Yearly Archives: 2018

Creative Sustainability

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

I don’t know how many people listened to the Moral Maze on Radio 4 on Wednesday evening (10th October)? In the week of the IPCC report saying we have 12 years before we go through the 1.5 degrees of global warming threshold, the programme brought together a debate on the moral implications.

The debate was framed in terms of the competing moral goods between future generations and developing countries, both of whom will disproportionately suffer the impacts of climate breakdown.

The first three witnesses broadly focused on economics and in particular the question ‘Is growth the problem or the solution?’ Can we grow and innovate our way out of the problem (Leo Barasi)? Or do we need to fly less, eat less meat and generally change our lifestyles to be more sustainable and less consuming (George Monbiot)? One of the issues underlying the discussion is the role of ‘progress’. Progress has generated global warming but it has also resulted in longer life spans, lower infant mortality, and more developed countries pay more attention to the environment.

The final speaker was Charlotte Du Caan from the Dark Mountain projectto open up the cultural dimension. The panelists mostly agreed with the Dark Mountain manifesto, except the end of this sentence,

We do not believe that everything will be fine. We are not even sure, based on current definitions of progress and improvement, that we want it to be.

The panelist interpreted the Dark Mountain project as having a death wish, to be nihilist, rather than to be opening up a fundamental question of culture. Somehow the fundamental point got lost: ‘Do we want to continue with a culture that promotes individualism that results in endemic mental health problems?’ or ‘Do we want to live in a culture that promotes unlimited consumption of for example fashion, making fashion one of the most polluting and destructive industries?’ or ‘Do we want a culture that disconnects us from the rest of the living world?’

Actually the economic/progress argument is the wrong argument and the cultural argument was not fully grasped in the debate (although at least the cultural dimension was recognized as relevant).

So Creative Carbon Scotland has just launched its Library of Creative SustainabilityCreative Carbon Scotland is one of the organisations who are saying culture has a central role in addressing the environmental crisis in all its dimensions – climate breakdown, pollution, extinction…

The projects highlighted in the Library are all artists working with organisations long term on specific issues in specific contexts. To pick just one example, SLOW Clean UP involves artist Frances Whitehead, Chicago City Council and various University Science Departments working together on cleaning up petroleum pollution in the middle of communities in Chicago by creating gardens. Using plants which have specific capacities (hyperaccumulators) to suck up the pollution, the project cleaned up the test site, identified a significant number of new plants, as well as involving communities in their own environmental health. In the US whilst this approach is known and understood, unless the land has significant economic value, no-one bothers.

What is important is that this is not a binary debate on growth and progress, but rather cultural change towards a different set of values.

All the projects in the new Library demonstrate approaching challenges differently, creative innovations, and involving people in their own places produces new values that are more sustainable.

Have a look at the way artists are ’embedding’ themselves in organisations and contexts to work long term.


This project is supported by ecoartscotland and Gray’s School of Art, Robert Gordon University through an Interface Innovation Voucher.


ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.

Go to EcoArtScotland

Wild Authors: Margaret Atwood

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Popular author Margaret Atwood called climate change the “everything change.” Atwood’s novels are generally about the human experience, at times notably the female’s, but she also writes about this everything change. Her genre-busting books range from literary to speculative. Global warming occurs prominently in Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy (which she calls “speculative fiction”) – Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009), and MaddAddam (2013) – which describe a post-apocalyptic Earth set in the near future.1

I think it’s interesting that, like Jeff VanderMeer, discussed earlier of this series, Atwood has many close relatives who are scientists. This certainly must have inspired her imagination when bringing the natural world into the intricate human environments about which she writes.

At the beginning of the trilogy, in Oryx and Crake, the reader can tell by the descriptions of the world that global warming is taking place due to rising seas, harshly pounding large waves, incredible heat, and so on. In a holistic way, it is not surprising that the world Atwood created in this trilogy reflects one of corporate greed, dystopian values, genetic cloning, and other human manipulations of nature – a mirror of the world we made ourselves, most particularly where we could be heading. The MaddAddam trilogy, according to Quill and Quire: 2

It’s a story about The End of Civilization As We Know It, but the event is coming up very soon – around the year 2050, it seems, from the hints Atwood provides. That’s close enough to the present for us to be able to recognize the seeds of catastrophe in our morning newspaper. Environmental degradation, global warming, and the resultant floods up the East Coast (Harvard has drowned) provide the backdrop, but the central action involves our most disturbing current headlines: cloning and genetic manipulation, toxic microbes and viruses, and a culture that has handed all the important decisions over to the “numbers people.”

The second book in the trilogy, The Year of the Flood, came six years after Oryx and Crake. Rather than being a true sequel, it is a retelling of the first part of the trilogy from the perspective of two new characters. Using flashbacks and fleshing out the original mythology and narrative, Year of the Flood, like I noted in the Jeff VanderMeer piece in this series, also reminded me – at least in structure somewhat – of the television show “Lost,” which filled in blanks later with new perspectives. Again, in the third part of the trilogy, MaddAddam, Atwood retells the story and builds it with the underlying idea of a “fresh start”. According to LitReactor:3

Even though Atwood gives us a new beginning in each of these novels, it is not until Maddaddam [sic], the final installment of the trilogy, that she truly explores the theme of starting over. And even then, she poses the questions but doesn’t give the answers. Questions about creation, the infallibility of “God,” and the evolution of religion. She does this once again by flashing to the characters’ pasts, focusing on backstory to expand the world’s mythology even further. At this point, the narratives of Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood have converged. Jimmy and the Maddaddamites (the survivors introduced in The Year of the Flood) are united in the day to day struggles of dystopian life. The Crakers, however, those Adam and Eve’s of the new world, are more preoccupied with where they came from than where they are going (much like Atwood) and demand nightly stories of life before “the Great Rearrangement.” These remnants of the old world, knowledge of good and evil, taint the Crakers’ so-called fresh start.

“Lost” offered, indeed, one of my favorite mythologies ever, so I am very keen to the idea that in storytelling we can deepen the story by bringing in new characters and new truths later that examine the initial story. New perspectives give a sort of humanities type of peer review and offer the reader a fuller and clearer look into the world being created by the author – often reflecting upon our own world and speculating on what may happen if we continue going at our current rate. I like the “Lost” quotes below, where two of the oldest people on the island (therefore hopefully the keys for the audience to understand the cosmology and existence of the island) are talking about why characters are brought to the island.

MAN IN BLACK: I don’t have to ask. You brought them here. Still trying to prove me wrong, aren’t you?
JACOB: You are wrong.
MAN IN BLACK: Am I? They come. They fight. They destroy. They corrupt. It always ends the same.
JACOB:  It only ends once. Anything that happens before that is just progress.

The final line above has some similarities to what happens in our world with climate change. “What happens next?” That’s what readers wanted to know from Margaret Atwood after Oryx and Crake. Well, in fact, the world only ends once. Anything that happens before is just progress. And we can look at this progress through different lenses, but I think Atwood’s treatment of climate change – or rather, everything change – is particularly clever.

Note that Atwood has included environmental themes in many of her books – it’s part of our human condition, after all. And global warming is not some tiny object within fiction that we can hold in our hands – rather it is indeed everything change, with up- and down-stream effects, many of which Atwood has explored in fiction, poetry, and even the graphic novel, whether about overpopulation, environmental degradation, or an assortment of issues that generally play into the reasons behind why our world is warming. And, for sure, those reasons have to do with the human species.

*  *  *

1. Kirkus Reviews. “Genre and Margaret Atwood,” by Andrew Liptak. August 4, 2015.
2. Quill and Quire. “Oryx and Crake,” by Bronwyn Drainie. 2003.
3. LitReactor. “Starting from Scratch: Margaret Atwood’s MaddAdamm Trilogy,” by Joshua Chaplinsky. September 3, 2013.

This article was originally published on on October 9, 2016. It is part of our Wild Authors series.

(Photo by Liam Sharp.)


Mary Woodbury, a graduate of Purdue University, runs and, sites that explore ecology in literature, including works about climate change. She writes fiction under pen name Clara Hume. Her novel Back to the Garden has been discussed in Dissent Magazine, Ethnobiology for the Future: Linking Cultural and Ecological Diversity (University of Arizona Press), and Uncertainty and the Philosophy of Climate Change (Routledge). Mary lives in the lower mainland of British Columbia and enjoys hiking, writing, and reading.


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.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

It Started On Hampstead Heath

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

I have worked for most of my career as a medical and scientific illustrator, which means a lot of time spent in front of a computer screen. But early in 2016, I dusted off my much-neglected art materials to return to my first love: painting and drawing. I love my Adobe programs but though it was a bit unfocused, I shed my digital chains and felt I was back to where I had left off before Photoshop took over my life!

Then fate lent a hand. I began walking on Hampstead Heath early every morning with three friends. The Heath is an exquisite, ancient heathland only 400 yards from my house and just under four miles from the centre of London. By coincidence, the new walking regime started not only at the same time as my return to painting but coincided with the completion of the Hampstead Heath Ponds Project. All the large ponds on Hampstead Heath are man-made, built as reservoirs over 300 years ago to provide water for the rapidly expanding population of London. Three of the ponds – the Model Boating Pond, Men’s Bathing Pond, and Hampstead No. 1 Pond – are still classified as “large raised reservoirs” under the 1975 Reservoirs Act and the 2010 Flood and Water Management Act. In 2011, the City of London Corporation, which manages the Heath, was advised that should an extreme rainfall event occur, the ponds might overflow (or “overtop” to use the technical language) and flood residential communities south of the Heath. The Corporation was legally required to rebuild and reinforce the dams between the ponds.

Leaves on the pond.

Research has shown that although extreme rainfall events in the UK are not unprecedented, their frequency will increase as climate change raises global temperatures. The project involved a huge amount of work with much disruption to the peace and quiet of the Heath. Local organizations were consulted and there was some dissent and plenty of negative newspaper headlines. At that stage, I remained unconvinced that the work was necessary. But as time went on and I learned more about the Ponds Project and how it would protect and enhance the environment, I came to understand its value. The peace and quiet of the Heath was finally returning when my merry band of walkers and I began our route marches. I became fascinated with how the flora and fauna was recovering. This was my lightbulb moment…

Since my daughters Sara and Tor were little children, the Model Boating Pond has been one of our places. We have spent many hours, in all seasons, walking and watching the pond. Now the walks were fueling my mission to put my paints, pens, and pencils to work and record what I was seeing. This was to be where my creative journey would start.

It would have been easy to limit myself to these paintings and drawings, but I wanted to find out more about the work that had been carried out, the history, the geology, even the archaeology behind it all. After some research, the answers started pointing me in the direction of climate change. Again, I wanted to find out more. My painting project jumped to a different level.

Wildfire at Medicine Lake.

Another journey to another continent showed me the impacts of global climate change on another key place in my life. My younger daughter Tor lives in Jasper, Alberta in Canada. After I visited her, she urged me to go further north to the Canadian tundra. I packed up my paints and, in November 2016, travelled to the small town of Churchill on the Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba.

Churchill’s nickname is the “Polar Bear Capital of the World.” Every year, after months of fasting inland, bears migrate to the bay – hence the nickname – to wait for sea ice to form, which will allow them to start hunting seal again. The vast flat tundra was awe-inspiring, but seeing that the frozen North is not so frozen anymore was disturbing. This was a seminal moment.

Waiting for the sea ice.

The climate issues in Canada brought to mind some friends, thousands of kilometers to the south, in Mandeville, Louisiana – a place where I worked in my early 20s. I still spend a lot of time on the Gulf Coast of America which, particularly over the last decade, has been increasingly threatened by intense hurricanes and resultant flooding. I realized Louisiana had to be part of the story.

I call London, Jasper, and Mandeville “My Places” because they are cities and regions where I have deep emotional connections. They are also intimately linked by climate change. I needed to pull it all together.

My painting projects and the book that accompanies them are the result. The book, It Started On Hampstead Heath… An Artist’s Journey Into The Science Of Global Climate Change, is an exploration of “My Places” and their connections. Of course, these three places are not the only ones linked by climate change, but they are the three closest to my heart.

Pages from It Started On Hampstead Heath… An Artist’s Journey Into The Science Of Global Climate Change.

I have always had an interest in environmental issues, but it has taken me until now to find the time to study them in more detail. I hope my paintings and drawings have captured the ephemeral nature of our ecosystems, and the words I have written will provide some insight into it all. I hope to remind us all of the beauty and precious qualities of the environment around us, wherever we live.

My projects focus on “My Places,” but we each have our own corners of the world that we love. We have a responsibility to protect them.

(Top image: Oaks & Cones.)


Dee McLean studied Illustration at Harrow School of Art, London, and went on to a career in medical and scientific illustration. Taking a break, mid-career, she had an opportunity to return to painting and drawing, having several exhibitions and taking on private commissions. She then returned to medical illustration specializing in artwork for medical education. Dee is now bringing her love of science and art back into painting, drawing and writing. Journeying through the places that she is emotionally attached to and looking at how they are all intimately linked by the changing global climate, Dee hopes that through her art she can remind us all how beautiful and precious our environment is. All Dee’s projects have a local charity attached to them.


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.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

‘Cultural Adaptations’ Project Seeks Two Evaluators

This post comes from Creative Carbon Scotland

Creative Carbon Scotland is seeking two individuals to undertake formative and summative evaluation of the Creative Europe ‘Cultural Adaptations’ project (2018-2021).

Cultural Adaptations

Cultural Adaptations (EUCAN) is a ‘small co-operation project’ supported by the Creative Europe programme of the EU. It is led by CCS and involves three partner cultural organisations: TILLT in Gothenburg, Sweden; Greentrack Gent in Ghent, Belgium; and Axis Ballymun (Dublin) in Ireland.

Each partner will work with a local organisation focused on climate change adaptation to develop adaptation strategies for cultural SMEs and to run a joint project in which an artist will be placed within a non-cultural adaptation project in order to explore how their different ways of thinking and working can help contribute to addressing knotty adaptation-related problems. All this activity is effectively a piece of action research leading to the development of a resource to encourage future similar activity by more cultural and adaptation organisations. A detailed project description is included in the tender document.

Seeking Two Evaluators

Evaluation Objectives

The aim of the evaluation is to draw out learning from the different pilot projects in the four countries in order to:

  1. Learn from the first projects to improve the later ones
  2. Compare the different pilots in the different settings, led by different organisations addressing different issues, to understand the common factors, the differences between and the strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches
  3. Help steer the overall project to ensure that the work done is relevant and useful to both cultural and adaptation actors
  4. Build a body of knowledge to inform the Toolkit and Resource
  5. Provide the basis for a methodology to evaluate future projects

For full details of the tender, and more information, please download the tender document. 


The budget available for the research described above is £8,200 for each researcher. Creative Carbon Scotland is not VAT registered so this total should include VAT. Travel to meetings and travel to, accommodation at, and subsistence costs for Transnational Meetings will be paid in addition to this sum.

How to Apply

Proposals are invited from suitably qualified and experienced researchers to undertake one or both of the areas of research. Linked proposals would be welcomed.


Proposals should be sent to Ben Twist, Director of Creative Carbon Scotland, at and copied to Catriona Patterson at EUCAN@creativecarbonscotland.comby 5pm on Friday 2 November and should include the following information:

  • An indication of which area you wish to evaluate (culture or sustainability – or both if appropriate)
  • A CV demonstrating appropriate experience
  • An outline of your proposed methodology
  • A price for the work


If you have any questions about the project or the role(s), please get in touch with 

Cultural Adaptations

Cultural Adaptations (EUCAN) is co-funded with the support of the Creative Europe programme of the European Union. Find out more about the project.


The post ‘Cultural Adaptations’ Project Seeks Two Evaluators appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.


Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.

We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.

Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:

Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.

Go to Creative Carbon Scotland