Category Archives: Climate Change

The Art of Protest

 

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As an environmentally conscious individual, it often doesn’t feel enough just to try and live a low carbon lifestyle when you hear about all the atrocities of large corporations and the complicity of Governments. The question I often have, and many of my friends is “cliktavism, marches ; protests -what can we do to make the biggest impact?”

But do politicians really listen to the angry protesters voices, and can they publicly be seen to react? After listening to books like Bill McKiben’s ‘Oil and Honey’, I was reminded that often political leaders can’t be seen to give in to the voice of protesters as they would be perceived as weak by their political counterparts.

So what to do? McKiben talks about positive, peaceful protests, reinforcing Obama’s pre- lection rhetoric rather than negatively criticising him as the stance they adopted when tackling the Keystone XL pipeline in 2011. And as someone who believes that negativity breeds negativity it makes sense to approach environmental campaigns in another way. Although,  I certainly have enjoyed attending marches against austerity and fracking.; the aspects I enjoy the most are the song singing and the sense of community and solidarity I come back with.

Throughout 2016, I have been following  the BP or not BP campaign with admiration, as a great way to highlight and engage people in the issues of climate change using creative direct action. So I was really pleased that finally  I had a  free weekend to atte20160925_140001nd the Splash Mob that was due to take over the British Museum on September 29th.

The instructional email I received, which was littered with hilarious fish and sea alliteration, set the tone for a fun, positive and respectful afternoon of theatrical activism.

On Sunday 25th,  the fun began as my friend and I worked out how we could cycle and then get  our mermaid costumes in the museum without them being confiscated by security.  Safely in,  the sense of unity and excitement began to bubble as we bumped into friends and strangers who were unveiling their glittering attire and putting on their fishy facepaint and makeup.

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The performance began to the summoning of a conch sound and merfolk and fishes congregated from each corner of the museum, and museum goers looked on in bemusement( the amp had been confiscated so some of the performances prose got lost in the echoey chamber of the great court. However every time a song broke out (that we joined in with), the audience swelled like the tide with intrigue. The performance took a stomping, singing procession around the museum until we came face-to face with 20160925_145920the Cracken, a 10 metre black sea monster puppet who consumed a fictional museum manager (we weren’t sure if he was real initially). We also wondered how this got in past security!

The real museum staff and security were patient and accommodating allowing the piece to take place with photographers recording the whole affair. Obviously that is what we should expect, and with organisers making it clear that their was to be no damage or disrespect paid to staff, and the atmosphere was positive, with the activists brushing up the paper oil rain that was on the floor.

With the British Museum already signing a another 5 year contract with BP, one could feel like the action was futile. As we sat on the step recollecting on the experience, we wondered about the museum visitors. – will they think twice about filling their cars up with fuel from BP or will they read into the issues of BP’s deep drilling plans or the issues of climate change???? Perhaps that is something that can’t be quantified by today. What I can be sure of is that it was an injection of campaigning ‘fuel’ for myself and my friend who is prohibited from protesting by his work contract. We felt reignited on ways to get involved and to approach environmental campaigning- song, theatrically, good nature and positivism.

So in the spirit of the Splash Mob all that is left to say, or sing (to the tune of  the Drunken sailor song) “What should we do with the corporate sponsor, what should we do with the corporate sponsor, what should we do with the corporate sponsor, kick them out of culture”!

Climate Change Requires System Change NOT Hereos

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In the midst of the COP 21 talks in Paris, I walked through Swindon station on a Sunday evening, and was stopped in my tracks by the above banner. Many thoughts ran through my head as I tried to fathom the objective of Birmingham University, in advocating their professors as heroes saving the UK from an energy crisis, so we can all carry on with ‘business as usual’.

I am still unclear if they are aimed at encouraging people to join their courses, or they are being sponsored by an energy company to encourage people to keep their heating turned up whilst the three ‘middle-class scientists’ save the day. Either way, following the catastrophic floods in the UK, we just don’t have time to wait for them to create new technologies  in order to avoid another 1-3 degree rise in global warming, or as per the message, run out of energy.

Technology is not the only answer

I am not suggesting they are not part of the solutions that need to be taken to address the impacts modern living is having on the climate. On inspection of their website, it appears that they have been funded and are working on technology to address:

  • Energy-efficient cooling systems due to the levels of energy required by refrigeration, air conditioners and data storage
  • Thermal storage systems for excess energy that is created

But as stated by Alice Bows Larkin, the Professor of Climate Science & Energy Policy we need to focus on serious energy efficiency and climate conservation first and foremost while these technologies are being developed. Particularly as the rest of the world starts to catch up with similar levels of energy consumption and fossil fuel burning.

Energy efficiency and energy conservation required by all

There have been many schemes to encourage people to insulate their lofts and undertake cavity insulation but these need to go much further according to Alice Bows Larkin. She is suggesting a programme of  government-led ‘energy austerity’ by developed countries, because if we don’t we can expect a 4 degree temperature increase. The current government are keen on financial austerity, so why not facilitate one that would actually be beneficial to the environment and provide long-term energy savings for communities. Although, based on the marches and campaigning that I have attended, I think that the term austerity would not necessarily be the best phrase to get buy-in from other social campaign organisations.

In fact, the University of Birmingham missed an opportunity to invite the Swindon passers by the chance to ask them to join in, and join the system change that could limit an energy crisis.

Listen to Alice Bows Larkin Ted Talk 

Climate Vs Capitalism

In her book and film ‘ This Changes Everything’,  Naomi Klein, argues that unlike the 1970’s, environmental challenges like climate change  are not being treated like bank bail outs  “as crises” due to the rise and power of the free-market state. In it’s drive for growth there is a constant demand for raw finite resources, which is ideologically opposed to the principles of resource conservation required for planet and species protection. This means despite claims that the free-market will solve the problems of our time, we cannot leave our energy crisis and global warming problems in the hands of a financial instrument that is committed to profit.

Global warming heading to unchartered territories

As stated in the Guardian (Wed 20th Damien Carrington)  global warming is driving the world’s climate into “uncharted territory”, which requires the urgent implementation of the carbon-cutting pledges made by the world’s governments in Paris in December.

But as demonstrated by the Birmingham Heroes advert there are some fundamental challenges in our human psyche and society that leads to a lack of mass-action to address climate change at a personal level:

  • It is not an immediate threat for us to deal with
  • It feels like it is too big and something we can’t address on our own- our actions won’t make a difference
  • Technology will save us
  • We suffer from loss aversion, and fear the changes in our own lives from making ‘sacrifices’

These reasons are explained in George Marshall’s book:

Don’t Even Think About It argues that the answers to these questions do not lie in the things that make us different and drive us apart, but rather in what we all share: how our human brains are wired, our evolutionary origins, our perceptions of threats, our cognitive blindspots, our love of storytelling, our fear of death, and our deepest instincts to defend our family and tribe.

Personal Choices

On a personal note,  I felt the same way until a couple of years ago. Whilst I was comfortable considering actions that could be taken to address waste, I thought that climate change was too big and far away for me. I also struggled to fathom how, if I didn’t get on an Easy Jet flight, what difference it would make.

But the reality is that if we carry on in this same guise, and the rest of the world joins us in similar levels of energy consumption; we will suddenly have to make drastic changes as life on planet earth will become immeasurably difficult.

Get the Facts

I have gained my understanding from listening to audio books, attending talks and workshops at festivals and hosted by environmental organisations. These videos and books explain the issues far more eloquently than I can:

Listen to Alice Bows Larkin Ted Talk 

Naomi Klein This Changes Everything 

George Marshall Don’t Even Think About It