“Adventure is where you lead a full life” – this was a favourite quote of Philippe’s father, Philippe Cousteau Sr, and nothing could ring truer for us.
Philippe and I work hard to live a life as full of adventure as possible. Philippe comes from three generations of explorers and environmental advocates. Jacques Cousteau, Philippe’s grandfather, was the first to ever film and share the wonders of the sea with the world. His books, films, and television shows captivated people everywhere. In many ways, he was considered the father of the environmental movement, and through our subsequent work in media, education, and conservation, we always strive to honour that legacy.
In January, I was lucky enough to be invited to Antarctica to give a speech at the first TEDx conference to ever take place on the white continent. The event was organised to celebrate the 75th anniversary of New Zealand’s Scott Base and its pioneering work of exploration and science on the ice. As I was preparing my remarks I was inspired by the Cousteau legacy and my background as an entertainment journalist. I have always believed that entertainment can save the world. Indeed, Jacques Cousteau leveraged the power of entertainment to captivate millions of people and spawn a global movement to protect our oceans. Like him, I believe that if you can capture a person’s imagination, their mind will follow.
In that spirit, Philippe and I strive to tell engaging stories that inspire both awe and action. When Jacques was filming his documentaries, there were three channels on television and a captive audience. The challenge for all of us in the conservation community – in the fragmented media landscape we have today – is to create different types of stories that will appeal to different audiences. And that is exactly what we’re working to do. From syndicated shows about natural history, like Philippe’s Emmy-nominated Awesome Planet, to our shark week special Nuclear Sharks, to children’s books, educational programs, and even a new Virtual Reality series, we are constantly looking for good stories and ways to reach different audiences.
Our most recent adventure has taken Philippe and I to the Caribbean. At the crossroads of the new and old world, from the 16th to 18th centuries, the Caribbean is full of natural beauty, rich culture and of course, pirate lore. The series takes us across the land and under the sea to uncover forgotten history, explore new legends and unearth lost treasures. Airing soon on Travel Channel, the series, Caribbean Pirate Treasure will bring you along on our epic mission to explore the Caribbean waters.
While filming we were constantly reminded of the changes and threats facing our seas today. Plastic pollution is rampant, even on the farthest reaches of secluded islands off Belize. Invasive lion fish were a constant sighting on every dive. And in most places, the largest fish we encountered were tiny juveniles, as most of the larger the adults had already been fished out.
Throughout the series we address these issues as we encounter them, but in the context of a fun and entertaining show. Caribbean Pirate Treasure is one example of how to leverage reality television to tell important stories. The challenge for us as storytellers is to reach as broad an audience as possible. Instead of photos of melting ice caps and dying coral reefs, we need to focus more on how protecting the environment can solve problems, provide hope and opportunity for people and ignite their imaginations.
We, as a movement, tend to be really good at talking about the gravity and importance of conservation with scientific reports and serious documentaries. While there is a place for that, we too often fall into a trap of alarmism and doom and gloom that alienates a large sector of the public. We’ve lost the sense of opportunity and hope that comes from protecting and exploring our world. To quote Governor Martin O’Malley, “By catastrophizing the challenges facing our environment we make the deniers look optimistic.” Watch Philippe’s TEDx talk exploring this issue further here.
If we want to grow the constituency we need to remind people that protecting the world is an adventure full of excitement, opportunity and sometimes even humour. We need to find the stories that intrigue people and bring them along on a journey…on an adventure to save our planet.
- This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.