This month, the Persistent Acts series focuses on Climate Week NYC, synthesizing a week of events around solutions, optimism, and positive stories.
There is plenty to be pessimistic about. It is easy to doubt, to spot alternative reasons and proofs at every turn. However, in these polarizing times, there’s Climate Week NYC. Organized by The Climate Group and in its tenth anniversary, “Climate Week NYC is the time and place where the world gathers to showcase amazing climate action and discusses how to do more.” Taking place in late September, “Climate Week NYC is one of the key summits in the international calendar and has been driving climate action forward since it was first launched by The Climate Group in 2009.” This global event is in coordination with the United Nations and the City of New York, and happens annually during the UN General Assembly. The event series that comprises Climate Week involves panels, concerts, exhibitions, and beyond, all to encourage climate action across sectors. I participated in a slice of Climate Week, and during the handful of events that I attended, positivity, collaboration, and sustained action were the refrain.
My Climate Week kicked off with some powerhouses of today’s U.S. environmental movement. Held at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, Drawdown’s Climate Week event featured headliners Bill McKibben and members of Project Drawdown, as well as panelists to engage in the local and global climate conversation. Given the nature of the event, I didn’t expect much art, so I was pleasantly surprised when I entered the Ethical Culture’s large theatre to hear a choir singing “Here Comes the Sun!” This brief opening act set a high-spirited tone, as New Yorkers gathered for the highly-anticipated main event. As the house lights lowered, an introductory video glowed, with clips about each of the night’s speakers: Lynne Twist of Pachamama Alliance, Dr. Katharine Wilkinson and Chad Frischmann of Project Drawdown, food justice advocate Karen Washington, Chief Climate Policy Advisor at the Mayor’s Office Daniel Zarrilli, and Lauren Zullo of Jonathan Rose Companies. I realized I wasn’t simply at a lecture or panel, I was at a climate conversations concert.
Our host, Bill McKibben, noted the “rapid disintegration” that he had witnessed in Greenland over the summer, and now in North Carolina. Then McKibben pivoted to the positive, the reason everyone was gathered: Drawdown, “a project without parallel.” In scientific terms, “Drawdown is that point in time when the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere begins to decline on a year-to-year basis.” As the tagline of the Drawdown book states, this is “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.” The entire evening was rich with inspiring messages – I won’t try to replay it in this post. I will share some of my takeaways on the potential of Drawdown in local and national contexts:
- For Lynne Twist of Pachamama Alliance, Drawdown was “like water to the desert.” Twist spoke passionately about flipping the narrative on climate change: climate change is not happening to us but for us, and is serious, urgent, comprehensive feedback for a species that has lost its way.
- Following suit, Katharine Wilkinson of Drawdown outlined the history of the project as a way to map the path forward on a different (positive) side of the climate change story. Based on extensive research, including rates of carbon emission, sequestration, and dollar cost, Drawdown ranks solutions to climate change that humans are already doing, to contribute to the reversal of climate change – so that we might take an evolutionary leap toward a more vibrant, equitable, and resilient living world.
- Karen Washington reminded us to keep pressure on institutions and to take responsibility for knowing our representatives, so that they know that they work for us. Dan Zarrilli and Lauren Zullo commented on some key transformations happening in New York City, including building retrofitting, sustainable design, and the city’s divestment from fossil fuels in favor of investments in climate solutions.
- McKibben slid in: to reverse climate change, jobs one, two, and three are to get rid of the Trump Administration. In the meantime, Twist suggested that we shift conversations, because when we share the positives, our ways of living shift.
Throughout the panel discussion, I was playing out reasons for the arts to participate in the climate conversation, as is my habit as an artist. I can see a role for artists around Twist’s suggestion of shifting conversations – I am constantly investigating how a performance-based event might spark the types of positive discussions the panelists proffered. Zarrilli also spoke about the future of New York City with a focus on imagination, on how the city can reinvent itself. In the hands of artists, these imagined possibilities are endless. While the arts were not an explicit part of this Drawdown evening, I couldn’t help but pick up on how many different sectors, whether city planning, real estate, or climate science, share values of consideration, imagination, and positive transformation with the arts sector.
The concert concluded with a video from Pachamama Alliance. The word that resonated for me most throughout the evening was “love” – love for self, locality, human and non-human neighbors, and our planet itself. As we left, we took tangible action, signing postcards to urge the New York State Comptroller to follow the city’s lead and divest from fossil fuels. In the way that marches instill a buzz of collective power, I felt energized at the start of Climate Week because 1) we Americans have a lot of work to do, and 2) tools for just, equitable change are in each of us.
This article is part of the Persistent Acts series which looks at the intersection of performance, climate, and politics. How does hope come to fruition, even in the most dire circumstances? What are tangible alternatives to the oppressive status quo? The series considers questions of this nature to motivate conversations and actions on climate issues that reverberate through politics and theatre.
Julia Levine is a creative collaborator and vegetarian. Originally from St. Louis, Julia is now planted in the New York City downtown theatre realm. As a director, Julia has worked on various projects with companies that consider political and cultural topics, including Theater In Asylum, Honest Accomplice Theatre, and Superhero Clubhouse. She is on the Marketing team at HERE Arts Center and is Artistic Producer of The Arctic Cycle. Julia writes and devises with her performance-based initiative, The UPROOT Series, to bring questions of food, climate, and justice into everyday life.
Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.