“Extrapolations,” the big-budget, mostly anthology drama currently airing on Apple TV+, starts with a familiar scene. It’s COP season, and we see the machinations between delegates, politicians and private companies as they look to craft a statement that will make meaningful progress towards mitigating global warming.
That statement is familiarly convoluted – a major technology corporations agrees to share desalination patents while the world accepts temperatures rising 2.3 degrees celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. A secret pact involving mining rights in the melting Arctic is besides the point.
The subtext is more important, for what we see in the opening episode is a fictionalized COP42 in Tel Aviv. It’s long past what we’ve heard as the ‘last chance’ to change direction and yet, the world is still engaged in half-measures and sleight of hand.
Things get worse from here, as the decades tick on and we move to catastrophic floods in Miami, daytime curfews in Mumbai to avoid wet bulb deaths and entire new diseases caused by increasingly extreme climate.
“Extrapolations” is not a good TV show in the traditional sense. The drama is far too trite, the filming making sloppy and too much text where subtext would have been much better. But it has stuck with me (five of eight planned episodes have aired) because I think it hits at something that is uncomfortably ever-present for those working with the client.
What if everything we are doing – is ultimately meaningless? There’s plenty of activity, yes, but is any of it actually going to do something?
I’ve been reflecting on this climate despair. Others have written about their struggles here. Clive Hamilton, in a memoir excerpt, proposes forgetting about change and instead “devoting our energies to responding to the situation we find ourselves in.” Many characters in the later episodes of “Extrapolations” make a similar choice, especially after an act of geo-engineering as eco-terrorism backfires spectacularly in the late 2050s.
Figuring out a way forward is a crucial skill for anyone existing in a world and news-cycle that will invariably bring challenging news. For some the breaking point might be a particular natural disaster – the floods in Pakistan last year were particularly horrific – or a legislative failure or the election of a ‘pro-business’ regime in a major country.
There’s a particular danger for those of us in communications. We need to find ways to show why something matters beyond those who created it. Sometimes this is a climate funding vehicle, others a piece of new technology. That means finding ways to make something stand out, and then convince journalists of its merit.
One thought that has brought me comfort is that collective action that is ultimately successful will be more polyphonic and distributed than we imagine. There will need to be literally thousands of experiments and trials, many of which will make a difference. There will be failure as well, but iteration can be the key towards progress.
I also don’t think that communicators should be passive observers. We are not product experts, it’s true, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t aspire to greater levels of knowledge and understanding. (This is somewhat embarrassingly where I point out that I have the CFA Certificate in ESG Investing, although it’s far from the only measure of understanding.)
And with this knowledge, we can make choices about where we would like to try to make a difference. That might mean we don’t work with certain industries, or focus our efforts on certain types of mandates. All of this is a way to ensure we can feel that we have purpose for our work around the climate.
We also can use our pulpit to highlight things that we might not be directly involved in, but deserve greater amplification. Social media, conversations, opinion pieces – there are so many platforms.
We at Cognito understand both the opportunity and our responsibility. Our growing Sustainability Practice means that we work with financial brands that are providing funding for the green transition, along with organizations and fintechs that are building the infrastructure that make this possible. We’re currently in discussion about providing more clarity about our role, and also our values as an organization involved in this area.
If all of this can come from something as hackneyed as “Extrapolations” (Matthew Rhys is killed by a seal in a grown-inducing metaphor in the first episode) imagine what an actual good piece of media on the climate crisis might do. Viewers figures for “Extrapolations” haven’t been particularly positive, but I do think it is worthwhile for us to spend more time examining our attitude towards climate change in fiction, and then use that emotion to make changes in our professional lives.
Jon Schubin is a director in the London office
Header photo courtesy of Apple.