Guest blog

The Gathering Swarm: connecting artists and climate action

By Lauren Davies

Think of Paris, city of love. With its outdoor, café culture of sipping coffee at small round tables. Romantic encounters with architecture, and visions remembered from novels and poetry, all brought to life during a pleasant stroll around the city. As well as the spirit of past revolution lingering on every corner.

What form will the new revolution take? And who will lead it? Recent calls from writers such as Naomi Klein and from the Guardian Keep it in the Ground campaign urge for a people’s revolution, to mobilise against government lack of action on climate change. Where are the arts in this revolution?

Swarms of artists are not unusual in Paris in any era, but the prospect of artists gathering in the city in one concentrated place, to make work, discuss politics and comment on economics, during the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21) in December is one that international climate arts activist collective Forever Swarm are making a reality.

Just a stone’s throw away from the Gare du Nord railway station you will find Place to B, at St Christopher’s Inn a youth hostel combined with bar and co-working spaces, the HQ for new creatively driven revolutionary thinking. Place to B and Forever Swarm are working collaboratively on a provocative series of artistic interventions in the city of Paris for COP21, and bringing together artists with experts to generate a fresh approach to climate communications – a new climate story. Intervention themes include taking a look in the mirror at our hyper-consumerism, sparking a step change in more inspiring and creative communication on climate change, re-visioning a radically better future worth fighting for, and calling on artists, musicians and creatives across the globe to join this call to arms.

From November the focus for the future of global economics and action on climate change will be on COP21, the 2015 Paris Climate Conference. COP because since 1994 this conference represents the United Nations’ Conference of Parties and 21 because this annual event has been held an astounding 21 times across the globe already.

In previous years COP meetings resulted in significant developments including COP3 where the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, COP11 where the Montreal Action Plan was produced, and COP17 in Durban where the Green Climate Fund was created.

Hailed as the most disappointing conference, the COP15 event in Copenhagen in 2009 failed to secure an agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol and has since resulted in various countries producing the highest levels of carbon emissions since records began. We are the first humans to ever breathe these levels of carbon dioxide on Earth.

Many scientists, activists, economists and environmentalists believe that the Paris COP21 event is the last chance to reach agreement on worldwide government action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 40–70% below current levels by 2050.

Projected outcomes of COP21 are that governments will not be required to sign any legally binding agreements at the event, and that there will be no agreement reached to keep emissions below the 2 degree warming limit but those present will need to pledge to working on four key factors:

  • All countries no matter their size or wealth need to commit to clear action on climate change
  • All countries need to commit their pledges into their national law
  • All countries to commit to regular reviews, every 3 years, of the cutting of their emissions
  • Climate finance: developing countries need to have access to financial support to aid action on cutting their emissions

Cue an international swarm gathering at Place to B for outstanding arts activism, inspiring climate action, and sparking mainstream belief in better futures. Along with hundreds of journalists, bloggers, activists, graphic designers, illustrators, web developers, photographers, video makers, comedians, writers, musicians and DJs, art will show what is possible.

So when you think of Paris in the coming months imagine Paris full of love for the Earth, our shared home. Think of Paris alive with the beginnings of a re-think of everything, and a long awaited swarming of artists to help us light the way.


Watch this space for more information on ONCA’s own ARTCOP21, 30th November-6th December 2015

Guest blog

David Holyoake: Arts and Culture – the missing link to winning the climate fight

This article was first published in Voices, Global Call for Climate Action 7 April 2015.

Authored by David Holyoake
David Holyoake is co-founder of Forever Swarm. David is an advocate and expert in climate change law and policy and a practicing and published composer focused on issues of ecological collapse.

The climate change movement faces a problem. While campaigners and advocacy groups around the world continue to fight against the climate crisis – and make huge strides in getting their voices heard – this world of climate change policymakers and campaigners still does not talk to the world of arts and culture.

More striking still, the cultural response to the biggest threat to human civilisation practically does not exist yet.

This holds true in both ‘high art establishments’ and in mainstream cultural channels like film, design, novels, fashion and popular music. It also holds true of our NGO campaigning. When climate campaigns use ‘art’ it is usually more about ‘stunts’ or exhausted photos of polar bears on ice caps. With a few exceptions, ‘art’ is not used, as such stuns fail to break into the cultural fabric.

Contrast this with other game changing campaigns that won in modern history.

The American Civil Rights Movement, for example. The Freedom Songs of African Americans united and inspired millions of tired souls and rallied others to the cause. Songs like ‘keep your eyes on the prize’ and ‘we shall overcome’ right through to the repertoire of Nina Simone and others, revolutionised the unity, energy and scale of the civil rights movement.

The power and accessibility of music allowed everyone to be part of the movement, with songs often performed at or in connection to political events – with Fanny Lou Hamer a famous example in the early 1960s.

The climate community is never lost for words, but these words so often feel tired and exhausted. Remember the words of activist singer and environmentalist Peter Seeger: “Art can help us ‘leap the language barrier.And he wasn’t just talking about music.

The Mexican equivalent of the Civil Rights movement (Chicano) developed a distinct art form. A unifying aesthetics, iconic imagery and mural paintings with greater penetration than words, facts, infographics or stunts.

What is different now? And why have we not, on the whole, managed to connect the call for urgent climate action with the cultural fabric?

Climate is a very different sort of campaign challenge, admittedly. But it is just as in need of emotionalising, re-energising and hope as the civil rights movement was until the late 1950s.

Where are our cultural influencers and artists at the vanguard of the new world order that the climate crisis must usher in? Where are the coordinated efforts of artist and designers and musicians helping inflame divestment or other climate campaigns? Where are the great utopic cultural movements of today in which to embed the climate story?

Forever Swarm aims to fill this gap.

There are many reasons why we have yet to see a mainstream cultural response to climate change. Part of the answer is the obvious general confusion about the facts perpetrated by Big Oil and not helped by the media until very recently. And the psychological tendency towards denial and wishful thinking (science will save us).

But there is also a deeper answer: that the environmental community has neither offered culture makers a compelling holistic vision of the alternative world we seek, nor invited them to help our collective dreaming. Better futures require better dreams.

This might be one distinction with the civil rights movement – they could see and articulate their alternative view of the world. We in the climate movement have articulated only parts of the future world we seek by 2050 or beyond.

We are clear on clean energy and transportation. But what of the rest of life, consumption, and the other sectors economy? We have not imagined a magnetic new positive story of human happiness that connects social well-being with the multiple and radical lifestyle and economic changes that will be necessary to unlock the emissions reductions that will be necessary from other sectors by 2050 or soon after. What about food and agriculture, consumables and the idea of not only buying efficient, but buying less full stop.

What about the values shifts, a redefining of prosperity as some call it? This shift will be needed to support policy changes in the mid-term, while securing the political mandate for the immediate challenges of keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and an acceptable international deal.

But all is not lost. As we lead up to the UN climate summit in Paris this December, there are possible areas of convergence. Commitments on long-term deep decarbonisation pathways are important to hold political and policy momentum to account, to bed down long-term pathway towards the necessary goal to decarbonise our economies soon after 2050.

The majority of countries have not yet laid down even aspirational long term decarbonisation plans, with the exception of the EU which has at least headline figures showing how 2030 and 2050 pathways fit together.

We all know the difficulties of the COP process, even securing adequate shorter-term commitments (INDCs) and the need for immediate urgent action. But what if one reason why negotiators shy away from the longer term questions is because none of us can yet comprehend or imagine what a near zero carbon economy looks and feels like?

Forever Swarm believes that there is a need for creative renewal in the arts and to connect campaigns with the cultural fabric.

It is time set artists and creatives to work to help the cut through of smart climate communications. It is time for artists, filmmakers and writers to get to work translating a more holistic, positive visions of the future.

It is time they explored happiness, new economics and new definitions of personal and collective success in a carbon-constrained world. A world in which the economy serves human flourishing, well being and surviving an increasingly hostile climate, rather than serving the god of GDP growth. It is time to confront our collective dread, which cuts us off from the future.

And what about the role artists can play in specific campaign asks? Divestment is growing fast – an exciting glimmer of hope. Imagine how it could grow even faster if articulated and symbolised by iconic, unifying imagery, emotive inspiring art, song and design appearing and normalised in diverse and popular channels?

It has long been proven that humans make most decisions not rationally but according to emotional and unconscious drivers and values frames. Accepting this, the limitations of the infographic become startling. It might be time for the climate movement to revisit the power of art.