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.
A big first step for any Cultural organisation or practitioner is to recognise that the climate and ecological emergencies will severely affect them, their infrastructure and future income, and the wellbeing of their audiences and communities. Then, they have to recognise the agency that Culture offers to avoid harm and help those who are most affected — both human and more-than-human. This is what’s involved in declaring a climate and ecological emergency.
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? Please use #CultureTakesAction to share your stories of action. Also, if you tag us on social media with @ClimateMuseumUK we’ll be able to share your stories and collect them in our digital museum.
The eight areas of action
See the diagram at the top that shows how these eight areas for action sit at the heart of the Doughnut — the economics model created by Kate Raworth — enabling a safe and just space for humanity. Cultural declarers can work to ensure humans have their needs met within the limits of the planet, recognising that these limits are increasingly breached and that human inequality is worsening due to extractive life-ways. These pathways are best combined, and delivered collaboratively, to ensure multi-solving action plans follow from declaration.
1. Truth-telling through Arts 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.
2. Ambitious global 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.
3. Supporting local 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.
4. Providing 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.
5. Decolonising culture & seeking reparation
- Co-educate with and for those people who are most affected by histories & current impacts of extractivism and degenerative development.
- Work to expose and dismantle systems of oppression and exploitation, alongside decarbonisation efforts.
- 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.
- Support those in frontlines of ecocide & climate impacts
- Tackle inequalities in cultural & environmental movements
6. Decarbonising cultural practice
- 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.
7. Ecological innovation
- 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.
8. Adapting to impacts & protecting heritage
- 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).
Collaboration and shared learning is always helpful when stepping up action. The community that embraces all these areas is Culture Declares Emergency, which encourages you to form a local network for mutual support. Or perhaps one of the declarers initiatives for particular fields such as Music Declares or Architects Declare.
See the end of this post for a list of networks and associations in the museums and heritage world, focused on sustainability and climate action.
If you’re interested in one area of action in particular, seek out a network that is very strong in this. Here are just a few examples but there are many more, and in other countries than UK.
Background to this framework
I’ve been developing and promoting frameworks for climate action in culture since 2007, but it’s only in the past 2 years that this work is gaining some traction. We can now more clearly see and experience the coming together of intersecting emergencies: climate breakdown, ecological collapse, inequality and racism, and health pandemics.
These paired phrases are all about thinking BOTH / AND. They refer to common binary arguments about which one is more important than the other. Let’s move beyond this and embrace the complexity of solutions and perspectives, while seeing the root causes and the right pathway forward.
At the root of the Earth crisis is a colonial, extractive, linear economy. The route of the pathway forward is a pledge to be in service of biodiverse life and to create a regenerative economy and culture.
If you search online for a comparison of the Linear and Circular Economy you’ll find hundreds of versions of the top two lines. In the diagram above I’ve added to the Linear economy to show the harm it does, and have added a line to describe the next radical step, a Regenerative Economy. In order to create a Regenerative Economy, which will help regenerate the biosphere, we need a Regenerative culture in society. And in order to create a Regenerative culture in society, the Cultural sector can play a key role.