Open University

New metaphors for sustainability: Le Tour

This post comes to you from Ashden Directory

Le Tour de France is the metaphor Bradon Smith offers in our series of New metaphors for sustainability. Bradon is  a research associate in the Geography department at the Open University, and is also the AHRC research fellow on climate change for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 

The bicycle is a wonderfully efficient and ecological mode of transport; and the dynamics of professional cycling are a model for the cooperation that real sustainability will require.

This week saw the climax of the Tour de France. Four hundred thousand people gathered on the mountain roads leading up to Alpe d’Huez to watch that one stage alone. Cycling works as a spectator sport partly because of the intense physical effort, but also because of the layers of tactics and teamwork: strength and stamina aren’t enough to win the Tour.

No rider could win the Tour without their team. Teamwork, co-operation and the team’s different skills are required to win even a stage. Many of the members of a team (the domestiques) ride not for their own chances of glory, but for the benefit of another member of their team: setting the pace for their leading rider, carrying water for them, sheltering them from headwinds, and so on. These sacrifices are central to a team’s success.

Nor can any rider win any stage – some are more suited to mountains, others to flat stages. The rider who can achieve the fastest speeds (a sprinter) is unlikely to win the Tour, which requires a better all-round rider. Some teams are dedicated to the success of a single rider, others spread their efforts more widely. A team has to play to the strengths of its members.

Despite the intense competition, and personal rivalries, there is a fundamental trust within the peloton. Hurtling along the road at 40mph, wheels within inches of one another, each rider must trust that the others will hold their line.

And this trust has built a unique ethic: the peloton follows a set of unwritten rules. It is not done, for example, to profit from other riders’ crashes – the peloton will wait instead. And the team of the leading rider is expected to do the most work, setting the pace for the whole peloton.

Technological developments have dramatically affected cycling: bikes are lighter and more aerodynamic, and the riders are all equipped with radios for constant communication with their teams. Fans are divided over whether these changes are detrimental. But these developments have not drastically altered the basic ethic of the peloton.

But there is another side to cycling. Teams are reliant on their corporate sponsors, and team tactics are also built around giving the most TV exposure to their sponsors’ logos. Deals are done between riders of competing teams: ‘you can have this win, if you help me tomorrow’. And – the big ones – doping blights the sport and fans speculate about deals and corruption at a high level. It isn’t really clear how these problems will be eradicated; but in a sport shot through with the ethos of teamwork and cooperation, they strike right at its heart.

There is a temptation to ‘cheat’ with sustainability too: to greenwash and make tokenistic changes, but never integrate it fully into our lives and societies. But the cooperation that is central to professional cycling is also central to sustainability; as in a cycling team, one specialism will not be enough; and like in the peloton, we need to trust that others will also make the effort.

“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)

The editors are Robert Butler and Wallace Heim. The associate editor is Kellie Gutman. The editorial adviser is Patricia Morison.

Robert Butler’s most recent publication is The Alchemist Exposed (Oberon 2006). From 1995-2000 he was drama critic of the Independent on Sunday. See www.robertbutler.info

Wallace Heim has written on social practice art and the work of PLATFORM, Basia Irland and Shelley Sacks. Her doctorate in philosophy investigated nature and performance. Her previous career was as a set designer for theatre and television/film.

Kellie Gutman worked with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture for twenty years, producing video programmes and slide presentations for both the Aga Khan Foundation and the Award for Architecture.

Patricia Morison is an executive officer of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, a group of grant-making trusts of which the Ashden Trust is one.

Go to The Ashden Directory

Mediating Change

‘Mediating Change: Culture and Climate Change’- A panel of experts engaging in discussion

Talk of climate change has grown prevalently in recent years and continues to be a focal point in discussions amongst politicians and scientists. But behind the highly-publicised media attention we read about so frequently in the newspapers, the arts have been responding to the issues surrounding climate change and encouraging a cultural shift in our understanding of these significant issues. Artists, writers and performers have been inspired to explore and question the issues surrounding climate change and deliver responses that may trigger people to talk, think and act on this subject.

To learn more about ‘what happens when culture meets climate change’ take a look at the pod cast below called ‘Mediating Change’, a four-part series chaired by BBC’s Quentin Cooper who is joined by a panel of experts.

Produced with the Open University and the Ashden Trust, the series sits on the homepage of the OU’s iTunes U:

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ashdenizen: from no plays about climate change to three in a month

It was only a couple of years ago that this blog was writing about why theatres don’t touch climate change. It seemed, at the time, as if there was something about theatre, or the way people conceived of mainstream theatre, that made the subject almost impossible to treat. This was part of a more general avoidance of the environment as a subject for the performing arts. The Ashden Directory had been launched, back in 2000, as a way of following and encouraging those works which did engage with this subject.

But now things are changing. Eighteen months ago there was finally, a good play about climate change.  It was also possible to see in the works, for instance, of Wallace Shawn and Andrew Bovell the green shoots of climate change theatre.

Fast forward to January 2011, and this month alone three climate change plays will open in London – Greenland at the National, The Heretic at the Royal Court, and Water at the Tricycle.

Why is this important? Because climate change alters the way we think about our lives. The news contained within the various IPCC reports will be as influential, as paradigm-shifting, on the way we see ourselves as Darwin’s Origin of Species. It is, ultimately, a question of values and relationships. As such, it is a natural subject for theatre.

But new plays don’t open in a vacuum. For them to succeed, there needs to be a lively engaged audience that has some sense of what is at stake. That’s why we have also been involved with the Open University in producing a new series of podcasts that puts cultural work around climate change in perspective.

The podcasts bring together 17 artists, activists, writers, film-makers, scientists, entrepreneurs and academics, including comedian Marcus Brigstocke, choreographer Siobhan Davies, BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin, architect Carolyn Steele and Mike Hulme, author ofWhy We Disagree About Climate Change.

Radio 4’s Quentin Cooper chairs these four ‘Mediating Change’ discussions which cover the history, publics, anatomy and futures of cultural responses to climate change. The podcasts are now available to download from iTunesU.

via ashdenizen: from no plays about climate change to three in a month.

ashdenizen: tipping point launches first of four discussions

At this weekend’s Tipping Point conference, there’ll be a panel discussion on the first morning at the Examination Schools, Oxford (pic), which will examine ‘A History of Cultural Responses to Climate Change’.

The discussion is chaired by Quentin Cooper (presenter of Radio 4’sMaterial World) and the panel includes Diana LivermanNigel Clark,Siobhan Davies and Wallace Heim, the Ashden Directory co-editor, and guest blogger here.

This is the first of four discussions on culture and climate change, organised by Joe Smith and myself. The discussions will be recorded and made available on the Open University iTunesU.

This blog will be reporting on the panel discussion and, more widely, on the two days of the Tipping Point conference.

via ashdenizen: tipping point launches first of four discussions.