The Super Bowl is a big deal. A really big deal. In 2016, an estimated 111.9 million Americans tuned in for the entire game, although Nielsen puts the actual viewership over 170 million; in comparison, 126 million Americans voted in the 2016 presidential election, making a sporting event more popular than a US citizen’s most intrinsic civic duty.
But for many viewers, the draw of the Super Bowl is the commercials—as it is for businesses, as a good Super Bowl ad can spawn financial glory and create pop-culture icons. It’s why the ad spots are so coveted.
Which is exactly why professional skier Julian Carr is trying to buy one. Carr wants to use the spot to show one of America’s largest audiences the dangers of climate change. He just needs to raise $5.5 million first.
Thinking big is one of Carr’s defining characteristics, in both skiing and business. He holds the record for largest invert, a 210-foot front flip in Switzerland. He founded Discrete Clothing and organized the Peak Series, a multi-race mountain running competition. He’s given speeches at business conferences, colleges, TEDx and even Sundance Film Festival.
Carr is also an ambassador for the climate change advocacy organizations Protect Our Winter (POW) and The Climate Reality Project, where he’s heard scientists explain the severity of the situation. So Carr decided to do something, something beyond the usual methods. And it needed to be big—Super Bowl ad big. Which is why he set up #AirMyGlobalWarmingAd, a crowd-funded campaign buy one. True, $5.5 million may be a huge number, but Carr’s fine with that. Because “big” is what he does best.
We sat down with Julian to talk about the campaign, jet fuel, social media, and saving the world.
Give us a run-down of the project.
Being involved with POW and the Climate Reality Project, I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a number of conferences with leading climate scientists, who’ve given some pretty dire data. One of these was this past November, when POW had an ambassador summit at Snowbird, UT. They had five amazing speakers, including Eric Fine, project manager at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, and James White, interim dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Part of the message has always been that the findings don’t reach enough people, or that they get lost in all the disinformation that’s out there, or that the messages that do exist aren’t made in a way that holds people’s attention. Eric and James emphasized that as a key problem. Over the next few days of the conference, everyone was brainstorming and discussing different ideas, and in the back of my head I kept having this fleeting thought, “We should get what is, in my opinion, humanity’s biggest issue in front of humanity’s biggest audience—or the audience with the most interest in messaging [like commercials]. And that’s the Super Bowl.”
There’s this strange phenomenon surrounding Super Bowl commercials—how intensely they’re scrutinized, or how much media coverage they receive afterwards, with people talking about their Top 10 Super Bowl Commercials. Why couldn’t we get a whole bunch of scientists together, have this awesome common message, crowd-fund a Super Bowl commercial and get their message broadcast to everybody once and for all? That would reach real-time eyeballs during the actual game, plus all the post-Super Bowl eyeballs.
That was the basic idea. I went and talked to [Eric and James] about it afterwards, and they thought it sounded pretty cool, and I was thinking more they could take that and run with it. Then two days after the summit, I decided I should put it together. I had those two scientists endorsing the project, and I know a guy who works at Goodby [Silverstein & Partners] ad agency, which is one of the top ad agencies in the world and has done dozens of Super Bowl commercials. So I hit him up as a pure acquaintance—I hadn’t seen him since high school, basically—and said, “Hey, I’ve got an idea.” He was really receptive, and we both just decided, “Well, let’s just put it together. Let’s launch it. Let’s do this.”
I asked [Goodby] if they would be willing to do [the ad design] pro bono if we were able to purchase an ad spot [Note: the company has also done pro bono ad campaigns against sexual assault on university campuses, promoting the health benefits of bicycling, and anti-Donald Trump ads during the 2016 election, among others]. They ran it by their partners and got back to me the next day and said they’d love to do it: “We’ve sold enough hamburgers and beers, and we’d love to help out.”
To have that kind of acumen at our disposal to craft our message, I feel like we can reach the people who aren’t seeking that kind of information, and to distill it into something that’s relevant to pop culture and clever enough that it gets in the mix with those notable Super Bowl commercials. We can deliver it in a way that’s not just a CNN anchor or a political authority figure, so that it can’t be glazed over or seem like it’s someone else’s problem. I want people to realize this is humanity’s deal, and that we all need to be savvy to what’s going on.
That audience tends to span a huge spectrum, from climate-change believers to a lot of climate change deniers. Is part of it to stir up the pot a bit and generate some controversy?
I think it’s to inspire, but also try to instill a sense of reality to that complacent crowd. Because I feel like there are plenty of people who, whether they believe in climate change or not, aren’t involved or hear too much disinformation. Just over half of Americans think human activities are causing climate change, but only 15 percent know that the scientific community is almost totally in consensus on this—97 percent agree climate change is human caused.
To me, it’s important we make people aware of things like that, things like the fact that the US is the only country not in the Paris Climate Agreement. It’s important that we show people what the coastlines will look like, globally and in the US, if that 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise is breached.
Our audience is everybody. Humanity. We must instill a sense of unity in this thing. Everybody knows smoking is bad for you. That’s a given, but it wasn’t for a while. And each day, we have an energy infrastructure that puts 110 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere globally. So essentially the Earth is smoking. And even folks who don’t believe in climate change probably don’t smoke, because they don’t want to hurt their own body. Well, Earth’s atmosphere is as fragile as our lungs, so let’s at least agree to stop smoking.
So how does funding a $5.5 million ad at the Super Bowl do more than using that money to fund on-the-ground projects?
I understand being scrutinized for wanting to spend $5.5 million on a Super Bowl commercial, versus other activism projects you could spend that on. I’m completely aligned with that. But here’s the hiccup: I welcome anybody initiate a $5.5-million crowd fund for those other ideas. I’ll certainly contribute. I just think you’re going to have a lot more difficulty raising $5 million when you’re asking about scholarships or local ads or local projects.
To me, the bottom line is getting humanity’s biggest issue in front of humanity’s biggest audience, and you need that kind of potential virality for something that big to get funded. And a top ad agency, working pro bono on the first-crowd-funded Super Bowl commercial, with climate change as the topic and spearheaded by this crazy skier guy: well, that has all the components to potentially go viral. To have someone like a Leonardo Di Caprio retweet it or something.
How’s the progress going?
Well, we originally wanted to hit this Super Bowl, but are now aiming for the one in 2019. In the first 11 days we got $54,000, even with a very limited reach, and since then I’ve had some discussions with some pretty big platforms. We don’t have any sponsors—crowd funding is the only way I see it happening. But I’m hoping by generating enough visibility we can interest some high-profile people who maybe throw down good little chunks or help promote and share it. But the way I look at it, all we need is 500,000 people tossing in $10 a person, or five million people all throwing in $1. It’s a huge sum of money, but for an issue I feel most people do care about. If we can get it in front of enough eyeballs, it can happen.
For me, if we don’t get funded, it’s still providing discussion around the topic. And obviously I want that to happen on a national and global scale, but even if it just happens in these little pockets of coverage that’s still the aim and I see that as a success. If you’re trying things, that means the topic is getting brought up and you’re trying to convert people’s mindsets who are passionate about it. Because then things will actually change.
For the everyday person, how can they help beyond donating?
Just win the conversations. Educate yourself a little bit, and understand the usual arguments. Get involved with organizations like POW, who have so many resources for learning more about the subject. That’s why I got involved with POW, so I could at least be part of the conversation. By just learning the fundamentals of the topic, you can get past a lot of the disinformation and start having discussions with people. It is confusing, but that’s something a little education can help with.
What are the main criticisms you’ve received?
One idea I hear brought up a lot is that we should fly less, or get told I’m a hypocrite because I fly in helicopters. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with flying in planes or helicopters, or being in a car. It’s what fuels them that’s the problem. People say “Well, if we all just chose to do this and that differently,” but the reality is that humanity will never stop being in this mass transit, mass intercontinental world. That’s not going to go away. Period. So the type of energy has to change.
That’s always brought up, and that’s my fearless response. I don’t think flying in helicopters is wrong, or driving in cars. I don’t live in excess, but I try to live a content lifestyle. And I shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting to drive a car, or fly in a helicopter maybe once a year. Are you kidding? That’s the last thing anyone should worry about.
I don’t think it always needs to be seen as having to do less, to live more conservatively—which are admiral goals and traits, but not what’s going to save the world. What’s going to save the world is demanding new sustainable energy infrastructure. That’s a given.
Anything to add?
I think it’s exciting, because we are at this strange precipice. It’s not some crazy Hollywood sci-fi movie about the consequences of climate change. It’s reality; it’s what’s actually going on. If humanity doesn’t figure out how to get on a renewable energy structure and stays on carbon for another 20 or 30 years, there will be some serious implications.
Nothing yet has woken up humanity and ignited that necessary momentum. There is obviously a ton of money being spent on renewable energy infrastructure; more communities are investing in it, and the cost is going down. But even with all those great things, there is still this insane problem. It’s money. Because there are trillions of dollars going into preserving our carbon energy structure.
It’s going to be a heavy battle, but I feel like the more it can be at the top of people’s minds, the more it gets brought up and passionately spoken about, the better our chances. And pretty soon, all of humanity will treat it just like cigarettes.
While the page is not currently accepting donations, it will go live on October of 2018. Watch for updates as Julian’s project progresses.