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Climate justice & the creative sector

by Zoe Rasbash

Over the past two years, the devastating effects of climate change and ecological collapse have become unignorable: from the Australian wildfires to hurricanes across the Pacific. But the impacts of polluting and harmful systems are not always so far from home, nor so obvious. The UK’s increasingly hot summers – and infrastructure that cannot cope with it – has led to over 3,400 preventable deaths in the last four years. Most of these are the frail, elderly, homeless or those living in low quality housing with poor ventilation. These invisible impacts are exacerbating existing health inequalities, much like the effects of corona virus.

But, unfortunately, there is no vaccine for climate and ecological breakdown. They are symptoms of global systems rooted in exploitation, inequality, and unsustainable consumption. The global economy is reliant on sacrifice zones, “places where resources can be extracted, polluting industries can be located, and people can be exploited for cheap labour”[1] disproportionately impacting global south countries, women, transgender people, and people with disabilities. And we can see this inequality within our city – in Bristol, the dangerously high air pollution disproportionately impacts areas with a majority of Black residents. The climate crisis is a racist, sexist, classist and ableist crisis, and we must remember that when as we develop our solutions to it.

“Climate change is a symptom of our much larger collective trauma” writes Alexis Frasz, a leading cultural strategist working at the intersection of environment and culture and director of Helicon Collaborative. It is not simply an apolitical environmental phenomenon, but a consequence of a society which has valued individualism and disconnection, from each other and from earth itself for decades. Frasz points to the “epidemic of alienation” alongside high levels of addiction, depression, division and inequality in countries which are regarded as ‘winners’ of this global system such as the UK[2]. This is a shared responsibility and will affect every person, country, city and sector.

We need profound systemic change to a zero-carbon society within our lifetimes to address the climate crisis. We need policy changes, investment in new technologies, innovative models, new products, manufacturing processes, services, skills and jobs. We need a cultural shift of the values, norms, beliefs and behaviours which underpin our society and economy, and new ideas, methods and tools to propel it.

What has this got to do with the creative sector, you ask? Surely this is a task for our politicians?

Yes, it definitely is. However, unsurprisingly, they are moving pretty slowly. We need action from the ground up. We need to think about what we buy, how we work, our waste, inequality, our relationship with nature, and how our cities and sectors operate. It’s a big task! But we must start somewhere. And the creative sector in the South West is a site of tremendous potential change.

Inclusive climate action means no one should be left behind.

As Environmental Emergencies Action Researcher at Watershed and Pervasive Media Studio, and as part of Bristol and Bath Creative R&D, I will be working with businesses and freelancers across the South West to support action. We will be working to uncover barriers and roadblocks to climate action and responsible, supporting knowledge sharing, development of resources and creating inclusive conversations. Inclusive climate action means no one should be left behind, and through this

research project, we will develop accessible and creative resources to support different SMEs, micro-businesses and freelancers.

The questions we’re asking are:

1. How are creative SMEs/micro-companies and freelancers adapting to the climate crisis already, and how might they?

2. How do we support our cluster to make a real impact, bringing in SMEs who wouldn’t necessarily identify with a ‘green agenda’?

3. How do responses to the climate crisis intersect with our focus on inclusive innovation?

4. What is the role of the creative sector in a just transition?

This means everything from exploring the incredible ways businesses are already adapting, to thinking more broadly about the creative sectors role in bringing around a more just, green society – how can we develop and embed practices which build towards a sustainable, fair future?

While the scale of the problem I set out at the beginning of this blog seems… terrifyingly enormous, I truly believe starting small is essential. We need experimentation to figure out new ways of doing things. Creatives are specialists in imagination with expert skills in rendering creative ideas in tangible ways and should work in collaboration towards a shared future with engineers, politicians and organisers. Oxford’s Circular Economy Lab describe how many SMES have the ability to work outside of the established paradigms and exploit neglected opportunities to innovate.

Design and cultural practice have ways of harnessing curiosity and exploring alternatives. Creative businesses have an opportunity to experiment with change and supporting climate friendly, sustainable and inclusive practices at a local level, identifying new pathways to pursue. This bottom-up change can help us realise what we need on a smaller, faster scale. If we can develop practices that work for our businesses, communities and cities, we can build upwards and share knowledge on a larger scale.

Building regenerative systems is inherently visionary and creative work. There is space to more deeply investigate the role of creative and cultural sectors, organisations and freelancers in the transmission of ideas and adoption sustainable practices, which leads to actionable frameworks and recommendations for action.

If you are a creative practitioner, or part of a creative business in the South West, I would love to speak with you – even if you really find the whole climate thing overwhelming and difficult, please do reach out, (because I feel the same!).



Zoe also recently held a Lunchtime Talk at the Pervasive Media Studio. If you'd like to hear more about what she's been up to you can watch below.