Culture Declares Climate & Ecology Emergency - by Warren Draper
I would like to thank Right Up Our Street (RUOS) for giving me the opportunity to attend this truly inspirational assembly. As a contributor to the Dark Mountain project (dark-mountain.net), I have been working in this area for the last decade or so, but this is the first time that the work has felt tinged with genuine possibility for change.
Dark Mountain (DM) was set up as a literary project which attempted to deal honestly with ecological and economic collapse. In artistic terms the project sought new narratives for the Anthropocene in response to the lack of response to the unfolding climate and ecological emergency. As they say on their website:
“Together, we are walking away from the stories that our societies like to tell themselves, the stories that prevent us seeing clearly the extent of the ecological, social and cultural unravelling that is now underway. We are making art that doesn’t take the centrality of humans for granted. We are tracing the deep cultural roots of the mess the world is in. And we are looking for other stories, ones that can help us make sense of a time of disruption and uncertainty.”
When it was founded a decade ago DM was accused of defeatism. After years of inaction from government, industry and, it has to be said, mainstream artists and cultural visionaries, it did look as though we were going to reach a point of irreversible ecological collapse. Although it was far from DM’s real stance, defeatism would have been highly logical. And then came Greta Thunberg, the school strikers and Extinction Rebellion (XR).
It is interesting that many people involved with the founding of XR were also Dark Mountaineers. Indeed, Charlotte Du Cann, a co-editor of the Dark Mountain Journal, was one of the event facilitators. Charlotte was also one of the only people who stood up when the room was asked: “Who here feels optimistic?”
This may stun people who have looked superficially at the works published by Dark Mountain, but in truth DM has been cathartic and provided space to mourn for the planet. Psychologically it has put people in a much better place than those who are only just awakening to the full implications of what climate chaos and extinction mean for the future of humanity, let alone life on the planet.
The first question asked at the event was: “Is anyone here from the north of England?” Only myself and my fellow Doncastrian and RUOS ambassador, Catherine Berry, stood up.
What is interesting here is that Doncaster has already been through three decades of planned economic collapse in retaliation to the audacity of the former coal mining communities attempts to decide their own fate. Who better to think about collapse? Another interesting point about Doncaster is that, due largely to the fact that its relative poverty has seen brownfield sites left alone so that wildlife can reclaim areas naturally, we have seen rising populations of species such as water vole which are in critical decline elsewhere. Another illustration of the tensions between ecology and the economy. One of the many inspiration speakers at the event was Zunaira Malik, from the group Action In Conservation, who are responsible for the largest youth led conservation project in Europe in the Brecon Beacons… and they’re now keen to do something in the north!
Observations around the tensions between ecology and the economy as it currently exists were reflected in the conversations which took place throughout the day’s various workshops. Many people felt that there needed to be a radical shift in values. Moving people away from a purely economic perspective to one which was more ecological. This would involve art and culture which responded more deeply to individual places and communities, with those places having greater autonomy with regard to artistic output and artistic spending.
We are rightfully wary of parochialism, but our centralised models have created artistic monocultures, when what art truly needs to make it more resilient is diversity. Not of a ‘them and us’ variety, but as a way to create unity through diversity. Before globalization culture was informed by and areas unique eco-geological footprint. It developed to help humans live in a particular habitat. Now we have cultural influences which are without ecological roots, moving at a much faster pace than evolution and natural adaptation, which are dominated by an economic model which sees life as ‘resources’. No wonder our artistic and cultural output is essentially sterile.
If you look at the vast majority of Sci Fi films (arguably our modern Utopias), they are virtually void of wildlife unless it is as the threat of the beastly other. The wild has long been seen as something outside and other to ‘civilised’ culture, but at least previous cultures still treated it with respect and reverence. Today it is seen as something which needs to be conquered, sanitized and commodified. As if we were separate from the web of life. We are not. And we are at risk of dying out because of this attitude toward life on earth.
Rupert Read, spokesperson for XR, said – via a phoneline – that we need to create more positive visions of ecological Utopias to counter the dominant greed-ridden, anti-nature cultural narrative and to act as a counterweight to the (albeit highly necessary…) ecological dystopias which have emerged in recent times. He praised Cormac McCarthy’s amazing work, The Road, but asked where are the more positive counternarratives? His challenge to the TV producers in the room was to create a TV series which showed two possible futures; the terrifying one we’re currently heading towards at an alarming pace, and a more ecologically inclined and peaceful future which was possible using existing technologies (as outlined on the day by Paul Allen from the Centre for Alternative Technologies).
In terms of Doncaster, I feel that we are uniquely positioned to build models of that possible ecological Utopia right here, right now. We have spoken about this in Doncopolitan for years and have begun to walk the talk with our various practical initiatives. I believe that, working in collaboration, local artists, designers, visionaries, makers and movers & shakers can build a better, brighter, braver world for all.