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Cartoon 2021 - Cartoon 360

Industry Report: Animation

How can 360 strategies help children (and adults) fight climate change? The experts have their say

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At Cartoon 360, four experts shared their experiences in producing impactful content and campaigns to sensitise younger audiences to the current environmental crisis

How can 360 strategies help children (and adults) fight climate change? The experts have their say
Koen Timmers and Japhet Asher during their Cartoon 360 conference

Day 2 of Lille's Cartoon 360 (16-18 November 2021) hosted a panel titled "It’s a Climate Crisis: The Ultimate 360 Challenge," chaired by Vanessa Chapman. Four experts – Japhnet Asher of the UK's Polarity Reversal, Maurice Wheeler of the UK's We Are Family, Koen Timmers of Belgium's Take Action Global and Marc Goodchild of WarnerMedia UK – shared their perspectives on the current environmental crisis and how 360 content can set the example and promote climate activism among younger audiences.

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In his contribution, Wheeler explained that 91% of the children living in the EMEA region are concerned about climate change, 1 in 5 had a bad dream about it, 65% feel that governments are failing in fighting the crisis and 56% believe that humanity is doomed. These worrying figures make us realise that many children are now experiencing "climate anxiety" and a feeling of hopelessness. Nevertheless, 6 million children took action in 2019, perhaps also pushed by the "Greta Thunberg effect." Some industries reacted by promoting sustainable initiatives such as recycling toys, launching new, more eco-friendly packaging materials, toy rental schemes and the removal of plastic toys from magazines and Happy Meals. Other positive examples are present in the gaming industry; Minecraft created a global warming mod wherein all players' actions have an environmental impact, whilst The Sims 4 Eco Lifestyle (one of the franchise's add-ons) aims to educate children to green practices through gameplay dynamics.

Goodchild (who attended remotely) spoke about the efforts made for the Cartoon Network Climate Champions initiative, launched in June this year. The campaign was born out of some of the research about "climate anxiety" mentioned by Wheeler, and included on-air content, social media content, YouTube videos, PR work, local initiatives, a dedicated website and two prestigious partnerships with the WWF and CNN. The goal of the campaign was to inform children through characters, stories, assets and other tools, to empower them by encouraging them to speak out and be aware of their actions and enable them to take micro-actions that can have a concrete, positive impact. The campaign followed a relatable, fun, positive approach and defied any links with political activism, celebrities, global ambassadors or any language that could be distressing or scary. At the heart of the campaign, Goodchild mentioned the creation of an app helping children to be part of "a collective effort with like-minded kids across EMEA." The app launched with 100 small challenges comprising concrete eco-friendly micro-actions, further tested and voted by the children. Currently, the Climate Champions' website includes over 670,000 challenges.

Timmers presented the Climate Action project, a free student-centred effort involving over 2.5 million students aged 4-21 across 135 countries. Endorsed by personalities such as Sir David Attenborough, Queen Elizabeth II and the Dalai Lama, it aims to lead to a change of behaviour through education. The programme takes six weeks in total, but it has a flexible structure and teachers can sign up and join it at all times. The activities promote the development of a range of skills and positive teachings, including critical thinking and inclusivity. At the end of his contribution, Timmers quoted a 2017 study by Mark Isham and Rachel Williams: “Cartooning engages various cognitive domains identified by Bloom's taxonomy. Students can use cartooning to analyse or critique information, to compose, tell stories and discover attitudes and ideas."

In the last part of the talk, Asher highlighted how "the lines between digital, animation and real world are blurring more and more." "It’s like the conscious and the self-conscious are coming together. The tools [we have] are enabling this," he said. Even though he admitted being "nervous talking about the metaverse," he invited the audience to think beyond the limited potential of experiments such as Pokémon Go, since Niantic and other companies are developing opportunities that, for every cartoon brand, "never existed before," which may bring the much-debated process of exploiting "cartoons as positive influences" to the next level. A short discussion with questions from the audience rounded off the panel.

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