A graphic exhibition on the social movement at the climate summits

The climate emergency, or climate change before reaching its current levels, has spilled rivers of ink. But above all, the texts have dealt with the situation, the prospects, the consequences, the predictions; degree up degree down, limit years. Or about the political and institutional level, which agreement will be signed, who will sign it or not, whether the USA will exclude itself, etc.

However, and in spite of the enormous participation of civil society, of its weight in maintaining proposals or introducing new ones, with the exception of specific moments such as protests or concrete actions, the climate movement lacks a historical reflection. If this movement has been characterized by anything, it is for being imaginative, creative, diverse and colorful, so, this lack of reflection also extends to the graphic part.

The long history of the Climate Movement

The issue of climate change goes back a long way. As early as 1896 the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius claimed that the use of coal would cause an increase in CO2 sufficient to cause global warming. In 1979 the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) held the First World Climate Conference in Geneva and in 1995, the first Conference of the Parties or COP of signatory nations to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in Berlin. The UN’s reason for organizing it was because the industrialized countries were not taking action on global warming as planned. Twenty-six years on and the attitude has not changed that much; the situation, however, has worsened.

Since then, 25 summits have taken place. This year’s one in Glasgow, postponed last year, will be the 26th. So they are many of them. Many to analyze, many elements to inventory.

From the beginning, social protests were organized against what governments were proposing at the time as a solution. Obviously, many times they were clear setbacks and did not correspond to the marked route. Or, as was the case this year with the pandemic, they implied a lack of policies. Since the Rio Summit in 1992, since that first COP in Berlin, since the second in which activists took over the roof of the UN Conference Center, since the third in which Greenpeace built its giant carbonosaurus, mobilizations have multiplied and, as inaction continued, social participation increased. In many cases, waking up from the fairy tales and facing and asuming the repression of the state, like the case was in Copenhagen, or later in Paris and others, and defying it to turn up by thousands.

But despite all these years (26 since the 1st COP, 42 since the first summit), despite all these COPs (25) and the importance that the issue and the climate movement have acquired, we dare to say that there is no initiative similar to this exhibition that attempts to capture and retrace this history and its development. Such is the pace of the organizations, obliged year after year to analyze institutional proposals, to face up to, to coordinate, that there is almost no time for documentation and dissemination. As the Argentine activist Pablo Bertinat (Taller Ecologista) who participated in both counter-summits in Buenos Aires in 1998 and 2004, told us «it is very important to recover the stories of struggle».

In the same way, we must admit that it will never be a perfect exhibition, the complete exhibition, because, despite the efforts, many initiatives and organizations are not reflected, as well as a lot of information and experience. Let us hope that it will serve to complete it further and to continue building this memory.

The previous work of identification and inventory

Likewise, due to the time, to those 26 or almost 50 years, to the number of organizations involved, it is very difficult to gather information. Add to that the fact that perhaps we don’t give to this (keeping information, records) the importance it deserves; also the difficulty of many collectives to keep things; or the frugality, the short durability of these objects; or the distance and remoteness of many organizations, or even their trajectories, since many of them have even disappeared.

The Internet also facilitates communication, searching and inventorying. But it is recent and many things are not uploaded. There are problems with older COPs. And many times, because it is believed to exist or because it is easy to access, this communication does not take place either. Many objects are also excluded from this documentation because they cannot be digitized.

Therefore, the first task was to establish which exhibition we wanted. Then we had to communicate it to the main actors and request their participation. The list of contacts has been important, international, known people and other contacts of contacts, or result of the research.

Then the work continued with the identification of exhibition elements, as indicated by our contacts or from the research itself. Of these, we decided which were visually, historically and semiotically interesting, worth to be showed.

Of all of them, as we say, many were impossible, such as that giant carbonosaur of Greenpeace’s made with oil drums and car wrecks, impossible to obtain because of its volume, or because of who knows where it is. Others are impossible due to security requirements, such as the suit worn by López de Uralde at the gala dinner offered by Queen Margrethe to the heads of state at COP15, now a piece of the Copenhagen Museum, subject to strict security conditions. Likewise the canoe of Sarayaku (Kichwa community of the Ecuadorian Amazon which opposes oil exploitation) that traveled along the Seine at COP21, now owned by the Museé de l’Homme in Paris.

Large graphic selection

Nevertheless, we tried to include graphic elements representative of each COP, and despite the aforementioned difficulties, we almost succeeded. Obviously, for some of them there are more than one, such as those of Paris, Copenhagen, Lima, Madrid/Santiago, Bonn. Between them, about 80 elements, and even more if we take into account smaller elements such as stickers, badges, posters, reports, etc.

The result is a diverse, colorful exhibition that reflects the creativity of a movement that, despite the drastic nature of the situation, maintains a positive, but also belligerent and radical tone. The result is also different expressions, from the abandonment of fossil fuels and coal, to the demands of the younger generations for a future, of indigenous peoples, of women, of impoverished countries or marginalized sectors. Thus the exhibition offers a wide selection of messages. Perhaps the part of the exhibition that best reflects this is that of the cardboards, one of the identifying forms of the movement and its broad social participation. These also reflect not only people’s diverse making, imagination and eloquence, but also its international character, with cardboards from different countries and in different languages.

The exhibition, not being an art exhibition, also includes art pieces, as both artists (especially artivists) have participated in the movement, and organizations have used them to express ideas or make them more attractive. There are numerous artivist collectives such as Brandalism, ADAO-Espora and La Otra Gráfica, Just Seeds, Art not oil or Fossil Free Culture, which in different countries or even internationally, put their art at the service of the climate cause. Others on an individual level, such as Banksy, contribute to its acceptance. Many others are present in the exhibition too.

The exhibition also offers the theoretical part, the story and the chronology of those years, the evolution of the discourse, of the claims, of the forms; the explanation of that material, through the chronology of this history, which we also believe indispensable material to understand all those objects and artifacts, and therefore the movement itself.

An initiative by Cristinaenea Foundation

Now, both that account and the graphic elements must continue, adding others, new and old, from the existing ones, again from existing contacts and new contributions. Because the Cristinaenea Foundation understands this exhibition as the beginning of a project that will continue documenting the movement and its history.

This exhibition wants to be a tribute to a movement long in time, varied and inspiring, of which we form many people and organizations, and that far from the simplistic claim, has been able to go to the root (or roots) of the problem and continually remind the leaders, institutions, and especially the large transnationals about it.

As a Social Graphic, it is the sixth one organized by the Cristinaenea Foundation, after others on the anti-nuclear movement, fracking, the Prestidge disaster or pedestrianization. The Foundation with this Social Graphic, in addition to deepen the theme, wants it to serve as a stimulus and incentive so that, at the gates of the Glasgow Summit, COP 26 (October 31 to November 12), society continues to confront and propose to overcome this climate emergency.

Many organizations

As well as all those mentioned artists (and others) and many people whose name is not know, the exhibition includes items from Bizi!, By 2020 We Rise Up, Extinction Rebellion, Fridays for Future, Ende Gëlande, Oxfam, Greenpeace, Via Campesina, NOAH Friends of the Earth Denmark/ Amies de la Terre, Ecologistas en Acción, CADTM, Arab Youth Climate Movement, Climate Action Network (CAN), Groundwork, ODG, Ausge CO2 hlt, Heinrich Böll Foundation, Corporate Europe Observatory, Stop the Wall Campaign.

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