Green Tease Reflections: Climate Justice in Arts and Culture

4th March 2020

Green Tease Reflections: Climate Justice in Arts and Culture

25th February and 5th May 2020: We gathered together representatives from Scottish arts organisations for two discussion sessions on Climate Justice: what it is, why it matters, what the cultural sector can do to embody and promote it. The discussions are summarised below but work on this is still ongoing so do please get in touch if you have thoughts of your own.

Session One

In the first session, we offered an introduction to climate justice and developed a group definition. We then focused in to think about, which climate justice issues are most prevalent or can be influenced best here in Scotland, and which issues are most important for arts organisations to consider.


Lewis kicked off the discussion by throwing out some examples of campaigns that appear to engage with issues of climate justice:

  • Save Our Straws: a disability rights campaign aimed at getting Starbucks to reverse their ban on plastic straws. The ban was instituted on the grounds that it would reduce disposable plastic waste but campaigners argued that people with certain disabilities need those straws and that an outright ban on them would be discriminatory.
  • Black Lives Matter protested against the expansion of London City Airport on the grounds that it would lead to more climate change causing emissions and that people of colour are on average more adversely affected by climate change impacts. They also drew connections to increased local air pollution in the area, which has a high proportion of people of colour, well above the UK average. Their slogan was, ‘Climate Crisis is a Racist Crisis’
  • The Pacific Climate Warriors: a grass roots anti-climate change campaign based across multiple Pacific island nations, drawing attention to their situation as among the first to suffer the effects of rising sea levels, while seeking to brand themselves as being at the forefront of climate action rather than as passive victims.
  • Protests at the British Museum drew connections between its sponsorship by fossil fuel company BP and the museum collections containing objects taken from cultures around the world, many during Britain’s colonial past. The campaigners argued that by helping ‘artwash’ BP’s image they were promoting a form of climate colonialism by legitimising its activities that would lead to climate change, the effects of which are most strongly felt in Britain’s ex-colonies.

He also drew attention to the long history of climate justice and how long it has taken for us to engage with it. He showed images of the 2002 Bali Principles of Climate Justice adopted at the Earth Summit in Bali, which were in turn based on the 1991 Principles of Environmental Justice, drafted at the First National People of Culture Environmental Summit, Washington DC.

Defining Climate Justice

In pairs we then attempted to define the term climate justice and consider where we are most likely to encounter issues of climate justice living in Scotland and working in arts organisations.

Our definitions of Climate Justice shared an emphasis on disproportionate impacts of climate change falling on already disadvantaged people, exacerbating existing inequalities. We also raised the importance of taking responsibility for the large contributions the UK has made to global emissions and sharing the burdens (and potential opportunities) of climate change. It was widely agreed important to put the emphasis on the collective rather than the individual and to develop a reasonably objective framework.

Some other useful definitions and examples are also available on the GCU Centre for Climate Justice website.

Discussions of particularly Scottish climate justice issues repeatedly raised:

  • Migration and climate refugees
  • Urban-rural divides and remote communities
  • A ‘just transition‘ away from the oil industry
  • Understanding the global impact of local work. Seeing everything through ‘globe tinted spectacles’, as one participant put it.

Discussions of relevance to arts and culture organisations raised:

  • What we produce: can we provide a ‘voice for the voiceless’, build awareness, challenge ideas, offer a space for discourse, contribute to a paradigm shift?
  • How we run ourselves: can we practise what we preach in the way we run our organisations, collaborate with social justice organisations? How can we deal with the connection between arts and culture and privilege?

Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion

Following this, Helen Trew of Creative Scotland contributed by drawing some useful connections between climate justice and existing Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion policy. She pointed out that, like climate justice, EDI is not just relevant to arts organisations and thus forces us to consider our position as part of a wider purpose. She discussed how, like climate change, the protected characteristics involved in EDI apply to all of us, but not to the same extent: ‘Treating everyone the same does not result in equality’. Similarly, although climate change will affect all of us, it will affect everyone in different ways and to different extents, which climate justice recognises. She also suggested that climate justice and EDI share the issue that, while it’s easy to see the value from a broad perspective, it can be more difficult to see what you can or should do within your own immediate context, which takes detailed examination and thought.

What can we do?

In the final discussion section, we started trying to think about how we as arts organisations can:

  • Embody climate justice by running ourselves in a climate just manner
  • Promote climate justice through our programming and how we engage with audiences

Suggestions from the discussion included:

  • Both programming and staffing should be diverse and representative.
  • Fully engaging with climate justice requires getting buy in from directors, managers, and board members.
  • Climate justice provides opportunities for positive framing, showing how responding to climate change is also an opportunity to make our society more just.
  • Climate action should be promoted as something that everyone can get involved in.
  • Embedding artists and arts organisations more deeply in local communities would reduce travel emissions and enable more active engagement with local social justice issues.
  • Advocating for changes in how the cultural sector works should form part of work in climate justice.


Session Two

The second session focused on splitting into breakout groups to come up with suggestions for concrete actions that arts organisations can take to engage with, embody, or promote climate justice. We focused on the issues that were agreed to be most important in the first session and tried to make use of what we had learned from our own experiences. The full notes from this session are available online as a Google doc here.

Breakout group 1

The first set of breakout groups was based on some of the climate justice issues that we had agreed were most important to focus on. The suggestions from these discussions included:

Remote and rural areas

  • Working with smaller, more local venues and the groups based there year-round
  • Using online methods, but being aware of the potential drawbacks of slower internet speeds in rural areas
  • Touring models of taking work to people to reduce audience travel
  • Work prior to and after work arriving in a community, building up longer term relationships, building resilience

Class and wealth divides

  • Bringing together equalities and environmental policies
  • Building awareness of  the intersection of the two areas within particular areas of focus, for example Food: Food production, food poverty, food policy intersection
  • Providing a focus on climate justice might enable people who are not currently engaged with culture to become more confident about their right and ability to enter that field. Climate change could be a ‘bridge’ to wider participation and vice versa
  • Having diversity in staffing, volunteers etc ensures an awareness of not increasing inequalities through environmental work

Sex and gender

  • Developing programming which explicitly explores gender-diverse climate leaders and how we perceive them. From Jane Goodall to Greta Thunberg. 
  • Learning from work previously done within feminist circles to create accessible spaces for discussion on climate change
  • Acknowledging that we can learn a lot from the groups of people we typically frame as disadvantaged or more at risk from climate change – they often have the experience we don’t.

Breakout group 2

The second set of breakout groups focused on the areas of activity in arts organisations where we felt climate justice considerations ought to be considered.

Adaptation measures

  • Having a plan A, B, C which enables quick adaptation to changing conditions and maintains the quality and diversity of those participating. 
  • Changing the design of productions to make  them more likely to go ahead and more accessible for changing spaces/places and conditions.
  • Set up conditions/insurance for who pays in case of cancellations, ensuring that those who are already precarious/disadvantaged do not suffer disproportionately from climatic risk.
  • Dialogue with audiences which is accessible to all, and communication mechanisms (not just digital) which can reach audiences in the case of weather event changes.

Touring practice

  • Exploring where we tour-to-based on justice considerations (of which climate change is part). At the moment, the touring locations are often based on who can pay you to travel there. 
  • Touring routes which avoid major physical risk areas

Working with local communities

  • Co-designing programmes with people, starting from where people are and valuing peoples’ lived experiences. 
  • Looking at different forms of value – not just focusing on market economies but other forms of value within communities

Audiences and inclusivity

  • Consultations: not enough just to invite people, you have to make them feel that they have something to contribute and make it a welcoming environment
  • Collaborating with environmental organisations to organise outreach events
  • Emotional value of art as a way of bringing people into a discussion that they might not engage with otherwise, allowing people to draw their own conclusions and make their own connections
  • Presenting your message through different media/contexts to reach different people: games, podcasts

Getting staff and board buy-in

  • Having a shared language but also sharing resources and networks for best practices. 
  • Ensuring that the language we use is not a barrier to participation – avoiding jargon

Providing a platform or removing barriers

  • Need to widen the diversity of the artists we work with on this topic (and others)
  • Maybe involving social justice organisations in discussions would help

Discussion and information gathering is ongoing, so please get in touch with if you would like to contribute.


Image: Canva






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Green Tease is a network and ongoing informal events programme, connecting creative practices and environmental sustainability across Scotland.  Creative Carbon Scotland runs the Green Tease Open Call, which is a funded opportunity supporting sustainability practitioners and artists to exchange ideas, knowledge and practices with the aim of building connections and widening understanding of the role of arts in influencing a more sustainable society.

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