Sustainability and culture: a systemic perspective(by Angela Mognol)

Sustainability and culture: a systemic perspective(by Angela Mognol)

  • 21 March 2024

We present one (of 3 articles) written by Angela Mognol, an Italian musician and cultural project manager who spent six months at La Transplanisphère during her Erasmus Young Entrepreneur journey.
Angela based her Master’s thesis on  LeCake project, and decided to share with us the most interesting aspects she worked on.

Join us in exploring Angela’s discoveries!

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As the anthropologist David Graeber (2002) has written:
“One thing is saying ‘another world is possible.’ Another is to experience it, if only for an instant.”
We live in a time when we look to the future in a way that makes it increasingly difficult to imagine a paradigm in which everything will eventually be resolved. Our imagination has become impoverished, and the possibility of depicting new scenarios is becoming increasingly complex. The 2000s have brought with them great transformations and radical changes: the advent of digital technology, major economic crises, pandemics, environmental and social crisis. 

All movements that create deep, real and lasting change are able to paint a picture, whether with words, images, music, poetry, of what the future they are working to create would look, sound, taste and feel like. Think “I have a dream” (King, 1963): in a transition movement, cultural organisations must try to give communities the inspiration and the tools to look forward, to create spaces to ask “what if”, to dream ahead to how the future could be, and to then back the steps by which we might reach it.

It is vital to encourage this process, because today there are very few spaces to ask these questions, where we can freely, collaboratively create an image of the future if we mobilise people, resources and the collective imagination. 

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One of the global challenges: the environmental crisis

“In the early 1960s, due to air pollution, and especially in the countryside, due to water pollution (the clear blue rivers and transparent ditches) fireflies began to disappear. The phenomenon was lightning fast. After a few years, the fireflies were no more” (Pasolini, 1975).

 The call for urgent, collective action to address the climate emergency has never been greater than nowadays. Limiting global warming to 1.5° C, as set out by the 2015 Paris Agreement, will require countries to go much further in their commitments to reduce annual emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2021 has highlighted the next decade as a crucial window to deliver “swift, all-society, all-sector transformative action.” More than ever, real territorial transformations are needed, mobilising politicians, economic and cultural actors as part of their societal commitment, as well as associations, collectives and citizens.

However, climate change is not the only grave environmental problem facing humanity. Artur Keller, a French engineer specialising in systemic risks and resilience strategies, demonstrates that “our civilization functions as a mega-machine that converts the natural world into waste” at an unsustainable rate, contributing to the depletion of resources, pollution, and the destruction of the environment (Keller, 2023). The climate crisis is just one of many consequences of this problem, which can be summarised as an upstream pressure on resources and a downstream generation of pollution that exceeds the Earth’s capacity to absorb

In 2009, a team of international scientists showed that the stability and resilience of the Earth System is regulated by nine processes and systems – the interactions of land, ocean, atmosphere and life that together provide conditions upon which our societies depend. Those limits are: Climate change, Change in biosphere integrity (biodiversity loss and species extinction), Stratospheric ozone depletion, Ocean acidification, Biogeochemical flows (phosphorus and nitrogen cycles), Land-system change (for example deforestation), Freshwater use, Atmospheric aerosol loading (microscopic particles in the atmosphere that affect climate and living organisms), Introduction of novel entities (e.g. organic pollutants, radioactive materials, nanomaterials, and micro-plastics). In 2023, six of nine planetary boundaries have been crossed, suggesting that Earth is now well outside of the safe operating space for humanity.

Transgressing a boundary increases the risk that human activities could inadvertently drive the Earth System into a much less hospitable state, damaging efforts to reduce poverty and leading to a deterioration of human wellbeing in many parts of the world, including wealthy countries” (Will Steffen, 2019)

Figure 1

Azote (Stockholm Resilience Centre, based on analysis in Richardson et al 2023)

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A systemic crisis

Artur Keller argues that as beating cancer requires difficult and sacrificial treatment to survive, humanity faces an interrelated and urgent set of challenges that demand a coherent and all-encompassing approach (Keller, 2023). While renewable technology may reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it can also exacerbate other problems such as mineral extraction, pollution, and biodiversity loss. This global crisis requires a level of awareness and mobilisation beyond what has been done so far, as current efforts are inadequate in the face of the magnitude and urgency of the challenges.

Is plan B possible? 

Since the problem is systemic (Keller, 2023), a systemic approach to address the climate crisis is required (Barrau, 2022): it is important to consider together the different aspects of existence, to implement a transition to a world of sustainable development. This approach could involve the creation and implementation of inspiring narratives to galvanise as many people and territories as possible towards a more resilient and sustainable future; as quoted by the philosopher and astrophysicist Aurélien Barrau in the book Il faut une révolution, politique, poétique et philosophique (Zulma, 2023), “I think one has to work above all on the logos (language, rationality). Logos is the heart of the heart of Western metaphysics. For better or for worse, it is what has structured the entire history of this part of the world.”

Culture has a strong power in ideating and spreading narratives and cultural organisation have the role to spreading them to the society. UNESCO (2001) defines culture as “the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, that encompasses, not only art and literature but lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs.” Not only is climate change having a profound impact on culture – from the destruction of heritage, the disruption of artists’ livelihoods and the potential devastation to traditional ways of life – culture can also bring invaluable lessons to strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Both mitigation (reducing or preventing the impacts of climate change) and adaptation (adjusting to its now inevitable consequences) are the key pillars of global climate policy, working towards Goal 13 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda, as well as contributing to all 16 other goals.

Purpose of the research

The purpose of the research is to look into the environmental issues, and to investigate what role culture plays in participating and helping to concretely understand the challenge of the climate crisis. The research framework is set within the European cooperation project leCAKE which involves eight cultural organizations from six European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Hungary), united to explore their environmental sustainability practices. In the first and in the second chapters, ecological policies and practices in the cultural sector in the countries of France, Germany, and Italy will be explored, in order to understand their different approaches and the questions they address.  The choice of these three countries is linked to the fact that they represent three of the six founding states of the European Union (April 18th, 1951, European Coal and Steel Community), they are three neighbouring countries with distinct historical, political, and cultural identities. In this phase, the methodology used will include the consultation of published sources, interviews, video viewing, and podcast listening. 

The following articles are dedicated to a people engagement project within the context of a sustainable theatrical production, which will be implemented in France but involves collaboration with Italy and Germany, building on the knowledge gained in leCAKE until now. Co-creation, knowledge sharing, green production, want to be the main topics of the project. For the design of this phase, the methodology employed will include the use of questionnaires, focus groups, the consultations of published sources, and observations.
In the midst of this thesis lies the desire to connect the auctor’s professional experience (leCAKE) with the knowledge acquired during these years of training. The driving force is the will and curiosity to seek solutions starting from the open-ended questions of a European cooperation project on environmental sustainability

 IPCC (2021), Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, Sixth Assessment Report (AR6),the%20journal%20Science%20Advances%20shows

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