On the stage, there is an endless number of worlds we can inhabit.
However, offstage... there's only one.
What is climate change?
Climate change is the alteration of the climate over an extended period of time. When you hear about climate change, it's usually referring to the human-caused changes to the global climate since pre-industrial levels (i.e. around 1800s), as a result of the increased emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
While newly industrialising countries, such as China, are joining the US and the EU 28 as big emitters, historically, high income countries have emitted the most per person, particularly when taking into account that carbon emissions from a number of top emitters today are from producing goods for richer countries.
How does carbon dioxide change the climate?
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases (also including methane and water vapour) absorb heat in the atmosphere, helping us stay warm, a phenomenon known as The Greenhouse Effect. This is essential for life on earth, as without these gases, the global average temperature would be -18˚C and all our waters would be frozen!
However, as human society has industrialised and continues to develop, we have emitted more and more carbon. This is from the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, natural gas and oil, for electricity, heat, industry and transportation. Increase in agriculture, as a result of increasing global demand and livestock numbers, as well as land use changes, such as urbanisation, deforestation and the loss of carbon sinks, has also contributed to the rise in atmospheric carbon.
"This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Credit: Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record.)" (NASA, nd.)
Why does it matter if the world gets hotter?
In 2015, nations across the world came together at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris. By the end of this two week-long summit, 195 countries had agreed to the first global and legally binding climate deal. This stated that we must limit the rise of global average temperature to within 1.5 to 2˚C from 'pre-industrial' levels (i.e. circa 1800s). With current rates of carbon emission, we are on track for over 3˚C by the end of our century and will exceed our 'carbon budget' (the amount of carbon emissions we have left without surpassing 1.5˚C of warming) in the next 12 years.
While a 2˚C rise in temperature doesn't sound particularly alarming, when taken as an average across the whole planet, this reflects a huge range in temperature extremes, with the likelihood of heat waves, droughts and flooding increasing as the world gets hotter. To put it another way, during the last ice age, the global average temperature was only 4 to 5˚C colder than it is now... yet, you bet our ancestors complained about the cold.
Although there have been significant shifts in temperature on a geological time scale, the temperatures are currently rising at an unprecedented speed. This creates problems for adaptation, whether that be of people living in water stressed areas (over 5 billion people are expected to be affected by water shortages by 2050), those living in areas that would eventually flood (275 million people in a 3˚C scenario), or the biodiversity sustaining us all (wildlife populations have decreased by 60% since the 1970s, and biodiversity loss is unmatched since the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago).
Gosh, this sounds like a lot of bad news...
Yes, it's an urgent issue. And yes, we need global collaboration. But if we all act, we can give the story a better ending...
The science lays it out clearly: climate change is happening and we have to act now.
So, what's the problem? Why have we not seen the widespread change needed to mitigate this issue?
The issue is with the story.
If you read the above section and felt a sense of dread, guilt or helplessness, you certainly won't be alone. Numerous reports of the harmful 'doomsday narrative' demonstrate how while we have the science, we haven't shaped a story that communicates this to mainstream audiences, in a way that prompts empowerment and action.
While environmentalists have been gathering and galvanising pockets of the population since Rachel Carson's seminal book, Silent Spring (1962), the urgency with which environmental action is needed requires everyone to strive for change.
What has the theatre industry got to do with it?
Environmental issues are rising up the agenda, particularly in response to David Attenborough's Blue Planet II, indicating the power of the arts and entertainment industry in shaping public understanding and debate on key messages.
Alison Tickell, Founder and CEO of Julie's Bicycle (our heroes!) explained it beautifully at their Season for Change COP24 Industry Briefing, "the arts is the difference between knowing knowledge and feeling knowledge".
We must share a new narrative: one that recognises the importance of the world we call home, and celebrates the individual and collective action needed to tackle the issues of today.
This is where you come in.