Guest blog: Common-sense solutions to our climate and nature crises

8th January 2021

Scottish geographer and energy specialist, Neil Kitching, recently independently published 'Carbon Choices', a book on the common-sense solutions to our climate and nature crises.

In Carbon Choices, I identify five common sense principles to tackle climate change:

1. Price carbon pollution
2. Consume carefully, travel wisely
3. Embrace efficiency, avoid waste
4. Nurture nature
5. Be fair across current and future generations

In this blog, I explore the carbon impact of arts and culture and how we can apply these five principles in Scotland.

The direct carbon footprint of arts and culture can be low compared to more mechanised forms of entertainment – dominated by the energy used to heat the buildings that house activities and cultural events. Conversely, the indirect footprint is often high. Audience travel to a concert is the largest component of its carbon footprint, whilst many people travel long distances to view culture and art, for example, to see famous buildings and works of art that are usually sited in large cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh.

What is perhaps more interesting is that the arts and culture can influence society and cultural norms and behaviour, which can increase or decrease society’s carbon footprint. The creativity of people who work in art and design needs to be harnessed to challenge, inform and engage audiences on the impacts of climate change and in the actions we can all choose to take to reduce our carbon footprint. This can be active, for example, an exhibition on climate change, or embedded more subtly into wider messages.

Price carbon pollution
Placing a realistic price on carbon pollution is an action that government should lead on. But in the meantime, you should calculate your organisation’s carbon footprint* and reduce it as far as possible. This includes your use of gas and electricity and travel by your staff but should be widened to include what you buy and audience travel. The V&A is a magnificent modern museum in Dundee (pictured above) heated by efficient heat pumps, yet the building itself is built from concrete, which is a carbon intensive building material. Only by thinking in a holistic way can we start to consider and then tackle the full impact of our activities.

* You can use Creative Carbon Scotland’s carbon management tools to help with this.

Consume carefully, travel wisely
Consuming carefully is all about thinking about what you buy. Can you buy second hand, can you reuse costumes, props and equipment? If you do have to buy, buy quality goods that will last and can be reused. Meanwhile, having good quality and accessible public transport, whilst actively discouraging people to travel by car, is the best policy to reduce the carbon footprint of events. Organisers often put on coaches to get young people to music concerts in remote rural locations such as RockNess. The Solheim Cup golf event at Gleneagles in Scotland is a good example of a major event held in a rural area where no public car parking was provided. Instead, visitors had to travel by train or use the park and ride facilities set up for the event.

Embrace efficiency, avoid waste
Investing in energy efficiency is often the first action an organisation takes when it decides to ‘go green’. It is a good place to start; there is usually obvious wastage, and it saves money. But also consider your use of other resources such as water, and resources used to manufacture the equipment that you buy. Everything you buy has a carbon footprint, whether it is made from natural resources such as timber and cotton or is mined from the ground such as minerals or oil. Avoid waste by reusing – do everything possible to prolong the life of objects before they need to be recycled.

Nurture nature

country lane with cattle grate in foreground. Background shows a hill divided by a fenceline - one side shows tree regeneration while the other is only heather and low shrubbery.

Tree regeneration in the Cairngorms, Scotland.

Nature is integral to our climate – trees and healthy soils store carbon. We need to do more than protect and preserve nature, we need to enhance and restore it. Society influences our attitudes to nature. For example, in Europe wolves gained a bad name in books and folklore and were hunted to extinction in Scotland in 1680. In reality they avoid humans and are an essential part of the ecosystem, suppressing herbivores, which if uncontrolled prevent tree saplings from growing. The arts and culture can influence people in a positive way, for example, the BBC’s Blue Planet had a huge impact by raising awareness across the world of the impact of plastic in the oceans. The film Avatar appealed to a wide audience of science-fiction fans but also contained a strong pro-environmental message.

Be fair across current and future generations
‘Be fair’ combines the concepts of equity and social justice. It applies to wealth differences within and between countries and between the young, old and future generations. This is the most difficult of the five principles to apply, yet arts and culture can be used to proactively influence society. Theatre and cinema can highlight inequality and injustice, whilst TV documentaries can explore issues of toxic waste (such as radioactive particles on Scottish beaches) and heavy metals from mining, which may impact future generations.

Grounds for hope
Amidst all the bad news, there are grounds for hope – Carbon Choices concludes with a green action plan for government, business and individuals to make better carbon choices.

This guest blog was posted by Neil Kitching, author of Carbon Choices, which is available to buy on Amazon. One third of profits will be donated to rewilding projects.

Neil Kitching in outdoor walking clothes sitting on a rock near the sea holding a pair of binoculars, with Bass Rock in the backgrount

Neil Kitching

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