A creative climate change communications conference titled Tipping Point was held at the Spier Wine Estate. For two days, scientists and artists gathered to participate in dialogue around how best to communicate climate change to our society in a fun and effective way.
Jessica Thorn was invited to attend on behalf of the Climate Action Partnership (CAP), an alliance of conservation NGOs working together to adapt and mitigate climate change at a landscape level, and as part of the scientific community involved in the climate change sector. She wrote this story for us.
The international Tipping Point conference emerges in the recognition that we live in a time when we can no longer rely solely on existing solutions to fix the challenge of climate change. Instead, we need to move towards creative collaboration through multiple genres to uncover new solutions.
The conference forum facilitates African exchanges between climate change scientists and performing artists, film makers, sculptures, dancers, poets and musicians. It has been held in New York, Oxford and Berlin. Now it had moved south to Cape Town to take an African perspective, and would afterwards travel to Australia.
This space challenges the dichotomies that are often asserted between science and the arts. Artists can play an important role in exploring cultural, societal and behavioural shifts in a world impacted by climate change, grounded by the premise that social change does not emerge simply from the provision of information and the formation of knowledge through the world of science. As communicators of the issues of climate change which are complex and dynamic, we need to tap into other senses which may insight a sense of personal responsibility in consumer society.
The dance of science and art
The forum was participative and interactive, where responsibility and participant facilitation were essential elements of the structure of the programme. Items on the agenda included two plenary sessions regarding the science of climate change and impacts in Africa, and related artistic forms of expression, including film making, land art, dance, and poetry. Delegates were also grouped in teams and over the course of the two days were to create a short story or artwork to present at the end of the conference in the form of songs, stories, still footage, a short film, and a participatory painting. Participants discussed topics of interest, which were channeled into productive outcomes stemming beyond the boundaries of the conference.
Amongst others, topics discussed were:
- communicating climate change messaging through storytelling
- how to approach children with a sense of empowerment to the issue
- the democratization of science
- how to mesh or merge aspects of psychology and spirituality with the science of climate change
- how climate change is a ‘crisis of the human spirit’
- new forms of media such as using cell phones, radio and other technologies that can be used in one’s everyday life to instigate change in one’s community
In one of the forums, I participated in a discussion about what leads to social change. A climate change response requires a re-imagining of social change mechanisms that nurture proactive engagement with communal sustainability. A proactive response requires investing in a society that adopts and nurtures active citizenship within its communities. Society as a whole needs to prioritize intrinsic human values as a common driver of social change. Such values focus on ‘living well’ which is connected to well-being and health of the individual, the community, and the environment (e.g. measured by the Happy Planet Index), rather than ‘living better’ (e.g. measured by GDP).
One set of values, for example, was that drawn up in the Universal Declaration to the rights of Mother Earth earlier this year at the People’s World Conference on climate change held in Bolivia. These common values then channel into a vision for the future and putting into action the manifestation of that vision. This community is comprised of dynamic individual groups which acknowledge the multiple ways of approaching the issue from different sectors and perspectives. This concept is described in the diagram below.
Don’t cop out, COPART17
One of the potential outcomes is to establish an initiative entitled ‘Don’t COP out, COPART17’. The initiative intends to create working forums that incorporate multiple genres (i.e. multiple ways of knowing, visual arts, music, science, dance, storytelling, film, theatre, etc.) that engage with established institutions, festivals, organisations and other events/bodies to positively respond to the problems associated with climate change, and ultimately prepare for a united force to engage with the COP17 climate change negotiations to be held in South Africa in December 2011. This initiative will be an artistic essential tool in communicating landscape approaches to climate change supported by a credible scientific base, while energizing the general public of South Africa for the important event for Africa.
Tipping point aims to ‘harness the power of the imagination to help stabilize the climate’.