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Art, Empathy and Crossing Borders: a Provocation by Yaron Lifschitz

The following speech is an edited version of a provocation delivered by Yaron Lifschitz at the 2020 ISPA Congress in New York on Thursday 16 January.

I came here from a country that is ablaze. As a result of human-caused climate change (and the science on this is definitive) my home Australia is experiencing the worst bushfires in its history.

As I departed through the haze, I reflected on how these fires have created a palpable sense of disquiet – they have they have roused our nation from its apathetic slumber. It is not clear whether our political climate will change as much as our environmental climate demands it must, but the fires have broken the tethers of our inertia.

I also reflected on what an extraordinarily beautiful set of sunsets these fires have caused and how we’re lucky (an obscene usage of the word) to have an aesthetically impactful catastrophe. Photogenic, it found a home on the front pages of newspapers and media feeds around the world. Its formidable force and mythic beauty catapulted it past other, equally worthy catastrophes. It roused celebrities who managed to virtue signal even as they missed the point. Australia is rich – we don’t need charity. We need deep, lasting, effective climate policy to stop our country burning. As does the rest of the world.

The political impact of the fires is not separate from their aesthetic charge – they matter because they are powerful, dramatic, visually striking events. As our legacy festivals and heritage companies present Nutcrackers and the latest novelty touring productions, an authentic, fierce promethean drama is roaring throughout the country.

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Greta Thunberg said that this is no time for grey thinking. Only black and white will do. We need certainty and action. When it comes to stopping our Pacific neighbours being drowned, splitting the infinitives of policy nuance is really just criminal neglect and future theft…

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