Those attending the COP24 climate negotiations in Katowice, Poland, this week have been greeted by a bizarre sight: an artistic celebration of one of the main fuels responsible for destroying the global climate.
Katowice is the centre of Poland’s coal industry and despite hosting a conference that represents the last chance saloon when it comes to taking meaningful action on climate change – local politicians pride themselves on the black stuff.
If we do make it through climate change with some form of civilisation intact we will look back at some of the things we are doing now with the moral repugnance we feel towards slavery.
There are legitimate parallels here.
Climate change will most hurt those yet to be born.
Our failure to make the dramatic changes needed to our economy and society means we are behaving as if we own the lives of future generations and have a right to steal their lives from them.
Art plays a key role in recording contemporary life but because it is exploratory and imaginative it also invites us to challenge the assumptions we live by.
In Katowice there is a counter-exhibition on coal by art students – drawing attention to the “dark side of coal”.
Meanwhile the campaign movement Art Not Oil – which has been pushing for an end to oil sponsorship of the arts – ran a parallel protest exhibition alongside the British Museum’s I Object show in opposition to financial backing from BP – a company that proudly boasts it is one of the most significant corporate investors in UK arts and culture.
Performers acted as ‘rebel curators’ – presenting objects to the public that represent BP’s complicity in climate breakdown.
Musicians are also challenging corporate sponsorship.
Neil Young is due to play a large concert in Hyde Park next summer.
Recently he criticised the event’s sponsor Barclays – declaring the bank a ‘fossil-fuel-funding entity’.
Young said such sponsorship was incompatible with his beliefs about the climate and that he was seeking to rectify the situation.
Yesterday he claimed victory – saying the concert was now proceeding without Barclays as a sponsor.
Others need to follow his lead.
And perhaps Young and other musicians concerned about climate change will also need to think carefully about the carbon footprint of performing concerts around the globe.