Citizen Action Monitor

What’s eating climate activist and artist, Leo Murray?

No 65 Posted by fw, September 16, 2010

The power of one! That’s what my blog is often about – One person struggling to find ways to make a difference, even when their efforts may risk pissing off others with opposing viewpoints. But doesn’t that go with the activist territory – pissing off others? I mean, people generally do not appreciate having their tidy little worlds disrupted.

Leo Murray at 2008 Climate Rush rally

Leo Murray is making a difference. His positive attitude in the face of the worst-case scenario he illustrates in his film is exemplary: “I’m doing my best to sort it out. It’s irresponsible to be any other way.” His words and deeds certainly inspire me to continue to act as if what I do makes a difference – to someone, somewhere.

Murray is a high profile member of the activist group, Plane Stupid, campaigning against growth in British air travel. He’s also an artist. In his new film, Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip, he explains the basics of climate change and tipping points in an 11-minute, evidence-rich, stick-figure video animation.

But before getting to the video, which is featured in my next post (No 67), selected excerpts from an interview will provide an insight into “What’s eating Leo Murray?”

Caleb Klaces spoke to Leo Murray for RSA Arts & Ecology about campaigning, science and how art can change the way we feel about an issue. This 2009 interview was conducted before the December Copenhagen fiasco; interestingly, Murray predicts Cop15’s failure in this interview.  Here’s a selection of excerpts from that interview with sub-headings added to facilitate skimming.

“There’s a finite window of opportunity for effective action”

The implications of the most recent science are that there is a finite window of opportunity for effective action. After that window of opportunity we’ll lose control. The biosphere will take over. I was concerned already but when I realised that, it changed the way I thought about the problem. Most people tend to think about it as a problem in the future that will be solved by people in the future. The reality is it’s a problem in the future that can only be solved by us in the present. I had the realisation that if I was ever going to do anything about climate change I had to do it now.

“Here’s the problem: the end of the world. Here’s me: what can I do?”

The ability of explaining problems to people through direct action is limited because you’re working through the mainstream media. Tactically, though, direct action embodies the scale of the threat. Here’s the problem: the end of the world. Here’s me as an individual: what can I do? Carrying out non-violent direct action is as proportionate a response as I can see. And it provokes observers to wonder why people would chain themselves to a runway on a freezing cold December morning and get arrested.

“Large environmental NGOs only push for what is politically expedient”

[The first thing] historically, rapid social change has always been accompanied by civil disobedience. It’s perverse to imagine that we can affect social change of that scale and speed is impossible without that sort of disruption too. The second is that what we in the environmental movement have been doing has not been working. The large environmental NGOs only push for what is politically expedient, which is just not commensurate with the science. The notion that small-scale incremental changes will get us where they need to be is fantastical. The third thing is that we don’t expect everyone to join or even support us. But we move public debate onwards. Stansted Airport pissed off a lot of people. But by doing those things we’re opening up a space that didn’t exist before, into which others can come – not least the Tories.

“There’s no way to bring about the social change we need without the use of screen media”

Art has the ability to move people in a way that nothing else does. In the world we live in today, screen media is the most prominent cultural feature. People spend the majority of their waking hours staring at screens (computers and TVs), which gives you a clue if you’re trying to propagate social change. If you don’t try and come at people through their screens you’re just standing behind them tapping them on the shoulder saying “Hey, over here…”. It’s really clear that there’s no way to bring about the social change that we need to deal with climate change without the use of screen media. Aside from mass media, I’m pretty certain that The Age of Stupid [which Murray animated the first three minutes of] is the most powerful tool to motivate people around climate change that exists now. It does the opposite of what I do in my film, it barely addresses the science at all. It’s set in the future and uses narrative to suck you in. Taking a historical view seems a very productive perspective . . .

“My guess is that we’ll head for a police state”

I very consciously went from peer-reviewed scientific literature to drawing some social conclusions. But I haven’t made that up – it also comes from social sciences. The scenes in my film do not depart significantly from what’s in The Age of Consequences report which a US think-tank prepared for the Pentagon. What I did was a sneaky thing, lulling people into absorbing science, then hitting them with my analysis but I defy anyone to draw significantly different conclusions. Pretty soon there will be 250 million climate refugees… are we just going to let them come here? My guess is that we’ll head for police state. I think we’ll see monumental human rights abuses of refugees in our lifetimes . . .

“Copenhagen is extremely unlikely to deliver”

I know enough about the international negotiations process to know that [the COP15 United Nations Climate Change conference in ] Copenhagen is extremely unlikely to deliver. The highest aspirations of any development nation will give us a 50:50 chance of preventing catastrophic climate change – and we know we won’t even get that. In the absence of a global worldwide revolution, which isn’t coming . . .

“I’m doing my best to sort it out. It’s irresponsible to be any other way”

I’m pessimistic in my analysis, but optimistic in my actions because I’m doing my best to sort it out. It’s irresponsible to be any other way.

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This entry was posted on September 16, 2010 by in climate change, counterpower of one and tagged , .
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