I’ve become a big fan of Franke James’ art “which is not afraid to speak out” and her riveting social messaging about our world’s most critical issues such as climate change, the pricing of carbon, freedom of expression and the erosion of democracy. I met Franke at the Climate Reality Leadership 2013 conference in Chicago. With her permission, I’ve featured some of her blog posts on BoomerWarrior on many occasions. This visual blog post was first published during The Real Poop on Social Change Exhibition held from October 9 to November 9, 2014.
2015 will be the year of The Big Leap. It will be the most important year the Climate Movement has ever encountered leading up to the 2015 COP21 (Conference of the Parties) climate agreement for the reduction of emissions. Many say this is humanity’s last chance to escape the ravages of runaway global warming. I’m one of those people. (BoomerWarrior Editor ~ Rolly Montpellier).
The Big Leap: From Picking Up Dog Poop to Getting Off Fossil Fuels
Franke James believes that if you can get people to pick up dog poop, you can get them to do a lot of other things such as getting off fossil fuels. “The success of the New York Poop Scooper Law gives us the template we can use to reduce carbon pollution,” says Franke.
“It’s a big leap though, isn’t it, dog poop to giant job creating emissions and industrial projects, and so on?” Gregor Craigie, CBC The Island
That’s what CBC Host, Gregor Craigie, asked me during my radio interview about the Real Poop show.
I laughed at Gregor’s question — because persuading industry (and citizens) to reduce carbon emissions is a challenge. Many people don’t even want to think about climate change. And can’t make the mental leap that citizens picking up dog poop could provide the answer to such a big global problem.
In fact the success of the New York Poop Scooper Law gives us the template we can use to reduce carbon pollution.
Back in 1978 there were many naysayers who said that citizens would never, never, ever pick up after their beloved dogs — but miraculously, people did!! And it’s been such a success that many municipalities in North America have copied the NYC legislation. Dog-owners now are expected to stoop and scoop — or face a fine and the glare of angry onlookers. There is a great lesson for us in that. If people can be convinced to pick up dog poop — what else will they be willing to do — with the right incentive — for the good of society and the planet? We just haven’t aimed high enough. Changing light bulbs? Pffft! We need a hefty price on carbon pollution. That will encourage people to switch in a hurry.
Smoking. Drunk Driving. Recycling Trash. Next Goal: Carbon Pollution!
With the right combination of policy and social awareness, society can make big changes. Doubtful? Well, just take a minute to remember some of the big ways that society has already changed for the better.
Smoking has been outlawed in most public places. Drunk driving is now seen as a major taboo. Recycling and composting is commonplace. And most people do pick up after their dogs. These are all examples of how policy and social awareness (and social pressure) can work together to change our behaviour. Music is another great example. Just 30 years ago, we listened to music on vinyl albums. Now we carry music around with us. And, that is not just a technological change, it’s a behavioural change.
We need to make a similar behaviour change to whack down our carbon emissions. The fossil fuel divestment campaign is making strides. Modelled on the anti-apartheid movement, fossil fuels are becoming a pariah investment. The Heirs to the Rockefeller oil fortune recently divested from fossil fuels over climate change. Their $50 billion dollar decision sent shockwaves around the world, and in Canada’s oil patch.
But how can we reduce carbon pollution when the Harper government wants to use the sky as a free sewer? And they don’t even want us talking about climate change!
Unfortunately climate change is not going away, and every year we delay, we are just making things worse and more expensive to tackle. The final IPCC report was just published and it states unequivocally that “Time is not on our side:
U.N. climate change report: “Time is not on our side”
“Climate change is happening, it’s almost entirely man’s fault and limiting its impacts may require reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero this century… Amid its grim projections, the report also offered hope. The tools needed to set the world on a low-emissions path are there; it just has to break its addiction to the oil, coal and gas that power the global energy system while polluting the atmosphere with heat-trapping CO2, the chief greenhouse gas… “We have the means to limit climate change,” IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said. “All we need is the will to change, which we trust will be motivated by knowledge and an understanding of the science of climate change.” Read the article…
Since political will is a major factor in initiating “change”, I approached Murray Rankin, Member of Parliamentfor Victoria, BC for his thoughts. He has been a strong voice in Parliament…
Murray Rankin, MP:
“Canada could be leading the fight against climate change, but instead we have become an international embarrassment. Beyond just muzzling our scientists, last week it was revealed that the government is muzzling weather forecasters at Environment Canada by not allowing them to even discuss climate change in public. Conservatives have systematically undermined scientific freedoms, defunded basic research capacity, dismantled the National Research Council and gutted environmental assessment.
“They think that if we don’t talk about climate change, and if we don’t measure the effects, that it will go away. Canadians know better. They know climate change is happening and that Conservative climate change denial will not help Canada transition to renewable energies. That is why New Democrats are working to legislate science-based emissions targets. We have a plan to transition to a lower carbon economy that includes smart investment in Canada’s clean energy sector and developing our natural resources more sustainably. It’s time to take action on climate change!”
Murray sent me a remarkable letter that really nailed the problem we’re facing — and also let me know that my art has been noticed in Ottawa — and is greatly appreciated (by some)!
“Between the release of the Environment Commissioner’s report detailing the failure of the Conservative government to meet even its own modest emissions reductions targets and new research into the muzzling of scientists, for many of us it has been a week that reaffirmed our commitment to bring change to Parliament Hill.”
“Among the many who have felt the Harper government’s contempt for anyone committed to action on climate change, Franke James stands out for her indomitable energy and resolve, and for the creativity of her activism. Franke’s commitment to the environment, social justice and freedom of expression was only strengthened by the government’s shameful attempts to censor her. I was so happy to see her many years of work recognized this year by the BC Civil Liberties Association.
“Thank you, Franke, for your art and your activism. Those of us fighting in Parliament against the government’s auditing of environmental groups, its muzzling of federal scientists, its decimation of Canada’s environmental laws have a remarkable and passionate ally in you.” ~ Murray Rankin, October 9, 2014
Guest speakers Tom Pedersen and Carol Linnitt at the opening
The times they are a’changing: My Member of Parliament’s recognition of the urgent need for change in Ottawa is the perfect segue to Dr. Thomas Pedersen, from the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions and Carol Linnitt from DeSmog Canada who joined me in speaking about politics, art, and how to make real change happen.
Dr. Thomas Pedersen, Executive Director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions spoke at the opening of my show, ‘The Real Poop on Social Change’ on October 9th. Read part of Tom’s speech
Tom Pedersen flattered me in his opening remarks…
“I think Franke is a bedbug. I think she’s right there biting and scratching and itching and tormenting. And you know, we have to have that if we’re going to make progress with the current government that we have ensconced in Ottawa. We’re not going to make progress unless we have thousands of bedbugs out there agitating all the time for change.”
Tom is exactly right. We do need thousands of bedbugs agitating for change — and if they can use art to communicate their ideas on change — all the better.
“the role of art in fomenting change in our society… is critical.”
Dr. Thomas Pedersen, The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions
“Banned on the Hill. It’s absolutely outstanding. It’s a tour de force and if you haven’t bought a copy,buy one. And then buy a second one for your kids and your grandchildren. Because we’ve got to get the youth. We don’t have an awful lot of youth in the room here tonight.
We need more youth to start reading these books because it, it resonates with them. Franke gave me a copy, I have a 17 year-old son. He looked through it and he said, “Wow.” He said, “Dad this is better than anything you do.” (laughter)
Well, he’s right. He’s right because he immediately related to the visual [power that Franke generated]. Now on the cover of that book you’ll see the clock tower, in Parliament and on the side of it there’s a big cockroach and that cockroach is there because a friend of Franke’s and a friend of mine, Richard Littlemore, he’s a brilliant writer based in Vancouver, suggested to Franke that she was being a cockroach…
Carol Linnitt from DeSmog Canada
Carol Linnitt, Managing Editor and Director of Research at DeSmog Canada, spoke about the big changes we’ve seen in Canada in the last five years. Read part of Carol’s speech
“The government thought that they could silence its citizen. They just chose the wrong one with Franke James.” Carol Linnitt, DeSmog Canada
“Those early days of Franke’s bed bug biting… and access to information requests showed how the government was talking about her behind the scenes. I think Franke, in that regard, was way ahead of the curve. I don’t think anyone a few years ago would have anticipated that going into this next year, before the next federal election, that some of the major issues Canadians would be concerned about… would be things like democracy and freedom of expression, and freedom of the press. I don’t think we would have anticipated the headlines over the last little while saying “Harper’s Enemy List,” or “Muzzling Of Scientists,” or “Politically Motivated Audits.”
…The government thought that they could silence its citizen. They just chose the wrong one with Franke James. She was obviously the wrong person to try and silence. She’s made that abundantly clear again and again and again. Our journalists are losing their jobs and our scientists are being muzzled. Franke James has put up that poster, “Do not talk about climate change,” across the street from Parliament in Ottawa. She put up that same poster across the street from [Capitol Hill] in Washington DC. She’s taking this message with her everywhere. And she’s clearly not stopping. And she’s got a lot of support. A lot of that support’s here in this room.”
“In a dream world Franke would be teamed up with every single climate scientist across the planet to come up with these types of ways to convey messaging.” Carol Linnitt, Managing Editor and Director of Research at DeSmog Canada
And then it was my turn. I spoke about social change, freedom of expression and more…
Franke James, artist and author of ‘Banned on the Hill’ at the opening of her show, ‘The Real Poop on Social Change’ on October 9th. Read part of Franke’s speech
“Before this all happened, I really did not appreciate the importance of free expression. I didn’t worry about censorship.”
“I never realized how much at risk we are. And how important free expression is in a democracy. But being told to shut up about such an important issue, really brought it home. And so, I’m not going to thank Stephen Harper for blacklisting me, however, I have learned an awful lot….
“I’ve had a certain amount of fun in going through all of this. And it’s such a kick to realize that the bureaucrats thought that they could shut me up by preventing my work from being shown on walls in Europe. And I am going, “No, I’m sorry. I’m going to take that work which is digital, and we’re going to put it right in your face in Ottawa, right around the corner from the Parliament buildings. And we’re going to show people, and we’re going to get people talking.” Because so many Canadians have their head buried in the tar sands about the issue of climate change. They are not getting the facts about climate change. They don’t understand the risk. And that’s why it’s important to have messengers like me…
“When I first realized that I’d been blacklisted, I called up a whole bunch of smart people… One person said “Run towards the controversy.” And I went “What? Run towards the controversy?” Like, how stupid do you think I am, I mean really? Run towards the controversy? But actually, he was right, because it’s only by running bravely right into the fire that you are going to expose the wrongdoing. That’s how you hold them accountable. You have to be brave and just run into that controversy. It’s crazy, but that was a good piece of advice.