Art can inspire us, frame issues, express the strength of the world, send messages that endure, give hope, and guide how we live. Art can help us feel the urgency of the climate crisis and can be the bridge between the cold hard facts of climate change, and the emotions we need to feel to actually take action. Art can catch our attention and inspire us to care.
The way people and organisations speak about the planet is often very negative. Clearly, there is a reason for that, but the constant, persistent negativity can often drive people away rather than encourage them to take action. Seniors for Climate Action Now (SCAN!) would like to encourage all forms of art that members feel can highlight climate change and fight for social justice.
Can artists work with scientists, engineers and community leaders? They can and they should! Different people have different skill sets and capabilities, and they can use those skills to help take action and solve problems. Artists and creatives are no different. They can use their skills, professions and passions to help the world face the climate crisis.
As an example, the subject of increasing migration needs informed, constructive and balanced worldwide public debate. As threats to human rights rise, solutions must also rise to ensure all human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. The world’s aim must always be to nourish lives of dignity, learn to live in harmony, and keep all people free. The ability of poetry to help deliver this important message should not be overlooked.
Here is an Ode to Migrants and Refugees to frame this issue and send a strong message to people everywhere about the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is followed by an Ode to Activists that helps to express the strength of the activist movements everywhere, large and small that give us hope. Odes are poems that are serious in subject and treatment. They do not have to rhyme. They examine their subject from both an emotional and an intellectual perspective. All forms of art can do this, and we need all the help we can get. All forms of art can help fight climate change and promote social justice.
Ode to Migrants and Refugees
When millions of people experience disaster
and are displaced from their homes,
will you help them cope,
will you help them move forward with hope?
As seas rise and land is lost
throughout this century
and fire, wind, rain and drought
bring climate-induced displacement about
will your community do its part,
will it prepare and plan
to share its cherished land?
When hunger, conflicts and climate change combine
the numbers of migrants will grow
and thousands more will then be seen
in cities where they’ve never been.
Year by year, day by day there
will be no telling when
crops will die, homes will burn
and roads will flow away.
Today our aim must be to pave a way for empathy
to build more highways of hope
to be ready to help the displaced cope
with equity, equality and dignity.
These terms can be used interchangeably:
disaster refugee, climate change migrant,
environmental migrant, climate refugee.
To help them all
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
must never grow old, never erode,
never melt, shrink or fade,
it must not fail, it must prevail,
it must stand the test of time.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in Paris on 10 December 1948. Since then it has paved the way for the adoption of more than 70 human rights treaties and it is now accessible in 531 languages and dialects. Article 1 states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
The declaration has 30 articles, all of which are important according to our best human wisdom and article 30 states: “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.” In other words: No one can take away your human rights. All 30 articles of the declaration are important and overall it may be the wisest document ever written in human history. If the world will respect and follow its wisdom our future can be the best that it can be.
In an effort to make this happen worldwide, activists fight every day to help the world maintain and follow this wisdom. These activists need the support of all humanity. To help celebrate their courage, dedication and wisdom, I offer this Ode to Activists poem in free verse.
Ode to Activists
Whenever leaders fail to lead wisely
activists will step forward in the footsteps
of the hundreds of thousands
who came before them
to fix the broken parts
in the workings of the world,
by demanding change
organizing and lobbying
and by fighting tirelessly
to give voice
to the voiceless.
Many generations of activists
have resolutely set sail
for the horizon of a common good
with courage and faith
and strength of heart,
to secure rights and freedoms
for marginalized people
combating violence, oppression
discrimination and injustice
and fighting tirelessly
to protect our democracies.
Now aging activists
are handing forward the torch
for today’s youth to step forward
with similar courage and faith
and strength of heart
to continue the world’s fights
for a sustainable future
by non-violently using the tools
of progressive activists, scientists, and researchers
and by organizing in the ways they know best
to guide the world’s shared ship forward.
With their courage and faith
and strength of heart
today’s youth will become heroes
from the very start
when they step forward
to do their part,
and whenever or wherever
today’s leaders fail to lead wisely
today’s young activists will
and in the footsteps of all those who came before
land us all on the shore of a better future.
Climate Change is the defining issue of our time, and we are at a defining moment – the most dangerous time in human history. We climate activist seniors are joining in the creation of a mass movement to force governments at all levels to commit to and execute actions that fundamentally deal with the climate emergency. We need and appreciate the help of the art world as an important part of this mass movement.
Everyone can participate. To every child worldwide that paints a heart-warming picture of nature, to song writers, poets, artists, and creatives everywhere on earth that work to fight climate change and promote social justice, we say thank you. Your works of art give us strength, and you help us fight indifference and complacency. Your efforts put much needed wind in our sails that help push our shared ship forward to land us on the shore of a better future.
Robert Hicks is one of millions of activists on this earth that know that art can send us messages that endure, give us hope, and guide us how to live. He is a member of SCAN!’s Education Committee.