On October 10, TED held a five-hour virtual event featuring 43 speakers with an eye on the climate crisis. The conference was the first-ever free online event by the media organization, which is known for assembling influential thinkers under one roof to share their ideas.
"The idea is to define a pathway to a future that is zero-carbon, that is rich, but is also not polluted the way that our life is polluted today in so many ways," Bruno Giussani, global curator of TED, told Cheddar.
The live virtual event marked the launch of TED's Countdown initiative, a global effort to help accelerate and champion solutions to climate change. Dozens of filmmakers around the world filmed the different segments, and just one round-trip flight was taken to pull it off.
TED first developed the concept about a year and a half ago prior to the pandemic, so initially, it involved bringing people together into smaller groups for in-person gatherings. The shift to a live virtual event was a compromise, but it ended up ramping up engagement.
"It turns out this has been a very good thing for the launch of the event because we've been able to touch so many more people," Giussani said. "We've been able to hear so many more voices than we would have if we'd only had a conference, let's say."
The Countdown videos have already garnered 27 million views in the last month.
"We didn't expect those figures, but we are very happy we got that kind of engagement because this was hard," Giussani said. "This was a five-hour, science-oriented, climate crisis-focused event. It's not something that you sit down to watch like you watch a sitcom."
The event was well-timed, he added because in many ways the pandemic and its economic impact have sidelined the focus on climate change.
"Climate has kind of shifted a little bit out of the agenda, but the urgency of the climate crisis has not gone away at all," he said. "The better way to understand it probably is to say: what we are experiencing this year through the pandemic is actually less impactful in bad terms, in negative terms than what's coming in terms of the climate crisis if we don't act."
Fortunately, the whole point of Countdown is that large, scalable solutions do exist, but they need widespread adoption to have an impact.
In the coming year, TED will circle back on its original idea for Countdown and convene smaller groups called "work streams" to discuss specific solutions to focus their advocacy around. The goal is to hold a TED event in Scotland at the same as the UN Climate Conference next year.
"The reality is that the world cannot afford not to make a meaningful change, and we need to make it now," he said. "This year, next year are absolutely key years. The climate cannot wait."