Changing culture in a changing climate

(Eco Business, 7 Oct 2019) A wave of climate consciousness has broken over the UK, and the arts have a part to play in shaping what comes next.

Climate activism in the UK has exploded this year, engaging record numbers of people, from thousands of schoolchildren to a 91-year-old arrested in Dover.

Extinction Rebellion burst onto the scene demanding government plummet emissions to net zero by 2025. In a scorching summer that saw temperatures reach 38.7C in Cambridge – the highest on record in the UK – politicians registered a deepening public unease. Just before stepping down as prime minister, Theresa May committed the country to carbon neutrality by 2050. Members of the Labour party then backed a motion to achieve the same by 2030, and the party may well include the pledge – long advocated by the Green Party – in its next manifesto.

But can a party standing on an urgent climate policy platform win an election? And are people willing to make the necessary lifestyle changes – to what we buy and eat and how we get around?

Filmmakers, writers, musicians, artists can play a part in answering these questions. Through their stories they hold up mirrors to the way we live, satirising the absurd aspects (see Carnist by Simon Amstell), highlighting our embeddedness within natural systems, envisioning more regenerative societies.

This may seem woolly but such narratives have real-world impacts. In her book Doughnut Economics, Kate Raworth shows that the more economics students are taught to see human nature in the mould of classical economics – rational, self-interested, competitive – the more they begin to value those traits over altruism and cooperation, and behave more selfishly themselves. “Our beliefs about human nature help shape human nature itself,” says another economist, Robert Frank.

Given that stories form as well as reflect our attitudes, the creative industries should perhaps be doing more on climate. Though the idea of prioritising nature and climate in everyday actions is gaining traction, it remains pretty fringe. In the US, the rapper Lil Dicky tried to mainstream it in April with “Earth”, a planetary love song featuring Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber and Leonardo DiCaprio which has been viewed 200 million times on YouTube.

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Eco Business, 7 Oct 2019: Changing culture in a changing climate