Photo: Bio Gas for Cooking, Bangladesh, by Vidura Jang Bahadur. More details below.
The environmentalist Phil Korbel presented a Redeye Rethink Session on 26 May 2020, and in this follow-up piece he explores how photographers can play their part in tackling climate change.
It’s my experience that the vast majority of photographers are human beings and as such the climate crisis is relevant to them. Surely though, the pandemic makes it the wrong time to talk about climate action but this is what those well known eco-lefties of The Economist had to say on the topic recently:
“Following the pandemic is like watching the climate crisis with your finger jammed on the fast-forward button. Neither the virus nor greenhouse gases care much for borders, making both scourges global. Both put the poor and vulnerable at greater risk than wealthy elites and demand government action on a scale hardly ever seen in peacetime.”
We’re psychologically hard-wired to ignore global heating as something that’s “Not me; not us; not here and not now” thus amplifying cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias to such an extent that we might as well be stuffing cotton wool in our ears. That is, until another long-predicted-by-science cataclysm zooms into view…
Advocacy on the climate crisis is built upon science which does well to engage our minds but has by and large left our hearts out of it – so this is more than ever a time for ‘arts & minds’ (forgive the pun please). I’m so enamoured of the vital role of art in being central to creating a low carbon culture that I instigated what is pretty certainly the world’s only locative audio intergenerational magic realist climate thriller. It was aired on Radio 3 and its leads (Suranne Jones and Lemn Sissay) were ace. Trouble is, it left you bereft of hope and offered no ‘agency’ i.e. no routes to action. So I, like so many in the field of climate art, reflected our own grief, self-indulging in gloom while offering no therapy.
In my Zoom talk for Redeye I railed against the climate art stereotypes – polar bears, melting ice, deserts, fire, flood and protesters – hackneyed, neutered and still endlessly re-played. So it was a relief to introduce the participants to the excellent climate change communication charity Climate Outreach, their project Climate Visuals and their research-based 7 Core Principles of Climate Communication.
Underpinning most of these principles is ‘relevance’, a feeling of connection to the image. Most people don’t feel that protesters are ‘one of them’ and if you look at small scale climate change causes (e.g. a gas guzzling car) people can feel got at and become less amenable to persuasion. There’s a lot more to it and if you’re about to take photos for this cause I’d strongly recommend a read of the full briefing here.
We concluded the session by looking at what photographers can do with their art and their own footprint. I presumed that most people there weren’t off to join Extinction Rebellion and devote all their craft to protest (but props if that is the case). That said, I did suggest that lending an hour or two to a green group would be priceless.
The Carbon Literacy Project works with Coronation Street and I like the way they’ve promoted Fair Trade – not with a storyline but by putting Fair Trade goods and logos prominently on the shop shelves in shot. So how can you normalise the low carbon, how do you make it relevant and attractive? How do you keep it in shot? I suggested that you ask yourself if the picture you’re framing says something about the climate crisis or how to tackle it. Is there for example a bicycle or a solar panel in shot? If not, could there be? This won’t work every time but do ask that question of yourself as often as possible. A great example of this thinking in practice in the film & TV sector is BAFTA Albert’s Planet Placement campaign – well worth a delve.
In terms of lowering your footprint on one hand be happy that photography is not a carbon intensive sector intent on trashing our children’s future. However, you might be in the service of one. Should you be offered a gig by a massive polluter ask yourself how well you’ll sleep once the cheque’s been cashed. On a more practical level – are you running your premises on renewable energy? It’s very likely to be the same price if not cheaper than polluting energy and while there are many switching services I like www.bigcleanswitch.org because they’re a certified B-Corp (i.e. pretty dammed ethical). Wherever possible avoid traveling to meetings (remember meetings?) and avoid solo car use and flying where possible for travel. Even if there are few ‘eco’ alternatives in your supply chain ask all your suppliers what their carbon footprint is – just asking makes a mark…
And if you’re working to minimise your work footprint please make sure you’re doing the same for your home life – as it’s fairly pointless going green for your studio if you’re still taking weekend shopping trips to New York (but that’s another blog).
As we emerge blinking into a post pandemic world there’s only one certainty – that it won’t be the same. There’s talk of ‘getting back to normal’ but ‘normal’ will likely head us straight into the path of a nature-borne calamity that we’ll never be able to self-isolate ourselves out of. If we now know what a microscopic slither of a rogue protein can do to us, just think what endemic frequent extreme weather events will do. We can’t be sure of a way to prevent it but we can be sure of one way to usher it in and that’s inaction. We all have a role to play – photographers included!
Phil Korbel is a Manchester-based social entrepreneur who used to make documentaries for Radio 4. He’s the co-founder of The Carbon Literacy Project where he is now their Director of Advocacy.
Details: Bio Gas for Cooking, Bangladesh
Mallika uses bio gas for cooking. In 2011, an NGO constructed a bio gas plant which cost Mallika and her family about USD 350. The family uses the plant for its personal consumption including cooking. Earlier, they had to use dung cakes and dry leaves for cooking. The family makes bio gas out of cow dung every day. Mallika feels that using bio gas is a much cleaner and cheaper option as there is less smoke while cooking. There is no accumulation of tar as well. She feels that although every household in the village should opt for a bio gas plant, not everyone has the means to buy one.