Our Burning Planet


When a talking dinosaur addressed the UN on the climate crisis

When a talking dinosaur addressed the UN on the climate crisis
Screenshot from the #Dontchooseextinction campaign (2021)

On 26 October 2021, a velociraptor by the name of ‘Frankie’ burst into the rotunda of the UN General Assembly Hall in New York and took the podium with a simple but pressing message for the international diplomats: ‘Don’t choose extinction.’

As unusual and confounding a talking dinosaur named Frankie rocking into the UN headquarters in Manhattan might appear (dinosaurs went extinct about 65 million years ago, “after living on Earth for about 165 million years”), its message – delivered in a fatherly-reprimanding sort of tone –  forms part of a larger campaign that the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has rolled out to highlight the immediacy of the Climate Change Issue; while it also encourages political leaders and global citizens alike to take decisive action against it.

 Despite its eerily lifelike appearance, the dinosaur is, of course, not a feature of reality but a computer-generated image voiced by American actor Jack Black. In an effort to ensure accessibility and global engagement with the campaign, Frankie’s speech has been translated into several different languages including French, Danish, Spanish and Swahili.

To supplement the prehistoric creature’s two-minute, 30-second film debut, the UNDP has designed a visually stimulating and interactive website which positions audiences in a virtual mesosphere and allows them to “fly” around and land on meteors, each of which posits a commonly proclaimed excuse for not taking action against climate change and offers up an accompanying, actionable solution. Each solution provides useful links to digital tools and online resources so that users can further their knowledge of whatever climate change-related area they are interested in. 

One such tool is a “Thesaurus Rex” plug-in which can be added to your Google Chrome browser, allowing you to “decode complicated climate terms” while scrolling the internet.

The Don’t Choose Extinction campaign homes in on the specific issue of fossil fuel use and its adverse impact on the environment. It also explains the gist of the situation in quashing one of the 19 excuses addressed on their website, that “Climate Change is too complicated for me to understand”.

“Here’s the short of it,” the website reads. “Since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 1760s, we’ve been burning fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil which have released ‘greenhouse gases’. These greenhouse gases are named so because they trap heat and warm up our atmosphere. This increase in temperature has led to glaciers melting, longer droughts, stronger hurricanes, and extended bushfire seasons.”

The problem with fossil fuel – and many other threats to our ecosystem – must be addressed with haste, the UNDP explains, lest we eradicate the entire human race and many animal species. 

In fact, extinction is not some fictitious urban myth; it is a very real prospect – as many have pointed out at the recent COP26 – and it will happen much sooner than many expect. Since 1970, Earth’s surface temperature has been rising faster than in any other five-decade period over the past 2,000 years; this drastic change cannot simply be attributed to nature “running its course”, but to our unsustainable systems of production and humans’ consumption habits, with a specific focus on one ubiquitous culprit: fossil fuel.

“Every year, governments spend hundreds of billions of dollars of public funds on fossil fuel subsidies. Imagine we had spent hundreds of billions of dollars subsidising giant meteors – that’s what you’re doing right now!” Frankie the Dinosaur exclaims. 

According to research conducted by the UNDP, the exact amount spent on fossil fuels adds up to $423-billion annually. That’s about R6,5-trillion. To put this into perspective, it’s three times the amount needed to end extreme poverty globally and enough to subsidise a Covid-19 vaccination for every person in the world.

“Think of all the other things that you could do with that money,” says Frankie to a hall full of furrow-browed politicians who appear extremely concerned and captivated by the dinosaur’s speech. “Around the world people are living in poverty. Don’t you think that helping them would make more sense than, I don’t know, paying for the demise of your entire species?”

Screenshot from the #Dontchooseextinction campaign (2021)

Despite the dinosaur’s passionate plea, not everyone is as taken by his words as the UN diplomats pictured in the campaign’s short film. 

Frankie’s oration, which was penned by David Litt (one of former US president Barack Obama’s go-to speechwriters), makes an appeal to governments to up their climate change game – but the video is marketed to the general public; meanwhile, the UNDP campaign’s website, with all its tools and calls for action, seems to be directed at citizens, unpacking how the everyday person can play their part in the fight against fossil fuel use. The video – which has been shared on different channels – has already had more than a million views since it was uploaded.

Yet, many have pointed out the irony of a UNDP mascot standing before a hall full of politicians and experts, citing quite bluntly deficiencies in governments’ efforts to combat climate change, in an address to the very people who we, the people, have trusted to be able to solve such crises. The energetic standing ovation the audience gives at the end of the video, in response to an entire speech aimed at pointing out their very own inadequacies, is perplexing to say the least.

Why would the UNDP put so much effort into holding the public accountable while highlighting its failure to make good on its own commitments?

“The crazy thing is, this is marketed towards ‘common folk’ when the reality is the changes that are needed are at the top. People in the elite systems need to be willing to alter their perspectives and ultimately their wallets if anything is to truly change,” commented one person on the “Don’t Choose Extinction” video on the UN’s YouTube channel. 

In addition, a study commissioned by Oxfam and published on 5 November 2021, notes that the richest 1% of the global population has a carbon footprint 30 times greater than the level compatible with the Paris Agreement’s goal of 1.50C goal in 2030. It is projected that this same group of income earners will account for 16% of global emissions by 2030. Seemingly, the onus is then on the upper echelons of income earners to change their production and consumption habits if any efforts to alter our current climate change trajectory are to be significant.

Nevertheless, the “Don’t Choose Extinction” campaign has also rallied support – and hopefully created some traction: @frankiethedino’s’ Twitter account has garnered more than 7,000 followers since it was created in late October.

“My kids adored @frankiethedino (and so did we). Thank you!” tweeted one user, Karma Ekmekji.

Global climate change strike protest demonstration – No Planet B. Image: Markus Spiske / Unsplash

American celebrity Cody Simpson reshared the video of Frankie’s speech with the caption: “He’s got a point. #DontChooseExtinction.” 

A survey by the UNDP found that 64% of the world’s population feel that climate change is an emergency and calls for immediate action. Furthermore, only 10% believe world leaders are taking sufficient action against climate change.

The most impactful changes to our environment’s trajectory may lie with the top 1% of income earners but that does not render the rest of us completely powerless. It is our job to hold our leaders accountable and to play whatever role we can in the fight against climate change. 

The “Don’t Choose Extinction” campaign does provide concise tips and valuable resources to achieve the latter, which can be found on its website

“At least we had an asteroid,” Frankie warns, asking the audience gathered at the UN what our excuse would be – better we never find out the answer. DM/ML 

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Absa OBP

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