Climate change on tv: beyond eco-slogs

"Green storytelling" is the name of an attempt to make the topic of climate change more accessible. German television still has some catching up to do.

Because it’s so beautiful: a cliche Photo: Mark Peterson/Redux/laif

When a prominent actor, like Russell Crowe the other day at the Golden Globes awards, talks about the catastrophic effects of climate change, it’s no longer an exception. In fact, the climate is currently one of the most important topics in Hollywood: Whether in front of or behind the camera – for several months now, producers, stars, studios and broadcasters have been putting the issue at the top of their agendas.

And in Germany? How is the film and TV industry approaching the issue in this country? It discusses it, of course, as one does here, on the relevant talk shows and produces documentaries on the subject, some of which are very well done, but of course also quite sophisticated. Is that enough? What about fiction and entertainment? Why is there so little about climate in these areas of television?

That’s the question asked by director and producer Philip Gassmann, for example, who has been involved in this field for years and has now become something of an expert on "green" TV. "The topic has fallen out of favor over the years," he says, to the extent that there is a certain reluctance on the part of broadcasters: "Who cares about this anyway? Hasn’t it all been done before?"

But Gassmann criticizes that this is mainly due to the fact that this area has been misreported up to now. "Either as a catastrophe scenario in which the end of the world threatens, or via a moralizing narrative with a raised forefinger." Even the character of the eco bourgeois with a home-knitted Norwegian sweater and a jute bag, which has been established in various media for decades, is at best a joke.

BBC with a broad range

In Great Britain, for example, things are quite different. The BBC, for example, not only demands sustainable production standards, but has also called on all sections of the broadcaster to consider how "environmental sustainability" can also play a role in content – in all genres, across the entire BBC program. From sports reporting to comedy and dating shows. In the meantime, the public broadcaster can point to a whole series of corresponding programs.

Back in 2017, even before Fridays for Future, the BBC showed that "eco" can also be entertaining with the black-humored mockumentary it produced, Carnage. The fictional documentary tells of a world in the not-too-distant future where meat consumption is banned.

Or on soccer broadcasts, where the BBC now provides information on the CO2 emissions of the corresponding team cities. As far as the German media industry is concerned, at least producer Gassmann has not yet noticed any particular commitment to the topic on the part of directors and producers: "There is still a lot of room for improvement in ‘green storytelling’ on German television," he says.

Philip Gassmann, TV producer

"The topic has fallen out of favor over the years".

Some initiatives are now trying to move Germany forward with the topic as well. For example, the online video competition "Take 17" initiated by the Trier University of Applied Sciences, among others, in which young people are called upon to contribute their own content on the complex of sustainability. The scientist Peter Heck, who helped initiate the competition, criticizes the way in which climate has been discussed so far, especially in talk shows. "There, only contrary positions are juxtaposed without reflection, which only leaves the audience perplexed and resigned."

Wolfgang Link, a TV producer from Cologne, believes that it is possible to get viewers interested in climate issues with entertaining formats that also convey information. Among other things, Link is currently preparing a major public event for the spring that will also be broadcast on television: At "Comedy for Future," numerous well-known German comedians, including Atze Schroder and Michael Mittermeier, for example, are to address the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Hopefully, this will not only be "green" but also entertaining.

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