Sustainable Ability report and website now available
By Ed Mitchell 4th October 2010
A very interesting report as just been published about the role of the arts in our response to climate change, and is very stimulating indeed. It is by a group called Mission models money and we recommend you give it a read. It’s great.
It has been thoroughly co-researched by Lucy Neal and Hilary Jennings, two of the driving forces behind Transtion Tooting, and has a forward by Peter the chairman. Even if that weren’t the case, we’d recommend it; delving into our perceptions of risk and change and other elements of the psychology behind the barriers to the response we need from society if we are to resolve our situation is a big topic that doesn’t fit neatly into a workshop.
You can download the report from this news item (see below), but we recommend you visit the Sustain Ability website for the report, a map of organisations doing the work, other resources and more.
It’s rare to come across Pete’s writing, so here’s the full foreward….
We’re living through the unfolding of an extraordinary story, as we understand better the scale of our impact on the world we live in and the natural limits that we’re breaching, moving out of the Holocene era and into that of the Anthropocene, a new era defined by our ability to alter key planetary systems.
While it might seem almost unimaginable that we can be the cause of such immense changes, we now have to ask ourselves two important and deeply urgent questions. What is an appropriate and proportionate reaction, and how can we ensure that our answers to that question go beyond science alone? The role of artists and arts organisations in helping us frame our response to these questions is potentially an enormously powerful one. Paradoxically, while our greater understanding of climate change is to a large extent based upon our ability to measure impacts, emphasis on measurement can be a mechanism to put off acting – and again artists and arts organisations can help us understand ways of knowing that reach beyond quantification.
As our understanding of the mechanisms underpinning climate change has become clearer, so the response from the arts has grown and deepened. However there has not been, yet, any commensurate artistic response to our recently growing understanding of the issue and impact of resource scarcity, and in particular peak oil. While peak oil is just one facet of more general resource scarcity, it has a particular and central role. As we approach or pass the peaking of production, we move from a period in our history when the supply of oil could be easily expanded to match demand to one in which demand is likely to outstrip supply. This is bound to have enormous impacts on how we live, given how drenched in oil our lives in the developed world are – from the food we eat to the way we travel and transport nearly everything around us. In fact the complexity of modern societies is founded in great part on the high net surplus energy we’ve extracted from oil and the other fossil fuels, coal and gas.
Given the importance of the arts in enabling us to look in different ways at what and who we are, it is a great relief to find in this research a coherent attempt to map not just activity addressing climate change, but also that relating to peak oil. My hope is that this will spur more artistic enquiry into what our lives will look like as oil production declines, enabling us to broaden the cultural stories underpinning our current ways of being and deal better with the changes coming towards us. As some of those interviewed for the research explored, our actions depend on our values and beliefs – and what better way is there to start to help to strengthen key positive intrinsic values than through artistic enquiry? Our actions correlate to how we feel about ourselves, each other and the world we’re part of, and we desperately need all the artistic creativity we have if we’re to grapple with those feelings in ways which enable the changes we so urgently need. We’ve created the situation we face through our conflating having, and doing, with meaning; artistic insights into ourselves and our dilemma will be key in enabling us to move towards answers based on finding meaning through being instead.
Why is this work so urgent? Because we are running out of time and we are running out of planet. Climate change alone necessitates immediate action – ensuring that we do not trigger runaway feedback loops probably means peaking emissions within the 5 to 10 years, with dramatic declines year on year thereafter. Given recent trends in the opposite directions, that’s quite an ask. That’s before taking peak oil into account, which could drive us to using more damaging hydro-carbons like the tar sands of Canada. Yet in fact climate change is only one manifestation of a range of indications of our extraordinary ability to alter our environment. There are now nine2 key threats to our planetary support systems, the systems we and other living things need to survive. So how far have we pushed these planetary systems already? Current, early scientific consensus is that for those for which we can evaluate safe limits (seven of the nine), we’re well into the danger area for three – climate change, the nitrogen cycle and biodiversity. Even more alarming, some of those involved believe that dealing with climate change might turn out to one of the easiest of the challenges – so we’d better get on with it.
To reflect, to act means that we all have significant enquiries to make not just about what we do but also how we do it, including of course our own practices. We cannot hope to do that without enormous leadership from those involved in creative, artistic work, and I’m delighted that this research exists and will enable more of that vital enquiry. My hope is that you’ll use this report to look at what you or your organisation do and then take bold and proportionate decisions – from commissioning artists to negotiating with their supply chains. Our actions are based on our perceptions, and as the arts help us not only to see the world but also change how we see it, so they impact on what we do.
Peter Lipman Chair, Transition Network and the Centre for Sustainable Energy Policy director, Sustrans