Green Tease Reflections: Climate Justice in Arts and Culture

25th February 2020: For this ‘micro-Green Tease’ we gathered together representatives from Scottish arts organisations to get their thoughts on Climate Justice: what it is, why it matters, what the cultural sector can do to embody and promote it. The discussion is summarised below but work on this is still ongoing so do please get in touch if you have thoughts of your own.


Lewis kicked off the discussion by throwing out some examples of campaigns that appear to engage with issues of climate justice:

  • Save Our Straws: a disability rights campaign aimed at getting Starbucks to reverse their ban on plastic straws. The ban was instituted on the grounds that it would reduce disposable plastic waste but campaigners argued that people with certain disabilities need those straws and that an outright ban on them would be discriminatory.
  • Black Lives Matter protested against the expansion of London City Airport on the grounds that it would lead to more climate change causing emissions and that people of colour are on average more adversely affected by climate change impacts. They also drew connections to increased local air pollution in the area, which has a high proportion of people of colour, well above the UK average. Their slogan was, ‘Climate Crisis is a Racist Crisis’
  • The Pacific Climate Warriors: a grass roots anti-climate change campaign based across multiple Pacific island nations, drawing attention to their situation as among the first to suffer the effects of rising sea levels, while seeking to brand themselves as being at the forefront of climate action rather than as passive victims.
  • Protests at the British Museum drew connections between its sponsorship by fossil fuel company BP and the museum collections containing objects taken from cultures around the world, many during Britain’s colonial past. The campaigners argued that by helping ‘artwash’ BP’s image they were promoting a form of climate colonialism by legitimising its activities that would lead to climate change, the effects of which are most strongly felt in Britain’s ex-colonies.

He also drew attention to the long history of climate justice and how long it has taken for us to engage with it. He showed images of the 2002 Bali Principles of Climate Justice adopted at the Earth Summit in Bali, which were in turn based on the 1991 Principles of Environmental Justice, drafted at the First National People of Culture Environmental Summit, Washington DC.

Defining Climate Justice

In pairs we then attempted to define the term climate justice and consider where we are most likely to encounter issues of climate justice living in Scotland and working in arts organisations.

Our definitions of Climate Justice shared an emphasis on disproportionate impacts of climate change falling on already disadvantaged people, exacerbating existing inequalities. We also raised the importance of taking responsibility for the large contributions the UK has made to global emissions and sharing the burdens (and potential opportunities) of climate change. It was widely agreed important to put the emphasis on the collective rather than the individual and to develop a reasonably objective framework.

Some other useful definitions and examples are also available on the GCU Centre for Climate Justice website.

Discussions of particularly Scottish climate justice issues repeatedly raised:

  • Migration and climate refugees
  • Urban-rural divides and remote communities
  • A ‘just transition‘ away from the oil industry
  • Understanding the global impact of local work. Seeing everything through ‘globe tinted spectacles’, as one participant put it.

Discussions of relevance to arts and culture organisations raised:

  • What we produce: can we provide a ‘voice for the voiceless’, build awareness, challenge ideas, offer a space for discourse, contribute to a paradigm shift?
  • How we run ourselves: can we practise what we preach in the way we run our organisations, collaborate with social justice organisations? How can we deal with the connection between arts and culture and privilege?
Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion

Following this, Helen Trew of Creative Scotland contributed by drawing some useful connections between climate justice and existing Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion policy. She pointed out that, like climate justice, EDI is not just relevant to arts organisations and thus forces us to consider our position as part of a wider purpose. She discussed how, like climate change, the protected characteristics involved in EDI apply to all of us, but not to the same extent: ‘Treating everyone the same does not result in equality’. Similarly, although climate change will affect all of us, it will affect everyone in different ways and to different extents, which climate justice recognises. She also suggested that climate justice and EDI share the issue that, while it’s easy to see the value from a broad perspective, it can be more difficult to see what you can or should do within your own immediate context, which takes detailed examination and thought.

What can we do?

In the final discussion section, we started trying to think about how we as arts organisations can:

  • Embody climate justice by running ourselves in a climate just manner
  • Promote climate justice through our programming and how we engage with audiences

Suggestions from the discussion included:

  • Both programming and staffing should be diverse and representative.
  • Fully engaging with climate justice requires getting buy in from directors, managers, and board members.
  • Climate justice provides opportunities for positive framing, showing how responding to climate change is also an opportunity to make our society more just.
  • Climate action should be promoted as something that everyone can get involved in.
  • Embedding artists and arts organisations more deeply in local communities would reduce travel emissions and enable more active engagement with local social justice issues.
  • Advocating for changes in how the cultural sector works should form part of work in climate justice.

The next steps will involve refining this broad discussion into more specific advice on how climate justice can form a part of how arts organisations run. If you have any thoughts that you would like to contribute, please get in touch with

Representatives were present at this event from:

  • Beyond Borders Festival
  • Birds of Paradise
  • Creative Carbon Scotland
  • Creative Scotland
  • Film Access Scotland
  • Glasgow Women’s Library
  • Just Festival
  • Lung Ha Theatre Company
  • Nevis Ensemble
  • North Edinburgh Arts
  • Starcatchers Theatre

Image: Canva

The post Green Tease Reflections: Climate Justice in Arts and Culture 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

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