Monday, June 21, 2010

Take the heat off

When I participate in complex international conferences where a lot of distinct voices battle to be heard or noticed, I often try to put my imagination to work to find a simple way to communicate directly with everyone on the first day, in order to position above the background noise the organization I’m working for.

One of my favorites for example was when I led the Greenpeace delegation at the legendary WTO Seattle conference back in 1999. There were thousands of pressure groups of all kinds, thousands of demonstrators (and the National Guard) in the streets, and tons of publications and brochures and posters. Among so much paper and noise, our report “Safe Trade in the 21st Century” (safe for the environment, safe for public health, safe for sustainable development) would have gone almost unnoticed if we hadn’t printed the executive summary (“Instructions to practice Safe Trade”) on a box that contained...a green condom. The queue around our diplay was huge; I still have a copy of the documentary made by the BBC, which shows government ministers, high level civil servants, corporations CEOs, NGO representatives, journalists, member of the WTO Secretariat and th Euopean Commission, everyone filling their pockets with our “executive summary”.

One year earlier, in 1998 at a ministerial conference at which we campaigned for measures to ban the Dumping at sea of obsolete offshore installations, the radioactive Discharges from nuclear reprocessing plants, and the Disposal of hazardous substances, we called our proposal the Three-Ds, and we had it printed in 3-D format, and to focus their attention we gave it to all ministers and delegates with the sort of glasses your now get to watch Avatar at the cinema. More recently, in October last year when the climate talks were resumed in Barcelona before Copenhagen, I was working for the Tcktcktck campaign and we had 4000 alarm clocks ringing all at once to wake up the delegates (unfortunately, they went back to sleep almost immediately).

This time for the whaling conference, I anticipated that at this time of year in Agadir the majority of delegates would suffer from the heat in this coastal city on Morocco’s Atlantic coast. So, a couple of months ago, I asked my Varda Group colleague Cristina Castro to find out if there was a way to get 600 fans produced with the words “Take the Heat off the Whales” (in three languages).

At midday, the conference centre and the terraces of the surrounding restaurants had many delegates fanning themselves with the words “Take the Heat off the Whales”. IWC rules prohibit the exhibition of advocacy banners during the negotiations. But fortunately, they don’t prohibit the exhibition of fans!

This afternoon, the countries’ delegates are negotiating under closed doors as if it was the election of a new Pope they're talking about. The negotiations aren’t going well. More on that tomorrow.

(Click here for the Spanish version published by the Spanish news agency EFE)

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