Published on 7th March 2019
February 2019 has been a month. The shortest month of the year was packed with firm and vigorous action against climate change and current policy, as well as record-breaking climate events. Climate and Culture Researcher Yingbi Lee unpacks the key moments and actions, what they say about the climate movement and where we go from here.
What is happening?
As the UK basks in the unusual 20+ degree sunshine of early March, it’s worth remembering that this time last year we were facing record-breaking cold temperatures and snowfall – making it two consecutive unseasonal winters. Kew Gardens has reached 21.2 °C, the UK’s new maximum temperature record for February, winter and the year so far. Wildfires broke out in Manchester, Edinburgh and areas across the UK. The increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events we are experiencing are one sign of our climate crisis, affecting wildlife and communities alike. It spells a trend that is both worrying and ironic, considering World Wildlife Day was just celebrated on 3rd March.
We must listen to these signs. The wave of youth strikes that rippled across the country in February and the continued action by Extinction Rebellion are clarion calls to action on climate change. On 15th February, an estimated 15,000 students and youth protested in over 60 towns and cities, precipitated by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg’s solo protest outside Swedish parliament last August. Globally, up to 70,000 schoolchildren now hold protests in 270 towns and cities each week. This demonstration of awareness, strength of feeling and preparedness to strike for urgent action on climate change is not just immensely inspiring. It also demands that we do not ignore the frustration of tens of thousands of young people, for whom climate change has not merely been a forecast for the future, but the reality of their present childhoods.
Days later, more than 100 Extinction Rebellion activists protested at London Fashion Week on 17th February, calling on the British Fashion Council and the fashion industry to address sustainability in the industry. The power fashion, art and culture have to inspire and generate positive solutions for the climate was strikingly visible in the form of activists wearing bright green coats crafted by multidisciplinary artists Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey. Reminiscent of fur coats, the garments were in fact made of freshly grown grass, a reminder for us to make conscious choices regarding the clothes we put on our backs each day.
What does this mean?
What we’re seeing is people being galvanised more than ever before. The recent extreme weather events have made it hard to ignore how climate change is impacting the way we structure our daily lives, and the world is responding with a heightened awareness of the issue, and readiness to act and speak on it. The youth strikes and Extinction Rebellion are demonstrative of people’s increasing frustration with politicians’ inaction and the low – if existent – position of climate change on their agendas.
Following the momentous Youth Strike 4 Climate across the nation, MPs Caroline Lucas and Layla Moran secured the first climate change debate in two years in the Commons – and attendance was dismal. As few as 10 MPs sat on government benches at points. This did not go unnoticed or unaddressed by the public or the arts sector. This includes organisations like Adaptive Capacity, a network of creatives solving climate issues, who used their design-focused platform to galvanise a wave of people writing to their MPs to hold them accountable for their attendance at the debate.
How can we take action?
We cannot lose the momentum generated by February’s powerful calls for decisive action and coordinated responses to climate change. Organise. The inaugural London Climate Action Week takes place this July and is looking for event submissions for a week of action. Share your projects and perspectives, and read about others’. In our March Bulletin, we’ve compiled the many blogs and articles we and our collaborators have been writing about the work that we’re doing to power climate action through art.
And finally, create. New research has found that 1.2 trillion trees would need to be planted to offset the past decade of carbon dioxide emissions. But can the rate at which we plant new trees outpace the rate at which we emit carbon? Planting trees cannot be the only viable solution. We need as many innovative responses as we can muster – we need the arts to unlock access to the conversation around climate change, and to imagine new ways of being.