planting a seed

After listening to Sir David Attenborough’s voice or watching a beautiful sunset on the beach, we are often left in a trance-like state where we aspire to be more eco-friendly. Then we start asking what we can do to help our planet? Say no to plastic bags? Only by second-hand and local clothes? Stop smoking perhaps? Will this be enough?  

“I’ve always felt hugely vulnerable to the state of the world.” This is the opening line by Talia Wooden in the web series, Seeds, that was launched last week. Seeds was started by Yonca Sophia Ergen (26), a student at the Zurich University of Arts, to explore these themes of eco-anxiety and other ideas surrounding the climate movement. Yonca comes from a wine region in Germany called Rheingau which has always made her aware of the environment around her.  

“The winegrowers there are dependent on a good harvest and are severely affected by extreme weather situations such as drought or hail. So, environmental protection is also an important topic for me at home. However, many people lack the direct link to the climate crisis and more directly to its causes. I often have the feeling that people like to close their eyes out of comfort and when they are confronted with it, such as through the climate movement, they feel put on the wall or applaud the climate youth instead of really contributing something,” said Yonca.  

This has driven her to explore different ways in which one can advocate for the climate movement. She explains how she explores the beliefs of the climate generation in Seeds

“I wanted to create a series that the younger generation can relate to and that can help them to find their own way to contribute to the cause. So, as I mention on the website, this project is my attempt to capture the zeitgeist of the climate generation. One thing that is remarkable about the climate generation is the community that stands behind it. You feel part of something bigger. I would describe it as a young generation that is committed to a better future for themselves and others. I believe it is necessary to reflect on the reasons and motivation behind our urge to make a difference and to make ourselves heard. Only by understanding each other, can we work together for a better world. For me it was important to show that each story is worth telling and each contribution leaves its mark on the world no matter how small it is.” 

She continues by explaining the significance of the name behind the web series: 

“The essence of the series is expressed through the name, Seeds. It doesn’t matter if your contribution is large or small and what it looks like. What matters is that you start somewhere. Each contribution can be a seed that falls on the earth and is ready to grow. The name also refers to each person, who is trying to find their unique way in this challenge of being heard. Like seedlings, we are trying to grow into full green; we are trying to find our role in the ecosystem of change.” 

“The easiest way is to start with yourself. Consciously go through the world and always ask yourself what impact your actions have and how you can perhaps improve it.”

Yonca believes that there are certain preconceived notions around the climate movement, specifically with regard to how the media portrays the climate youth. She refers to a quote from Daniel Boese’s Book, Wir sind jung und brauchen die Welt that reads: “The climate movement is the heart of a generation that is written off as apolitical, chatsuechtig* and consumer-oriented, but in reality it is precisely in the process of redefining world politics.” She discussed how this quote inspired her while she was working on the project and how she wanted to break away from previous ideas or views that people had of the climate generation:  

“I feel that this captures the situation in which we find ourselves and how the media is portraying the climate youth. I wanted to portray the Climate Generation in a different way and tell the stories behind the faces you see who are engaging with the cause or protesting on the street. I kind of realised that there are a lot of young people out there who have felt powerless at one point or were overwhelmed by the topic, including me. Climate change is such a big and complex problem that it is easy to start feeling overwhelmed and depressed by it. You start wondering whether doing something will do anything at all. So where do you start? What does “having an impact” actually mean? And what is your contribution supposed to look like? This is exactly where the series takes off. It portrays young people, who have found an individual approach to climate activism and it’s supposed to show how versatile each contribution can be.” 

In the web series, Yonca follows three protagonists from different countries who each have different reasons for and approaches to being more environmentally friendly. The first episode, which was launched last week, centers around Talia Woods (20), a Climate and Social Justice activist based in London. In the episode that was launched yesterday, we follow Sophie Backsen (21), whose family are farmers on Pellworm, a North Sea Island of Germany. The web series ends off with Lara Müller (22), a contemporary dance student at the Zurich University of the Arts.  

With the outbreak of the global pandemic, she had to change the original idea of what she had in mind for production of the series: “Right from the start I wanted to include people from different countries, to highlight the fact that Climate Change is a global issue and that it involves everyone. Originally, I had planned to travel by train to each protagonist of this web series and shoot the video footage on site. I was already on my way to the North Sea island Pellworm when they started closing the borders due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Therefore, I had to turn back and find another solution for the series. Producing this web series made me realise that you don’t have to approach everything in a classical way. There is always an alternative solution. And in my case, it turned out to be the better solution for this kind of series. The stories are told by my protagonists who I talked to over a video chat. Using that and what I could find on the internet, such as online articles and social media posts, I was also to tell their stories without any travel involved. Another great aspect of the series is the collaboration behind it. Not only my protagonists, who had to shoot the footage themselves, but also the collaboration with composer and sound designer Simon de Beer from South Africa and the colourist Erick Moraes from São Paulo. First, I started the project by myself, but after reaching out to my protagonists and connecting with these talented creatives from all around the world, the project became something bigger, something that can reach anyone from anywhere,” explains Yonca.  

The purpose of Seeds is just to get your mind going and to show different ways in which we can get involved in the climate movement, be it personal or public. Yonca urges us to question our beliefs and our actions in order to improve the outcome:  

“What kind of footprint do you leave? Are you thinking about taking the car, the bus or the plane? When shopping, do you worry about where the products come from and how they are packaged? Do you only buy new things if you really need them? The easiest way is to start with yourself. Consciously go through the world and always ask yourself what impact your actions have and how you can perhaps improve it. But I don’t want to be hyper-moralistic. There are, for example, many people who do not have the financial means to always buy organic products. You cannot be 100% perfect. Rather, it is about becoming aware of what one can do as an individual and what is within the scope of what is possible.” 

*chatsüchtig is a neologism meaning “addicted to chatting”. So, being addicted to social media.

Photos by Yonca Sophia Ergen

Follow Seeds on Instagram @seeds.mp4 and check out their website https://www.seeds-webseries.com/ for the next episode.

A portrait of Yonca Sofia Ergen, the creator of Seeds. Photo: Sarja Gauch