BY Mel Evans in Features , Opinion | 17 SEP 19

Why the Art World Must Back Greta Thunberg’s Global Climate Strike

Demonstrations to declare a climate emergency will take place across the world this Friday

BY Mel Evans in Features , Opinion | 17 SEP 19

School’s out, but not for summer. It’s for the funny weather we’ve been having lately – and for the climate itself. Unless you’ve been living in a hole for the past 12 months, you will have heard of the inimitable and courageous Greta Thunberg. One year ago, she started a solo protest outside the Swedish Parliament calling on global governments to pull their fingers out when it came to taking action on the climate emergency. Now, millions of schoolchildren worldwide are skipping school every month, under the hashtag #FridaysforFuture, to join Thunberg’s resounding call on all global leaders in government, business and industry to do what they must to prevent the catastrophic climate their generation will have to live with. Today, this youth movement is calling on adults to join the strike.

Working together under the banner Youth Strike 4 Climate, school children have appealed to people in all sectors to join a worldwide strike on Friday 20 September. Demonstrations are planned in over 100 cities in the UK; organizations across the board have signed up to participate – from Amnesty International and green groups to retail companies such as Lush and Patagonia. The Trades Union Congress has accepted motions and amendments for a ‘workday campaign action’ that calls on unionized workers across industries from its broad membership to join the students before and after work, and for employers to declare a climate emergency.

climate change protesters holding a pink boat with the sign 'tell the truth'.
Photograph courtesy: Mark Ramsay, Flickr Creative Commons

Within the arts, huge numbers of organizations have already declared a climate emergency and are encouraging participation in Friday’s strike. From theatres like Manchester’s HOME and the Roundhouse in London to visual arts organizations like Tate and Jerwood, the resounding support from the art world for action on the climate crisis has been tremendous – in statements, at least. Of course, these need to be matched in actions: the global climate strikes offer an enormously important opportunity to everyone working in the arts to put their declarations into practice. Culture Declares Emergency – a group of UK arts organizations – is calling on participants to attend the climate strike this Friday as well as the general strike on the following Friday 27 September, at which it promises an impressive line-up of musicians and artists. Create and Strike, an alliance of more than 30 creative agencies, is calling on others to get involved in Friday’s protest and will be holding banner-making sessions at Tate Modern on Wednesday 18 September. The Royal Institute of British Architects has also encouraged its members to attend, as has the UK Green Building Council.

Artists wearing robes made from grass, one rides a white horse.
Culture Declares Emergency action, April 2019, Tate Modern, London. Courtesy: Culture Declares Emergency

Beyond this, an Extinction Rebellion initiative for creative agencies to commit to reporting the percentage of their profits that comes from high-carbon clients has resulted in more than 30 companies signing up. Likewise, The Comms Lab is working with advertising agencies to consider their ethical decision-making, since they are effectively responsible for cleaning up the public image of the fossil-fuel industry, while oil and gas companies continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on blocking climate action. If advertising agencies were to take away that fundamental support, it would be an incredibly powerful form of direct action to fight climate change.

Driven by the children whose futures global warming will most directly impact, this Friday’s strike could prove to be the biggest climate protest in history. Rather than ignore it, or succumb to despondency, we all must get on board to demand urgent radical action now. For, while governments have agreed that the warming of the earth’s surface should not exceed 1.5 degrees, 10 percent of the globe has already experienced increases above 2 degrees. The climate crisis is real and the involvement of those working in the creative industries is imperative – for, who better to remind everyone that it is always possible to remake the world?

The Global Climate Strike takes place on Friday 20 September, and runs globally for the full week up to and including Friday 27 September. Find your nearest strike on Friday here – there are more than 200 events planned in the UK – and attend the Culture Declares Emergency bloc at the strike on 27 September in London.

Main image: Greta Thunberg, Washington DC, September 2019. Courtesy: Getty Images; photograph: Sarah Silbiger

Mel Evans is a writer, activist, artist and part of Liberate Tate. Her book Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts (Pluto Press, 2015) examines the function and impact of oil sponsorship. She has been involved in climate activism since 2005.