Creativity in the Face of Climate Inaction: A Case for Divestment
Across Canada, young people are mobilizing to demand for action around today’s environmental crisis—a crisis that will inevitably shape their futures. Here at Concordia, students recognize the importance of climate action, and they are battling with the university to divest millions of dollars from the fossil fuel industry; yet, the divestment movement remains a difficult and tedious endeavor, and generating mobilization around the cause is an even more trying task. But if we can learn how to design awareness campaigns that can inspire young people into action, then perhaps we can imbue the movement with a new vigor—one capable of leading to real change.
As writers, poets, and literary enthusiasts, we understand the value that creativity and narration lends to the human conscience. That is why a worthwhile area of exploration is art, a tool that is becoming more popular during acts of resistance.
Art comes from an embodied response to the human lived-experience, and for some of us, it manifests in the form of rhythmic utterances and lyrical script. Perhaps this explains why poetry is so effective for inspiring us. In communicates in ways that creep into the crevices of our emotional ambits.
When the profundity of prose meets the power of communication, they create a synergetic connection capable of speaking to audiences in symbolically effective ways. That is why we have to begin recognizing the possibility that lies in using these forms of creativity during acts of resistance. If we can do this, we can begin to uncover new ways of encouraging public dialogues that lead to meaningful change. Writers and poets all over the world have long used their creativity to mobilize the masses, forcing audiences to look at some of the more difficult realities that frame the human condition. But the topic of climate change has remained largely underrepresented in the arts.
It is easy to become uninspired, or even overwhelmed, by subject-matter of a scientific nature. We tend to speak about today’s environmental crisis using numbers and data, yet these clinical renderings aren’t proving to be useful for inspiring individuals to act.
The reality is that we are an emotional species, and the key to arousing interest around matters like divestment and climate action lies in finding ways to humanize these issues. That is why art and literature present viable alternatives to more mainstream climate change rhetoric: they demystify science by speaking about these sorts of issues in ways that are translatable to us all.
Here in Canada, we are starting to see more progressive writers address these matters in their own works. Shane Koyczan and Margaret Atwood are among many Canadian authors who seek to create socially progressive pieces that address climate change and environmentalism. In understanding the power of literature and art, they recognize how such forms of communication are capable of nestling into the susceptible back-parts of our minds—the parts that compel us to consider things in new and meaningful ways.
Evidently, there is much to be learned about these forms of communication during times of resistance. We need to start asking ourselves how we can use art and literature to empower a student-body so that they can unite in the face of their institutions. Surely, it is a society’s youth who must imbue a movement with the urgency necessary to inspire climate action, for they will shoulder any future consequence that comes with inaction.
Young people are at the forefront of radical creativity, and the sheer magnitude of social progress catalyzed by art reveals the power of the human imagination. Take, for example, Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit, which was a song written by Abel Meeropol to protest violent racism in America; or the murals and poems that once decorated the Berlin Wall, which became a powerful way for Germans on either side to demonstrate that their shared culture and identity would triumph in the face of physical and barriers and political discord.
More recently, literature and the spoken-word are beginning to stake their claim under the spotlight of many contemporary movements. Slam-poetry is a powerful tool for inspiring progressive dialogues, and we are seeing these forms of communication emerge amid today’s protests and demonstrations. In the wake of the #metoo movement, American singer-songwriter Halsey wrote and performed what was to become a viral spoken-word about gendered sexual violence, serving as a compelling example and reminder of how powerful poetry can be during times of revolution.
These insights lead us to ask ourselves how these tactics might translate into today’s environmental movement. How can we use our art to inspire mobilization so that we too can show our governments and institutions that we will no longer rest in the face of irreversible land exploitation and climate inaction?
Here at Concordia, it is paramount that we continue to pressure for divestment and hold the university accountable for any environmental wrong-doing it performs. Reinvigorating the divestment movement rides on our ability to diversify and enhance the way we make our message known, and the arsenal of creative tools we have as a force of young students provides us with ample opportunity to inspire mobilization. So keep your pen at hand, unchain your imagination, and don’t let the system make you feel like your creativity doesn’t matter, because art can be powerful when we allow self-expression to shine through in the face of injustice.
If you have any ideas about divestment at Concordia, or if you just want to learn about what students are doing for the cause, then be sure to attend the Divest Concordia meetings at 2090 McKay St. on the top floor of the Z Annex. Meetings occur every Monday at 4:30 p.m.
By Hania Peper