If There Is I Haven’t Found it Yet, with Brian O’Byrne and Jake Gyllenhaal, opened in New York’s Roundabout Theatre in September and runs through 25 November. It was written by Nick Payne, and inspired by his reading of Heat by George Monbiot, about decreasing one’s carbon footprint. Payne saw that many authors of environmentally-themed books had dedicated them to their children, and it gave him the idea of a father trying to save the planet in order to make the world a better place for his children, and beyond. But the father is so wrapped up in his work that he fails to notice the problems within his own family. The New York Times review is here.
“ashdenizen blog and twitter are consistently among the best sources for information and reflection on developments in the field of arts and climate change in the UK” (2020 Network)
ashdenizen is edited by Robert Butler, and is the blog associated with the Ashden Directory, a website focusing on environment and performance.
The Ashden Directory is edited by Robert Butler and Wallace Heim, with associate editor Kellie Gutman. The Directory includes features, interviews, news, a timeline and a database of ecologically – themed productions since 1893 in the United Kingdom. Our own projects include ‘New Metaphors for Sustainability’, ‘Flowers Onstage’ and ‘Six ways to look at climate change and theatre’.
… and, as if to continue that very thought above in the post about Ian McEwan, Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine have just announced Dark Mountain Festival Uncivilisation 2010, from May 28 to 30. In an email, Paul says:
It is deliberately staged to clash with the opening weekend of the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival: as civilised literature’s establishment grandees gather in Hay, we will muster an opposing army at the other end of Offa’s Dyke, for a very different kind of cultural weekend.
On the surface the ideas proposed by the Dark Mountain Project is very much the opposite of the RSA’s own worldview. They are broadly pessimistic, inviting us to imagine collapse and to look it in the eye, scoffing at ideas of sustainability.
UNCIVILISATION is a festival for anyone who’s sick of pretending that we can make our current way of living “sustainable”, that we can take control of the planet’s reeling systems, that “one more push” will do it. It’s time to acknowledge that “saving the planet” is a bad joke. We are entering an age of massive disruption and the task is to live through it as best we can and to look after each other as we make the transition to the unknown world ahead.
But what’s positive about the project is that it is bent on finding new ways to reimagine our present and future, believing that writers and artists can and should be taking on the riskier task of creating the narratives that are currently so absent in our culture. I suspect that behind the darkness of their mountains lurks a glimmer of light.
As American writer Barbara Ehrenreich suggests in her book Bright-Sided, it’s now OK to say that optimism may be over-rated. If a relentless economic positivism led to the economic crash, I’d also say that an instituational inability to say how dire things really are environmentally must now be seen as one of the contributing factors to why the public are reluctant to back the kind of radical measures we need from COP15.
In private, climate experts often admit they’re scared silly about what the future’s going to be like; in public they maintain a more positive face. There are, of course, very good reasons for this. Conventionally, we assume that people don’t change unless there’s something in it for them. But what if the climate crisis doesn’t fit this paradigm for cultural change? What if we actually need to start to panic to achieve change?
A slightly comic tussle took place on Monday in the Guardian between two people – both climate campaigners – who hold opposing views on this. The new British bugle blower for looking apocalypse in the face has been the writer and activist Paul Kingsnorth, who, along with his friend Dougald Hine, established the anti-modernist Dark Mountain Project to urge us to embrace the end of civilisation, (see this blog from a few weeks ago). Kingsnorth’s radical view is that civilisation is the disease, not the cure. Any efforts civilisation makes to combat climate change are doomed to failure, and will only prolong the descent.
Kingsnorth and the Guardian’s climate rottweiler George Monbiot went to head on this, Kingsnorth belittling Monbiot’s efforts to browbeat us to reform ourselves:
We still believe that we will be able to continue living more or less the same comfortable lives (albeit with more windfarms and better lightbulbs) if we can only embrace “sustainable development” rapidly enough; and that we can then extend it to the extra 3 billion people who will shortly join us on this already gasping planet.
It’s an odd situation for Monbiot to find himself in. Monbiot is more accustomed to coming under attack from the denial-bots of the conspiracist fringe. Now activist Kingsnorth himself is attacking his friend Monbiot forbeing a denialist. You have to feel sorry for the man. Interestingly poet and author Kingsnorth comes at the issue as much as an artist as a camaigner – and as noted earlier – art often scratches at the apocalyptic door.
Monbiot’s obvious defence is to point out that Kingsnorth’s millenarianism has a lurid seam of misanthropy to it:
I note that you have failed to answer my question about how many people the world could support without modern forms of energy and the systems they sustain, but 2 billion is surely the optimistic extreme. You describe this mass cull as “a long descent” or a “retreat to a saner world”. Have you ever considered a job in the Ministry of Defence press office?
Monbiot is right of course. Kingsnorth’s world is a dark one. It’s just whenever I hear Monbiot arguing like this, there’s something about the primness of his tone, the convolutions of his clauses and the use of words like “surely” that always makes me think of Miss Jean Brodie.
But despite the misanthropy of Kingsnorth’s position, he has hit on a real achilles heel of the climate change movement. It’s never healthy to believe one thing and say another.
By the by, Kingsnorth himself refers to Monbiot’s love of McCarthy’s The Road as evidence of Monbiot’s own millenarianism. Kingsnorth and I have been disagreeing about that book (see comments); he doesn’t think it’s about climate change at all. It’s one of those arguments where the only solution will be to pull McCarthy off the sidewalk and ask him himself:
EDIT. Coincidentally, Bill McKibben and Steven Colbert also danced around the same maypole on the Colbert Report, with Cobert adopting a slightly lighter form of millenarianism: “It’s game over. We should all have end of the world sex, right now. We’re all going to die!”
As part of the national launch of The Age of Stupid we’re having a special screening here at the RSA on May 22. Afterwards George Monbiot, director Franny Armstrong and Dr Richard Betts of the Climate Impacts research unit at the Met Office will be joining a discussion that will be broadcast via the web to other cinemas around the country. The event is free but you must book. See RSA Arts & Ecology for more details.
That’s not to say the image doesn’t sum up Andrew Price’s thesis pretty succinctly. The big disappointment with the book is not his demolition of the idea that “efficiency” has anything to do with social progress or environmental sustainability. That’s all good. But it starts to get a bit shaky when it turns out that his inspirations for the idea of slow-tech seem to be based more on nostalgia than any idea idea of sustainability. Aside from the now-reviled Aga, Price champions his father’s old petrol-glugging Bentley, and the old family sailing boat. As I say in the review on the main site, his idea of sustainable living soon starts to look a little like a rather jolly picnic in a BBC2 period drama rather than a real manifesto.
Andrew Price‘s new book demolishes the idea of “efficiency” as a goal for social progress, but do the publishers regret putting an Aga on the cover after George Monbiot’s assault on the icon of middle-class bucolic life? Go to RSA Arts & Ecology Features