By Professor Mark Banks

AS the politicians and scientists gather for COP26 there is a growing sense we are entering the last chance saloon.

It seems obvious that our leaders must now follow the science – to coin a phrase – and more rapidly accelerate the transition to a decarbonised future. However, while the science seems indisputable, the message doesn’t seem to be getting through. The facts, it appears, are not enough.

Powerful interests continue to trash and undermine the most well-founded arguments of climate and environmental science. While governments and corporations might talk the talk, they are proving fatally slow in making the required changes, and too often flout or renege on established agreements. The scientists are carrying the fight – but are often wilfully ignored.

Certainly, if we are to get out of this mess, we will have had much to thank science for – but we also need other tools for change.

Saving ourselves and the planet will require more than trusting our leaders (or ourselves) to act rationally in accordance with the facts – we must also give ourselves good reasons to be saved.

The challenge of climate change is therefore not fundamentally about science but about reimagining the foundations of society. For this, we need compelling new ideas about the world and how we all can live within it in genuinely sustainable ways. We need to better understand what is worth saving and preserving – and what is not.

And we need great stories, dreams and desires about the urgent present and the more positive futures we might wish to see. This is where arts and culture, and the wider humanities, come in. The arts not only represent the world, they can help us to interpret and change it, providing us with inspired and creative understandings of how to address life’s most fundamental issues – including the threats posed by climate change.

As COP26 approaches, we can see many organisations are already carrying the banner for the arts and culture. One such initiative is the University of Glasgow’s The Dear Green Bothy. Here, we have brought together dozens of artists, academics and members of local and diverse communities to create many new works and events.

Our aim is to foster the kinds of creativity and critical togetherness we’re all going to need in order to tackle the ecological challenges ahead. Environmental artists are lining up with sound artists, gamers, poets and writers, and people who have never made art before, to tell the story of how climate change is already profoundly affecting our lives. Within these stories there is anxiety, conflict and danger – but also hope, and many brilliant ideas for shared and sustainable futures.

Understandably, perhaps, many people have regarded the arts and culture as somewhat less important than science when it comes to tackling climate emergency. They are wrong.

Research shows that progressive change can occur when the message is hopeful and there is something positive to believe in – arts and culture can help provide that belief and help reimage future possibilities.

Professor Mark Banks is Professor of Cultural Economy at the University of Glasgow and academic lead for The Dear Green Bothy.