With pedal-powered performances and 57 shows about the environment, the world’s biggest performing arts festival in Edinburgh this month reflects growing calls for climate action.
In “1.5 Degrees Live!” – a five-day, 50-hour show – more than 100 authors, activists and members of the public will read a United Nations climate report calling for unprecedented change to avoid lethal heat waves, storms, floods and drought.
“We thought it’d be really interesting to see a very interesting, but long and technical document, read out by a drag queen or a dancer or an acrobat or a stand-up comedian,” said the show’s creator, Patrick Dunne.
“It was already all there for us and we thought, ‘this is important’ and in some ways we wanted to democratise it.”
The stark 2018 report predicts global warming will reach 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels between 2030 and 2052, and outlines dramatic reforms needed to contain it at that level.
This year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, open to anyone with a desire to perform and a venue willing to host them, features some 3,500 shows from a record 63 countries, touching on everything from Brexit to feminism.
“We’ve definitely seen an increase in shows that are tackling climate change and the environment … the largest number we’ve ever had,” Lyndsey Jackson, deputy head of the festival, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“I think that we are seeing the rise of a cultural movement that will not only change people’s minds but will change people’s behaviour,” said Jackson, who is also one of the “1.5 Degrees Live!” performers.
Climate activism is surging around the globe – from the international student strike movement inspired by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg to Extinction Rebellion actions across Britain.
While nobody knows whether popular calls for action will catalyse the drastic lifestyle shifts that scientists say are needed to avert the worst loss of life, a growing number of people are taking whatever steps they can to create change.
“It must have been fewer than 10 shows about climate change at Edinburgh Fringe last year,” said performer Bea Smith, whose show this year, “How to Save a Rock”, will be carbon-neutral, powered by both solar and by a cast- and audience-pedalled bike.
“I felt like I needed to do something and theatre is my way of doing it … It’s something that you feel called to act upon.”
Once characterised by streets strewn with flyers and plastic cups, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme now has a blank first page for visitors to scribble down their recommendations and pass it on to others, said Jackson.
Performers are also being asked to use #QuickFlyer, a digital flyering space on Twitter where performers and visitors can promote shows online with a hashtag instead of printing.
“We’re trying to do environmentalism by stealth,” said Jackson, who has worked for the festival for six years.
“We’re trying to influence not only reusing and recycling but also that circular economy,” she said, referring to the climate-friendly push to minimise waste, reuse materials and shift to renewable energy.
Another futuristic venture is The Greenhouse, a zero waste venue built entirely from found and recycled materials, which will host nine shows a day. Its roof is clear perspex so that the inside is naturally lit.
“Climate change has been an issue for as long as I can remember but it’s always just been on the backburner,” said Grace Thorner, the venue’s co-creator.
“But now we don’t have a choice, we need to talk about it and we need to do something.”