What do you do after declaring a climate and ecological emergency?
What can cultural organisations and practitioners do that will make a difference?
In Climate Museum UK, we were one of the first organisations to sign up to Culture Declares Emergency, and I’ve been involved since the start in crafting its resources and messages. As part of this work I’ve proposed a framework called Culture Takes Action. This is like a menu for a broad and balanced action plan for declaring organisations, and it’s also a collecting project for our museum. If the whole international declaring community pools their stories and data, we can produce a dashboard of change. Declaring emergency doesn’t have to mean making a statement then going quiet and still. If declarers take action consistently, and share it, we will be able to see culture being relevant in a time of critical change, stirring others to action and making the impossible possible.
There is no hierarchy for these eight areas of action. The best action plans will be multi-solving, tackling more than one area. For example, decarbonising and decolonising can go hand in hand. If decarbonising operations is the only path, this may feel inadequate to communities historically affected by exploitation or inequality. If you seek to decolonise without decarbonising, you may be missing opportunities to support these communities as they’re affected into the future.
We would love to hear from you. Are there some areas that you think are particularly effective? What are you trying?
The eight areas we’ve identified are…
Truth-telling and Education
- Culture profoundly highlights our own truths and helps us see from other perspectives. Truth-telling is best when done in participatory ways, creating space for dialogue and acknowledging that there is no single truth but shared truths can be agreed from different experiences.
- Values-based education can nurture forgiveness, enabling truth-telling and dialogue between people with different experiences.
- Arts & technology can make the invisible more visible e.g. raising awareness of pollution.
- There are opportunities to raise awareness, e.g. to help people understand connections between consumption, climate change, biodiversity, conflict and migration.
Ambitious system-changing action
- Advocate for UN policies for peace, equality and sustainability
- Work to embed the Global Goals (with critical view of Goal 8 — economic growth).
- Offer resources / space for activists to learn and to plan actions for systemic change.
- Work for a law to end Ecocide and bolster laws to protect Earth and human rights.
- Expose corruption and create opportunities for participatory democracy. Enable pluralistic, conversational learning to combat propaganda and corruption, and develop critical thinking.
- Promote ecological forms of arts & design, e.g, artists actively involved in restoring land on a large scale.
- Promote Bioregionalism as an alternative frame to growth-obsessed nationalism.
Support community transition
- Support local self-sufficiency, acknowledging the basic importance of food, water, energy and shelter in people’s education and community activism.
- Support regenerative forms of place-making, giving a new meaning to ‘regeneration’ of localities.
- Culture can play an active role in the transition to greener and more local economies, helping people gain a ‘sense of place’ and feel able to imagine possible futures.
- Provide cultural services as an alternative to consumerism, while supporting people in poverty.
- Outdoor arts, cultural heritage and citizen science projects can raise appreciation and stewardship of biodiversity, green space and green infrastructure for resilience to extreme weather.
Provide arts and cultural therapy
- Support for activists: culture / creativity can hold people at the low point of despair when leaders have failed or we must rise to action and compassion.
- Enable wellbeing and immunity in brains and bodies, through play, sport, dance, outdoor exploration, and work on diet and addiction. Access to biodiverse nature reduces stress and improves wellbeing.
- Offer cultural therapy for people affected by eco-anxiety in anticipation of trauma
- Work with appropriate services to support traumatised people (e.g. displaced by climate impacts and conflict).
- Help change attitudes to our fellow beings, to be more generous and less materialist.
- Co-educate with and for those people who are most affected by histories & current impacts of extractivism and degenerative development.
- Use cultural resources to learn from indigenous and innovative peoples, and open up platforms for them.
- Protect and safely restore or return intangible, indigenous heritage, in consultative collaboration.
- Go beyond CO2 to include a wider ecological footprint, aiming to positively benefit people, place and planet.
- Reduce dependency on flight-based tourism and touring of arts productions, while enabling a just transition for cultural workers whose dependence on touring & tourism has been disrupted by pandemics.
- Resist and work to end cultural sponsorship by harmful industries, particularly fossil fuels.
- Support eco-enterprise within cultural practice: develop products & services with green materials, designs & methods
- Encourage the re-use and sharing of materials and products.
- Expand definitions of Culture beyond notions of commodity, virtuosity or as a carrier of messages, and include ideas of Culture connecting us to place.
- Explore the potential of technology for new and ecologically beneficial forms of cultural value, production and exchange.
- Promote a ‘knowledge commons’: open up access to expertise, data and ideas.
- Design digital services for change-makers and activists.
- Help young people to be ‘positively deviant’, to envisage and build resilient careers and movements to change big systems from Degenerative to Regenerative.
- Prefigure and generate ecological and social innovations such as microsolidarity, rewilding, circular forms of production, and urban food growing.
- Smart tech can provide better data feedback about ecological footprints, community needs and ecosystem changes, and can involve communities as citizen scientists.
Adapting to impacts
- Protect heritage from impacts of climate change and ecocidal damage, through trying adaptive strategies, and working with creatives and experts to explore and promote these strategies, in ways that involve communities and generate ingenious solutions.
- Virtual creation of lost places, e.g. digital or literary/imagined places or 3D reconstructions.
- Memorialise lost species, cultures & places; give space to spiritual activities and support grief at loss.
- Educate audiences, aiming for justice and care for migrants and climate refugees.
- Offer refuge and support in disaster or crisis situations (e.g. space, equipment and emotional support).