Whoever you are, you’re dependent on your environment; for example, weather fluctuations affects us all. From the icy chills of Alaska down to the heat and scorching sands of the Sahara, in every corner or region of the world, the state of the air, atmosphere, temperature and other outside conditions (such as rain or cloudiness) are invariant issues spanning across the globe. My position, on this basis, therefore, is that the subject of climate change (along with its effect on our various continents) demands the involvement of the general public; it is not just unto any particular movement to save the planet.
As far as I can see, there are three major groups currently dominating the world stage as regards to conversations on climate change. These are the scientists (and along with them, the science enthusiasts) playing a crucial role, secondly, the politicians and policymakers and finally, almost as an afterthought, comes the general public.
The scientists and climatologists study the many bits and pieces that make for stable temperatures, and as a result, are often the first to grasp when changes (significant or not) in the climate of any region could translate into dire consequences for the planet as a whole. The natural and physical scientists make informed predictions about the future of our environment and human civilisation as it relates to our present-day actions, while the social scientists determine what effects this future could have on us and how best to prepare for it. It is on this bedrock of scientific knowledge and facts that the climate change movement is founded.
On the other end of the spectrum are the politicians and policymakers. These are the people who are expected to utilize the knowledge provided by the scientific community to better deliver actual changes in their policies. In the course of recent years, I have come to believe that despite how loudly they deny it, the position of this group is based upon their political interests more often than not. These political interests, in turn, are often tied to the economic interests of their voters, countries or parties. The effect here is that more time and money is spent assuaging the powers that be in the political arena than taking actual steps to say, limit global warming to combat adverse climate changes.
Now, the stance of the general public on climate change to a large extent, depends on and stems from the findings and positions of these two groups. The result of this dependence, so far, is a lukewarm approach by the public to these pertinent issues largely because the scientific community on the one hand, brilliant though it may be, is generally lacking in the ability to effectively communicate and connect with the public. The government (led by politicians) on the other hand, often appear to be more interested in exploiting their already established connection with their citizens for a myriad of other ends. The political position on such matters, as previously explained, is watered down by certain interests which may be harmed by a move towards a better environmental paradigm.
Put differently, whether by design or by happenstance, these two groups alone have been unable to achieve much or advance us towards a healthier environment and it’s time to quit crying about this. I cannot think of a viable reason why many members of the public believe it’s the proverbial cross of everyone else to make the global village better fit for communal living, but that too is a topic for another day. Regardless of the tepidity of many, the Sustainable Living Movement (including Zero Wasters, Plastic-Free Warriors and Eco Fashion Advocates) working and growing as an offshoot of the Climate Change Movement has continued to sensitize us all on how we can make better choices for ourselves, as well as our planet.
Recently, I have found myself paying closer attention to another elite sect of the general public in possession of the power to galvanize the massive participation required to actually make an even greater difference in the environment. I loosely label this group the Creative Community to include the artists, musicians, writers and everyone who is involved in the arts.
While I have always marveled at the power of creatives in shaping reality as we perceive it, the idea of this article came to me as I stood in the pavilion of the GTB Fashion Weekend in Lagos Nigeria, a few weeks ago. Standing there, I realized that while the management might control the event, the creatives were actually in charge of the narratives and by extension, the people in attendance. At each fashion show, the creatives decided how we felt as we left and the message we went home with for the day. For instance, the event planner very liberally altered how we felt through the controlled lighting, the strategic placement of plants, the enlarged paintings of models in ethereal designs and the theme selection, to mention but a few. The blue theme of one reminded me of a distant peaceful time spent near the ocean.
Consider for a moment the power of music over your own moods and feelings to better understand why a Beyoncé single gets millions of streams within an hour of its release. Scientists may wait years for the permission of say, the executive arm of the government to release a time-sensitive report, but a tweet from Kanye West very easily gets a million views in a day. In a similar light, consider the run-up to the recently concluded US mid-term elections in the light of Taylor Swift’s heartfelt message on her Instagram post and again, her call to action at the American Music Awards. Shortly after she came on the stage to be presented with her award, Swift ended her speech by urging young people to register to vote in the mid-term elections and the very next day, there was a dramatic spike in voter registrations. I could go on, but by now you hopefully catch my drift.
With great power comes great responsibility, and creatives and all other artistic types are increasingly joining the discussion on climate changes as it affects us all. In a recent speech in Poland, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to better demonstrate his views on the subject, stated that if he could, he’d become “the Terminator” once again, go back in time and terminate fossil fuels to ensure that they are destroyed before they could even come into existence. A few others have founded various organizations to further the interests of our planet, but as with all things, there is room for more because we have to do better.
I believe firmly in starting from wherever you are, with whatever you can. Creatives wield a lot of power over the general public, and I believe now is the time to utilize this power in the movement for a better environment and future. Occasional token gestures from them are more or less useless, in the long run. Now is the time for us all writer, singer and artiste alike to come out of the shadows.
I have heard it said that it is not for art to take sides, that the poets and songwriters are only here to make life’s sufferings easier to bear. And I disagree for two main reasons. The first; the earth is not merely a platform for human existence. It lives too. We are not just on it, but a part of it. Its health is our health. The second is that in the words of Cesar A. Cruz, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable”.
Let more creatives join this table, there’s still a lot of work to be done. It is the time to spearhead the movement; to take the faith the people have put in them and guide it to a sustainable future.
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Title image of Lorenzo Quinn’s Giant Hand Sculpture at Venice Biennale credit Halcyon Gallery.