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What Can Our Major Cultural Institutions Do to Get the Message Across on Climate Change?

10/04/2015 14:46 BST | Updated 10/06/2015 10:59 BST

Last Thursday, the leaders of Britain's seven main political parties spent two hours debating the key issues facing our nation today. Yet the topic of climate change only got around a minute of screen time when Natalie Bennett began addressing how to make the future seem brighter for the next generation, before the conversation was abruptly moved along.

So why didn't more of the party leaders prioritise climate change in their answers? Do they think 'being green' isn't a critical enough issue to win them a significant number of votes? Or is it that a global concern doesn't belong in an election debate about exclusively British politics? Or maybe these are the wrong questions to ask and more importantly we should be asking why the audience did not press the issue? After all, it is only the destruction of our planet we are talking about.

It is worth considering that there may be a single answer to these sprawling questions. That simply, the perceived complexity of climate change, as a puzzle of science and policy, is just too difficult to discuss succinctly, while sustaining the interest of the audience. This may be an insult to the nation's intelligence, but it is true that the message on climate change is sometimes murky, which is often in no part helped by its presentation in the media.

So, we need to find new ways to address the elephant in the room. The Guardian, for example, in using its influence to encourage corporate divestment while targeting a liberal audience and not just pointing fingers at bad guys, has recognised a strategy that needs to be continued. We need more messages that are creative, clear and accessible to a large audience.

Across the UK, many independent organisations are doing brilliant work to forge this link between scientific fact and creative responses. Just next month is the fifth UK Green Film Festival, which will be screening documentaries up and down the country, showcasing various international perspectives on the challenges of climate change. While we should praise the gumption of these independent organisations, we cannot expect them to continue to bear the weight of this much too heavy issue by themselves. It only serves to perpetuate the myth that climate change is somehow a marginal issue. What we need are more gestures, whether symbolic or politically affective (though hopefully both) from our leading organisations, to help democratise access to a topic which often comes across as distant and statistical.

Perhaps the visual arts could be the first to step up. If museums promise to be at the cutting edge of contemporary practices, then now more than ever they should recognise that visual art can be an effective communicative tool. A growing number of artists are using photography and video to great effect, eroding the elitism of 'high art' by bringing their practice in line with our every day screen-gazing lives. Not to mention that there are loads of artists intent on addressing climate change in their work. So how about the Tate uses the funding from its new gas-guzzling partners, Hyundai to commission a new piece in its Turbine Hall that confronts climate change, there is certainly the demand for it.

I know what you must be thinking...art, really? What good is that? But for centuries the arts have had the power to sway the hearts and minds more than cold facts and figures, so why not see whether a marriage of the arts and science might give birth to some novel and practical responses.

Well, how about it? Is this vision too naïve, too utopian? Can art change the world? At the risk of sounding like Ed Miliband to Jeremy Paxman, 'hell yes!' it can and frankly, even if it can't, we ought to be doing something more to talk about climate change in evocative and imaginative ways. If the reporting of the facts is not dramatic enough, then it is imperative that we enlist the help of the arts in whatever ways we can. Surely our musicians, our theatres, and particularly our television networks, too, can do much more. Why not see if Britain can pioneer a cohesive cultural movement, formulating new ways to reverse climate disaster creatively, ensuring the message gets across loud and clear to those who may have the power to affect change, but are choosing not to.

It needs to happen and it needs to happen now, because we're already behind schedule.