Culture Declares Emergency
The Field was set up in response to a question: what kind of cultural leadership is it that enables the transition to a life sustaining system? In many of the projects that I've been part of since, different answers have unfolded, but one thing that has been core to all of them is a deep and truthful engagement with context. The moment we're living in is one of disruption and chaos - we're in the messy space of transition between an unequal economy that has evolved off the back of social injustice and environmental destruction, and the possibility of an economy that is once again in balance with the earth's systems and planetary boundaries. Culture Declares Emergency is a crucial clarion call that invites all of us to pay attention to the urgency of the crisis we are living, and come together in purposeful action. This post outlines the nature of the emergency, and a declaration of my commitments to this movement for change.
A state of emergency
In October 2018, the International Panel on Climate Change announced that there are only 12 years to make urgent and unprecedented changes. The way things stand now, we have only 1% chance of doing this, and only a 5% chance that global average temperatures can be limited to less than 2 °Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels. The warnings of climate and ecological breakdown are all around:
There has been a gradual destabilisation of the climate due to the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, and in the last few decades this has accelerated. Droughts are getting longer and more severe, causing more scarcity of food and water. Extreme weather events are becoming more intense and destructive. Heatwaves are already magnifying the fire risk around the world and causing heat stress deaths. Widespread floods are escalating. Rising sea levels are threatening coastal and riverside settlements. Global temperatures have increased by 1 degree Celsius from pre-industrial levels. Atmospheric CO2 levels are above 400 parts per million (ppm), which far exceeds the pre-industrial base level of 280ppm.
In the past year, there are more signs that tipping points are being reached. In December it was reported that the rate of Greenland’s ice melt has quadrupled. Soon after, NASA discovered a huge cavern has opened up under Antarctica, and that a polar vortex destabilised sending freezing Arctic weather over the American mid-west whilst January was the warmest month in Australia, ever. In March, the UN reported that sharp temperature rises in the Arctic are inevitable, even if the Paris goals are met.
Human rights and justice
The Emergency includes rapidly rising inequality within and between nations, the deterioration of democracy and human rights, and conflicts over resources. This builds on centuries of historic injustices through racist colonial exploitation and annihilation of People of Colour and indigenous communities, appropriation of lands and extraction of natural resources. The world’s poorest 58% are responsible for only 14.5% of global CO2 emissions. The crisis - resulting from industrial practices and overconsumption by the richest - is worsening injustices faced by people in the Global South, indigenous land defenders in particular. Over time it will intensify inequalities experienced in every country.
There is also a generational justice issue. If we want people who are under the age of 20 to live a full life, we must stop burning fossil fuels now.
Although it is difficult to estimate, or to project future rates of loss as the Emergency worsens, already three species are lost to eternity each hour. In February, there were reports of a catastrophic decline in insect populations which will soon affect our food supplies. The Food and Agriculture Organisation has reported that 63% of plants, 11% of birds, and 5% of fish and fungi are in decline. There is a debilitating loss of soil biodiversity, forests, grasslands, coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds and genetic diversity in crop and livestock species. Dead zones are growing in the oceans due to acidification and warming.
The main causes of ecological breakdown are: intensive agriculture with its use of chemicals; deforestation for logging, biofuels and livestock rearing; growing urbanisation and transport infrastructure; over-exploitation of water; over-harvesting and wildlife poaching; invasive species and diseases; pollution; and the burning of fossil fuels and climate change.
What can we do?
A major cause of injustice today is the suppression of truth by industrial and fossil fuel lobbyists - based in the Global North - so that they can continue to profit from exploiting people and plundering nature. The situation is much worse than we are told by those in power and in the media. The alarming reality needs to be named and discussed on media channels and in all cultural or civic forums. Equally vital is that solutions are clearly laid out. If speedy and drastic action is taken, if solutions within our reach are applied, governments can meet their climate goals.
The deliberate silencing of truths about the planetary emergency must end. The need to take action on climate is more urgent and more immediate than ever. The measures currently being taken are wholly inadequate to meet the current level of threat, as the destabilisation of global climate has progressed much more quickly than predicted. Failure to act is a failure of responsibility and an incredible arrogance in the face of the science.
Tackling the Climate and Ecological Emergency, its systemic causes and its unjust impacts should be the overriding priority of every politician, and to which all available resources should be immediately directed. Until they do, anyone who is able to must call for this, to communicate that sense of Emergency to others, to advocate for those unable to participate fully in civic life, and to push for the action that it demands.
In this context, the Library of Change is committed to playing a part in enabling people to encounter, process and take action to address this situation. In times of emergency, what defines us is the quality of our relationships, and our mission is to help people heal their relationships with self, community and society, and the planet as a whole.
We declare a Climate and Ecological Emergency
We pledge to work with and support our community and local government in tackling this Emergency, and we call on others to do the same.
These are our intentions:
1. We will tell the Truth
Governments, and their public broadcasters and cultural agencies, must tell the truth about the Climate and Ecological Emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and communicate the urgency for far-reaching systemic change.
We will communicate with citizens and support them to discover the truth about the Emergency and the changes that are needed.
We will provide safe and creative spaces where people can process the truth, and find the will to take action.
2. We will take Action
Governments must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels.
We pledge to work towards reducing our emissions to net zero* by 2025.
We will challenge policies and actions of local and national governments and their agencies, where we interact with them, that do not help to reduce emissions or consumption levels.
We will actively work to imagine and model ways that we can regenerate the planet’s resources. We will work with our collaborators and participants to co-create a regenerative culture - one that is inclusive, healthy, life-supporting, resilient and adaptable - by rebuilding just and ethical relationships between ourselves, and with other species and the landscape.
3. We are committed to Justice
The emergency has arisen from deeply systemic injustices. Arts and Culture can imagine and forge shifts in the ways we relate to one another and the world, in our values and behaviours.
We will do what is possible to enable dialogue and expression amidst our communities about how the Emergency will affect them and the changes that are needed.
We will support demands for more democracy within our civic institutions and government.
We believe that all truth-telling, action and democratic work must be underpinned by a commitment to justice based on intersectional principles, led by and for marginalised people.
*Net zero means that on balance one's activities are zero emissions, taking into account all possible Greenhouse Gas emissions and actions taken to mitigate or offset those emissions.
Join the movement to declare by visiting the Culture Declares Emergency website.