(text of the talk given at UNESCO stand at COP21)
I was first made aware of the politics of global climate issues in my teens in the early 1980s. I have followed the debate for over thirty years with increasing disillusionment as the predictions have been shown to be correct and little has been realistically done to effect serious long-term change. We are now at a point where we have to change not only our attitude to our place in our environment but also the entire economic system that underpins our society.
As much as environmentalism has been part of my personal political life, art has been part of my cultural and social life. My art has always been fed by my politics and this year, the year of COP21 in my new home country of France, it was an easy decision to make, to focus on the pressing issue of global warming and the singular importance of the COP21 event. All of my work this year has centred on increasing awareness of COP21 and it will culminate in an exhibition with my Paris gallery, Brugier-Rigail. As well as this I was kindly invited to make an art piece, with relevance to this conference, for UNESCO.
Unfortunately, because of the terrible events on the streets of Paris recently, increased security concerns have meant that I am unable to bring the materials to make this possible. So I will explain a little on what I have been making this year and the images of the year’s supporting work will show here too.
I started with the idea that there is no ‘planet B’. That we have no option but to address the issues on the planet that we do live on. It isn’t an enormous intellectual leap, but judging from our continued mistreatment of this planet and our refusal to accept that we cannot live forever on resources that are finite, it seems too apparent that it needs saying loudly and repeatedly. We have one planet, we have one chance, we have one potential paradise and that paradise is here. So the phrase was born in my head ‘paradis est ici’.
For a large number of people, religious faith plays a great part in their lives. The notion of paradise is inextricably tied up with this faith and within this faith the idea of the angel is an omnipresent figure of judgment, strength and hope. I personally have no religious faith, however it is easy for me to see the judgment placed upon humanity by an imagined angel should the circumstances arise. Whether our planet is the gift of a god or the result of a succession of intergalactic accidents the need to protect this prize, our only potential paradise, is the same.
I have always used newspapers in my work. Besides being a good secondary use of a material that otherwise might go to landfill it acts as a personal comment on my dissatisfaction with the news media. The press rarely focus on the green agenda with the seriousness I consider it merits – so if I cannot find the headlines I am looking for I will make my own on their discarded media. Brown paper and packaging are another perfect medium suited to both my visual and political aesthetics.
The work is sometimes pasted up in the street. Hopefully it raises a thought, and perhaps a consideration of what it might mean, and hopefully an understanding of where my sympathies lie. I’m not trying to change the world. I cannot change the world but I can hopefully show others that may feel the same way as me about our situation, that they are not alone.
We cannot continue to live with the attitude that we are something different to the rest of the planet. Our fate is tied up with the manner in which we use the resources available to us. We cannot continue to warm the atmosphere and expect our lives to stay as they have. We cannot force extinctions on species and not expect further consequences in the chains that these organisms exist within.
We are living in an age of idiocy. An age when we convince ourselves that feeding beef-cattle for a small percentage of the world is more practical than feeding a global population on a vegetarian diet. An age when we continue to burn fossil fuels because the mantra of economic growth seems more important than a sustainable existence – despite alternatives being readily available. An age when water is taken from indigenous communities to be turned into tinned drinks for the so-called ’civilised’ world. An age when free public transport for all is seen as an unreasonable challenge to our individual freedom to sit in endless traffic jams in our own cars.
And humanity has a short memory. We have presided over an age of idiocy but the twentieth century will probably be remembered by some in the not too distant future as one of humanity’s ‘Golden Ages’. It was a time when, for the affluent west at least, fossil fuels were plentiful and other mineral resources allowed human imagination to realise the most fanciful dreams. Energy, like water, was more or less on tap. There was effortless potential for the common person to travel the globe. There has been plentiful food, available free of any seasonal restriction. We have benefited from social organisation that could provide the most exotic health care, retirement provision, general education, comfortable shelter and even support and care in the event of unexpected circumstances such as unemployment or disability. In 1957 the then UK Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said that “most of our people have never had it so good”. He was right, but he was unaware of the economic, cultural, social and ecological time bomb only half a century away.
Considering the profligacy of our time I doubt that future generations will look on our historical achievements with much sympathy. Our children will be paying for their parents’ and grandparents’ reckless waste. The modern world has been raised on an Enlightenment conviction that science and human capacity for reason could overcome any crisis thrown at it by nature’s inbuilt facility for chaos.
There is now a near unanimous scientific consensus that our planet is warming. There is also scientific consensus that human activity is responsible. There is also general agreement that this will have an impact on food production and fresh water availability leading to resource driven migration and conflict. The International Energy Agency stated in 2010 that oil production probably met its peak in 2006. The fuel might be running out but the fire is only just starting.
There is no credible justification for the crisis we are seeing develop in our ecosystem now.
The Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius identified the potential of carbon dioxide to warm the world’s atmosphere over a century ago.
The US president was informed by credible scientific opinion of the reality of global warming in 1965.
In the 1980s my generation started to support environmental organisations that were predicting the issues we face now.
There is no denying that despite growing awareness of these problems we, as a species, have been too slow to seriously address them.
Global intergovernmental climate organisations have had their hands tied by powerful governments and these governments have had their hands tied by powerful business sectors. This issue is of an absolute existential importance to everybody on this planet. Up to now we have relied on our faith of governments to act in the interests of the people that put them into power; we have assumed that all the scientific opinion and information they receive is unbiased and based on evidence alone. This has clearly not been the case over the last century so now it is time for the people to stand up, to speak and to be heard.
We need, as individuals, to find and support the connections within our own families and our own communities that feel the same concerns. We have to look at our children, our grandchildren, our neighbours and their children. We need to recognise how the world has changed in just our small lifetimes and consider what changes face the future generations. Importantly we have to effect change in ourselves. We can make a difference. If the debate has to made within a capitalist framework then make the debate with your choices as a consumer. Re-use rather than discard, repair rather than replace.
We must not repeat the mistakes of previous generations. My grandparents saw in their lifetime a centuries old community centred economy replaced by a globalised economy that worked against the greater number of the population – in ONE lifetime. My parents were blinded by the drugs of convenience and apparent endless economic growth to seriously consider there was a need for any alternative. And my generation have been slaves to the false ideal of individualism and drugged with self-validation through consumption. We cannot wait and the world cannot wait. We must be the generation that finally addressed our own mistakes and the mistakes of our parents and grandparents.
That post-war, baby boomer generation were the most fortunate recipients of an apparent unbounded economic, social and technological golden era. They were born of a generation that had lived through two world wars but missed that insecurity themselves, they were the beneficiaries of fulfillable aspirations; they instigated various political, social and economic experiments in an attempt to create the perfect ‘Tomorrow’s World’ of their predecessors’ imagined science fictions.
But nature will not be beaten by hubris. The hard, physical reality of a limited resource of available minerals cannot be washed away with the expectation that technology will continue to fill our current, let alone future, material demands.
The party has been great for those that were invited but it’s all over now and we’ll soon be outside with the rest that never made it inside anyway.
We can make a paradise for everyone when we accept that we all share the only potential venue for paradise. Le paradis est ici.
paste up in Paris 2015