Reclaim the future: engaging with arts and creative practice – Extract from CAT’s ‘Zero Carbon Britain’

Centre for Alternative Technology‘s report Zero Carbon Britain has been inspiring people since 2013 and as 2017 arrives, I am reminded again of what a useful document it’s been.

This is an extract on the arts and zero carbon transition:

“Communicating the Zero Carbon Britain scenario means helping people visualise what it could be like to live in the year 2030 if we rose to the challenges of the 21st century. To offer a context to this, we looked at how our society currently portrays the future, and how this has changed over time. We quickly became aware that there are actually very few positive visions of a 21st century future. Dystopia and ecological collapse almost always abound when contemporary culture looks even ten or twenty years ahead. Be it a novel, a film, a TV series or a computer game, the setting is dark. From Children of Men, The Road, and 28 Days Later to The Survivors – the list seems endless. Yet back in the fifties, sixties and seventies, the way we projected the future felt very different. The likes of Dan Dare, Thunderbirds and Star Trek were going to take us away to exciting places with transporters, hover bikes and jet packs.

As the seventies rolled into the eighties and nineties the wonders of science and technology were seen to be smashing into the limits of the planet’s ecosystems. Alarm signals from the Green movement, along with Bhopal, Chernobyl and a wide range of other major catastrophes, led us into a different way of seeing our future. In film, a tipping point was perhaps Blade Runner, where the future became much darker.

Of course, setting any human drama in a tragic famine situation would not make palatable viewing, so a number of clever tricks are deployed. Either 98% of the population dies from ‘the virus’ before the film begins and the story is based around those relearning to plough with oxen in a deserted Somerset mansion – or – 98% of the population are converted to ‘zombies’ so that if you have to shoot a few dozen of them as you escape the city with the medicine for the sick child, no one thinks any the worse of you.

Despite the fact that a great many of us would like to explore the drama of human interaction set against a backdrop in which we are rising to our 21st century challenges – the artists, novelists, filmmakers and playwrights usually choose to paint it black.

But if society is unable to imagine a positive future, then we won’t create it.

There is, therefore, a need to forge direct links between those working in the arts and sustainability to create a community of practice amongst people who understand the need to catalyse big shifts in how we think.

In tackling issues of race, gender and class, arts and creative practice have shown they can reveal our blind spots and help us see our prejudices; they can break through denial and catalyse a transformation of attitudes and behaviours.

The arts offer a much needed mirror that can help individuals and societies reflect on where we really are, and help us to explore the alternatives. Although science based reports such as this can show a way forward, when the arts and science work together we can begin to visualise what it might actually be like to live and love in a world where we are rising to the demands of the 21st century, and so reclaiming the future.”

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