by Mariachiara Sica
As I’m writing this piece in the middle of July 2021, the peak of Edinburgh’s festival season is at our doors. After the mess of last year, it has been a breath of fresh air to see festival programmes being released, tickets being sold, people looking forward to enjoying the arts and culture again, albeit on a much smaller scale.
However, as our world hopefully begins to spin in the right direction again, it is also impossible to ignore the news of the past few days of natural disasters happening all over the world, of flooding episodes in the middle of summer, of heatwaves and wildfires.
With all this in mind, I cannot help but wonder the impact that going back to ‘normal life’ will have on our planet, especially now that the pandemic has given politicians the perfect excuse to repeat their favourite catchphrase – ‘there are far more pressing issues to worry about at the moment’ – in response to everything they don’t want to deal with.
This year, the festival season in Edinburgh will be an odd one, with a hybrid delivery method being the most preferred and with in-person events mainly targeting locals. These changes will make a huge difference, especially if we think about the millions of people that have travelled to Edinburgh in the last few years to take part in the festival season. What will be affected is also the impact that festivals have on the environment. As a worrying report stated, in fact, in 2010 Edinburgh festivals were responsible for 44,130 tonnes of COe carbon emissions, mostly from audience travelling to Edinburgh. Since that report has been released, however, sustainability has become one of the main priorities for festival management in Edinburgh, and several tools have been developed in the last years to help festival organisers and artists be mindful of their environmental impact, keep their waste under check and help Scotland achieve its goal to reach zero emissions by 2045.
Among the tools and projects that have been implemented to make Edinburgh greener during festivals, one of the most useful for festival managers is undoubtedly the Green Arts Initiative, a project co-created by Creative Carbon Scotland and Festivals Edinburgh in 2013. The Green Arts Initiative supports Scottish arts and cultural organisations to reduce their impact on the climate and environment, and its main aim is to provide them with information, knowledge, and tools on how to reduce their impact on the environment (Push the Boat Out’s main venue, Summerhall, is also part of the initiative!).
As far as policies go, it looks like things are really going in the right direction, as Edinburgh earned a place as the third-most sustainable city in the world in Arcadis’s 2018 sustainability Index. However, the debate on festivals impact is far from over and the conversation on how to make Edinburgh greener and reduce emissions from people travelling to Edinburgh for the festivals definitely needs to continue. Who knows, this year’s new experiences may offer useful insights for the future.
Regardless, what I personally find equally as important as policy-making is keeping the conversation going about the ongoing environmental crisis. We need to face the reality of what’s in store for us if we don’t stop treating the concern for the damage that we’re causing the world as the latest Gen Z TikTok trend. All the mocking headlines and the spiteful comments by fully grown adults directed at Greta Thunberg, a teenager shouldering the pressure of being the face of a global movement advocating for the planet’s future, give a very fair portrait of how bad things are looking for us at the moment.
That said, as John Keats once wrote, ‘the poetry of earth is never dead’. As a result of the environmental crisis we are currently experiencing, an increasing number of writers are dealing with the environment in their works. It is only after Esa, PTBO’s Engagement and Sustainability Manager, told me about this festival’s aims to include sustainability in their programming choices that my world opened to ecopoetics.
For those who are as I was and are unfamiliar with the concept, ecopoetics is a genre of poetry that emphasises the connections between human activity and the environment that produces it. While much of ecopoetics are substantially different from the peaceful musings of the Romantics, ecopoets are witnesses who create records of how much is at stake for all of us if we don’t try to rekindle the connection with the environment that surrounds us, not only in terms of pollution and the climate crisis but also in terms of who we are as a society.
You might be thinking, ‘why is this person blabbering on about poetry genres in a piece about sustainability’? Well, my friends, that has everything to do with sustainability. Poetry holds a mirror to society, offers a voice for the silenced, and since one of Push The Boat Out’s aims is to create a platform for discussion and exchange of ideas about the context we all find ourselves living in, including ecopoetics in the festival’s programming choices is vital to make sure that our efforts towards sustainability are not limited to making sure to bring metal straws to sip our cocktails from while we enjoy a night of poetry, but also to ensure that we keep reflecting on what is around us and how we can keep the conversation going to rebuild that bridge with nature that part of humanity seems have lost.
As someone who is deeply interested in the power that art has within activism, having had the chance to get involved with PTBO, and seeing sustainability included in an ever-growing manner in festival programming and curating practices gives me hope that there is a chance, for us, to keep the poetry of earth alive.