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Learning to be an Ambassador of Hope

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I'm at the Newark airport now, about to change six time zones on a flight to Denmark. I'm exhausted, nervous, and excited.

I've been chosen to be the "Hopenhagen Ambassador" representing the "citizens of Hopenhagen" at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Denmark.

The idea behind Hopenhagen is to unite the world's citizens through a shared hope for positive environmental action. Of course, this means that I am supposed to be representing you and...er...6.8 billion other people.

Of course, no person can speak for everyone, and I'm self-conscious of being a "global representative," mostly because I come from a wealthy country, am healthy, and have never spent a day hungry in my life. I was chosen because I've bicycled across a large swath of the planet, staying with families I met along the way and getting a small window into both our shared humanity and how the people of the world live.

Before becoming an official "ambassador," I first needed to meet the people who selected me, and I also had to learn what exactly Hopenhagen is. I flew to New York on Wednesday and then spent the past two days meeting with people at Hopenhagen (who work out of Ogilvy) and the Huffington Post. On Thursday morning I met with Freya Williams, one of the founders of Hopenhagen, at the Oglivy offices on 11th Ave.

Freya (whose daughter appears in one of the recent Hopenhagen ads) explained that Hopenagen came out of a meeting between the U.N. Secretary General's office and members of the International Advertising Association. A year ago in September, the Secretary General said that the (then) upcoming COP15 meeting had a branding problem. Few people were aware that the meetings were even going on, and many people associate climate negotiations with the doom and gloom of climate change. People think of global warming and they either of uncomfortable sacrifice to reduce emissions or they think of the disaster of a world many degrees warmer than today.

Freya and her partners at Ogilvy took on the re-banding project. Freya interviewed academics, business leaders and the heads of NGOs around the world, trying to understand what messages were not being told.

The result was the "Hopenhagen" campaign. Funding has come through corporate sponsors and also donated media (all the ads you see are donated). The idea is very simple--inspire hope because hope inspires action while despair does not. Everyone wants a clean and prosperous future, and we believe we can have both. Hopenhagen does not call for a specific targets or policy implementations. We may like what EDF or NRDC or WWF does, but we won't back their policy recommendations. Rather, we have a general emotional plea: these negotiations are incredibly important, and the people of the world want a meaningful deal.

I asked Freya if the word "Hope" was too English-centric. "Will non-English speakers get it?" I asked.

"Hope," said Freya, "is one of those universals. It is one of the English words, like Love, that is understood all around the world."

I was then dropped off at the Huffington Post office for media training. The Huff Post office looks like a college study hall session on speed. In a single room I saw rows of tables with young people at laptops working furiously at blogging, editing, and managing a website that records around thirty million unique visitors every month. I was intimidated and awed. It reminded me of the 350.org office in Oakland where I work: young people on computers who are changing the world.


Over the past week, I've been asking people, "What gives you hope that we can solve climate change?" I've included three responses in the video below.

See you in Denmark!

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