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GreenPiece #cop21 – Empathy in Action: Two days at the Creative Factory

I just returned from Paris where I stayed at Place To B for a bit more than a week. It is now time to gather my thoughts, reflect, and share part of this beautiful, inspiring and creative journey. Located right at the entrance and a little apart from the general coworking space, the creative factory proposed a stimulating environment to develop fresh thinking and provoke debate around a new narrative for climate change using arts and a diversity of creative processes. Co-developed by Place To B and the Forever Swarm team, the creative factory proposed six sessions over two weeks to explore climate change through different perspectives: consumption, nature, religion and spirituality, childhood, and empathy.

Think outside your creative box

The day started as early as 9 am. I directly felt the energy of the space where a lot of artworks from previous sessions were posted on the walls. People from all ages and nationalities were sitting around the tables, on the couch or on the stools, which made me feel comfortable as soon as I got in. Lucky us, we also had Scott from OpenIDEO to open the session and break the ice through a dynamic name game. I became “Smiley Julie”. We were about twenty participants in the room, along with a few photographers and an artist in residence capturing the conversations of the day. The creative factory is open to everyone, whether you are a visual artist, a writer, a citizen, a traveler, an activist, a poet, a thinker, a campaigner, a journalist, a dancer, it does not matter. The purpose is to gather all these complementary skills to co-create innovative narratives that go beyond our formal creative box to support climate action.


Empathy in Action: put your map upside down  

I registered for the two-day “Empathy in Action” session because I wanted to explore that concept of “Empathy”, often used these days as a “buzz word” covering different aspects. I was also very intrigued by the role we can play as empathetic individuals to tackle the climate crisis.

More practically, the purpose of the session was to revisit our perceptions to draw closer connections between the global south and the global north and establish a motivating empathy to build more effective collective actions. Doing nothing is no longer an option, we need to access people’s hearts to overcome their feeling of overwhelm or irrelevance in the climate change debate.

The morning started with a series of presentations. Nigel from the Solomon Islands shared the story of his island which is already seeing the devastating impacts of rising sea level. Along with crops falling and lands disappearing, a critical issue becomes the relocation of these communities in outer islands. That relocation not only increases the risk of multi-ethnic conflicts in the region, it also threatens the preservation and survival of these communities’ culture, heritage, and identity. Following this emotional presentation, Alice Vivian from The Institute for Desirable Futures, shared her experience of increased empathy through her travels in the global south and the development of an art project. Along with travels, empathy can be developed through meditation and a deeper work on ourselves. A few powerful quotes illustrated her speech:

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together” – Desmond Tutu

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign” – R.L. Stevenson

The first morning ended on a presentation from Singa, a non-profit organization working with and for refugees in France.

These three inspiring talks and the conversations they entailed emphasized the importance of creating the necessary connections with communities and shortening distances between the global south and the global north. Our brains and creative spirits were ready to kick off in the afternoon.

Empathy, Arts & Climate Action

During the afternoon session, we dived into the core content of the workshop, exploring the role of transformative arts to create empathy and foster climate action. Roman Kriznic,  contemporary writer on the art of living and social change, argues in his last book that we need to “switch on our empathetic brains” to solve many of the world’s issues, including climate change. “So far, economic, moral or other arguments have not been enough to spur sufficient actions from individuals”: empathy is a fundamental approach that has been missing. Education, conversation, and experience are the three methods he identified to generate empathy. With respect to education, art plays an instrumental role to better understand personal experiences of climate change in distant parts of the world through powerful images, pictures, photographs, videos, etc.  All of us in the creative factory room experienced empathy through conversation when listening to Nigel’s presentation.


Confronting climate change and disrupting current narratives face considerable barriers, whether it relates to short-term political visions, traditional media, or individuals’ behavior who remain “locked in their personal psychologies of denial about the realities of global warming and its destructiveness”. These obstacles are mostly explained by the way we think about climate change, not the way we feel about it. We are more likely to act because we feel, and not because we think. A recent study by Lisa Bennett suggested that the reason why people don’t engage in climate action has less to do with whether they believe or accept climate change, but has much more to do with their emotional response to it. As powerful motivators of change, emotions and feelings can then be accessed through arts, whereas facts access our brains. Art leaps the language barrier to tell stories that will inspire different emotions, whether positive or negative, to create empathy. Arts also has the role to emphasize solutions and positive actions around climate change in order to diminish individuals’ feeling of overwhelm. In our world dominated by irony and overly constructed images, artifice has become the enemy of empathy. We do need truthful and powerful images and artistic messages to inform everyday actions on climate and beyond. As an example, the Institute for Desirable Futures has launched its “positive propaganda” campaign. We are all #positiveconspirators.

Re-experience Empathy

Back to the Creative Factory where we took an hands-on approach to reflect on the new information and perspectives we shared and engage in a unique art project. By the end of this two-day session, all three groups created real things – an app, an online platform, a campaign – all capable of existing in the real world and achieving real changes.

  • Heartivist offers a digital platform of collaboration to overcome the usual loneliness of the activist and the artist, combining ART and EARTH.
  • “Stories in a Bottle” aims to create a new generation of virtual storytellers to preserve the cultural memories climate change is devouring.
  • “Would you have sex with a climate refugee?” is a provocative campaign aimed at tackling the rising fear of “The Other” in the global North, using humor to defuse the growing racism against refugees and pointing out that without action, we might all become climate refugees.


I want to thank all the participants and both teams, Ophelia and Tiphaine from place to B, David and Chris from Forever Swarm, for leading this incredible creative workshops. By participating in the creative factory for two days, I felt part of a creative collective, I felt connected to a dynamic group of changemakers and I felt stimulated by a diverse, respectful and balanced group of open-minded people. I am eager to go back to Montreal and share these beautiful experiences with others. The creative factory has been an amazing opportunity for me to look at climate change from different perspectives and disrupt my modern automatisms.

Revivez la creative factory en photos <


Featured Image : Place To B

1 Comment so far

  1. Pingback: Reflections by a participant of the Creative Factory | COP21 & Beyond

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