Jonathan Porritt

Julie’s Bicycle launched Theatre Programme – via ashdenizen: pivotal role

Julie’s Bicycle launched its theatre programme last week for reducing carbon emissions. JB‘s chief executive Alison Tickell said the theatre sector had been ‘short on vision, long on doubt’. What needed to be done, she said, was ‘to find a few priorities’ and ‘to commit on a major scale’.  It was this thinking that lay behind the publication today of a new pamphlet Moving arts: managing the carbon impacts of our touring that gives the data on the most effective steps to take.

Nick Starr, executive director of the National Theatre, announced the names of the Theatre Group that he would chair. The list was impressive:

Nicholas Allott, managing director, Cameron Mackintosh; Gus Christie, executive chairman, Glyndebourne; Paule Constable, lighting designer; Vicky Featherstone, artistic director, National Theatre of Scotland; Vikki Heywood, executive director, Royal Shakespeare Company; Kate Horton, executive director, Royal Court Theatre; Judith Knight, director, Artsadmin; John McGrath, artistic director, National Theatre Wales; Andre Ptaszynski, managing director, Really Useful Group; Rosemary Squire, joint chief executive, Ambassador Theatre Group; Ben Todd, executive director, Arcola; Steve Tompkins director, Haworth Tompkins; and Erica Whyman, chief executive, Northern Stage

As the keynote speaker at the National this morning, Jonathan Porritt, applauded the practical well-researched approach that Julie’s Bicyclehad taken. He went on to widen the discussion, warning the audience against presenting climate change in apocalyptic terms. He thought the last government’s CO2 campaign that had used a bedtime story to convey the message was ‘shockingly awful’.

There were a number of good bits of news. He gave three examples. The new report that 98% of scientists concur with the science on climate change showed ‘Jeremy Clarkson is wrong’. He also couldn’t recall a time when ‘the innovation pipeline looked so good’. And the business case for an environmental strategy was something that ‘we had hardly started to understand’. His example was the huge advances made by Wal-Mart since its chief executive ‘got the green bug’.

But these upsides, Porritt said, left one thing missing, which was particularly relevant to today’s audience. Science was not enough. The Enlightenment idea that the truth would set us free has proved illusory. What’s needed is creative talent. ‘How can we fire up the sense of empathetic connectedness between people?’ he asked, ‘It makes the creative industries absolutely pivotal.’

via ashdenizen: pivotal role.

“I am overpopulation”

When I lived in the US, I got the idea that environmentalists there seem a lot freer with discussing the concept of overpopulation than they are here in Europe. There’s a possible reason for this. We have direct historical experience of a regimes that have practiced population control – not just in the Nazi era, but more recently in the Balkans.

European liberal politics equates  the idea of population reduction  with a kind of Malthusian misanthropy; shouldn’t we be looking for ways to feed the nine billion population sustainably, rather than to deny them? And there is almost always a subtle tang of  racism and misanthropy in the idea of population control. But what if that idea of mass sustainability is impossible? Lovelock predicts the human population will collapse to one billion by 2100.

Jonathan Porritt sounds stung in his column A Sustainable Population on the Forum For The Future site that people should even dare question his motivation for promoting the Optimum Population Trust’s “Stick At Two” campaign:

You’d have thought I’d advocated compulsory sterilisation, emasculation, euthanasia, and baby-slaughtering all in one fell swoop. Melanie Philips likened me to Pol Pot and Hitler (who was “green” after all!), and when Fox News in the US got hold of the story, every religious nutcase with nothing better to do crawled out from under their stones to suggest the best thing I could do to help address population pressure would be to top myself. Instantly. Logic and sound evidence were not much in evidence.

He insists that it’s an issue we have to consider urgently. He’s right to suggest that it’s a taboo topic; maybe with good reason, givenits history.

Trying to think of how artists would respond to the idea of  overpopulation I can only come up with two examples. The first is the Hungarian/Syrian artist Roza El-Hassan, who did a series of works over the last decade called R thinking dreaming about overpopulation, [above right] which included producing t-shirts that read “I Am Overpopulation”. Her works approach the topic from a feminist viewpoint, but also envisage it in terms of European racism. If there was any doubt about the latter element, El-Hassan participated in the billboard above with the artist Milicia Tomic. If you don’t recognise him, the person driving the Porshe in the photo is supposed to be the Islamophobic Austrian politician Jorg Haider. The peculiar artistic irony of the photo is that Jorg Haider died at the wheel of a fast car a few months ago while driving several units over the limit.

The other is the recently-mentioned Extreme Green Guerillas, who take even more provocative viewpoint by advocating – more accurately appearing to advocate – voluntary euthanasia at the age of 40.

Any other nominations for “art about overpopulation”?

Main picture: Milica Tomic and Roza El-Hassan driving in a Porsche and thinking about overpopulation by EXTRA-TERRITORIA, Vienna 2002; R. thinking dreaming about overpopulation by Roza El-Hassan, 1999

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Pessimism, optimism, pt 3

Robert Butler of the Ashden Directory, one of the best bloggers in the arts/ecology zone, has an excellent article in the Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine about the high level of public indifference to climate change, suggesting that our strategies are all wrong.

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, the authors of “The Death of
Environmentalism”, recently wrote that, “Global warming remains a
low-priority issue, hovering near the bottom of the Pew Centre for
People and the Press’s top 20 priorities. By contrast, public concern
about gasoline and energy prices has shifted dramatically.” 

no surprise that most people aren’t listening. Some years ago, NOP
conducted a survey where they went out into the street and told people
that they were going to mention a string of words and as soon as people
heard each one they had to say whether their energy levels went up or
down. The word “environment” was included in the list. “The horrible,
horrible conclusion of this survey”, recalled Jonathan Porritt,
“was that for the vast majority of people the mere mention of the word
‘environment’ sent their energy levels plummeting downwards.”

Instead he quotes Buckminster Fuller: “You don’t change things by
fighting the existing reality, you change things by building a new
model that makes the existing one obsolete.” People respond to a positive vision of our future life, not dire warnings of the impending grimness. Read it here.

Buoyed by the internet generation, there are many who have great faith that entrepreneurial creativity can dig us out of this. The difficulty is not so much the lack of new models though, but the lack of success of those that are being worked on. There are dreams like Winy Maas’s brilliant new city in Seoul, but in reality those dreams are proving extremely hard to make concrete. Not so long back, Robert wrote glowingly about Arup’s great plans for the new eco-city of Dongtan in China, arguably the best practical blueprint yet for mass urban living. But plans for building the city appear to be slipping as economic will disappears. The site remains as “sodden farmland”.

Both the warnings of scientists and environmentalists and the creators of new models are frustrated by the public’s indifferent response. People feel too disempowered, too fatalistic or too apathetic to embrace change. If the public, the activists and the dreamers are unable to create the energy for a solution, maybe it’s a failure of leadership. 

In yesterday’s interview about the need for artists to engage in his campaign, Bill McKibben invoked the spirit of Winston Churchill. Now that was possibly an attempt to flatter us Brits, but intentional or not, there is a point there. Churchill’s depiction of himself as the lone voice speaking out against Nazism in the 1930s may be a historical exaggeration, but he was one of several politicians who took a vocal stand though initially unfashionable stand against the appeasement of Nazism. 

Secretary of State for Climate Change Ed Miliband, as reported below, has been repeatedly calling for a popular movement about global warming, to give politicians like him a base on which to act. In his post on the Gaza conflict, Matthew Taylor points to the leadership deficit  in Israel that allows the hawks to speak the loudest. When a Secretary of State for Climate Change starts asking Jarvis Cocker to lead a popular movment on climate change so that he can have the freedom to act, are we also suffering from a leadership deficit?

The Closest Packing of Spheres, Buckminster Fuller, 1980, Chrome-plated steel rods, acrylic spheres.
Sebastian + Barquet Gallery

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