Climate Solutions Project

LOCATION: Long Beach, California, USA

SUMMARY: We began thinking about an effective, large-scale intervention in May 2007. We impaneled expert advisors in climate science, economics, ethics, social science, and social marketing, and the CDC funded our planning conference in February 2008. NOAA funded a meeting of experts to assess public attitudes about climate change for us last April (see or With this input, we refined goals, outcomes, content, communication strategies, oversight and review structure, and outreach scope and wrote a detailed master plan. We incorporated in 2008, selected key project partners, and are completing our budget.

We evaluated highly regarded approaches to public dialogue including Public Agenda’s Choicework and Princeton’s Stabilization Wedges. We created plans for community leader forums with the Fred Friendly Seminars. Bowman tested discussion approaches at business conferences, high schools, and museums and wrote a strategy paper, “A Turning Point in Climate Change Communications Priorities,” for the International Journal of Sustainability Communications (pending).

CSP plans a six-month design timeframe and six-to-nine months for production. Our immediate goal is to turn our reports, ideas, and sketches into a visually stunning design presentation that attracts major production funding. Prize monies will allow the creative team to devote their time to this effort and move closer to final design. Current priorities are the dialogue and exhibit activities that will further define architectural opportunities.

At $50 million, plus advertising and marketing costs, CSP is an expensive endeavor. But the unique combination of social interaction, long persistence, high profile, and interactive web outreach makes it a very cost-effective alternative to ad campaigns ($300 million for We Can Solve It) and other less-effective, passive media approaches. With the enthusiastic reviews and support we have received so far, we are committed to fulfilling this vision.

PROBLEM SPACE:NASA’s James Hansen calls avoiding a climate catastrophe “Herculean, yet feasible compared to the effort that went into World War II.” Global warming and rising global consumerism demand an extraordinary response: almost universal participation in a new national mission to support sustained global action. Imagine an outreach bold enough meet that challenge.

The Climate Solutions Project (CSP) is a cross between a World’s Fair (multi-faceted, innovative, striking), a hands-on exhibition (interactive, educational), a town hall meeting (giving everyone a meaningful voice), a festival (overcoming despair), and a marketplace (enabling behavioral change). The scale is grand: a “blockbuster” tour of 20 American cities over two years with 10 million participants and capacity to reach 10 million more.

Yet its essence is profoundly simple and obvious: people need a sustained conversation about their hopes, fears, and realistic solutions in order to change. After completing two major climate change exhibitions I realized that museums cannot engage enough people, nor do they address solutions very well. Al Gore’s efforts have been impressive, but his partisan identity prevents him from overcoming a deep divide that will ultimately make any progress unstable. And passive media, such as TV ads, have limited impact. The public is ready for this challenge, but they need an engaging forum. Our outreach and political institutions cannot address the changes Hansen and other experts describe effectively, so we need to create something new.

CSP brings a blue ribbon team of passionate design, content, and communications leaders to a unique mission. Free of any institutional constraints they can focus entirely on getting results. The vision has caught on: social marketers called CSP a “disruptive intervention” with real transformative potential. Like other content experts, IPCC author Richard Somerville signed on with “an emphatic yes!”

We will create the largest, most dynamic, and sustained public dialogue ever attempted to move people off the fence and into action, and put the wind at the back of decision-makers. This is not an advocacy project: our “must-see” forum and interactive tools will help Americans find their own voices.

SOLUTION: Imagine CSP as a catalyst: we will succeed when people engage the challenge and surprise us with their energy, passion, and creativity. We will help Americans make informed choices, but we expect them to explore directions we never imagined.

Comprehensive — enables citizens and policymakers to explore solutions to climate change and rapid global industrialization in terms of family-level behavioral change and policy-level action.

Anticipatory — supports both immediate and sustained actions by helping people overcome partisan and psychological barriers to personal and shared commitments.

Ecologically Responsible — moving millions of Americans toward sustainable lifestyles and social norms. Designers will also demonstrate low-footprint solutions.

Feasible — employing tested strategies and a team of proven partners accustomed to working at this scale.

Verifiable — based on social marketing studies, message testing, and testing during the tour.

Replicable — reporting our results policymakers, the media, and the communications community.