Sustainability as a concept is a term that we hear all the time. But aren’t we, in fact, catastrophically poor at recognising the unsustainability that threads through our daily lives and which is rapidly increasing. I know I feel that when I consider one of the planetary tipping points, biodiversity loss, is rarely mentioned in public discourse of current land practices or in contemporary art that might be focussed on new debates concerning landscape art photography. The other day I had a group of college art students visiting Hollywood – most of them didn’t seem to know the rate of biodiversity loss that industrial land and ocean practices are causing – the estimated and unprecedented loss of 150 species a day (UN, 2010 figures).
And our rate of biodiversity loss exceeds one of 4 planetary boundaries scientists have confirmed as needed to sustain life on Earth (frighteningly, climate change which is more often discussed comes in behind biodiversity loss of the 9 planetary boundaries that the UN accepted in 2009). How do we face these realities and proceed? Do we need more science to add to the volumes of facts that we have known for decades? More sustainable ‘development’ policies that seem to suggest that we can continue to grow our consumer lifestyles infinitely?? Instead, in my recent talk for Collective Conversations about Sustainability (see below) at The Lab Gallery, Dublin a few weeks ago I speak about the crucial, and often overlooked role, that the arts have for societal change in this time of environmental emergency.
Philosopher, nature writer and activist Kathleen Dean Moore recently spoke with writer and environmental activist Derrick Jensen of the urgency of this decade as the ‘hinge decade’ where we must come together to create a ‘social tipping point’ for new relations to others and the environments that sustain life. Dean Moore and Jensen argue we need to recognise the simplistic or distracting dangers in concentrating our discussions on recycling or adaptation. Instead, it is vital to resist the conventions that industrial culture perpetuates and, critically, we need to recognise where and with whom the power of unsustainable industrial practices lie. But to reach this point Dean Moore argues we have to develop the moral discourse, the skills of rational moral reasoning and add these urgently to our scientific understanding to help propel society in other more life sustaining directions. (more…)