Yearly Archives: 2020

Wild Authors: Anna Burke

By Mary Woodbury

This month, I spotlight Anna Burke and her novel Compass Rose (Bywater Books, 2018), a dystopian high-seas adventure that looks at climate refugees, hanging ocean ecosystems, and ways humanity might adapt to rising, warmer oceans while also following the protagonist as she comes of age in an unforgiving – but highly relatable – world. 

The novel takes place in the future, in the West Indies. Its main character, Rose, was born facing due north, with an inherent perception of cardinal points flowing through her veins. Her uncanny sense of direction earns her a coveted place among the Archipelago Fleet elite, but it also attracts the attention of Admiral Comita, who sends her on a secret mission deep into pirate territory. Accompanied by a ragtag crew of mercenaries, and under the command of Miranda, a captain as bloodthirsty as she is alluring, Rose discovers the hard way that even the best sense of direction won’t be enough to keep her alive if she can’t learn to navigate something far more dangerous than the turbulent seas. 

Aboard the mercenary ship, Man o’ War, Rose learns quickly that trusting the wrong person can get you killed – and Miranda’s crew has no intention of making things easy for her – especially the Captain’s trusted first mate, Orca, who is as stubborn as she is brutal. This swashbuckling 26th century adventure novel is smart, colorful and quirky, yet it manages to deliver a healthy dose of heart, humor, and humility on every single page.

Most of us probably remember Hurricane Irma, which blasted through the Caribbean as a Category 5 hurricane before hitting the mainland of the United States. If, out of concern, you might have watched news of the hurricane a little over a year and a half ago, you might remember as I do the small press coverage given to the Caribbean islands compared to that given to the hurricane landfall in the United States – yet many of the islands were absolutely devastated. Phrases like “horror movie,” “literally under water,” “barely habitable,” “war zone,” and “massive destruction” peppered the news that did cover the islands. 

Shortly thereafter, Hurricane Maria ripped through some of the same areas. Dr. Michael Taylor, a climate scientist in the Caribbean, talked about climate change and these two Category 5 hurricanes in The Guardian. He stated, “Scientific analysis shows that the climate of the Caribbean region is already changing in ways that seem to signal the emergence of a new climate regime.” The new regime, he said, brings up three concepts that newly describe befallen areas like the low-lying islands of the West Indies: unfamiliar, unprecedented, and urgent.

While hurricanes ravage homes, people, coastlines, crops, fishing, tourism, and more, it gets bigger than that. Tied with other (often related) environmental events such as tornadoes, rising seas and temperatures, over-fishing, over-development, death of coral reefs, pollution, disease, and so on, the ecological health of such areas is drastically changing, more so than is happening in many other regions in the world, giving us a glimpse into the horrific reality of global warming. My conversation with Anna Burke, below, talks about these issues, along with her experience living in Saint Kitts, LGBTQ themes in fiction, dystopian futures, weaving accurate science into fiction while still being entertaining with a good story, and world-building.

What was your time like in the West Indies, and what is it like there now compared to the past?

I spent two years living on Saint Kitts in the West Indies, from 2015-2017. The island has undergone a great deal of change in the last fifty years. It gained independence from the British in 1983, and since then transitioned from sugar production to tourism as its major industry. Both sugar and tourism are closely linked to the climate. The links between agriculture and climate change have been explored in depth by many experts, but what struck me most about living there was how dependent tourism is on the climate. I saw the effects of drought, storms, and climate change-driven diseases like Zika on the Kittitian economy while my wife and I were living there. And between sea level rise and the increasing intensity of storms – we were there during the horrific 2017 hurricane season – it is honestly difficult for me to see how island nations are going to adapt and thrive in the face of an increasingly unpredictable climate.

What motivated you to write a novel that tackles environmental issues? How important are novels that deal with climate change, do you think?

I’ve always been passionate about environmentalism. I’ve worked in agriculture off and on over the years and have seen first-hand the effects of climate change on our food systems, but living in the Caribbean really drove home how vulnerable we are. Seeing an entire country at the mercy of not one, but two consecutive Category 5 hurricane will do that! Islands are microcosms of life on earth, and I felt very humbled in the face of nature’s wrath, for lack of a better way to put it. I had to channel those feelings into my writing.

I think novels that deal with climate change are essential. Not only do they raise awareness, but they can also prepare us for what is coming. It seems increasingly likely that we have passed the tipping point for stopping climate change, but rather than dwelling on that, novels can help us mentally and emotionally wrap our heads around something as huge as the climate. Exploring our adaptability, ingenuity, and resilience, along with the technology that we do have, seems to me the best way to move forward. Books have always done that for us, whether it was predicting and fueling space exploration or helping us heal from conflict.

Compass Rose is also a novel exploring LGBTQ issues. Is this still a niche audience, or do you think it’s growing – and can you talk about what’s happening with this in your novel?

LGBTQ issues are still mostly niche, but I do believe that is changing. We’re seeing more LGBTQ characters in books, movies, TV, and now even in our elected officials, and I hope that trend continues because representation is so important, especially for young people. I include LGBTQ characters in my books partly for this reason, but my characters don’t really dwell on their sexuality. It is something that is a part of them and might influence who they are attracted to, but it certainly is not at the heart of the story. I am not downplaying the importance of coming out narratives, but I also think it is important for readers to see LGBTQ people (and people of color) having the same adventures and experiences as white heterosexuals. Sexuality doesn’t have to define their stories, and I think my work reflects that. I have had many straight readers tell me how much they’ve enjoyed my books, which I think is a sign of our changing attitudes towards minorities.

One thing I noticed upon reading was that the novel is both heartwarming and scientific (for example, Rose’s knowledge of stars and the ocean), and I think these two things go hand in hand very well. The story has more impact when messing with readers’ emotions. Do you think so?

I certainly hope so! I like weaving science into my stories, but I know that as a reader I don’t like getting huge info-dumps, especially about complex issues, and so I try not to do that. I also think that separating science from emotion is a mistake. We interpret our world emotionally, even when we think we are being logical, and I like fiction that reflects that. Rose’s emotional connection to her navigational abilities helps her understand them and also helps her tell her own story.

How did you research your novel as far as world-building?

I love research. I regularly check out scientific blogs and research journals to stay up to date, and I love falling down internet rabbit holes. There is so much information out there, from interactive sea level rise maps and Google Earth to in-depth reports on jelly fish populations and 3-D printing technology. I did quite a bit of research up front about Rose’s world, and continued to research as I went along, adding and revising the more I learned. There are days when I wish I didn’t know quite so much about climate change, however, as so much of it is heartbreaking. I also had the benefit of living near the ocean as I wrote, which provided plenty of opportunity for first-hand experiences. Talking to experts is something I try to do as well. Researching a completely new topic is daunting, but an expert can help you focus on what is actually important. For example, I have never been on a submarine and knew nothing about sonar, and so I spoke with a Naval engineer to get the lowdown.

Fascinating! Compass Rose is also a thriller, and hard to put down. One reader described the book as a complete package – and it seems a glorious start for a debut novel. Do you have any other projects that you are working on?

My second book just came out, and it is totally different from Compass Rose, although nature is very much a part of it. Thorn is a wintry fairy tale that deals with definitions of personal freedom and impossible choices, although I did use the research for the book as an excuse to watch an absurd number of nature documentaries about wolves and polar bears. After Compass Rose, I needed a break from hot climates, I think, and so plunged myself into an enchanted endless winter to cool off. I am also working on a prequel to Compass Rose and a sequel, although I do not have any hard deadlines. Working on multiple projects at once prevents writer’s block, and while at times it feels insane to have several novels going at once, it works for me!

Thorn sounds pretty awesome, and I will be checking it out as well as your other novels in the future. Thanks so much for the chat!

This article is part of our Wild Authors series. It was originally published on Dragonfly.eco.

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Mary Woodbury, a graduate of Purdue University, runs Dragonfly.eco, a site that explores 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.

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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

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Shelley Castle asks ‘IS THIS IT? Looking towards COP26’

Throughout our travels to Glasgow and beyond, Lucy Neal, myself and Anne-Marie Culhane witnessed rivers bursting their seams and reclaiming land, causing heartache for communities and farmers, expanding territory for beavers, and washing away crops.  Rising alongside the water is a mounting sense of urgency, and an accompanying feeling of confusion, about how (or even if) as creative practitioners to respond to the Climate Change talks in Glasgow in November.

Described by Lucy as a ‘Black Square’ (from Charlotte DuCann, Dark Mountain), the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) creates a real and metaphorical space which vibrates with a sense of power and exclusivity wherever it lands.  Like its equivalent cosmic force, the black hole, COP also seems to draw everything towards itself, with ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) felt by many who are not invited, but for whom the consequences of a lack of progress will be beyond dire. Lucy and I attended COP24 in Poland as part of Walking Forest, gifting seeds from the last suffragette tree standing in the Suffragette Arboretum in Batheaston to delegates in an intimate ritual aimed at supporting the work being done across the world to fight for the rights of people, trees, rivers.

It was shocking to see how little space, literally and in terms of voice, those already suffering from the consequences of the crisis were given.  So as part of the cultural sector, how do we decide if, how and for whom we might respond to this year’s COP, which has potential to shift the trajectory of Earth’s future, but a track record of getting virtually no-where beyond words?

Is this a once-in-a-lifetime chance to engage (and possibly even make a small difference to its outcomes), or is it something that will be impervious to any energy we might throw at it?  Lucy began by outlining what ‘had to happen’ legally at COP26: countries must submit their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for cutting emissions and demonstrate the Paris agreement is working well enough to deliver a safe climate.

In our open guided conversation kindly hosted by Glasgow Sculpture Studios and Chris Fremantle from ecoartscotland, we met a group of 20 artists, activists, interested individuals and organisations, to at least attempt to find a place to stand in relation to COP26.

We simplified the options of where we might position ourselves individually to:

IGNORE – it’s a f*****g waste of time,
ENGAGE – in parallel but in response to,
DISRUPT – cause interventions that shake up the black square,
BE AT THE TABLE – be inside, working with policy/actions/representatives

Lucy Neal held a group that wanted to explore the idea that to IGNORE COP was the preferred tactic.

Pondering what ‘IGNORE’ might meant, the group considered how it might be possible to create civic spaces like the ‘Commonwealth Games’ where people could mediate the event on the streets; create soft edges with generosity and kindness, person to person.  The conversation focused on creating a space that confronts apathy whilst exploring the narrative of de-growth and other ways of living.

Talk turned to how to create a ‘performance of ignoring’ – an intervention called the ‘black onesie option’ that would see people at the far-flung corners of the Black Square softening it’s edges.

It was decided that ‘Ignoring could well be the new Paying Attention!’

Shelley held the ‘ENGAGE’ space where a group considered their feelings of dilemma around any impact creative actions may have on those living and working in Glasgow.  It was thought that many local people could see both COP itself and accompanying protests as a huge annoyance.

‘It boils down to if you think COP26 will achieve anything or not’ and ‘how much influence do we want/have, who would our actions be for?’ created rich ideas for actions – like a performance in which we could ‘all just walk away from COP’

There will be spaces for creative responses, potentially at Glasgow University and at Strathclyde Student Union which will we understand be the ‘Civil Society space’ organised by Stop Climate Chaos Scotland.

In these spaces some representatives from COP might see or experience creative responses and alternative stories, but the question was ‘could these go back into COP in any meaningful way?’  Was inhabiting a ‘parallel space’ enough or did it just give COP more power to ignore?

Anne-Marie held the ‘DISRUPT’ table with two others. There was a surprising lack of interest in creative disruption. Anne-Marie set up some provocations to start the conversation for example:  ‘COP is really important – the lives and deaths of thousands of people/creatures etc ride on this – why wouldn’t we disrupt it by blocking airports and transport links at the end if adequate agreement not reached?’ and ‘What would the suffragettes do?’

The group then discussed whether it could be possible to create ‘hospitable disruptions’ like the Walking Forest seed gifting at COP26 which allowed people to step out of the thrust of debating, writing, compromising, and into another space for remembering their own core values and a sense of humanity/compassion’

Chris Fremantle joined those wanting to ‘BE AT THE TABLE’ in COP.  The group talked about who would be ‘at the table’ particularly focusing on issues such as farming. Multiple different groups from corporate lobbyists through the Soil Association to Via Campesina will all be there. The arts might:

  • draw attention to patriarchy and colonialism through Glasgow’s own history;
  • Solidarity in the face of challenges;
  • amplify the voices of those who are not at the table;
  • support international solidarity.

The group also explored what moral support might be needed for those at the table and how culture connects land workers everywhere through story, song and dance.

By the end of the day most felt that a conversation had begun to offer a rich and deep perspective on why and for whom, before even considering the what and where.

There was strong sense that understanding the significance of the COP in relation to the bigger ‘moment’ is critical; that small performative interventions could influence values and offer new meaning.

It was humbling to feel the diversity and breadth of experience, knowledge, care and artforms in the room.  We hope to continue this dialogue soon – please keep an eye on the cop26-general or cop26-glasgowlocal lists on riseup,  ecoartscotland and the arts4cop26 group on Facebook for further information.

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Shelley Castle is an activist, mother and civic artist, and an active member of Culture Declares Climate and Ecological Emergency. Working across a variety of mediums and with multiple collaborators, her practice is underpinned by a fascination of biodiversity in all its forms.

Anne-Marie Culhane creates events, performances and long term projects that invite people into an active and enquiring relationship with each other and the land working as artist, activist and collaborator across a range of disciplines.

Lucy Neal is a theatre-maker and educator interested in how celebratory events act as a catalyst for change. A Co-founding Director of the London International Festival of Theatre (1981-’05), her work looks at how the arts inspire new ways of living within the ecological limits of a finite planet. She is author of Playing for Time: Making Art as if the World Mattered.

Ruth Ben-Tovim was not able to attend but is the fourth artist in Walking Forest, a project funded by the Arts Council of England as part of the Season for Change, a UK wide programme showcasing cultural leadership on climate action.

Walking Forest seeds a mycelium network of relationships led by women in the UK and internationally to initiate three site-specific public residencies and a large-scale mass participation event, potentially in Scotland and contributing a voice at COP26: whether at the table, engaging, ignoring or creatively disrupting.

Walking Forest concludes in 2028, with the planting of an intentional forest for Earth activists.  All four artists are part of Culture Declares Climate and Ecological Emergency – a growing global movement of ‘declare’ initiatives including local authoritiesarchitectsmusicianslawyers and doctors.

For notes on the open meeting before Christmas co-hosted by ecoartscotland and Creative Carbon Scotland see here.

(Top image: Black Square courtesy of Shelley Castle)

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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

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Painting Grief And Hope

By Lesley Thiel

I feel like I’ve spent most of my life worrying about climate change. I’ve loved the Earth and nature my whole life, and its progressive destruction by humanity has been heart-wrenching. The butterflies, bees, flowers, and small mammals of my childhood have all gone missing from the places where I once played. 

As an artist I process my grief through my work. I have to make talking about our relationship with the planet my focus. Not on a grand scale, but in the beauty and intimacy of small things and in the everyday tragedy of the world we are losing. I know many of us feel this way, but too many others have yet to understand the danger – and we need to use every tool to make them listen. As a contemporary realist painter, that means telling stories in a classical style using symbolism to create a universal message. 

I believe that we do not have the right to destroy the opportunity for life on Earth to thrive. We are committing a crime by destroying the future of our children for profit and convenience. We must change our behaviors in a fundamental way in order to alter our course, and I am convinced that the necessary leadership will come from women and girls. We need new ways of working and thinking about the climate crisis, and women can offer that. And so I started working on pieces that show a young girl in burning and smoke-filled settings that have become all too real to us. I want to show both her strength and her vulnerability, but also to offer hope. More than anything, I want the viewer to see her. I want people to stop and realize that each child is a person whose aspirations are being stolen.

The Heiress

Women and girls all too often struggle to make their voices heard. Society tries to place restrictions on how they should behave, and penalizes them when they “act out,” which often simply means expressing an unwelcome opinion or telling an uncomfortable truth. Today, the restrictions may be more subtle than they were in the past, but they are nonetheless real. In order to illustrate these constraints, I dress some of my young models in collars and ruffs that echo 16th century costumes. 

One example is the painting The Heiress in which Addie, my model, wears a huge and ungainly collar decorated with feathers. She looks straight into your eyes, asking you to see her and not walk away. She holds in her hand a cork, on which is written “espérer” – the word “hope” in French – because hope floats and French is the language of diplomacy. The label says that the future is here — here with this girl, who holds a scepter of dried sea holly, a symbol of independence. 

For millennia, young girls have been used to represent fertility and, thus, renewal. We’ve all seen pictures of beautiful, dewy females wearing garlands of flowers in their hair as they celebrate rites of spring. But now, as we face the prospect of the Earth no longer regenerating fast enough to keep up with our destruction, I see garlands no longer as a sign of regeneration, but as a dried out shadow of their former glory. 

Hope

I’ve painted several pieces with this theme, and will continue to revisit it. However, life has such a strong will to exist that I didn’t want to believe we would happily keep marching towards destruction. And so I painted Hope. Yes, the landscape is burning and that crown is dry, brittle and dead, but Addie holds in her hands rich black earth, and in that earth is a strawberry plant, with both flowers and fruit. The strawberry is the fruit of Venus and symbol of our love for our fellow humans and for the Earth. Addie asks you to look. Look what she can do if you give her a chance.

Living in North Carolina, I am very privileged to be surrounded by the bounty of the natural world. I treasure it because I’ve lived in big cities and felt the loss of nature around me. But I also see how rapidly my area is being developed, the land paved over for housing and endless stores and restaurants. I drive past the piles of murdered trees and raw earth. I see the confused wildlife searching for a new home, and I want to scream at the wanton destruction. It’s what motivated me to paint All Things Bright And Beautiful to make a record of the life that still manages to exist in our neighborhood. At least for now. The stag, who I’ve seen wandering through our yard, now has bottles of water with fish and tadpoles from the creek hanging from his antlers. The squirrel, fox, and raccoon all peer out with watchful eyes. And the girl tells you she’s holding the key as she stands in front of nature – protecting and leading. It may be an obvious piece of symbolism, but in a world where people are asked to see so much, and take in so little, the simple messages are sometimes the best.

All Things Bright And Beautiful

I’ll admit that climate anxiety grips me all too often. You try and tidy up your own life: plant-based diet, reusable bags and baskets, solid shampoos and soaps, no plastic, limited driving, safe spaces for wildlife, even nurturing the bees! You read the science, and then you turn on the news and see the inaction. Worse, you hear nothing about this greatest threat to our survival, because someone considers an ill-considered tweet to be more newsworthy. And sometimes – many times, you despair. That’s how I felt when I painted The Sinking Of The Gaia. The vessel we call home is on fire! And our children will stand on the shore as the water rises, and they will have nowhere to go because, unlike the girl in the painting, they are not selkie. They cannot magically become sea lions and swim away into another world.

I don’t see my work as offering solutions to climate change. But like the brave young girls who speak truth so fearlessly to power, I ask that the people who see my paintings stop and become aware of what we are in danger of losing. I ask them to see the strength and purpose in our young women, and to give them an opportunity to find new and respectful ways of interacting with Mother Earth. I ask people to see that, if we fail them, we will never be forgiven.

(Top image: The Sinking of the Gaia)

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Lesley Thiel was born just outside London, England. After a career in medical research, she turned to her first love: art. Her initial works focused on horses and now encompass figurative realism and portraiture. Since 2005, her work has been featured in numerous international gallery and museum shows, including European Museum of Modern Art; Salmagundi Club; Sotheby’s; Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art; Zhou B Art Center; Mall Galleries; Terminal 5 Heathrow. It is part of the Bennett, and the Fred and Kara Ross collections. She has won awards from Art Renewal Center, Portrait Society of America, and International Artist Magazine.

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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

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#GreenQuarantine – Broadway Green Alliance Virtual Learning and Crafts

During this incredibly difficult time, we here at the Broadway Green Alliance remain committed to supporting you and serving as the theatre industry’s green anchor.

Like you, we are reeling from how quickly things continue to change and how emotionally difficult it is to practice social-distancing in an industry built on bringing people together.  As such, while the theatres remain dark, we will strive to provide positive outlets for us to remain connected with each other and with our earth.

Below you will see the rollout of our new, virtual green learning sessions.  We hope you will join us for one or all of them.  

Stay well and stay hopeful,


Molly Braverman
Director, BGA


#GreenQuarantine

As our theatre community braves this uncertain time, the COVID-19 pandemic – like the climate crisis – forces us to think about the resilience, community, and hope needed in the face of a global challenge.

That’s why the BGA is hosting free virtual green learning sessions aimed at harnessing creative ways to remain connected to each other and the earth. 

Current Schedule:

  • Every Saturday, 11am-12pm: Family-Friendly Upcycled Craft Sessions
  • Every Thursday, 1pm-2pm: Green Learning Sessions

Upcoming Virtual Learning Sessions:

Only For Now: Managing the Stress
of Self-Isolation and Being Green

Thursday, March 26th
1pm-2pm
Host: Andrea Mechanick Braverman, PhD

Register for ONLY FOR NOW


Family-Friendly Session
Not Throwing Away Your… Trash: 
Crafting Upcycled Pencil Holders

Saturday, March 28th
11am-12pm
Host: Sasha Pensati

Register for NOT THROWING AWAY YOUR… TRASH


Somewhere That’s Green: Zero-Waste in
the Time of Social Distancing

Thursday, April 2nd
1pm-2pm
Host: Mara Davi Gaines

Register for SOMEWHERE THAT’S GREEN


Click Here To Follow The Session Schedule

How can I keep up with the session schedule?

Questions? Email Us!


Click Here to support the theatre community by donating to the
Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights Aids COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund

Q27: Legibility

An opening up of and gathering of discourse around the concept of legibility. Who and what can be read and defined? And how easily? What should be made visible and accessible, determinate, and what should remain in the registers of ambiguity and contingent understanding? 

Reaching for Jack Halberstam’s use of the term legibility in “The Queer Art of Failure,” and placing it next to technology and the rendering of the climate as legible to better predict and understand its behavior, bodies and genders resist the legibility of being easily defined and determinate to governing bodies and power, while we are scrambling for more clear legibility of our environments, positioning the body in contention with the atmosphere it’s amidst. Contributions to the journal will be suspended between these two ideas, questioning the foundations on which we perceive the legible, and who it benefits. ISSUE TAKEOVER by Calvin Rocchio.

Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis.

By Peterson Toscano

Being a climate advocate can be very difficult. How do you maintain hope in the face of bad news and apathy from those around you? Where do you find encouragement and inspiration? What role can faith play in our climate work? These are the questions Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade and Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, editors of a new anthology of essays by climate change faith leaders, wanted to answer. They bring together 21 climate leaders in the book Rooted & Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis.

Contributors include Dr. Katharine HayhoeRev Fred SmallCristina Leaño, and Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman. In his introduction to the book, Bill McKibben argues for the need for a faith-based book about climate action, 

…love, I would suggest, is what finally roots this volume: a love for the world around us, in all its improbable glory, and for the people who alone can bear witness to that glory and rise to its defense. If they are indeed summoned to that calling, it may be in part by fear – by the proper functioning of the survival instinct. But I suspect it will be more by love, the ever-great mystery. This volume opens some windows on that mystery, because the people whose words are collected in it have been powered by that force.

In the Art House this month, the editors speak briefly about the book, and then contributor Dr. Nathasha DeJarnett, a research coordinator at the National Environmental Health Association, reads a portion of her essay The View from My WindowCorina Newsome, from Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, shares how her hope was rekindled through the process of writing her piece The Thing with Feathers. Once she received her copy of the book and read the other essays, she found even more hope.

Coming up next month, Irish author Shirley Anne McMillan, on why she was at first resistant to engage with climate change, and the challenge of doing good art about the climate crisis.  

If you like what you hear, you can listen to full episodes of Citizens’ Climate Radio on iTunesStitcher Radio, Spotify, SoundCloudPodbeanNorthern Spirit RadioGoogle PlayPlayerFM, and TuneIn Radio. Also, feel free to connect with other listeners, suggest program ideas, and respond to programs in the Citizens’ Climate Radio Facebook group or on Twitter at @CitizensCRadio.

(Top image: Corina Newsome and feathered friend.)

This article is part of The Art House series.

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As host of Citizens’ Climate Radio, Peterson Toscano regularly features artists who address climate change in their work. The Art House section of his program includes singer/songwriters, visual artists, comics, creative writers, and playwrights. Through a collaboration with Artists and Climate Change and Citizens’ Climate Education, each month Peterson reissues The Art House for this blog. If you have an idea for The Art House, contact Peterson: radio @ citizensclimatelobby.org

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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

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Kyoto Forever? UN Climate Conferences as Political Theatre

By Thomas Peterson

Perhaps the most consequential theatrical forums of the moment are the UN climate conferences, or COP meetings, which occur every year in a different city and at which the governments of the world negotiate coordinated attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Or at least they perform diplomatic negotiation and perform commitments to reduce emissions. Global emissions continue to rise as climate impacts worsen, heightening the fictive, performative impression given by these conferences. At times they appear to be nothing but deceitful political theatre.

On the other hand, these meetings have also created platforms for truthful and effective political theatre, such as Greta Thunberg’s speech at COP 24 in Katowice in 2018, or Papua New Guinea delegate Kevin Conrad’s criticism of American obstructionism at COP 13 in Bali in 2007. The conferences have also inspired creative theatrical work, particularly in conjunction with COP 21 in Paris in 2015, which was accompanied by ArtCOP21, a “global festival of cultural activity on climate change.”

In May of that year, 200 students from around the world met at the Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers outside Paris to simulate an idealized, biospherically-minded version of the COP to come. The project was at once a Model UN conference and a devised participatory theatre piece. It was guided by Laurence Tubiana, who led the French delegation at COP 21 and was a key architect of the Paris agreement, the philosopher Bruno Latour, and the scholar and theatre director Frédérique Aït-Touati, alongside Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers artistic director Philippe Quesne. 

The student participants performed not only the roles of government negotiators, but also those of diplomats acting on behalf of cities, oceans, soils, and other species. They were given three days and one night to reach an agreement, a fascinating experiment documented in the film CLIMAT: le théâtre des négociations (known in English as CLIMATE: Make it Work!), directed by David Bornstein. A fractious process, the conference was nevertheless a thrilling test-run for the progress that might be made that November when world leaders convened in Paris.

Though the progress made in Paris later that year inspired hope, little has changed since then. COP 25 in Madrid was a striking failure, even by the abysmal standards of international climate conferences. While we must do our utmost to inspire action at the all-important COP 26 this fall in Glasgow, the gap between deteriorating climatic conditions and intergovernmental inaction seems ever more absurd. 

The French writer-director-performer Frédéric Ferrer has explored this absurdity through a pair of plays, entitled Kyoto Forever and (with a wink) Kyoto Forever 2, which he created with his company, Vertical Détour, in 2008 and 2015. The plays are a theatrical hybrid existing somewhere between political documentary theatre and the more farcical edge of the Theatre of the AbsurdKyoto Forever fictionalizes a past UN meeting, COP 13 in Bali, while Kyoto Forever 2 imagines a 2022 preparatory meeting for a future COP, numbered 28, taking place on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.

The term “Kyoto Forever” entered the lexicon in 2005, when three European policy researchers published an article in which they suggested that international climate agreements might simply cease to make progress, freezing at the wildly insufficient and yet nevertheless largely unmet commitment levels agreed to under the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. It is a terrifying theory, but one that seems depressingly astute, given the general failure to comply with or build on the moderately improved (though non-binding) commitments made at COP 21.

I saw Kyoto Forever 2 in Paris roughly a year ago, going on four years after its creation for ArtCOP21, and its representation of the intractability of international climate politics has stayed with me. Actors from France, Sweden, China, Iran, Congo, Russia, and Brazil argued for two hours in ten different languages. They were playing representatives from (mostly) their countries of origin, attending an entirely fictional but nevertheless all-too-real preparatory meeting.

Reflecting on the performance a year on, what alarms me the most is that 2022 is a mere two years away. The picture offered by Kyoto Forever 2 of the state of these near-future UN climate negotiations was bleak: increasingly desperate and increasingly paralyzed. The production was advertised with an ironic tagline: “two hours to save the world.” The delegates were talking about 6 degrees Celsius of warming, an unquestionably catastrophic threshold, but a scenario well within the realm of possibility in the “business as usual” scenario envisioned by this play. 

The delegates deliver the arguments that play out every year at these meetings, but the climate devastation occurring in the background has worsened. Developing countries rightly argue that they should not be subject to the same emissions reduction requirements as the wealthy countries responsible for the crisis. OPEC member states unsurprisingly advocate for carbon capture, refusing to accept the liquidation of their sources of wealth. Russia and China are unwilling to accept restrictions on development. The US refuses to take a leadership role or to cede any ground that might endanger its status as hegemon. The EU scolds but cannot broker compromise. The delegates spend the entire week, played out over two hours on stage, haggling over commas in the introduction to the text of the accord. Meaningless metaphors float around. Absurd debates over a parenthesis here or a digit there strike a tragicomic tone. 

We eventually learn that this preparatory conference had been scheduled to occur on another island nation: Vanuatu. This plan is scuttled when horrible storms and flooding strike the island in the weeks leading up to the meeting. Vanuatu is drowning in the Pacific. Midway through the play, the delegate from Vanuatu calls in, water sloshing in the background. People are drowning. The world isn’t getting saved in two hours; it might already be lost.

Despite the dire circumstances, the play inspired more laughter than I am accustomed to hearing when watching artistic work that engages with the climate crisis. It felt like seeing a play by Ionesco or Beckett, like Waiting for Godot in a conference center: language seemed incapable of describing or resolving this hyperobject of a problem. Kyoto Forever 2 explores this failure of language, of communication, of conventional modes of international politics. At a certain point, it is tempting to throw up one’s hands and begin to laugh. That temptation must be resisted. We have two years to ensure that Ferrer’s projection of COP 28 hews closer to absurdist farce than to tragic documentary.

In the meantime, staging interrogations of these potentially world-altering yet terminally disappointing conferences might help us achieve better outcomes. In staging COP meetings, we can expose the flaws in the process, dramatize the stakes, give voice to the unrepresented, and imagine the possibilities for the world these conferences could create. Staging the COP meetings can create models for success for a process that has heretofore failed. Perhaps we need more theatrical rehearsals, like Kyoto Forever, Kyoto Forever 2, or the student conference at the Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers, in order to ensure a successful performance in Glasgow this fall.

(Top image: From left, Karina Beuthe, Haini Wang, Charlotte Marquardt, Guarani Feitosa, Max Hayter, Behi Djanati Atai, Délia Roubtsova, and Chrysogone Diangouaya in Kyoto Forever 2 by Frédéric Ferrer. Photo by Samuel Sérandour.)

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Thomas Peterson is a theatre director and researcher whose work focuses on the climate crisis. He is an Artistic Associate with The Arctic Cycle, co-organizing Climate Change Theatre Action. He recently returned from a Harvard Williams-Lodge Scholarship in Paris, where he wrote a thesis on the aesthetic of the sublime in the theatrical representation of the Anthropocene. He created Roy Loves America, a multi-form performance piece about Roy Cohn, and is developing an original adaptation of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck. His engagement in climate activism stretches back to high school, when he led a successful fossil fuel divestment campaign.

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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.

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