotshot Edward Norton.
Petersen has also witnessed the power of educating and empowering communities. His vision for the rebuilding of New Orleans has led to the greening of New Orleans schools, helped educate thousands of residents to rebuild their homes more energy efficiently, and helped create the Holy Cross Project, a sustainable village in the Lower 9th Ward with 23 units of affordable housing and a community/climate action center.
This new initiative, he says, is just one more step to "building us better communities and finding solutions to global warming."
Paraphrasing the words of former President Clinton—who Petersen was just listening to before this interview—he says, "[Climate change] is an opportunity—not a problem—if we approach it the right way with a sense of collaboration."