In the wake of devastation caused by Cyclone Idai – why is mainstream culture so quiet about climate change?

(The Independent, 21 Mar 2019) A concept album from Grimes and two new books suggest we could be entering a new era of stories about our ecological age, writes our arts columnist Lucy Jones. But for the most part, the silence is deafening.

The weather in England has been weird. I got a little burnt sunbathing in February. The snowman in the garden had recently melted.

Meanwhile, the news is full of climate change and ecological collapse. This week alone, Cyclone Idai has led to unprecedented devastation and loss of life in southern Africa; the chief executive of the Environment Agency warned that England could run out of water in 25 years, and the most endangered marine mammal, a small porpoise called vaquita, is down to just 10 animals. The consequences of our relationship with the rest of the living world are fast becoming fatal for many, and unsettling and disturbing for those not yet directly affected.

But when I sit down in the evening and flick on the telly, browse the cinema listings or put on some music, I don’t find the biggest story on earth. The arts in the mainstream, from low to highbrow, are strangely silent on climate breakdown, species extinction and the multiple symptoms of human-earth relations. I was pleased, almost weirdly relieved, to see Grimes announce this week that her new record will be a concept album confronting climate change. She has created a character called Miss_Anthrop0cene – a play on misanthrope and Anthropocene, the epoch defined by humanity’s impact on the earth – and intends to try and “make climate change fun” (good luck with that!) and “exist as a character and not just abstract doom”.

Elsewhere, the silence is deafening. On one level, the subject is ripe for Hollywood horror movies and apocalyptic scenarios and stories of corporate derring-do. On another, it plays out the most dysfunctional family relationship of all: humans and the earth. Emotionally, there are riches, of anger and injustice and guilt and shame and psychological terror and wonder and awe. For dramatic intensity, the stakes have never been higher. But, especially as the impact of a changing climate accelerates and millions of young people mobilise in school strikes, the dearth feels baffling and peculiar. When will music and television and film and fiction start to truly capture the zeitgeist of ecological and climate anxiety?

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The Independent, 21 Mar 2019: In the wake of devastation caused by Cyclone Idai – why is mainstream culture so quiet about climate change?