Views Columnist Jeevan Farthing reviews Friends of the Earth's pop-up exhibition, which draws on similarities between the effects of the climate crisis everywhere, but which also depict's the strength of humanity's ever-guiding light: hope.
Living 10 minutes away from COP26 hasn’t fostered my engagement with it. The plethora of bollards, railings and police motorbikes physically separate the happenings of the conference from the rest of Glasgow. It was on the other side of the Clyde, in a repurposed tramworks, where climate justice felt almost tangible last Thursday.
"From Scotland to Sarawak: Global stories of climate resistance" is a pop-up exhibition curated by Friends of the Earth. Running until the end of COP26, it unashamedly recognises collectivism as fundamental to any successful climate strategy.
Upon entering the exhibition it is immediately obvious that those living in the Global South are not an afterthought. Ibu Rumsiah is the poster girl, resisting the harmful effects of coal mining in rural Indonesia. Such an explicit focus on those already suffering the most from climate breakdown contrasts the criticism of COP26 as inaccessible for poorer and smaller nations.
"Such an explicit focus on those already suffering the most from climate breakdown contrasts the criticism of COP26 as inaccessible..."
Rumsiah’s story allows Friends of the Earth to frame fighting for climate justice as not just the right thing to do, but the intersectionally feminist thing to do. In the photograph Rumsiah is defiant, but she is also alone. It is an apt reminder that collective solidarity, otherwise ubiquitous in this collection, can be difficult to forge among those that are especially marginalised. Indeed, the text explains that the contamination of rivers by polluting industries disproportionately impacts women in the Global South, as they are usually responsible for collecting water.
The stories of individuals are supplemented by a wider, even if more implicit, critique of the economic system sustaining climate destruction. One section of the exhibition focuses specifically on the Milamba community in Mozambique, where the discovery of natural gas and its subsequent extraction have resulted in the displacement of nearly 700,000 local people. A particularly poignant photograph depicts three children in the area; the two visibly older ones are smiling and laughing, while the infant stares thoughtfully into the distance. Reversing the expectation that the younger mind bears greater innocence and unawareness of the destruction surrounding them, it is an indictment of initiatives that prioritise short-term profit over long-term sustainability.
Alas it is the final section of the exhibition, depicting collective solutions to climate destruction, that makes the collection so beautiful and yet so poignant. There is an inherent juxtaposition: the room feels almost clinical with its white strip lights and white paint, but its photographs are full of warmth, hope, cultivation and innovation.
"There is an inherent juxtaposition: the room feels almost clinical with its white strip lights and white paint, but its photographs are full of warmth..."
One photograph focuses on the efforts of a school in Palestine. Its content is nothing unusual, just kids roaming around a playground. The accompanying text then explains that their supply of electricity through solar panels is both environmentally and economically sustainable, but the school is under threat of confiscation. It felt strange seeing such a clear example of education needing to continue for climate justice in the Global South, the very evening before a Fridays for Future protest where thousands of children skipped school here in Glasgow.
Yet the exhibition reminds us not to polarise the Global North and the Global South, because they’re fighting the same fight. Through what is probably the only photograph with coats and hats in abundance, the exhibition documents the efforts of the local community in Grangemouth as they protest against the importing of fracked gas into Scotland by the company Ineos.
"Yet the exhibition reminds us not to polarise the Global North and the Global South..."
The exhibition as a whole clearly demonstrates the importance of collectivism between countries as well as within them. Collectivism brings about hope, and hope brings about change. From the villagers in rural Croatia receiving electricity through the light of hope campaign, to those living under the lights in Grangemouth, the photographs show that hope is everywhere. That’s what makes the exhibition so inspiring.
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