Progress is sustainability

30 05 2011

“They killed me when they took my land” Sinan Akçal

“…progress is about being able to sustain yourself…” Maura Harrington

The problem is an extraordinarily complex one. Human actions have already breached or still threaten the nine planetary boundaries, with climate change the biggest actor of ecological collapse. Climate change is not the single issue but a giant one in a dynamic set of interrelated issues, although it is one of the boundaries that is easiest to solve. Easiest to solve, but still, not easy. That it is easier to solve than the others shows what a mess we are in.

Emissions in 2010 were higher than ever despite the recession, prompting alarm that 2C stabilisation of temperature would be impossible, with a much greater likelihood of a 4C increase by 2100. Governments and media will continue to talk about averting future disaster while failing to notice that anthropogenic disasters have been hitting for some time and are increasing in severity. More food riots and conflict are predicted, but media and government responses focus on increasing the flow of money and curtailing tyrants rather than preventing damage of natural resources.

Why is there an increase in emissions? Because the response to global distress by almost every country that is not entirely torn by conflict or slowed by entropy is to effect a rapid ‘great leap forward. For one of many examples, Ecuador is champing at the bit to destroy vast areas of rainforest to extract only a small amount of oil. These examples mean yet more deforestation, extraction, power stations, dams, factories and city infrastructure, always in the name of looking after the interests of a nation’s people. But, the benefits for the majority of people are dubious. These ‘great leaps forward’ mean overlooking or promoting corrupt, exploitative, ecocidal and ‘culture-cidal’ practices in the interests of what is considered the greater good of ‘more jobs’ and GDP. Many of these countries are forgetting to ensure the stability of local agriculture (and/or productive wilderness) because of the belief that jobs means money to buy food and other land-based produce from elsewhere. However, as we breach planetary boundaries there is less ‘elsewhere’ that food can be produced. Add to this, growing inequality which contributes to the statistic that 50% of all food is wasted (if all aspects of the production cycle are accounted for, including losses because of food’s transportation from ‘elsewhere’). The myth that rapid industrial progress will  benefit all a nation’s people remains a very powerful one, despite the fact that corporate executive pay increased by 32% in 2010 while workers’ pay endured the most prolonged squeeze since the 1920′s.

Why is this myth so powerful? Individuals conform to social norms based on what they understand will be optimal for them. Never before has it been so hard for people to decide for themselves, based on concrete evidence, what is optimal for them. (For more about social norms see the work of Dr Cristina Bicchieri.) Worldwide, normative values have switched massively away from those where cultural stability is achieved by having the means to thrive with the land, towards values whereby individual or family security is achieved by having a job away from (or against) the land. Those who uphold the former values can often be described as backward, foolish and standing in the way of progress. Those who drive the latter values can often project themselves as progressive, smart and caring for people. Of course, it’s much more complex than this polarity suggests.

These two news stories about Ireland and Turkey show us people who for generations have provided food from their land but are now being ousted by government-commissioned industrial schemes. The long battle of the people of Erris against Shell has been narrated as a film, out now, called The Pipe. Maura Harrington, one of the activists, says: “This is about a sense of place and its people. We may not qualify as indigenous people, but we have our land and culture, to which we belong. All those people who emigrated from Erris through history, Erris never left them. They say we are opposed to progress, and laugh at us. But to me, progress is the ability to sustain yourself, and those who come after you. It’s nature and nurture: what we here call muinhin, which means of the place, and cointeann, which means to get a little awkward when that place and its people are about to be torn apart.”

I find these words very potent, an inspiration for those of us in the arts and heritage sectors. Museums have traditionally been about gathering and protecting the artefacts and knowledge of dislocated cultures and environments, as well as collapsed civilisations. We were trained with a normative mindset which said that this dislocation and ‘culture-cide’ had happened in the past. We accepted that the later 20th Century had settled into a state of post-modern multiculturalism, and we worked positively to promote tolerance of dislocated peoples. That was not wrong but we took our eyes off the ball: in the ‘great leap forward’ of the developed world we failed to notice the ongoing and escalating destruction of habitats.

One key problem is that we are distracted by arguments about the right approach. Aside from, or beneath, the technical arguments about nuclear, geoengineering, carbon tax and so on, I see two dimensions to the disagreement: Between people-centred thinking and systems-thinking; between transitional economics and growth-based economics. See this matrix for a visual version of the two dimensions. The disagreements between those who are closest in their views can be the most intense. The ‘growthers’ concerned about climate change accuse organisations such as NEF of being too weak, that solutions for social and environmental injustice depend on boosting economies to get people out of poverty. The ‘transitioners’ assert that economic growth must be decoupled from resource use growth, and that growth does not have to be measured in money. Growthers tend to see climate change as the big issue, which needs to be tackled rapidly with big engineering and social change projects. Transitioners tend to see ecological collapse and resource scarcity as the problem-complex, to be resisted gently but urgently by locally-scaled alternative tactics. It was in reading this post by Rob Hopkins (founder of the Transition movement) that I wondered if it is possible to reduce the polarities between them. As he says, everybody is choosing to act primarily for their families and communities. We all have common cause. On the whole, those of us who see our communities as including wildlife and who see the life-giving land as our home are more likely to take a longer view, looking further back to sustained traditions in places but also further ahead to ensure that they are sustained. We need to overcome the argument about growth by focusing on prosperity through advanced technologies (and revived practices) that restore the land’s capacity and we need to come together to be resilient in the face of runaway climate change.





The Happy Museum is Go

8 04 2011

The Happy Museum project was launched last week at the October Gallery, launching a £60,000 open commission fund for small projects which explore wellbeing and sustainability in museum communities. It’s funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s Breakthrough Fund, is the brainchild of Tony Butler and is being developed by Hilary Jennings and Lucy Neal. I was one of the contributors to the provocation paper and especially focused my attention on the manifesto, the headlines for which are below (read the paper for more):

  1. Make people happy
  2. Pursue mutual relationships
  3. Value the environment, the past, the present and the future
  4. Measure what matters
  5. Lead on innovation towards transition
  6. Think global and be networked
  7. Support learning for resilience
  8. Find your niche

This project is so welcome, arriving in a year which is blighted by cultural funding cuts in a bigger context of environmental and economic crisis. It’s really important for cultural organisations to remain positive and to focus on what really matters, the wellbeing of biodiverse communities that they depend upon and can contribute to. That said, I have struggled very slightly with this project’s title as I fear that it may be perceived too narrowly as being about mental health, rather than more broadly about transition towards the systemic wellbeing of the commons (commons being human and all life).

Paul Hamlyn has also funded a similar project called (Re)think, led by Mission Models Money. This is a new action-research platform dedicated to understanding the role that cultural and creative practice has in finding solutions and responding to the current challenges, which are identified to be largely environmental. Like the Happy Museum, this also ‘docks’ with the New Economic Foundation’s Great Transition work. Apparently, Paul Hamlyn doesn’t see a connection between (Re)think and the Happy Museum. However, both projects have inclusive definitions of museums, culture and creativity. So, I wonder how these two projects might make most efficient use of their proximity in terms of scheduling, mission and network.

There are also other initiatives in similar ground, including A Case for Optimism supported by the Clore Leadership Programme, also kicking off at the moment. I’m also about to launch a training toolkit called Museums for the Future, commissioned by Renaissance South East, enabling museums to become centres for sustainable communities. Watch this space. Also Common Cause is launching an Arts and Creativity working group. On a practical level for those of us going to all these seminars, launches and online networks, it can be time-consuming and sometimes repetitive. Emotionally, on the other hand, this feels like the zeitgeist I’ve been waiting to happen. I started this blog over two years ago, hoping that it would be become a big co-authored blog and network, continually asking people to write for it and raise awareness in CACH weeks each year. That didn’t happen. I think I went about that in the wrong way. Others probably saw this as my personal sounding board and didn’t want to piggyback on it. In that time, only a handful of people have actually read the Framework for Climate Action, the centrepiece of this blog, and nobody has responded to it. (On the other hand, many of my posts have received some really interesting and valuable comments, for which thank you.) So, I’m considering merging the posts into my personal blog and letting all these other funded projects carry the weight of the networking challenge.

The Happy Museum is Go, which means others are taking their own reins on the issues that I am really passionate about, and that makes me happy.





Grounded route to a Big Society

31 03 2011

On the New Public Thinkers site, Dougald Hine wrote a really useful analysis of the criticism that has been flying around about the Big Society. It was a great example of cutting through the agonistic culture of politics, where something like the Big Society idea is used as an arena for two-sided contest. Dougald suggests that whatever your political colour, the necessity for social reform to reduce alienation and increase agency is being forced on whoever has any power to make change, by the erosion of economic security and social fabric. I commented on Dougald’s piece but as I was doing so, Paul Kingsnorth sent some provocative tweets about arts funding which I wanted to respond to in relation to this Big Society debate. So, here’s a  post to explore this further.

I’m not a political theorist so, although I appreciate structural analysis of the Big Society and think it’s essential, I can’t contribute greatly to it. What I can do is to advocate for persistent and pragmatic action in communities. Eleanor Saitta commented that we need to develop alternative organisational structures that skirt both market and state, but that without large-scale wealth distribution all these efforts will still leave us as ‘starving peasants fighting in the gutters over scraps of food puked up by the rich’. While I’m shocked by wealth inequality, I’m not sure the scenario is currently quite as stark as this. Because, for me, hope lies in imaginative participatory strategies to grow nourishment so that we don’t have to scratch around in the gutters of the rich.  By nourishment, I mean food but also all the other goods that will help us eat, help others eat, and otherwise allow us to stay well. By ‘us’ I mean all life, not just humans.

While we must talk about capitalism, we must also eat and help all the places where eating is going to be increasingly difficult. The way to do that is to harness technology to art in the service of ecological innovation. Note, technology is just a tool whereas art is the force that generates ideas, motivates people to participate and helps spread spores of ideas. Here are a couple of examples:

Farm:Shop is an urban farming project led by artists in an empty shop in Dalston. It uses hydroponics, aquaponics and other technologies to grow food indoors. Some may this isn’t art, it’s growing food. Partly the art comes through the creative social activities they are doing with visitors. But fundamentally, this is the kind of art we need to develop. Francesco Manacorda calls it an “emerging kind of art…that is interested in cycles, natural materials, growth and roots rather than ‘original’ creations that hang disconnected, in time and space.”

Another example is the vision of ‘bioregions’ to replace the outdated idea of developing places through ‘high-entropy knowledge hubs’ and ‘iconic cultural buildings’. These ‘bioregions’ can still be cultural without a new build major art museum. John Thackara writes here about how artists are working on such projects in the Basque Country. An example in the UK is Heartlands in Cornwall, a new bioregion which is also a cultural centre.

The triad of sustainability where economic, social and environmental capital are held in balance has to be challenged, and it is by these examples. If you focus on generating ‘biosphere capital’, then prosperity, social wellbeing and biodiversity can ensue. The Big Society discourses have not easily admitted talk of ‘bioregions’ or ‘biosphere capital’. That, I think, is because in order to develop such capital you need to bring both techne and poiesis into play together, both technology and the imagination. UK society is profoundly technocratic, and is extremely uncomfortable with metaphor being applied in arenas of work and public planning. On the other hand, the cultural elite are profoundly resistant to art being instrumental to social and environmental wellbeing.  The two domains of culture and public services resist porosity with each other (while there are many examples of partnership experiments of course).

Back to Paul Kingsnorth’s challenge. Yesterday, ACE issued its funding news, and many organisations had 100% funding cuts, some lesser percentages and some had an increase. So, there were a lot of hurt feelings at the unfairness of it all. Paul asked “Is there any cut to our services which we in the rich world would be prepare to tolerate? And if not, isn’t the Earth screwed?” and said “the arts, like all human industry, rely on an economy fed by a dying planet. We have to live with less.” This is a fair question and a good one. But I do profoundly believe in state funding of experimental and participatory culture.  Public funding doesn’t have to mean salarying middle class artists and discounting the purchase of culture by middle class audiences. However, ACE made decisions yesterday which cut many of the organisations, like Proboscis, who are doing the kinds of work that is most likely to generate biosphere capital and most likely to bridge the gulf between public planning and culture. Moreover, almost invisible in media coverage of culture cuts is the devastating reduction of museum and archive services, especially in education and outreach. These services directly help with community cohesion and place-making. If their funding is cut, then we need to show philanthropists and corporations that their future prosperity depends on collaborating with creative thinkers and creative communities to generate biosphere capital.





Digital culture, monetisation and value

2 12 2010

This post is a response to a lively thread on the Museums Computer Group e-list about the Cost of Sales, which was sparked by a Twitter chat about whether museums should fully assess the cost of running an image sales operation. When it transferred to an email discussion it became much more philosophical and political, especially after Nick Poole raised a challenge from an international financier about the lack of clear monetary value  in digitising cultural heritage. Now, my thoughts on the discussion may seem so philosophical and political that I’m not even posting it on the MCG list but on my blog.

I agree with Nick on the need to talk with financiers, to appreciate their perspective and learn from business. This may seem very unlike me, but I have partly been stirred to say this by his rousing keynote at the UK Museums and the Web conference last Friday. My take is that we need to proceed towards a more business-like mode in a way that is profoundly ethical and ecological, to the extent that we need to lead bankers and business to see value very differently, and that by doing so we can help change the world.

I’m not an economist or a business specialist, but an educationalist above all, so I maybe have no right to contribute to a debate about monetisation but I want to raise the issue of rapidly changing relevances and the importance of shifting our frames of reference. The key to advocating and generating value is establishing, and stretching, contextual relevance. I think digital culture & heritage people must shift from being technologists who are servicing the dominant modes of value, into leaders capable of transforming their organisations. As a sector we can then join the vanguard alongside the Commons and Social Enterprise movements, where technology enables an opening of access to  culture, for widespread change. (I say ‘vanguard’ but it’s worth remembering that the earliest dated printed book, the Buddhist Diamond Sutra, was marked as for free universal distribution nearly 1200 years ago.)

The least significant aspect of our context is the economic crunch. You could even argue there isn’t a money problem, but that there’s just a money flow problem. There are great reserves of money, for example the top European companies are sitting on around 500 billion euros, not to mention the wealth of other internationals and the high net worth individuals. Public money isn’t flowing to UK culture so much now because the response to the deficit is ideological, and there is an entrenchment of values that favour financial growth for the sake of corporates over the wellbeing of the commons. This entrenchment is allowing a backlash of philistinism, allowing the multivalence of culture to be overlooked, only valued when it is a valuable commodity due to rarity or celebrity or market demand. The few public cultural organisations that have managed to work that system of commodity, brand or celebrity have been more successful at tapping those reserves. The Tate is one of those few, having just announced a £45 million revamp alongside their £215 million extension at Tate Modern. This magnetism is partly related to the oiling (in two senses) of the worldclass value of the British market for modern and contemporary art. None of this critique is meant criticise the Tate, especially as it plays a great role in education and in showcasing radical and participatory art such as Ai WeiWei’s Sunflower Seeds. (Incidentally, to monetise this artwork, have they considered selling 10 seeds for £1 after the show? I’d pay that, especially if some of the profits went to charity.)

So, if smaller organisations in the MLA & arts sectors want to tap that corporate source too, they may want to emulate the operations that attract money, by using digital media to build brand, a sense of glamour around a place, a sense of aura around the originators or cultural objects, and to present the artefacts themselves as totems of power. That approach can certainly make a great visitor experience, and can stimulate support and even learning. But it can also be very superficial. I want to propose that they should look elsewhere for their relevance.

I’m not just talking about looking beyond the financial value of culture to alternative ways of defining capital that are ‘softer’ and, well, indefinable. So many reports or pleas about the value of culture, though they may say much that is heartening and useful, are either circular (‘people want that soft indefinable something and they’ll pay for it, so, look it yields money) or self-defeating (‘you can’t tarnish the softer indefinable stuff with money, you just have to accept its otherness’). The problem is that our dualistic model holds hard economic value in opposition to soft cultural value (cultural = ethical, aesthetic and spiritual). If we synthesised the two, with money and culture not in opposition, we would see something I call ‘biosphere capital’. This is about resources for survival, and that is as hard-headed and sensible as you can be, harder in some ways than money, which is pretty abstract. It’s also about drawing on all the resources of the human spirit and memory to achieve it.

If the sector wants to embrace relevance, this is what matters: The scientific consensus that the planet is heading, at current trends, to a temperature increase which may not sustain mass human life before the end of this century. Also, wrapped up with the causes and effects of global warming are resource scarcity, biodiversity loss and chemical pollution. As these take effect, there will be a major increase in conflict (ranging from low level crime to the threat of nuclear war) unless we can counter dominant values that separate humans into civilisational clusters, to foster a spirit of collaboration and tolerance.

The time may come soon when we start to say that if cultural & heritage organisations aren’t pulling out all the stops to tackle this overarching ‘wicked problem’ then they don’t deserve public funding. Also, given that corporate wealth is really commonwealth (in private hands), we might argue that they don’t deserve corporate funding either.

So, what are all the stops you can pull out to make an almighty noise, and how (in the brackets) might you afford it?

You can work with financiers and corporations to change what business is, to change the way they work, to enable the success of a knowledge economy that does not harm the environment. (That’s why I think digital people in the cultural sector are important, because knowledge is the key, and also because knowledge & technology companies tend to be more keen to forge a sustainable future. Can you make a case for their investment? Can you innovate together?)

You can work with educationalists to help people be more creative, resilient, tolerant and better able to access knowledge to apply it to action.(The education business is set to grow massively in countries like India and China. Can you package and sell expertise and assets internationally?)

You can work with Governments and civil society organisations to promote cultural democracy and diplomacy. (If gentle respect for human craft and natural diversity becomes the norm, it can help counteract aggressive and destructive attitudes, and you can generate income by developing trade in craft, ideas and knowledge.)

You can work with scientists and academics, and wider communities of enquiry, to unlock the knowledge that is in archives, biodiversity banks, and in living cultures, and also to help protect and preserve that knowledge. (Can you work as partners with Knowledge Transfer teams in Universities to seek financial investment?)

You can work with contemporary creative and cultural practitioners to develop metaphorical and participatory outcomes that can accelerate public understanding and ethics. (In UK, if the MLA sector is drawn under the Arts Council, there will be more opportunities for arts & museum joint programmes.)

They can work with social and health services to ensure that cultural resources and spaces aid wellbeing. (NHS reforms mean a greater localisation of services, with needy individuals given personal budgets for their care.)

What has this got to do with the Cost of Sales debate? Maybe not a lot. Or maybe everything. It’s a plea not to think too small, not to regress to past practices of business in being more business-like. If being business-like is like being a farmer, it’s about making a shift from vast agri-business (monocrops, forced fertility, asking for public subsidy, ultimately unsustainable), to permaculture (where you mix and match, experiment, always have something to eat, and you swap seeds & glut with others). It’s a plea to think as broadly as possible in mapping all the assets that can generate value (not just your digitised collections, but ideas, venues, brand, supporters etc), and all the ways they can generate value (especially ecological value or Biosphere capital). It’s a plea to invest in digitising a collection not because it’s immediately clear how it will make money but because it’s immediately clear why that knowledge helps sustain life. It’s a plea to remember that knowledge only wants to be free.





Do you have a backbone?

6 11 2010

Thermogeddon is a new term to me and a useful one. The word Climate Change is inadequate on its own. It sounds like something heavenly and abstract, a mild adjustment to the rain and shine we can expect. Global Warming can only sound pleasant to people from Northern climes. I tried following Obama’s advisor in using the term Global Climate Disruption but it had no traction with people. It sounded too technical and I had to explain it even if nobody asked me to. Thermogeddon has the advantage of sounding like a movie title and being intriguing. The other plus is that it relates to our bodies rather than the ether. It arises from research by some scientists in Sydney about how higher temperatures will affect (ie kill off) creatures with backbones. That means us, and most of the creatures we eat, and otherwise appreciate. This state may come in the 23rd century but within 100 years it could apply to large areas of the planet. Rather than the analysis focusing on weather systems, it shows how those big systemic changes directly affect our bodies and the resources we are dependent on. Thermogeddon is a term that points us to the outcome of climate change not so much the process. It may be helpful to shift the entrenched notion that environmentalists don’t care about humans (i.e. that they’re too science-bound…although that notion is contradicted by just as common criticism that environmentalists are anti-science).

This thermogeddon research comes along at the same time as another report which shows that many populated areas of the planet may become a vast dustbowl, with widespread drought. There will be heavier rain but that falling onto dessicated deforested soil, so causing fluvial flooding on devastating scales.

So, that’s what we face. I’m interested to know: Do you hear anyone talking about it, I mean, referring to or visualising these scenarios? I expect the answer will be no. I think about it a lot, write about it less, and speak about it to my family hardly at all. I’m anxious about the moment when, because I have to be honest in answering questions, I have to convey the full detail of what I have seen and heard about the projected future to my 10 year old. When she imagines her own future, from being at university to being an old granny, I don’t want to say ‘Sorry to disappoint you sweetheart but scientists tell us that things are going to get worse and worse, and none of our leaders are doing enough about it’. I encourage her to imagine a great future, but I also explain why I’d rather she didn’t have another piece of plastic trash or why we’re not having a foreign holiday.
The reason I ask if you hear people talking about this is because I think our culture (in the hegemonic sense of our culture led by mass media) is going through an extraordinary phase of denial, ranging from the outright to the constructive. In the debate that followed last night’s controversial C4 programme ‘What the Green Movement Got Wrong’, presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy said that the environmental movement had learned at last that it didn’t do to tell people how terrible the future looked, because it puts them right off.

I think that is questionable. Firstly I question it because I don’t think environmentalists (or anybody concerned about the planet, whatever they call themselves) have a past track record of talking ‘doom and gloom’. Science-based reporting or writing has told what scientists are discovering and modelling, often very cautiously. Others who focus on green culture and lifestyle have been relentless in trying to motivate people. Even writers such as Clive Hamilton and Alaistair McIntosh, whose book titles might sound the epitome of doom (Requiem for a Species, Hell and High Water etc) keep a strong wellspring of hope mingled with despair.

I mainly question it because it is part of a patronising conception of the masses as passive recipients of messages from a governing and industrial elite. It assumes that people are so disconnected from their own means of making sense of the world that they must ‘be told’ rather than enabled to find out. Should we censor scientific research which models future scenarios so that the people won’t find out? Of course not. I don’t want to hear dirge-like messages coming daily from the media about how ‘we live in the end times’, obviously. But I want honesty and transparency. I want our media and cultural organisations to stretch their empathy and imagination to the limits so that they can help us deal with the projected scenarios. In the case of the BBC and Channel 4 in the UK, they are resting in a position which ranges from:

  • The positive (mostly from the BBC): encouraging public to celebrate and conserve biodiversity and celebrating green architecture in the occasional episode of Grand Designs
  • The neutral: An absence of reference to environmental politics across current affairs (for example, no references to climate change in coverage of the Pakistan floods)
  • The negative: An assumption that we want to be entertained by spurious storytelling and bogus binary debates between the ‘two sides’ of climate denial and acceptance.

The majority of coverage which gets attention and stimulates debate is the latter, but this is not useful debate. It is time-wasting, agonistic and does not help us design a better world.

So, if you have a backbone, and are one of those creatures that won’t survive thermogeddon, and if you have any way of influencing the way that environment is represented in our cultural and media programming, get noisy and get positive.





Culture in Transition at engage conference

4 11 2010

I’m at the engage conference, called The Art of Influencing Change, in Nottingham. It’s all about the role of engaged visual arts practice, in particular digital technologies, in influencing change in the face of the economic and climate crisis. engage is the National Association of Gallery Education, an organisation I have been heavily involved with in the past. So, as this event is about the intersection of culture, technology, learning and ecology, it’s squarely in the area that my company Flow Associates works in.

The talks so far have been interesting, including Jane Trowell from Platform and Sam Bower from Greenmuseum.org. You can see my twitter stream on @bridgetmck and the hashtag #eng10 to see more about the event.

I’m going to be doing a quick presentation soon during the Soap Box session, all about the role of the cultural sector in a time of environmental crisis. I don’t know if I’ll get through it all and I had to cut out all the interesting case studies of good practice. The presentation is here. I’m suggesting a new way of thinking about sustainability. It also includes a call to action, with five areas that cultural organisations can use to drive climate action. Please read it and comment here.





Cultural agents for the Great Transition

28 10 2010

I went to a very stimulating event last night at the South Bank Centre, organised by the New Economics Foundation. It’s just a straight account. I don’t have time for analysis because, well, I’m off to the seaside with my daughter. If in that there is an analysis, it is to act out a lesson of the event – that you have to focus on wellbeing, and that means for me going down to the shore and spending time with my loved ones.

The event was compered by Andrew Simms, who reminded us of the big triple crunch, our ecological debt and the urgency of climate action. He introduced the first panel, Ann Pettifor, author of books on international finance, Professor Tim Jackson, who is interested in cultural solutions to climate action, Vivienne Westwood, who has put out a manifesto calling for people to overcome consumerist distraction through cultural engagement, and Rosie Boycott, who is helping generate a local food movement in London.

Anne Pettifor, when asked: ‘Where is our money?’ gave the simple answer, ‘The banks have it. They are hoarding it from the quantitative easing payments (or queasing as we call it at NEF).’ Her basic point is that banks are a public good not private and that we need capital controls.

Tim Jackson was rather more wordy. He said that there’s a false belief that growth means prosperity. But it’s only generating ‘thin value’ e.g. money, not a sense of meaning. Prosperity actually means hope. We have a huge task to collectively understand what an economy can be that is not predicated on growth. He asked: Is this really us? Is it really human to want things so much? True human qualities are altruism, playfulness etc. But we have all cast ourselves as villains. We have to let that go then construct institutions that really engage with who we are as humans. He’s appalled by the idea that we’re manipulating and dehumanising our children, making it much harder to instil the values of humanity that we are endowed with.

Vivienne Westwood was a breath of fresh air because she expressed her feelings, her distress and passion. She said ‘I was so upset [to read about the likely mass human die-offs] and worried and I still am’. We need to say and hear those feelings in public, I believe. And I liked her because, although it wasn’t articulated powerfully, she believes in cultural engagement as a key antidote to our addiction to things. She said: “My idea is that culture is the antidote to consumerist propaganda, so you should go to art galleries. I truly believe we are an endangered species…We will be killed by habit.” When asked what she does in terms of sustainable fashion, she said “I tell people to stop buying clothes for 6 months. Wear your husbands boxers and lovely things from your grandmother, buy only things that will last.”

Just as Westwood realises that (lots of) clothes don’t sustain us, Rosie Boycott knows that food will. Her radical view is that the food system is about to fall apart like the money system has, and that this is good news. Food regulation remains untouched by any governments. It’s not in the common good. It has always been left to trade. Our system produces one calorie of food from ten calories of oil. Collapse should come quickly so people realise how central it is to the crises we face and so that a revolutionary change comes about. This change is happening at grassroots. All over London and other cities people are reclaiming space that otherwise would be full of needles and trash. They are triumphant in their contests to grow food in the oddest kinds of containers.
Alice Walters has done research that proves primary kids who grow veg do eat more healthily and have better health overall. Farmers are a dying breed in the UK. The average age for a farmer is 58 because there is not enough training and support for the next generation. Don’t be fooled by the argument that you mustn’t buy local because it might deprive developing countries of income. They are subject to a modern form of slavery and our demands are reducing their lands to monoculture. Grenadans now eat Canadian wheat, not cassava and breadfruit, though it is one of the most fertile countries on the planet.

Caroline Lucas was after the break, along with Professor Jayati Ghosh. Both brilliant, insightful women.

Caroline said that what keeps her awake at night is the timescale needed to tackle the climate crisis, compared to the anachronistic timeworld of the Houses of Parliament. She doesn’t want humans to go down in universal history as the only species that monitored its downfall and role in environmental collapse, that knew what was happening but did nothing.

She asked, what if the Coalition convinced us that climate action, not deficit cuts, are absolutely necessary? They have no mandate as a Government, they didn’t tell us that they were going to exact those cuts, and they haven’t convinced us they are necessary or even helpful. We realised Hitler was a threat but realistion about climate change is dispersed. It’s like the slowly boiling frog.

Jayati Ghosh then talked about global trade. She followed on from Caroline Lucas, who had finished by saying that trade, not aid, is a dangerous strategy. The poorest people are most likely to suffer when we develop trade. She explained that although we hear constantly that India and China are ‘taking over’ and so much better off, several indicators show that that both the quality for life and the economy are actually worse. It’s not decent work, it’s slavery. Farmers are at the brink of survival, shifting to cash crops for survival, making farming inviable. Those problems stem from export led growth, which is the development aid model. This then leads to forced economic migration. The south has been providing net financial flows to north, not the other way round: “We’ve been paying for the Iraq war and for the fact you have to change your sofa sets every year.” She told the story of Malawi, which decided to defy the World Bank by developing their food system in a way that is now enabling them to thrive. Localism is not a retreat from the world but is actually more internationalist in its outlook, as it encourages knowledge sharing between localities about survival.





Your money or our lives?

12 10 2010

I’ll be taking part in an online discussion on the Our Place network called Greening Up Your Projects on thursday 21st October 2010 11am to 12.30pm.

http://www.ourplacenetwork.org.uk/jdd/public/greening-up-your-projects/

The network co-ordinator Rebecca Vallins invites heritage, museum and cultural outreach professionals: “Environmental sustainability is one of the most important issues of our time, even – especially perhaps – in a time of economic decline. Come and chat to our two experts about how and why the green agenda matters in engaging communities with heritage and breaking down barriers to inclusion. Our experts leading the debate are Maria Adebowale, director of Capacity Global and author of Social Inclusion and Environmental Concern http://www.capacity.org.uk/research/socialinclusion.html, and Bridget McKenzie, director of Flow Associates and author of the blog Climate Action in Culture. Previous chatroom debates have been very lively indeed. I look forward to meeting you there.”

It will be the day after the Spending Review announcements so funding cuts will be top of everybody’s mind. But the funding crisis is absolutely woven in to the need to shift to more sustainable practices. The world faces a ‘triple crunch’, a credit crunch, the need to shift from fossil fuels and due to the impacts of climate change. The crunches are coming one after the other, each one likely to be much worse than the next, but they are entirely connected like nested Chinese boxes. The Coalition Government response to the credit crunch involves ignoring the fossil fuel and climate crunches, cutting investment in approaches that will help us tackle them. It’s really vital that the cultural and heritage sector looks ahead, and sees the interdependence of these crises.





10/10/10 work party on climate action in culture and heritage?

10 10 2010

Today is the Global Work Party for people the world over to implement solutions to climate change. I believe that the cultural sector (arts organisations, museums, libraries, heritage sites, creative people, broadcasters etc) has an extraordinarily important role to play in this. Just as we have to step up CO2 reduction 40 fold, I think that the cultural sector needs to up its game to that extent. I’d love it if people can join me today (and for the rest of October) in blogging, commenting, tweeting, however you like to do it, on this topic. You can write an article for a guest post on this blog – send it to me at bridget.mckenzie@flowassociates.com and I’ll post it for you. You can comment on any of the posts here. You can tweet using the hashtag #cach. You can get a discussion going on any professional forum or network and let me know about it by email or on twitter.





A month of climate action in arts and heritage

3 10 2010

October is a month of climate action because of 10/10/10, the global day of doing organised between Bill McKibben’s 350.org and Franny Armstrong’s 10:10. I’m going to be doing two things on the 10th October:

One is opening an exhibition of photography about my project The Leysdown Tragedy: A Memorial Walk, reflecting on childhood and preparation for the climate-changed future. This will be at the Hill Station, a cafe we’ve built in Telegraph Hill as part of a Bold Vision for a sustainable community.

The other thing is that I will be blogging and connecting with people online. This will be a call to anyone involved in or interested in arts, culture and heritage to take ‘climate action’. I hope I won’t be alone. I’d love to see others blogging (or any other kind of amplifying) on the same themes throughout October.

Throughout October and early November there will be plenty of events during which arts and heritage people are gathering to discuss the climate and ecology challenges.

It starts tomorrow. First up is the Museums Association conference. A couple of sessions are relevant: one about green exhibitions, another about how your museum might thrive in 20-40 years. I can’t make the conference this year. Last year, sustainability was a much more central theme but I hope it may be on a few delegates’ minds again.

The other event tomorrow, one I’ll be attending, is MMM’s Internationalism in an Ecologically Conscious Age. It will coincide with the launch of Sustainable Ability, a great web resource for the arts community to drive forward transformative responses to climate change and resource scarcity.

There are more events coming up, including:

Me leading a session on ecological innovation at a Renaissance SE event on income generation and innovation on 19 October at Brooklands Museum.

Also, on October 21st, on the Our Place Network, I’ll be part of an online discussion about Greening Up Your Projects, ways of engaging audiences in the sustainability work of heritage organisations and museums.

The engage International Conference on the Art of Influencing Change, on 3-5 November. It will be full of discussions about the 21st century challenges, in particular the environmental crisis and globalisation, and will look at how engaged visual arts practice and gallery education can respond.

Plus, there is much more, with quite a few relevant publications and provocations coming out.

If anybody else finds themselves at a relevant event or meeting, or just discussing these issues, please do share them online. The best way to get your blogposts or updates picked up here is to tweet and use the hashtag #cach.








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