Climate Education Via Drones — An Interview With Producer Krista Kleiner

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During Climate Week in New York a few weeks ago, a dazzling sustainability education drone show directed by Louis Psihoyos (director of The Cove, The Game Changers, and Projecting Change) lit up the night sky. Images of the sustainable development goals, along with wildlife and clean energy iconography, served to wake people up to the existential threat that is climate change. The drones belong to Nova Sky Stories, a global leader in drone show experiences founded by Kimbal Musk.

Psihoyos described it in glowing terms. With a storied career that includes one of my favorite movies of all time (Game Changers), his words about the drone show were actually kind of stunning to me. “Launching a 1000-drone spectacle over New York with our partners to spotlight climate solutions as world leaders congregate to decide the fate of the planet is definitely a personal high water-mark,” Psihoyos said. 

Recently I got to sit down with Krista Kleiner, one of the producers of the show, to talk about the what, why, and how. Kleiner is a long-time activist, but is relatively new to the climate movement. She’s among what I would describe as the new faces of the climate movement — a Renaissance woman of color who has come to understand the interconnectedness of all things, and the challenge we face, and is rallying people using her platform as a lifelong activist and heroine in her home country of the Philippines.

Here’s the show, and my interview with Kleiner, below.

CT: Where did the idea for drone-based education come from, and what has been done before? 

KK: Drone shows have been popping up as a new form of firework entertainment, which is fantastic for a number of reasons, including that it is more environmentally friendly and safe. Another key advantage is that drone technology offers the ability to provide very clear messages, allowing for the opportunity to blend education into the moments of awe and wonder created by a show. From my experience, these moments are one of the most effective times to educate as people’s minds are open in a different way, leading to the information penetrating their hearts. 

Our team has created high-profile multi-media experiences around the world on iconic buildings like the United Nations, The Empire State Building, The Vatican, and The Blue Mosque. This year, we wanted to blow people away with a first-of-its-kind experience at the United Nations while world leaders gathered for the UN General Assembly, additionally serving as a kickoff to Climate Week, to not only send a clear message, but also create a moment that would inspire, educate, unify, and active our local and global collective.

CT: There’s obviously a billion themes of environmental education you can do. Your team chose the UN SDGs, Lethal Humidity – Break Up With Fossil Fuels, OurTMRW, Eat Differently, and Amazon Protection. Why these in particular? 

KK: It was important for us to bring awareness to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as they serve as a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the range of global challenges we collectively face and must prioritize. Bringing that to the forefront of people’s attention was an obvious choice.

Our theme on Lethal Humidity and OurTMRW encouraged a “breakup with fossil fuels” and promoted clean energy. We’ve all been seeing and experiencing the rise in temperatures causing global fires and destroying communities. Ending fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy is a multifaceted solution that addresses environmental, health, economic, and geopolitical challenges — a vital step towards creating a sustainable future for all.  

The Eat Differently campaign is linked to the personal core mission of our show’s director, Louie Psihoyos. In fact, 75% of the global interest to switch to a plant-based diet since 2004 has been attributed to his film, The Game Changers. Louie strongly believes that our world transitioning to a plant-based diet is the single most effective decision we can make to not only live longer without chronic disease, but to also help save our planet.  

The Amazon Rainforest, often referred to as the “lungs of the Earth,” plays a crucial role in our global environment and ecosystem. Protecting it and creating awareness around its importance is vital for many reasons including: biodiversity, carbon storage, climate regulation, cultural heritage, economic value, water cycle, and much more. As human activities have threatened its survival, informed public opinion can influence policy decisions, corporate behavior, and individual actions to better protect this invaluable resource.  

CT: In addition to serving as a producer to the drone show, you also moderated the closing panel for the big two-day UN Global Compact SDG event that led into the drone show. What was the subject matter of the panel? And can you tell us about the panelists you selected for it?

KK: The subject we decided to go with was The Power of Collaboration: Shifting Culture Through Media, Art and Storytelling to Drive Change at Scale. This felt like a great subject to end the event with, leading into the drone show, as we would be able to demonstrate the power of this subject at work immediately after.  

Our panelists included our show’s director, Louie Psihoyos, who is an Academy-Award winning documentary filmmaker, renowned photographer and Executive Director of the Oceanic Preservation Society who has mastered the art of pulling the right lever in his work to drive change at scale. It also included three native Brazilians: Luana Lobo, Diego Casaes, and Naiana Miranda. Luana is the Co-CEO of Maria Farinha Films, a leader of impact entertainment in Latin America producing one of Brazil’s most viewed shows which reached more than 35 million people per episode. Diego has over a decade of experience in advocacy and mobilization, working with crowd-sourced donations to support a wide-range of creative campaigns to spark positive change, including our drone show! Naiana is a dear friend who is the Chair of the Amazon Bioeconomy Chamber — the first international chamber dedicated to enhancing the Amazon bioeconomy in global markets — while also investing at the intersection of gender equity and climate through her role as Principal of MSH Partners. And last but not least, we had Heidi Nel who works at the intersections of government, finance, and entertainment as a strategist and operator who also invests in founders leading purpose-driven brands as Chief Operating Officer at New Theory Ventures.

Given my lifelong passion for the arts and career in media and storytelling, which I’ve been infusing into my current focus of environmental and social impact, I was absolutely thrilled to have the honor of welcoming this group of powerhouse panelists. We dove into their minds and hearts to better understand the magic behind their crafts, while exploring their creative approaches to drive change at scale. This process also included discussing the tangible value that the audience could take away and apply to their own lives and organizations.

CT: You were brought on as an Executive Producer and Strategic Partnerships lead for this project wearing different hats than you do running your NGO as an Executive Director. What can you say about your approach to these roles and the team that came together for this?

KK: This show was made possible by a valiant collective effort of individuals and organizations coming together to share what they could in time, energy, talent, vision, and resources. There was a very tight turnaround to pull all the pieces necessary to bring this to life, but the power of collaboration made all the difference.  

I really enjoy working with a wide array of people and serving as a connective bridge to help bring visions to life. The magic that is created when people come together in a collaborative spirit is incredible. While the work I did for this project is different from my typical day to day work in a number of ways including its specific focus, it was also similar in many ways including its spirit of doing what is necessary to maximize positive impact — that includes bringing the right people together. Establishing trust, fostering mutual respect, and nurturing relationships makes all the difference to give a foundation to build from. This approach creates an ecosystem that empowers a community of collaborators to come together in a mutually beneficial way and leaves the door open for collaboration on future projects.

Our team of collaborators and supporters of this project includes the NGO I run — The One Heart Movement, Louie Psihoyos’s NGO — Oceanic Preservation Society, Kimbal Musk’s drone company — Nova Sky Stories, the UN Brazil Global Compact, Fortescue, Avaaz, Eat Differently, Ford Foundation, PVBLIC Foundation, Alternate Futures, Holtzman Wildlife, Alex Ionesco, Amazon Watch, 4H5H Media, Soren West Studios, Minds Over Matter Design, HELO, the city of New York, the office of Mayor Adams, and a long list of friends and allies who helped us spread the word to rally support.  

As a personal friend of Louie’s, I am continuously amazed by not only the excellence of his craft, but by the strength of his character. His deep humility and devotion to create a lasting positive impact on the world is truly inspiring and I look forward to continuing to support his work as a filmmaker and impact leader.

The gratitude we have in our hearts is endless. And we are passionately working to create more opportunities for collaboration to continue driving positive change at scale.  

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Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is a serial eco-entrepreneur focused on making the world a better place for all its residents. Scott is the founder of CleanTechnica and was just smart enough to hire someone smarter than him to run it. He then started Pono Home, a service that greens homes, which has performed efficiency retrofits on more than 16,000 homes and small businesses, reducing carbon pollution by more than 27 million pounds a year and saving customers more than $6.3 million a year on their utilities. In a previous life, Scott was an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill) , and Green Living Ideas.

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