On 24th and 25th September 1.5 Degrees Live! partnered with Friends of the Earth Scotland and Stop Climate Chaos Scotland to stage a 10 hour reading of the IPCC Report on Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees at the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, Edinburgh. These dates marked the final debates, amendments and ultimately the passing of the Scottish Government’s Climate Bill. The reading was part of a 2 day presence and protest by a range of organisations against the inadequacies of the Bill.
On Wednesday 9th October 1.5 Degrees Live! planned a 10 hour mass reading at Westminster Abbey as part of Extinction Rebellion Scotland’s occupation of that space for the International Rebellion from 7th October.
Following the success of the Fringe Festival reading we have been working to open source and share the resources of 1.5 Degrees Live!, and to see if there are opportunities to share the report and the readings with other groups and communities. We have also been following up with interviews to build a documentary and to gather a network of interested partners to build on the Fringe event.
With Glasgow being announced as the host city of COP26 in November 2020 we are looking for opportunities to continue to share and develop the readings to engage with communities in the UK as well as in Australia, New Zealand in the build up to this huge event. We have been encouraged by the response to the Fringe event and we hope to continue into 2020 with more readings, more locations and possibly more reports including the IPBES 1 Million Species report at the 2020 Edinburgh Science Festival, a full reading of the IPCC Report on 1.5 Degrees now confirmed with Festivals Adelaide and WOMAD Adelaide as well as a possible development of the project at the National Sustainable Living Festival 2020 in Melbourne, Australia.
Scottish Parliament Climate Bill reading 24th and 25th September
Along with Friends of the Earth Scotland, Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, Scotish Youth Climate Strike, Extinction Rebellion Scotland and a number of grass roots activist, climate and faith organisations joined together to protest the Climate Bill which, in the words of FOE Scotland’s Caroline Rance, was ‘nowhere near what is needed to tackle the climate crisis.’ (https://foe.scot/people-power-delivers-increased-action-in-the-climate-bill/)
We had the opportunity to work with Kate at FOE Scotland to invite readers to take part as well as to make decisions about the text itself. We finally had to adjust our ideas of how the reading could take place as we would be doing the reading without our shipping container.
Our first task was to make a 10 hour reading from the 50 hours of material we had from the Fringe. This aimed to give coverage to all the elements of the report whilst using the most reader-friendly and easily understandable elements of the document. We wanted to represent each part of the original report as much as possible and to avoid editing the text even as we selected particular sections. We knew we were presenting ‘highlights’ and as such tried to be as faithful to the overall narrative of the report as possible as described in the opening chapter
The overarching context of this report is this: human influence has become a principal agent of change on the planet, shifting the world out of the relatively stable Holocene period into a new geological era, often termed the Anthropocene. Responding to climate change in the Anthropocene will require approaches that integrate multiple levels of interconnectivity across the global community. …. (Ch 1: Framing and Context 1.1 Assessing the Knowledge Base for a 1.5 Degree Warmer World)
By partnering with FOE Scotland we were able to benefit from their already vast network of activists, organisations and interested partners. We did not seek to invite comedians or authors as we had in the Fringe. This reading was different both in tone and in practical terms. It was a protest rather than a performance and our readers were drawn from Scottish grassroot activists, school strikers and faith groups. It was a powerful line up of readers from Buddhist nuns, Christian Ministers as well as an Arctic Ecologist and a number of activists from across Scotland and from a range of organisations.
The reading was no less compelling for not having comedians or actors although it must be said that experienced ‘performers,’ whether from the stage or the pulpit, certainly add a skill and an engaging reading style which helps with comprehension. By partnering with experienced activist networks we were able to easily find enough readers.
One challenge we had was that the staging lent itself to shorter readings. Instead of having two readers per hour we found it was best to have three or more readers. In this way we were able to engage more people who were at the protest and who wanted to be involved and also we were able to make the task of reading the document slightly easier on each incumbent.
On Tuesday 24th the reading took place with the reader standing between 2 speakers with no seating set out, although there is landscape seating in the parliament grounds. We staged in the open which created a powerful backdrop of the Scottish Parliament. We had the benefit of volunteers holding banners saying ‘We have read the science. Have you?’ and a range of parties engaging with media, members of the public and staff and Members of the Scottish Parliament.
When the weather forced us to move there was no seating. As such we did not effectively create the audience/reader dynamic that we had in the Fringe. The reading was open to all and passers by were more easily able to access it but generally they did not engage for as long as they did/would have if there was seating. We changed this so that on Wednesday we set up chairs to encourage people to sit and listen which improved this dynamic.
We realised the importance of creating spaces to share and discuss the material both ‘inside’ the reading and outside the reading space. We also were unable to effectively employ our graphs, posters and materials in this environment. On the upside we realised that the reading is impactful as a protest and could be done with no more than an Ipad and an umbrella and that as an open event we were able to engage people more widely then a closed container.
This event was a distinct protest reading rather than a fringe/performance reading and as such had a distinctly different feel. We certainly felt that the second day was an improvement on the first as the audience engagement was better on that day. The readers we had were varied and brought a range of ideas and passion to the event. Activists, faith leaders, scientists and politicians as well as audience members were a good blend although we missed the reading skill, at times, of performers and actors.
The ‘We have read the science. Have you?’ was a very powerful message and banner and credit must go to Kate Whitaker for facilitating those getting made in very quick time. Partnering with FOE was a great success and it was great to be a part of the community of climate organisations and we benefited from their expertise in political engagement and technology as they helped us to livestream parts of the reading and we benefited from their social media reach and contacts. As a first attempt to open source and share the event it was a great success with excellent partners and at a very appropriate and relevant event.
International Rebellion, Westminster London Wednesday 9th October
Extinction Rebellion took to the streets of London for the second International Rebellion on Monday 7th October. As part of Extinction Rebellion Scotland’s site at Westminster Abbey, 1.5 Degrees Live! staged a one day reading at the Power In Truth site.This event was by its nature difficult to plan for, subject to change at very short notice and required a degree of flexibility that the previous readings did not.
We were able to use the same 10 hour reading for this as we had prepared for the Scottish Parliament event. As it transpired, due to police clearing the site, we were only able to successfully complete 6 hours or so of the reading.
We did pre-plan a number of readers including retired head teacher Dr Kenny Frederick, Earth Ensemble actor Tamara Payne, Extinction Rebellion founder and environmental Lawyer Farhana Yamin and author/activist/journalist George Monbiot. We also were able to engage a number of readers during the days leading up to the reading from the wider XR community including Scientists as well as activists from across the Rebellion. We estimated, following on from Scottish Parliament that we should have more readers who were asked to read less from the report so we aimed for three readers per hour. We had lots of flexibility to allow interested people to join the reading.
As with the Fringe and the Scottish Parliament events, 1.5 benefited from our readers social media and interest in the IPCC Report and their enthusiasm for the reading. George Monbiot especially had a huge reach and as an influential and well known author his reading with us gave us great visibility.
We set up the bibliography banner behind the reader, gave them a seat and faced that with a number of camping seats and a bench gathered from the campsite. We were able to use the Warming Stripes poster and some of the postcard posters but the space did not allow us to use the graphs and the other posters we used in August at the Fringe.
The banner was very engaging and many people came to talk to us about it. It attracted activists, engaged members of the public and created a focus point for the reading and helped us to stand out in, at times, very challenging circumstances!
The nature of the Rebellion meant that we were surrounded by hundreds of people and the site was incredibly dynamic. We shared our space with at varying times; a low flying police helicopter, a street preacher armed with a louder PA than we had, over 100 nursing mothers on a nursing action and all of the hubbub and noise of central Westminster and a climate camp. It was an extraordinary space to read the IPCC Report in and we were very grateful to have the opportunity to read it in the heart of the British Government and establishment.
Our event reached maximum engagement when George Monbiot read with us and this was live streamed and recorded for our own documentary resources. George was very engaging and drew a large crowd. Not long after the Metropolitan Police Force began to clear the entirety of our site and as such our reading was broken up before completion and we were forced to cancel a number or arranged readers who would have been excellent. We knew, as did everyone involved in the event, that this was a possibility.
This reading was interesting in that it was a part of a very large, dynamic and varied protest that represented, we felt, something of the ‘intentional societal transformation,’ asked for in the IPCC report. We also got to engage with a number of influential readers as well as a number of parties who have expressed interest in further developing the project. It did not carry the message outside of the ‘bubble,’ of climate activism that we inhabit so in that sense it was not as successful as the Fringe event which reached far wider. However, it played an important role in helping activists engage with the science at the core of the movement. One reader suggested that everyone listening should make notes of key facts to share when having conversations about climate change.
On reflection, it would have been better to invite high-profile readers to come earlier in the day to ensure we heard from as many people as possible before the police cleared the site. The attendance of high-profile people increased the number of listeners significantly so had a clear advantage in ensuring the message was heard.
On Friday 11th October we took part in the Tell The Truth action at the BBC office in Central London. During the day long event, there was an opportunity for ‘testimonies’ where members of the crowd were invited to take the microphone and share a little of their experience or passion or creativity with the crowd. We took it as an opportunity to read a selection of key quotes from the IPCC Report to try to complete the reading in a small sense that had been so disrupted earlier that week.
Learning from both events
- More effort needs to be made to help people engage with the reading in an open space than an enclosed one. Providing seating was essential in defining a space in which people listened rather than having their own conversations.
- A decent sound system was essential to compete with the noise of the outdoors.
- The banner again drew a lot of attention and was a great conversation starter.
- Most environmental activists have not read the report but many really valued the opportunity to engage with it when presented to them. The learning involved in these events was in strengthening activists’ knowledge and confidence in the science.
- Live streaming was effective and simple way of increasing the reach of the report, though it is hard to know whether people absorbed the content this way.
- The 10 hour version was pretty effective and removed the possibility of people dropping in to a bit which was unintelligible.
- Inviting readers with public performance skills is very beneficial for audience comprehension.