Future Tense

The Deeply Moving Video on Climate Change that Every World Leader Should See

Poet Savon Bartley wants you—and world leaders—to feel how much climate change matters.

Words matter. Especially when it comes to climate change, a problem that sometimes feels so woefully abstract and overwhelming it’s easy to lose track of the urgency.

There’s no denying that moving forward, society faces a choice: Keep on with business as usual and risk unimaginable catastrophe, or make a series of changes that lead to a civilization that works with nature, not against it. There’s not a whole lot of middle ground here. The science is clear: Our window to prevent catastrophic climate change is closing rapidly. Whatever we decide, one thing’s for certain: The world is never going to be the same.

Simply put: If we don’t start caring for the Earth so deeply we can feel it, nothing else matters.

That’s the message in a powerful new poem by a New Jersey college student, produced by an Emmy-winning filmmaker. It has a beautiful and heart-rending message. Every world leader should watch it:

The short film was produced in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly in New York—the biggest routine gathering of world leaders each year. This year, there’s extra pressure: The world body is setting a series of ambitious new goals on sustainable development. Negotiations for a first-ever global agreement on climate change are fast approaching. Plus, the Pope is in town.

It’s rare to find a way to explain all that in two minutes that’s easily accessible, but that’s exactly what this video does. The poet Savon Bartley’s message reminds me of another poem, by the Marshall Islands’ Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, which brought leaders to tears at last year’s General Assembly. It seems the U.N. is beginning to realize that impenetrable diplomatic jargon just isn’t enough when you’re talking about the fate of the planet.

“We have to reach the audience that isn’t being spoken to,” Bartley told me. “There’s an entire generation that has no idea what’s going on.”

Bartley, who frequently works with other artists at the U.N. on issues related to justice and poverty, shared a story of how, at a recent U.N.-sponsored writing workshop, he watched women from around the world turn factsheets into poetry: “They couldn’t really explain it with all the terminology that you’re supposed to use, but they know how they feel about it. And you have to write how you feel.”

Bartley told me his inspirations for this poem were people his age who feel strongly about climate change but aren’t sure what to do next—and don’t feel like world leaders are listening. His advice? Write a poem.