Top Image: Newton Harrison, The Deep Wealth of this Nation, Scotland (2018). Detail: one of ten panels.
The Scottish Government recently published Climate Ready Scotland: Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme 2019-2024 A Consultation Draft – the consultation is open through 9th April 2019.
The focus of this work is on adaptation rather than mitigation.
As Ben Twist of Creative Carbon Scotland explained, mitigation is carbon reduction. Adaptation is about responding to the impacts of climate change: how do we change what we do and how we do it to deal with the changes and uncertainties of global warming? There are practical changes and behavioural changes. Some ‘adaptation’ measures ensure that infrastructure (eg energy and transport) can cope, and other actions are encouraging significant changes to farming practices. Community action is an important aspect too. Given this range it is surprising that culture only features as an aspect of heritage, and the arts don’t feature at all.
The survey is pretty specifically geared around professionals already directly involved in adaptation work engaging with technical questions of programme design. It might be more effective for people from culture and the arts to write letters outlining our role, giving specific examples of relevant work – projects and ways of working. There is an email address email@example.com.
ecoartscotland has regularly highlighted artists’ and organisations’ work on climate change, or as Helen Mayer Harrison (1927-2018) and Newton Harrison (b. 1932) conceptualised it, ‘The Force Majeure’.
Like an oncoming storm front, the Force Majeure is a fluid frontier; a frontier of heat moving across the planet; a frontier of water advancing on lands; a frontier of extinctions touching all lives. It is a frontier from which we retreat, yet within which we must also adapt.Center for the Study of the Force Majeurewebsite
The consultation document opens with the following statement from Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform,
Adapting to the changing climate will both help to create a better society for everyone who lives here and unlock Scotland’s immense potential as a nation.Climate Ready Scotland
It goes on to say,
I want the second Adaptation Programme to deliver a step change in collaboration, and emphasise the wider co-benefits of climate action.
In an essay a few years ago the Harrisons said,
We hold that every place is telling the story of its own becoming, which is another way of saying that it is continually creating its own history and we join that conversation of place.‘Knotted ropes, rings, lattices and lace: Retrofitting biodiversity into the cultural landscape?’ in Barthlott, Wilhelm and Matthias Winiger, eds.,Biodiversity: A Challenge for Development Research and Policy.Berlin, Heidelberg, New York: Springer-Verlag, p. 14.
Working with The Barn in Aberdeenshire, Newton Harrison and his colleagues from The Center for the Study of the Force Majeure have been developing The Deep Wealth of this Nation, Scotland, a vision which specifically sets out to imagine Scotland as the first industrialised nation to put back more into the web of life than it takes out. The vision focuses on farming, agriculture and aquaculture (in particular lagoons), and frames these within a ‘Commons of Mind’ – the need for recognition of the prima facie need to adapt in the face of the Force Majeure.
The Barn invited the Harrisons and the Center for the Study of the Force Majeure to Aberdeenshire because of the floods along the river Dee in 2016 caused by Storm Frank. The resulting discussions with the James Hutton Institute and Scottish Rural University Colleges, supported by SEFARI funding, highlighted holistic approaches addressing the settlement, the watershed and the nation. Connections have been drawn to work in other small nations including Sweden and Taiwan and the work has been exhibited in Scotland and in the Taipei Biennial.
The Cabinet Secretary’s ambitions for the Adaptation Programme to produce ‘a more just society’ are critical. The problem is that the Programme does not address the fundamental reimagining required for humans to give back more to the web of life than we take out.
For instance, the Consultation document says of ‘Climate Change Adaptation Behaviours’,
This is where individuals and organisations change their behaviour to help increase their resilience to, and reduce the severity of, negative consequences of climate change.Climate Ready Scotland
What is missing is actively strengthening the web of life by choosing to, for instance, grow biodiversity, not just in fragments, but comprehensively. So in changing farming it is not enough to simply plant a few more trees and allow for spreading of waters if that doesn’t tackle the ‘agricultural extinction’ that is monocultural farming. Intelligently greening settlements needs to achieve massively greater and connected (not fragmented) biodiversity, which in turn might provide human benefits in terms of edible landscapes (see for example the work of Dundee Urban Orchard and Loughborough University’s Eat Your Campus– both of which are artist-led) and more engaged, interconnected communities while at the same time reducing the impact of heatwaves on urban environments. The Deep Wealth calls for holistic thinking that puts the web of life first.
“When future generations look back upon the Great Derangement, they will certainly blame the leaders and politicians of this time for their failure to address the climate crisis. But they may well hold artists and writers to be equally culpable – for the imagining of possibilities is not, after all, the job of politicians and bureaucrats.”(p. )
The Harrisons provide a compelling vision for a different way of living, focused by the need to adapt to The Force Majeure.
There are a number of projects across Scotland which specifically address adaptation, in addition to The Deep Wealth. The Stove’s We Live With Water raises questions about how to live with regular flooding, questioning conventional flood defence approaches. Matt Baker described it as,
…an alternative approach and try to imagine a future where increased rainfall, sea-levels and river surges would be seen as an opportunity. We tried to imagine Dumfries as River Town…. a place that embraced its environment… a place that Lives With Water.The Stove
“It sets out to envision seasons of food production and consumption that react to man-induced climatic events and landscape alterations.”Climavorewebsite
Projects in other places such as Eve Mosher’s High Water Line in New York City, featured in Creative Carbon Scotland’s Library of Creative Sustainability, draw attention to the impact of storm surges which will become more frequent as global warming accelerates.
Community Energy focused initiatives including Land Art Generator Glasgow go beyond simple mitigation (carbon reduction) to envisage community owned energy production and local grids for urban contexts.
Arts projects which address climate change, whatever the focus, almost always involve collaboration with scientists and engineers and engage with communities – interdisciplinary and participatory. A recent paper, ‘Raising the Temperature’: The arts in a warming planet (Galafassi et al 2017 Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 31:71–79) highlights that art addressing climate change has grown nearly 20-fold over the ten years they reviewed.
Creative Carbon Scotland’s continuing programme of Green Tease events builds networks, and its new Creative Europe funded Cultural Adaptations project brings artists into working with Sustainability and Adaptation focused organisations.
Even the Scottish Government’s Scottish Energy Strategy: The future of energy in Scotland (2017) says,
We will explore, through the development of a Culture Strategy for Scotland, ways that Scotland’s culture sectors and creative industries can help communities imagine a green future, and to help us all adapt to the changes and opportunities.(p. 13)
So why does the Adaptation Programme talk about agriculture and aquaculture, but not culture or culture change? Where are the arts? The word culture literally doesn’t appear… (The Heritage sector is significantly represented and is a key stakeholder in the Adaptation Programme.)
It’s a consultation – submit your work and experience – tell them what you do and who it connects with – email it to them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet it tagging @ecoartscotlandand @CultureAdapts and also @ScotGovClimate
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 Research, Gray’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.
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