With the COP21 beginning in Paris on November 30, over 130 leaders from around the world will convene to hopefully reach a deal (which would go into play in 2020) limiting carbon emissions — for the first time, in a manner that’s legally binding — in an attempt to save the planet-ish.And on top of those 130+ leaders who’ll actually be making the decisions — or harmful indecisions — within the summit itself, environmental activists (who can no longer demonstrate in Paris) are left to simply predict the outcomes of the summit.
Outside of being the mellifluous voice of universal moroseness and an eccentric dancer who can only be described as the king of limbs, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke happens to be one such environmental activist. Télérama brought him together with The Guardian’s George Monbiot to discuss the possibilities and limitations of activism through art — as well as the possibilities and limitations of the upcoming climate change summit.
Yorke speaks, in the discussion, of having first become engaged in climate change discourse in the late 90s, following a debate on the BBC between “a misinformed scientist and a climate-change skeptic.” Despite his involvement with Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and art.350.org, he describes how the nature of “protest” art — and people’s reception of it — has changed since the 60s, when it was far more valorized. He said:
Now, if I decided to imitate John Lennon and Yoko Ono when they did the bed-in for peace thing back in 1969, if I were to lie in bed for a week, I don’t really expect someone to come along and make a video. In the 60’s, you could write songs that were like calls to arms, and it would work…It’s much harder to do that now. If I was going to write a protest song about climate change in 2015, it would be shit. It’s not like one song or one piece of art or one book is going to change someone’s mind. However, things happen gradually and accusatively and that is when it snowballs…I believe that any great work of art is, in itself, a form of resistance against a sense of powerlessness. The struggle against this feeling and the dissonance between our deepest feelings and what we are being told: these are the things that have always had a place in my lyrics.
The powerlessness of which he speaks, he claims, currently comes from the disparity between what the globe can physically offer and what governments tell us we need:
To my mind, the sense of powerlessness comes from the fact that the 7 billion of us have accepted the fact that resources are limited without acknowledging that we have an economic system based on unlimited growth. Mobilizing people to get back into politics will only come about when we realize that economics and the environment are two sides of the same coin one and the same thing.
The conversation between Yorke and Monbiot gives way to a bit of an actual debate, with Monbiot seeming almost certain that the summit will be an “inevitable failure” because “change never or very seldom comes from the political centre” and Yorke saying he thinks “the leaders are not going to get away with it this time.” Yorke emphasizes his fury over a past failure of one of the summits: how COP15 neglected discussions to aid certain island countries that were the most vulnerable. He said:
Recently, I tweeted a video of COP19 in Warsaw where The Chief negotiator of the Philippines responds very emotionally to the devastation caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan and everyone around is like nothing is happening. I think we need a little bit more hysteria, a few more tears on the UN floor.