A Climate For Art (ACFA) is a campaign working towards the collectivisation of climate response through bringing small to medium arts organisations together over three core actions - switching to fossil fuel-free banks, superannuation and power providers. The intention is to build easy critical paths towards action, champion those who are already taking steps, bring others on board and create a strong coalition of advocacy. The focus is not to create a perfect politic but to take a first step.
Recognising that the progressive ideals in the sector are often not reflected in our structures, A Climate For Art has identified the need for organisational responses. It also recognises the care and goodwill in the sector that can create movement to set examples for other industries.
Alongside this coming together of collective divestment, ACFA is creating an ongoing Climate Union, getting members to meet in small groups twice a year to go through an ACFA agenda, so that the collective, creative conversations on action can develop and continue.
The climate crisis is already having a devastating impact on our communities across the planet, ecologies, and climates we are part of. People are experiencing first-hand the catastrophic impacts of floods, fires, heatwaves, cyclones, food, and water shortages, making homelands uninhabitable and contributing to war, disease, poverty, mass migration, and widespread cultural loss for people, plants, and animals . We are beginning to live through what is being called the 6th mass extinction on our planet .
There is no longer any debate about if climate change is real. It is a question of how we collectively create a just transition away from extractive and life-destroying cultures towards caring, regenerative and thriving ones – putting people and the planet before profit.
The Climate Council has said to mitigate the most catastrophic impacts of the climate crisis, Australia needs to transition to 75% renewables by 2030 and net zero by 2035 to keep under 1.5°C warming from pre-industrial levels  – and yet since 2016, the ‘Big 4’ banks have collectively lent more than $57.5 billion to fossil fuel projects .
We have a small window of opportunity to avoid setting off a series of cascading feedback loops making global weather systems irrevocably unstable and devastating the lifeworlds that depend on them. From the melting of mountain glaciers and permafrost to the collapse of the North Atlantic current, to the death of the Amazon Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef – we depend on these interconnected systems for life on our planet to survive and thrive.
This has been described as a health crisis of unimaginable proportions, impacting individual, collective, and planetary health in unevenly distributed ways. It will and already has disproportionately impacted those who are made most vulnerable, marginalised and contributing the least to its creation. The UN found in the past half a century that extreme weather has caused the death of 2 million people, 90% of which were from ‘developing countries’ . We have recently lived through the impacts of a global pandemic, a type of event that is predicted to increase with rising temperatures.
To navigate the most effective course of action to treat this health crisis, it is important to diagnose the root causes. To simply name this a ‘manmade’ crisis does not go far enough to identify that it is a product of specific values, beliefs and practices that have emerged from cultures of domination, exploitation, and estrangement. There are a myriad of examples of thriving cultures around the world that long have resilient, place-based ways of living and working, whose expertise could benefit us all – and yet who continue to be erased, devalued, or destroyed.
The climate crisis is a direct result of the ongoing world-building-and-destroying project of colonisation, whose extractive industries continue to decimate the traditional sacred lands of First Peoples. Through living and working on unceded lands, non-Indigenous Australians have a responsibility and opportunity to walk together with First Nations people supporting sovereignty and self-determination towards a thriving future for all.
We can’t stand back and leave these problems to our leaders who continue to fund deadly new fossil fuel projects, despite their promises otherwise. We have to contribute to empowering grassroots movements, to collaborate across difference, and harness our collective power in service to each other and a livable world.
We are living through a ‘crisis of imagination’ and we believe critical creative responses are key. As is often said, “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of Capitalism”. These times ask us to come together, to question the stories we live by individually and collectively, and how these stories can both limit and support our ability to respond. The arts can help us sense more intimately where we are, to connect across difference, to understand the plurality of lifeworlds that coexist in the present. It can provide tools to co-create visions of possibility for the future and re-orient us towards alternative ways of being and knowing the world.
Ongoing funding cuts to the arts, education, health, and social services are limiting our country's ability to think and act deeply, critically, and creatively together about these crises. At its core, the climate crisis is a cultural problem that requires cultural solutions – which is why the arts and cultural sector not only needs to be valued in these times but also needs to step up to demonstrate why and how we matter. In these times of systemic injustice and collapse, creativity is not just needed for the production of artwork but in the ways we (re)organise ourselves. We need to reflect upon and shift the cultural norms, imbalances of power, and institutional and operational practices within our sector to ensure that the values we carry are reflected in the way we move in the world.
Art is a space of possibility, hope, and contradiction. Just as there are many ways to address the climate crisis; there are many ways that art can contribute. From advocating, communicating, mobilising, supporting, healing, and communing – it is a reflection of our values, needs, and beliefs. We are interested in art that is in service to the world, whose value and potential in these times contribute to cultures of change. Western artistic models, however, are also well known for their individualist, hegemonic, competitive tendencies. A sector that too often sees itself as separate and autonomous from the cultures, communities, and ecologies it’s part of. This is the same colonial imaginary that has enabled the destruction of the planet – through the severing of the relational in favour of extractive practices and the myth of the un-grounded individual.
At ACFA we understand that there is no Climate Justice without First Nations Justice and that the ecological destruction we are experiencing is the direct result of colonisation. Art has an opportunity to increase active allyship as individuals and organisations that support the leadership and stewardship of First Peoples as they heal Country, revive Culture and resist the ongoing destruction of their Country. This means reckoning with how western art institutes colonial power relations and imaginaries, to help us be able to walk together, in reciprocity, mutuality and humility towards a brighter future.
The practice of art can be a space of knowledge production through play, curiosity, experimentation, and remembrance. It can hold space for collaboration and chaos, navigate the unknown together, and co-create emergent forms. Importantly, it is a community that is led by values, care, and curiosity. We know that our sector has the heart to prioritise this escalating crisis, and can be a huge contributor to building cultures of solidarity.
Fossil fuel divestment means removing your money, assets and investments from companies that facilitate the production or expansion of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and gas projects.
ACFA is gathering organisations and people over three areas which represent the most effective, straightforward and compelling strategic divestments for climate action: banks, superannuation funds and power companies. Each represents an area of tangible, concrete impact across major industries.
When you deposit money with your bank, your money is used by the bank to invest in and finance projects to make more profit and return. Unfortunately, many institutions choose to invest in unsustainable and unethical projects - in Australia, the ‘Big 4’ banks NAB, Westpac, ANZ, and Commonwealth have collectively loaned $57.5 billion to fossil fuel projects and expansion since 2016.
In terms of superannuation, in Australia, businesses must contribute a minimum of 10.5% of every eligible employeeʼs salary to a nominated fund. It all adds up: Australia has one of the largest retirement savings pools in the world, with assets worth over $3.3 trillion. Sadly, our superannuation industry, on behalf of millions of members, invests more than $140 billion on fossil fuel projects, a sure bet for climate destruction.
Energy production (burning fossil fuels to produce electricity) is the largest contributor to Australia’s carbon emissions, according to CSIRO. A recent Greenpeace report has exposed that 76% of our energy comes from burning coal. By paying a power company that supports fossil fuel production, we are encouraging further use of unsustainable methods of energy production. For example, AGL is Australia’s biggest coal generator and Australia’s biggest polluter, and in 2021 was responsible for 8% of Australia’s direct emissions. As a singular company, AGL releases 42 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere each year.
By moving power and our assets away from companies who are continuing to invest in an untenable future, we are cutting the financial lifelines of fossil fuel projects, making it harder for them to continue. Divestment also means reinvestment, directing our funds and financial power to support projects that are viable for the future and our communities, driving positive impact in our world.
There are several reports  stating that continued investment in fossil fuels and non-renewable energy represents increasing long-term risk and that it is a lot safer and more profitable to invest in other areas. Many suspect that as the renewable energy sector becomes more profitable, shareholders and the fossil fuel industry run the risk of ‘stranded assets’ where the untapped fossil fuel reserves lose value. An analysis by the world’s leading stock market index company MSCI showed that fossil-free portfolios outperformed those that remain invested in coal, oil and gas over the past five years .
The Rockefeller Foundation divested a total of $5 billion from fossil fuels including tar sands in 2015, which was especially symbolic given that their fortune was built off the back of the oil industry. In 2020 they published a report showing that their stocks outperformed the market benchmark. Their investment portfolio is now 99% fossil free.
Historically, divestment has been harnessed as a strategy to move money out of the tobacco industry and the Apartheid regime in South Africa. While not the only factor, it was seen as a huge contributing factor to placing pressure on these campaigns, removing Apartheid and tobacco’s social licence. Many major institutions, such as Oxford and Harvard University have all divested from fossil fuels. Campaigns like Groundwater Divest to Invest in the US are mobilising to get 100 theatres to pledge to divest and prevent the use of the arts sector for greenwashing the image of fossil fuel companies and legitimising their social acceptance.
The economic contribution of the core arts sector is not insignificant, accounting for over $4.2 billion of Australia’s GDP. We need to ensure that the financial services and institutions that are vital to the day-to-day operations of artists and arts organisations align with our values.
As creatives who help shape the narratives of culture, we cannot continue to contribute to the warming of the planet and the machinations of globally destructive industries that defy Indigenous sovereignty and lore.
The banks we choose for funding and payment processing, superannuation funds for our employees’ future, and energy providers to power our community spaces all have large impacts on our society. A divestment strategy is both a simple and inexpensive way that arts organisations can lead the charge on climate action; to put our money where our mouth is and encourage community and organisational level practice that sustains the world we seek to create.
“I suspect that the key to disrupting the flow of carbon into the atmosphere may lie in disrupting the flow of money to coal, oil, and gas. Financial institutions can break the power of the fossil-fuel companies.”
- Bill McKibben, author, environmentalist, activist and leader of 350.org