Over the holidays I have read the latest Club of Rome report Bankrupting Nature. I did this not because I enjoy reading non-fiction over Christmas but because I am grateful for the time I have to celebrate and I am compelled to consider how others will be able to do the same considering the deterioration of global ecological systems.
Two things became apparent: 1) the extinction crises is accelerating, 2) we have more knowledge and understanding than ever to address ecological and social crises. That second point was the good news. The bad news is that I can say with some confidence, as someone who works in London at the interface of environmental communication, ecological informed design and sustainability education, that we are simply not making the ecological crises a priority. Instead of using the wealth that is still abundant in this country to address environmental problems – we are squandering the opportunities we now have to catalyze transformation.
With severe ecological destabilization, possibilities for future prosperity disappear. Yet in education and economic policy, the basic fact that we depend on the stability and abundance of the Earth is largely ignored. We are simply not building the social institutions that would enable social transformation. Part of the problem rests with the educational establishment; ecologically literacy is still marginal in higher education. For this reason, the capacity to understand, much less respond to current problems is extraordinarily low. This blog will review the state of our capacities for cultural transformation in the UK at the end of 2012 by looking (very briefly) at social institutions and social movements. I will start by proposing that we take note of the words of the Mayan people.
In 2012 we survived the final of all the anticipated ‘end of the worlds’ and the media typically simultaneously mocked and commercialized what became the spectacle of the end of Mayan Long Count calendar, the 5,125-year cycle that ended on 21 December 2012. A film called ‘2012 The Mayan Word’ documented the voices of the Mayan people who had some potent things to say:
“The world is not ending. It is the opposite: we are finishing ourselves off…The prophecies are given for us to check ourselves. What are we doing? It’s clear that if we don’t do anything to recover the equilibrium of Mother Earth, we are digging our own grave” (Maria Amalia Mex Tu’n, 26 mins). Continue reading →
Thanks to Tom Hiron who collect the list of the sites. We are still missing sites. Anyone interested in adding/correcting, please fill write in comments below. I am interested in developing this project and need more information about which sites were won and which were lost. Feel free to add new sites to the map directly in Google Maps if you have this information. Also – where are the present spaces under threat?
An installation of slate signs by Tom Hirons commemorates protest sites against UK government’s road building programme in the 90s. The commemorative plaques mark the 20-year anniversary of the start of the road protest movement at Twyford Down. It was one of a number of activities focusing on the road protests movement at Dark Mountain’s Uncivlisation 2012 festival this weekend.
While many individual sites mentioned on these plaques where lost to roads, the protests did seriously damage the prospects for Thatcher’s road building programme, which was significantly reduced as a result of the forest occupations. The protests were, as described in the Uncivilisation 2012 programme; ‘a high-water mark in the history of the UK environmental movement’. Many of the people who were defending these forests, valleys and meadows were nothing short of heroic in their defense of the land. Living up in the trees and buried in the tunnels, winter and summer alike, these forest occupations worked to stop some of the proposed roads. Continue reading →
On exhibition this week at London College of Communication is a series of eight iconic Face Shields and four panels from the Time2Act exhibition from Climate Camp 2007 at Heathrow Airport. Both bodies of work are important artefacts from the recent history of environmental activism in the UK.
While corporations are busy marketing themselves as environmentally responsible global citizens, scientists warn that global ecological systems are severely destabilised. The confusion created by the gap between frightening scientific reports and reassuring messages from advertising and corporate media provides an excuse to continue shopping, watching TV and generally ignoring escalating social, political and economic crises (as long as you happen to be privileged enough to avoid the immediate impacts).
Business as usual continues because capitalism denies its own ecological (and social) context. Communication processes directed by the market obscure the environmental consequences of industrial processes. The failure to recognize ecological context creates a basic schism between the environment and the market economy.
When markets determine what information is available in the public sphere, ‘knowledge’ comes to reflect what is profitable for those with economic power. This representation of the truth rarely takes the Earth’s needs into account. Though efforts are made by hopeful environmentalists to create a basic understanding of environmental context, their efforts are vastly overshadowed by the onslaught of corporate advertising and spin.
I returned last night from four busy days at the Design History Society’s Design Activism and Social Change conference in Barcelona. Convenor Guy Julier has a more thorough conference blog here. The conference provided a space to debate emergent themes in design activism: politics and design, ecology and design, the role of agency, reflection vs. action, the importance of the language we use, peak oil and the capacity of design to address social and environmental problems within capitalism and current forms of democracy. The event started well with Henk Oosterling’s keynote describing a movement to a philosophy of relations. Attempts to repress ontological connectedness are destructive and a role of design is now to internalise what is currently externalised in order to better reflect the essential conditions of connectedness.
Hopenhagen was an initiative by the International Advertising Association in support of the United Nations at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP-15) in Copenhagen December 2009. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon UN asked for help from the international advertising industry at Davos in January 2009. Hopenhagen took the form of an international public relations campaign culminating with an installation in the public square in central Copenhagen during the COP-15 summit. Hopenhagen created a feel good façade where corporate sponsors were helping governments save the world.
Meanwhile, many of the thousands of climate activists congregated in Copenhagen for the summit found Hopenhagen so offensive that they made the campaign and installation itself an object of their protests. Hopenhagen is a classic example of corporate appropriation of people’s movements and the subsequent neutralization of the messages demanding structural change and social justice. As such, Hopenhagen embodies the conflict within the concept of design activism itself. While design functions predominately as a driver of consumption, consumerism, globalization and unsustainable behavior; activism is concerned with social injustice and environmental devastation. Activists struggle to combat the forces of globalization by forming social movements and resisting corporatisation of the commons and everyday life; designers are normally servant of corporate entities. These two forces are integrally at odds.
Two friends have both written excellent blogs on propositional not just oppositional strategies. These suggest not just dissent and resistance to political processes that are fundamentally broken – but the creation of new processes that could feasibly help us build something more equitable and sustainable.
Estimates of a half million people on the streets yesterday. The 26th of March was a great success but only the beginning if we hope to stop the destruction of decades worth of social progress, save education, social services and the NHS. Several hundred thousand are willing to stand up for what they believe and because of them today there is just a little more hope that our resistance to austerity measures will work. Continue reading →
I visited the Museum of London today to visit London Futures, an exhibition about climate change by Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones. The highly sanitized version of London landscapes altered by dramatic climate change were picturesque and entertaining but also had an unfortunate tendency to make apocalyptic futures look glamorous.
My October started with the ‘Science and Environment Communication’ section at ECREA (European Communications Research and Education Association) conference in Hamburg. Four days of research presentations mostly focused on our abysm failure to protect the ecological health of this planet and to communicate to the public the scope of the problem left me completely deflated. One possible good outcome could be the formation of an International Association of Environmental Communicators, which could function as a body to expose the avalanche of misinformation and deception practiced by corporate entities who have an interest in a certain mis-representation of nature.
In what was perhaps the most politically charged artistic action ever to take place at the Tate Modern, yesterday a group of artists demonstrated against using public institutions to legitimize the business of fossil fuel industries such as BP. Should the Tate behave as a pawn to the highest bidder? Its ‘neutral’ stance conceals the privileges gained by those corporations with the cash to invest (no matter what kind of damage is done in the process of obtaining this cash). Our public institutions should not take money from the oil industry – just as they can no longer be funded by tobacco, these cosy alliances must come to an end.