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Pushing 'Planet Forward'

So you’re excited about the promise of a new power for good in Washington, about Obama and his new team of environmental stewards, and want to get involved somehow. You want to initiate some action yourself (you know, beyond your recent switch to mostly CFLs, except for that one lamp by the couch because that’s where you do all your reading and you’re getting a little older now and the damn little type they use in books these days just doesn’t pop the same as under a good ol’ incandescent). But you don’t know where to start. One suggestion: Planet Forward.

This “hybrid media initiative,” to be launched in March, will combine an online presence and PBS specials to showcase opinions on what we should do about the environment. Of course, there’ll be the usual scientists and policymakers chiming in, but the focus is on the ordinary public and how they may (or may not) be able to shape the climate crisis debate, as well as its solutions.

The Planet Forward website is asking for submissions – anything from videos to poems – and will include the “most persuasive, most informative, most creative” arguments as part of the PBS specials, which begin airing April 15 (just ahead of Earth Day).

Planet Forward is largely the brainchild of George Washington University Public Affairs Project Director and former CNN veteran Frank Sesno. We spoke with Frank via email for more insight into Planet Forward’s goals.

How did you get involved in Planet Forward?
I wanted to create a space for innovation, thought and genuine citizen engagement in public affairs media. I felt there were new ways to connect web and television, citizens and decision-makers. I wanted to try all this in an environment that would foster creativity and fresh thinking. The university setting is ideal for that and a wonderfully compatible partner for public broadcasting since both share a mission of inquiry and creativity. I chose energy, climate and sustainability as the focus of Planet Forward because they are issues that touch everyone, are dynamic and will profoundly affect the way we live.

What are the expectations for involvement level?
We hope to hear from students and workers, civic and business leaders, recognized experts and entrepreneurs. They will make their case and show us what it looks like. We will use their contributions to generate a conversation that is bottom up, rather than top down. The web community will help shape the television show. We have established relationships with partner schools and organizations, businesses and interest groups to cast a wide net for ideas, expertise and experience. We anticipate dozens of submissions on the startup website on a wide range of topics reflecting a highly diverse set of viewpoints. It is our expectation -- and hope -- that the conversation will reveal the complexity of the discussion, the challenge of the moment, and the prospects that technolgy and time hold. Planet Forward comes at an ideal time, as a new president makes energy a top priority and is asking Americans to weigh in, be heard and use technology to become part of the process.

There are so many outlets now for the online community and its many causes; how will Planet Forward stand out and really make an impression?
This one culminates in a television show and then moves back online, so there's movement and a high profile conversation that will generate and promote participation. The process will reward the best submissions -- most informative, creative, persuasive -- with a potential appearance on the television show, where contributors will come face to face with decision-makers. So the community meets the power brokers. It's an opportunity to shape the debate. And it starts online.

How exactly do you see this sort of "bottom-up, citizens-leading" initiative resulting in real-world change?
We're introducing Planet Forward at a time when the new president is inviting citizens to get involved, have a voice and shape the decisions the country will be making. Planet Forward will give citizens not just a voice, but a camera and a platform -- and it will connect citizens with decision-makers in the public and the private sector. They will discuss and debate and influence the process from the ground up.

So there it is. If we want to make change, our excuse of “I would do something about it if I could” is flimsier than ever. Who knows if Planet Forward will end up amounting to real change? Not me, not Frank Sesno, not anyone.

But it could – and you or I could be the one to make it happen.

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“Pushing 'Planet Forward'”