How can culture help us solve our environmental challenges, and create a more just and sustainable future?
Environmental sustainability is at its root about the health, safety, and long-term integrity of the places where we all live, work, and play. We are increasingly realizing that achieving sustainability isn’t the purview of a single sector, working in isolation, but a shared responsibility for changing how we live in relation to our natural environment and to each other. The existential crisis of climate change has made change an urgent imperative–and highlighted the ways in which our environmental challenges are, in fact, cultural at their root. Many environmental sector leaders recognize this, and are looking for new ideas, partners, methods, and tools that can help propel the social, cultural, economic, political, and physical changes we need to get us where we need to go for the future health of people and planet.
Farther, Faster, Together: How Arts and Culture Can Accelerate Environmental Progress, commissioned by ArtPlace America, shares how place-based arts and cultural interventions are helping to advance environmental sustainability in communities around the country. Our investigation covered areas of energy, water, land, waste, toxic pollution, and climate resilience and adaptation. Across these areas, we found that arts and cultural interventions can radically amplify and accelerate progress in five areas that environmental leaders say are essential for a future that is more sustainable–and more just.
Public demand sets social norms and drives business and political actions. Environmental leaders agree that the lack of strong public will for change is one of the most significant barriers to progress. Art and culture can:
- Make environmental issues personal, emotional and salient
- Make sustainability appealing by helping people see what a different future could look and feel like
Addressing the disproportionate environmental harms borne by lower-income communities and communities of color, and ensuring that these communities are beneficiaries and agents of interventions, is critical to ensuring that the future is both more sustainable and more just. Art and culture can:
- Build community cohesion, identity, power and leadership
- Create inclusive processes for dialogue and co-creation of solutions between community members and "experts"
Environmental issues often touch the ground in distinctly local ways, but progress often requires thinking and acting at a range of scales—from the hyper-local to the ecological scales of the watershed, food shed, or species range. Art and culture can:
- Help people see their local experience in a larger context
- Help people find common ground across political, geographical and ideological boundaries
Massive investments are needed to create new and more sustainable infrastructure over the next decade. This is both a challenge and an exciting opportunity to create physical environments that contribute to quality of life across many dimensions. Art and culture can:
- Create infrastructure that meets people’s social, aesthetic, and spiritual needs
- Design physical spaces that cue and reinforce sustainable thinking and behavior
Many of the drivers of our environmental problems are rooted in the structure of our economy. Environmental leaders argue that economic incentives need to shift to promote more sustainable behavior, and that we must pro-actively nurture economically viable alternatives to replace environmentally harmful industries and practices. Art and culture can:
- Generate, reveal or redefine value
- Drive sustainable local economies