Right now the left brain really isn’t doing the trick. We’ve known about climate change for 20 years—known that it’s the greatest threat humans have ever had to deal with. And so far we’ve done…nothing. Oh, some little stuff here and there, but nothing on a scale big enough to matter. Environmentalists have believed that the scientific facts— unimpeachable, and unbearable—would be enough to force action. They’ve believed fervently in statistic, in bar graphs, in pie charts, in white papers, in executive summaries, in closed-door briefings. It’s all noble, but it’s meant that we never managed to build a movement around global warming. You don’t build movements with bar graphs.
You build them, in part, with art. With painting and with music and with graffiti and with dance and with concerts and with everything that engages the right brain. Or that engages the heart, trusting that where the heart leads the head will follow. (It seems to work better that way for most people than the reverse). I’m thinking of this right now because our friends at Planet-mag.com have started a new enterprise: one of a kind paintings and sculptures from fine artists around the world that “exhibit their personal artistic interpretation of earth.” Go look—they’re amazing.
The website takes some of the money they make and donate it to campaigns like ours at 350.org. But the money’s less important than the vision.
And it’s a vision you don’t need to be a certified ‘artist’ to share. Last fall we held a Global Day of Climate Action on October 24. It turned out to be bigger than we could possibly have imagined—5200 demonstrations in 181 countries, which CNN said was ‘the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.’ But better than the numbers were the pictures: everyone uploaded images of their rallies, and they turned out to be creative, passionate pieces of public art. Seriously, take a look at these too (and note that most of the people involved don’t fit your preconception of ‘environmentalist.’ Most of them are poor, black, brown, Asian, young—because that’s what most of the world is.)
No one could suppress the startling beauty of their various collective visions—for 36 hours it was the top story at GoogleNews, proof that more newspapers and tv stations were sharing that story than any other on the planet. At the Copenhagen conference six weeks later, 117 nations signed on to that 350 target. But they were the wrong 117—the poor ones, not the rich and addicted. So on we fight.
And we do it with art in the vanguard. Because we’re not going to make the same mistake we made 20 years ago. We need a big movement, and big movements come from beauty and meaning, not columns of statistics.
Follow Bill McKibben on Twitter: www.twitter.com/billmckibben