Whose job is it anyway? A word on specialisation and environmentalism

In a statement from 2014 that, depending on who you’ve unfollowed on social media, you may have seen as an oft meme’d meme, James Gustave Speth somewhat infamously called for a ‘new environmentalism’.

“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

An environmental lawyer and professor, co-founder of the NRDC (which is actually real and not just something invented by the writers from How I Met Your Mother as the dream job that Marshall almost wussed out on), and advisor to much loved US President Jimmy Carter – Gus Speth knows a thing or two about what is needed to mitigate the devastating effects of a changing climate.

And he is right; it’s mind-numbingly evident in our society that climate science, manufactured doubt and all, has been insufficient in creating enough of an attitude shift for Coles to even be able to ask that we bring our own bag to the supermarket.

So, in the words of Australian rock legends (and soundtrack to my adolescence), the in this case aptly named Living End, but also Gavin DeGraw (remember him?), and Crystal Cities (hadn’t heard of them) – who is gonna save us?

If science alone couldn’t bring us back from the brink, how effective have cross-disciplinary solutions been in supporting the “cultural and spiritual transformation” Speth claims that we need, on the scale that we need?

Photo credit comfreak via pixabay


Music to my fears

Late last week, August 3, 2018, Grammy-award-winning indie juggernaut Bon Iver took to Instagram to issue a public endorsement for Wisconsin Governor hopeful, Kelda Roys – a proud environmental advocate. The comments section (I know, I know…) speaks volumes about popular attitudes to ideologised music.

Music has a long history of involving itself in politics. Who would have it any other way? The social impact of artists like Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, or more recently Pussy Riot, or – I can’t believe I’m going to say it – Beyonce, have been profound and far reaching. Melody and empowerment have gone hand in hand for centuries.

Ecologically speaking, imagine a world without Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ (it’s not a song about Uber), or Yusuf Islam’s (AKA Cat Stevens) ‘Where do the Children Play?’ – it’s impossible; we have always used music to remind us of what is important.

“Oh man, I really used to like them” – photo credit headway via Unsplash

Film me in

‘The pictures’, as my Nan used to call them, have challenges of their own. According to IMDB, Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, the film that in a sense popularised the climate change issue, is ranked #47 on the top-grossing-US-documentaries of all-time list. Not bad, until you consider that there are three ‘Jackass’ titles above it on that list, including one at #2, and the franchise has generated enough traction to earn almost 11 times as much at the box office.

This is a fascinating stat (and not just because IMDB apparently considers Jackass to be a documentary), as it is illustrative of what the punter is willing to invest their time and money in when it comes to the big screen. Additionally, Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Sequel’ grossed about a quarter of his first effort; evidently the limited appeal of hard-hitting climate science wore off quickly.


Who’s gonna save us?

Notwithstanding the significant influence that countless projects like these have had on broadening ecological consciousness, perhaps the Achilles heel of these mediums (despite the pesky interests of the consumer) is that they exist in some other dimension, one that has a stop button.

Maybe we need something more multi-dimensional. Is it the undeniable immersion of theatre arts, or a forest in the city, or more farms that teach food and environmental literacy, or a time machine that can generate a visceral enough experience to encourage change en masse?

I don’t know, but if you have any ideas about how we can bridge the specialisation gap and confront our apathy, I’m sure Gus and the polar ice caps would be keen to hear them.




4 Responses to “Whose job is it anyway? A word on specialisation and environmentalism”

  1. Kieran Christopherson says:

    Thanks Flora!

    There is some beautiful music written about Mother Nature.

    It’s no mistake that the first ever Earth Day was celebrated the year after the first Woodstock; music, counter-culture and environmentalism were the spirit of those times.

    Here is a bit of a list to get you started:


  2. Flora Norton says:

    Loved this! Some great writing and well chosen images. I’d never thought of environmental concerns being present in music before, very interesting 🙂

  3. Kieran Christopherson says:

    Hey Aisyah,

    I don’t think it’s nitpicking! I agree that the phrase is almost definitely not applicable across the board, and with a greater word count that would indeed need to be addressed.

    However, Bob Dylan did receive a Nobel Prize for literature, and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver collaborated with an engineer to design a brand new piece of equipment to generate loops an samples for his last album. So in some cases, I think the approach and mentality is such that we should be encouraged to consider that an individual from that scene could be moving in that direction.

    However, not in the case of Jackass, I find that whole thing baffling. And you’re right, it’s far too easy to disengage, because that is indeed how the world is structured.

    Really appreciate your feedback.

  4. Aisyah says:

    Hey Kieran, really cool stuff. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but I don’t know whether I’d use the term “cross-disciplinary” when writing about when pop culture interacts with science.

    I do agree that it’s too easy to disengage ourselves from the issue of climate change. At the same time, I personally find it demotivating when we try to be environmentally-conscious consumers, yet the fact that the fossil fuel industry and its lobbyists show no signs of slowing down negates our efforts.

    Your writing style’s great! Clear and engaging. Loved the sub-headings, and I’m equal parts intrigued and bemused by that little bit of Jackass trivia.