Fun and flexibility in the era of climate crisis

I recently heard that climate comedy is finally hitting prime-time entertainment.

It appears the penny is dropping: if we’re to sustain the Herculean level of social reinvention the climate crisis demands of us, we’re going to need a laugh along the way.

Plenty of laughs, in fact – and psychological resilience and flexibility.

I’ve long been a believer in the benefits of improvisation exercises and games. This article in Psychology Today cites evidence that they help us:

  • tolerate uncertainty
  • think creatively
  • feel better

And while not all improv is about generating comedy, it typically delivers a lot of laughter.

All of which reminds me of a project I was involved in a couple of years ago…

Zero carbon + improv = ?

I was taking part in the Centre for Alternative Technology’s Zero Carbon Britain course (in 2017) when it first occurred to me that zero carbon thinking might go well with improv.

In the final section of the course, we explored ways participants could take Zero Carbon Britain insights out into our everyday world.

I chose to focus on the role of the arts. By day, I’m an editor and writer, but I’ve also been involved in community theatre, improv and Fun Palaces, and I know there are endless ways beyond the page for words to foster social and environmental solutions. I’m open to exploring any of them.

Zero Carbon Britain banner: ZCB logo with the words 'Rising to the climate emergency'

The shift to safe carbon practices is going to involve some deeply personal changes for all of us, and if we’re to remain (fairly!) stable and happy as we go, we’ll need to be able to do these things:

  • tolerate change and uncertainty
  • think in new ways
  • enjoy the moment as far as possible

So, how to make sure we have these capabilities? Learn to improvise, in pursuit of…

  • acceptance / realism

Yes, and.’ Accept where we are and work from there. Or rather, here.

  • imagination / inventiveness

‘Yes, and.’ Find new possibilities, grounded in the new reality.

  • present-moment quality of life

As a result, increase spontaneity, reciprocity, reward, fun.

Illustration by artist Bauke Shildt showing a stick figure avoiding stepping off a cliff - with the words 'Yes, but' struck out - and instead seeking solutions such as hang-gliding with others - 'Yes, and'
Image by Bauke Schildt
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After trauma: writing for truth and justice

Many times over the years, people have recommended I read The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.

(Or, to give it its full title, The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma.)

The book lays out a modern understanding of trauma and describes therapeutic approaches that many traumatised people find helpful.

It also shines a light on the often-shocking ways individuals such as war veterans and abused children were treated in the past. Thank goodness there is more enlightened guidance on offer these days – for those who choose to heed it.

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk - book cover

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Of good deeds and doughnuts

To die extremely rich is disgraceful. So said Andrew Carnegie.

More precisely, he said, ‘…the man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.’

Carnegie was a successful industrialist and later a philanthropist, and his philanthropic legacy includes thousands of public libraries, as well as vast investments in education and research.

The very first library I loved was a Carnegie library. Sadly, it’s now sitting empty as a result of funding cuts.

Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie. Source

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Are you a (climate) realist yet?

Would you say you’re a realist?

According to Oxford Dictionaries, that would be ‘A person who accepts a situation as it is and is prepared to deal with it accordingly’.

On 30th June 2020, I took part in the Climate Coalition’s virtual lobby. I spent an hour on Zoom with my MP and around twenty other constituents, talking about climate reality and climate solutions.

The reality in 2020 is that we have already seriously destabilised our climate (the one that keeps us alive) and we have major work to do to buy ourselves time to

  • adapt and survive
  • restore as much stability as we can.

BUT the reality in 2020 is also that there are endless impactful ways to do this work – regenerative land management, fossil fuel divestment, retrofitting, community wealth building, expansion of renewables, lobbying and protest, policymaking…

The list goes on. (more…)

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Communicating climate change: from words to solutions

In the most recent episode of BBC Radio 4’s Word of Mouth (14th January 2020), author Michael Rosen spoke to George Marshall of Climate Outreach about communicating climate change in ways that are relatable and true to life.

They know their stuff, of course, and listening to their conversation was half an hour well spent.

Michael Rosen

Michael Rosen. Credit

Words into action

In the climate crisis, we’re seeing something truly unprecedented. We face major challenges as we try to get a critical mass of people to respond as necessary – to engage with what’s unfolding and take action to protect the habitat we all depend on.

How well we communicate this necessity – in the media, in boardrooms and government chambers, over the garden fence, and everywhere – will determine the pace of change.

I recommend listening to the full Word of Mouth episode for all the fascinating detail, but in the spirit of spreading the word in urgent times I’ve also briefly summarised the insights I took from it.

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The power of speech, and speaking to power

How we communicate about the climate crisis matters, of course – the words we use and the occasions on which we choose to deploy them.

I live in a part of the world (the UK) already affected by climate change but not yet overwhelmed by it. Most climate-related death and disease, most of the climate refugees, have so far come from other places.

So when I talk (or write) about climate breakdown, I am often talking (or writing) about events at a remove – far from home, or in a potential future. This adds to the challenge of communicating persuasively in some cases.

And so do the angry reactions it’s possible to provoke just by raising the subject.

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