Survival Strategies / a call to action: Research (pt 3)

Yesterday, Greta Thunberg gave an impassioned and uncomfortable speech to the UN Climate Summit, berating them for not acting on climate change, despite the 30 years of science warning them of the consequences. It is chilling to think of the inaction of society against such an existential threat.

Text of the speech can also be found here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/sep/23/world-leaders-generation-climate-breakdown-greta-thunberg

This made me think of the allegory of zombies used by George Romero in his 1978 film Dawn of the Dead, as a scathing critique of consumerist culture in the Western world. The zombies’ lumbering gait and slow speed imply an inevitable threat (like climate change) but also we see they are un-thinkingly stuck within the habits they have formed in their human lives – in the film we see the zombies gravitate to the mall, and this highlights just how irrational this constant need for more is. Even more starkly, the living protagonists fight to the death over their ownership of the resources within the mall – they cannot separate their need to possess from the drive to survive. Just like these protagonists/zombies, we cannot break free of the habits of our lives despite the existential threat looming in the climate crisis, and politicians to now have sought to assuage the guilt we might feel with empty reassurances and hope rather than action.

Here we see the Zombies in the shopping mall in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978)

This made me reflect on the use by Extinction Rebellion of the egg timer logo and the slogan ‘Time’s Up’. I wondered if another apt slogan might be ‘Wake Up’, in response to the idea of us and our governments being like zombies or sleepwalkers on the climate crisis.

Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Wake Up’ (1992)

In their return tour in the 2000s, Rage Against the Machine frontman Zack de la Rocha used this song as a platform to raise awareness on key political and social issues, by making a speech towards the end of the song during a more quiet section, to be followed by him screaming ‘WAKE UP’ 8 times.

 And in the face of all this propaganda I wanna say, we have here to unite here in Europe, we have to unite here in Europe across ethnic lines across religious differences across racial lines and its now the lines are clear. It’s us against the wealthy plain and simple. It’s time to wake up. WAKE UP.

Zack de la Rocha, 2010

Survival Strategies/A call to action: Research (pt 2)

I was interested in looking more into how graphic artists have influenced the imagery of protest. One such artist of recent times is Patrick Thomas, who with his book the Protest Stencil Toolkit sought to provide activists with ready-to-go icons to use in protest banners and materials, or even street art. This builds on the relationship street art now has with social consciousness and bringing art to a wider audience – catalysed by Banksy (see below).

Patrick Thomas himself has aligned with Extinction Rebellion

Banksy has long portrayed environmental concerns in his street art, but has credibly been attributed a mural that is linked to Extinction Rebellion in 2019. The use of child-like handwriting and depiction of children underlines the importance of protecting future generations – a key message of Extinction Rebellion. That his artworks are generally to be found in public spaces means that it is truly art for the masses, and speaking directly to them (without the curation of an elite art world). In this way, it may break down the artifice and engage with people more meaningfully than other art might – and so potentially be more persuasive.

Extinction Rebellion mural in Marble Arch attributed to Banksy 2019
This previous Banksy mural echoes the style seen in the Extinction Rebellion one. That a child should recall trees in a derelict building site is eery, as it implies the rapid speed of destruction of the natural world.

Survival Strategies / A call to action: Research (pt 2)

The environmentalist movement may well have started in the 1800s, by Alexander von Humboldt. He was the first to come up with the notion of an inter-connected natural world, unleashing the basic ecological awareness that our modern understanding has roots in. Since, in viewing everything as connected, he understood also that should some part of it fail, the whole may be at risk. Read more about Humboldt here

Today, the ‘Green Wave’ is picking up speed. The evidence of climate change is now apparent for all to see, but this can also be attributed to the loud voices from the modern environmentalist movement.

One who has influenced global dialogue most is Greta Thunberg, a teenager from Sweden who now famously began striking from school to protest the inaction of adults to address the climate crisis. Millions around the world now join her on ‘Fridays for Climate’ strikes, and she has used the same candour at the marches and gatherings she has attended, as the most senior political arenas she has been invited to speak in.

They keep saying that climate change is an existential threat and the most important issue of all. And yet they just carry on like before. If the emissions have to stop then we must stop the emissions.

Greta Thunberg , speaking at Extinction Rebellion in London, 31st Oct 2018

Either we choose to go on as a civilisation or we don’t. That is as black and white as it gets. There are no grey areas when it comes to survival.

Greta Thunberg, speaking at World Economic Forum in Davos, 25th Jan 2019

Humans are very adaptable: we can still fix this. But the opportunity to do so will not last for long. We must start today. We have no more excuses.

Greta Thunberg, speaking at UK Houses of Parliament, 23rd Apr 2019

Extinction Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion is a grass roots protest movement which seeks to use the direct action method successfully used by the Suffragettes, in gaining women’s emancipation, in order to drive greater public awareness of the climate crisis and force politicians to act.

They seek to rebel in order to disrupt business as usual, and welcome arrests as this helps to demonstrate the ardour with which they support the cause, and encourages others to be outraged also. In April 2019, after shutting down 5 iconic London landmarks over a fortnight, 1000 people had been arrested. The next day, the UK became the first country to declare a state of climate and ecological emergency.

They use incendiary language and imagery in their posters and campaign literature, making key use of the skull and egg timer running out of sand to indicate the direness of the situation as they see it.

The science is clear: we are in the sixth mass extinction event and we will face catastrophe is we do not act swiftly and robustly… Our air is so toxic the United Kingdom is breaking the law. It harms the unborn while causing tens of thousands to die. The breakdown of our climate has begun… The ecological crises that are impacting upon this nation, this planet and its wildlife can no longer be ignored… We, in alignment with our consciences and our reasoning, declare ourselves in rebellion against our government and the corrupted, inept institutions that threaten our future… We refuse to bequeath a dying planet to future generations by failing to act now.

Declaration of Rebellion, Extinction Rebellion 2019

They acknowledge that this is emotionally charged territory in the introduction to their book This is not a Drill (2019). That it may make the reader feel ‘sad, or empty, or guilty, or angry, or frightened, or numb’. They counter this with the idea that for them the book is about love for the planet, and for humanity.

Survival strategies/A call to action: Research (pt 1)

This morning I saw the UN sharing it’s latest report on climate action.

This video which accompanies the report highlights the human factor and our need to adapt to survive, and some of the actions that can be taken by communities to do so, which inevitably are to do with how we interact with the natural world. The video opens with stark emotional clarity on the fear & sadness of climate change, but instils a sense of hope in how humans can act now.

It is significant that they have called for adaptation to help us survive the very real impacts of climate change that are being felt today. The Global Commission on Adaptation was formed 10 months ago in reaction to a deadly summer of climate change related natural disasters.

This is intended to happen in tandem with efforts to prevent the worst climate change from happening at all, but since there is a very real threat to survival today this is also direly necessary.

The key and notable difference here vs the Eden Project mission, is that the report is targeting action of governments and business to change their behaviour, not individuals. It lays out the business case for investing now to adapt, as a means of saving money in the long-run (since spending in the wake of disaster much higher than that to prevent/anticipate it) and protecting gdp. That we must reduce this impending disaster to dollars and cents in order to help safeguard life on Earth is stark and disturbing, but it seems this is the reality we face. The UN were already talking about adaptation 10 years ago, so this must be a response that is intended to more tangibly drive action.

Within this report they highlight the key role that the natural world plays as a crucial support system in all elements of our adaptation to climate change – and the visual charts they include play on our inter-connectedness.

While I think this is still highly connected to my survival strategies theme, I think this could be a separate one in itself, specifically around calls to action, activism, protest and societal change. Relating here and now to environmentalism, which would also include eden project, extinction rebellion and Greta Thunberg, but also in recent years the #MeToo movement and protest marches in the UK and US against the political climate.