Imperial College London

Brian Eno – "We need the creative industry to help inspire climate action"

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Brian Eno speaks at the annual Grantham Institute lecture

Brian Eno calls for the creative industry to get behind scientists at the Grantham Institute Annual Lecture at Imperial College London.

Music legend, Brian Eno, has called for the creative industry to get behind scientists and help inspire action on climate change.

The renowned musician, producer, visual artist and activist, said stories and narratives, rather than raw information, held the power to motivate climate action, and that the creative industries needed to get behind climate scientists to help deliver messages on the future of the planet. 

Music, fashion, television and social media, already spoke to people in a human way, said Mr Eno, and they inspired trends, drove interdisciplinary collaboration, sparked innovation, and elicited action. 

But the power of the creative industries to inspire movements was largely absent from high-level discussions on climate change, such as at COP (Conference of the Parties), or in communicating scientific findings, such as from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). 

Watch music legend, Brian Eno, call on the creative industries to help inspire action on climate change, during the Grantham Institute Annual Lecture, at Imperial College London.

This needed to change, said Mr Eno, who was speaking at this years’ Grantham Institute Annual Lecture at Imperial College London, so that the creative industries were put at the heart of driving change on environmental challenges.  

Mr Eno’s call to action came the week the UN climate change conference COP27 failed to cement further commitment from world leaders on keeping world temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, despite a year of increased heatwaves, flooding, wildfires and hurricanes. 

 Brian Eno addresses the audience at Imperial College London, where he called for the creative industries to use their skills in story-telling and inspiring change, to help scientists better communicate the urgency of climate action.
Brian Eno addresses the audience at Imperial College London, where he called for the creative industries to use their skills in story-telling and inspiring change, to help scientists better communicate the urgency of climate action.

“Humans are not computers” 

“The mistake we make with the climate movement is we assume that humans are information processors,” said Mr Eno, “as if they are computers and if we stick enough data in, they are bound to respond in one way or another – and that clearly hasn't worked.  


Information is not changing our minds – most people make decisions on the basis of feelings Brian Eno

“We know the information. But information is not changing our minds. Most people make decisions on the basis of feelings, including the most important decisions in life – what football team you support, who you marry, which house you live in. That is how we make choices.” 

“Thought is at the basis of our feelings, and before we have ideas we have feelings that lead to those ideas. So how do we change minds? A change in feelings changes minds.” 

Brian Eno said feelings were what we all based most of our decisions on, not hard information.
Brian Eno said feelings were what we all based most of our decisions on, not hard information.

"Too much stick, not enough carrot” 

Recounting examples of the importance of storylines in TV drama, Mr Eno said we could learn from narratives.  


“A vision is needed that the world is worth fighting for. We need to rethink the way the world works now.”   Brian Eno

“There is too much stick and not enough carrot,” when communicating climate change, said Mr Eno, adding that many people felt powerless.  

“A vision is needed that the world is worth fighting for. We need to rethink the way the world works now.”  

Explaining that there is already a huge movement in place across the globe working to reduce climate emissions, Mr Eno said a revolution of action was needed, adding that we are the only known populated planet in the Universe and that this should be worth fighting for.  

Revolutions rise after two trends, said Mr Eno; “Firstly, when everyone realises something is wrong, and secondly, when everyone realises that everyone else has realised.” 


Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, Chair of the Grantham Institute, said scientists needed the arts to help communicate their messages
Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, Chair of the Grantham Institute, said scientists needed the arts to help communicate their messages



Scientists need help to communicating climate message  

Mr Eno‘s lecture was introduced by Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, Chair of the Grantham Institute, who said:  

“I have been giving talks on climate change for 47 years. You could call me and other climate scientists failures in getting everyone to act on limiting climate change. We need the arts and music – scientists alone are not enough to deliver messages about the climate crisis.” 

He stressed the need for positive narratives that struck the balance between optimism and urgency, working with emotions and facts to catalyse positive change.  

“We are all realising individually that there is a real problem; that is phase one of the revolution. And now, we are just getting together for the second stage of the revolution. Love triumphs and we have to love our planet and the life on it,” said Professor Sir Brian Hoskins.  

Brian Eno and panellists called for a vision that people could get behind, as crisis fatigue had settled in after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Brian Eno and panellists called for a vision that people could get behind, as crisis fatigue had settled in after the Covid-19 pandemic.

positive vision needed to get over crisis fatigue

“Crisis fatigue” and voluntary emissions targets were not helping climate action, said panellists following the lecture.  

“We need to paint a picture of the world we want to live in and leave to our children,” Nilesha Chuavet

Nilesha Chauvet, Managing Director of purpose-driven creative agency, GOOD Agency, said there was a “crisis fatigue” among people who had gone from the Covid crisis to the cost-of-living crisis. She said “not enough of the truth is being told” and criticised companies for greenwashing.  

“We need to paint a picture of the world we want to live in and leave to our children,” said Ms Chauvet. “People do not want to engage in doom and gloom conversations. We need to get people to engage in solutions.” 

Voluntary targets for the oil and gas industry were not enough, added Baroness Young of Hornsey OBE, another panelist and actress, author, political and sustainable fashion activist, and Chancellor of the University of Nottingham.  

She called for legislation, and said two thirds of people believed climate change needed to be dealt with urgently, according to the UN.  

A word cloud of audience participation from the event.
A word cloud of audience participation from the event.

Artists need less criticism for trying to make a difference 

Professor Carly McLachlan, Director of Tyndall Manchester, at the University of Manchester, who has been working with the band Massive Attack to reduce their carbon footprint, said that “there needs to be pathways in place so there is a safer way for artists to do this without the critique.” 

Mr Eno agreed, saying interviewers often call artists hypocrites when they try to decarbonise.  

“We are all hypocrites with one bad option and on slightly better one – but we still need to do something,” he said, quoting journalist and climate campaigner George Monbiot, “because we are enmeshed in the system we are trying to change.”  

Meanwhile, Jason deCaires Taylor, sculptor and creator of the world's first underwater sculpture park, described culture as “the new religion – a new way of organising societies”, and called for more positive art showing symbiotic relationships with nature. 

Mr Eno’s lecture was entitled ‘The ever-growing climate movement: Creating and shaping climate change narratives through culture, creativity and innovation’. 

How we can unite to tell more powerful stories 

The lecture concluded with these recommendations from the panel: 

  1. Build a broad alliance to tackle climate change to strengthen the climate movement’s power to influence change.
  2. Find and communicate the powerful, emotive and hopeful stories, through all means, from adverts to TV drama lines, to help communities align behind a single narrative to take action.
  3. Harness the power of organised societies, including religious communities, in the climate movement.
  4. Treat the climate crisis as a legitimate security issue and work with governmental bodies and the military.

Read about art and influence and the power of culture and community, in ‘Outlook 2021-22’, the Grantham Institute’s annual magazine. 

Watch the Grantham Institute’s former Annual Lectures on our YouTube playlist.  

Reporters

Hana Amer

Hana Amer
Business School

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Contact details

Email: h.amer@imperial.ac.uk

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Linsey Wynton

Linsey Wynton
The Grantham Institute for Climate Change

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