Humanity faces the combined catastrophes of: climate change, a mass extinction of vital biodiversity & a degradation of ecosystems health.
This is the Climate and Ecological Emergency, or the Planetary Emergency. Of these, climate change is the major threat multiplier because it is non-linear, containing many systems that feed back on each other and accelerate change.
This has become an emergency situation because governments and industry have not shown the necessary leadership, and, so far, have not acted fast enough. We are not waiting for more efficient wind-turbines or cheaper solar-panels. What is lacking is visionary leadership.
Fortunately, humans are capable of responding in a remarkable variety of ways to accelerate climate solutions and adaptations, and culture can help stir up human response as well as creating new stories and visions for our world.
The declaration movement is gaining pace internationally. It started with Climate Mobilization in the US and Australia, and is now promoted by Extinction Rebellion, Sunrise Movement, School Strike for Climate and other groups calling for urgent action. Sir David Attenborough has expressed the urgency in a BBC documentary, Climate Change - The Facts. More councils across the UK are declaring all the time, including the Greater London Authority, and are committing resources to tackling this emergency.
Their declarations state they will work with civic partners, so this is where you come in. If you have creative or civic resources to contribute, such as meeting space, biodiverse places, skilled people, community partners, or innovative ideas and programmes, then your declaration allows you to explain the contribution you can make. There is no more important way to express the value of arts and culture at this time.
If your area or council has declared an emergency, you may be called upon by local people, politicians or funders to respond. Making your own declaration, as an organisation or as an individual, is a good place to start. If your area or council has not declared, you can lead by example, using the power of your declaration to inspire your area or council to do the same.
Culture gives space to articulate our place and survival in the web of life.In studies of systemic interconnectedness, the energy and resilience of a system are where connections and links are the strongest; participation, diversity, plurality and variability the greatest. Through its convening powers, culture brings people together across differences of generation, heritage, gender, class and working expertise to find commonality: all perspectives can be drawn on to create the future we want to live in. Celebratory social spaces allow us to to look backwards and forwards in time, where our collective knowledge, intuition and a sense of wonder at what is possible come together.
Culture renews and transforms
The arts have a tradition of sparking cultural change and ‘speaking differently’: disrupting the status quo and creating emergent space for new ideas to engage people at an imaginative level. Drawing on metaphor and abstraction, cultural activities tap into intrinsic values of connection, story, place and meaning. Science and technology alone cannot play the role of interpreting the existential crisis we face or shifting the destructive values that underpin the need for change. Culture explores the fierce poetry of the heart; the pain of what we are losing and a yearning for the restoration and celebration of life.
Culture, literally, ‘tills’ (cultivates) the soil of a society, creating conditions for renewal and change, ready to plant something anew: systemic changes in land use, energy, finance, food and community resilience, reimagining the world the way we would like it to be.
Culture builds capacities for action
Participation is key to many of today’s cultural and arts practices; building creative skills, lost crafts, and learning through doing and engaging. Drawing on patterns of belonging, empathy, kindness, stewardship, re-skilling, alternatives to 'limitless' growth, culture energises people’s courage and capacities for action to respond collectively to challenges faced.Play and creativity extends the range of possibilities we draw on and negates the cortisol-inducing effects of fear: a necessity for collaboration and survival. Non-competitive ways of working open up space to rehearse new realities of living within ecological limits, shaping our new ways of being human on Earth; our relationships to non-humans, seasons and cycles and knowing oneself as part of nature.
Culture lets us learn
Public debate and policy does not yet honour the role the arts and culture play in accelerating and nurturing societal change at a time of climate and ecological emergency. How societies change is connected directly to how people learn, across differences, with others, and how knowledge that we’re part of a larger web of life on Earth, becomes embodied into our behaviour. A more viable future can be reimagined. Being bold, active players in this great reimagining is why and how culture matters.
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