What does an alternative narrative to growth look like?
How can I contribute to this narrative as an artist working in an activist space?
In reflecting on the central question of Hot Contents – the relationship between industrial heritage and the environmental crisis – I have also felt the need to zoom out to also consider the wider network of interconnected influences that act on these two areas. Our industrial heritage is intrinsically linked to the narrative that growth and production are the only route to achieve prosperity - from the industrial revolution and continuing at pace today. This narrative of growth is shaped by where we place value: social, cultural, environmental, but primarily economic value; which shapes our choices, and the choices we are led to through larger systems that we have little direct influence on (policy, infrastructure…).
The legacy of the narrative of growth is both the rich industrial heritage of our region and the wider developments to society brought through this, but also the scars on the landscape: global heating; industrial waste; the destruction of habitats and the depletion of natural resources.
Trying to capture the interconnectedness of how these factors map out at a local level feels, at times, like sitting with a ball of string, charting links with pins on a board like a (very low-key) TV detective. For example, in a recent Climate Action gathering, we discussed at a very specific level the rates of population growth written into Darlington’s new local plan (set notably higher than the ONS figures used by the government to predict population growth). These figures have been then used to justify buying into the proposed Redcar waste incinerator (alongside other North East Councils). In turn, this incinerator – hungry for content in order to make it cost effective – is likely to come at the cost of increasing recycling rates by diverting material that could be recycled to the incinerator, as it does little to encourage local authorities to capture more value from the recycling stream (as has happened in many other local authorities who have installed similar incinerators), which in turn will lock-in damaging environmental impacts for many years to come.
The chain of dominoes begins with an ambition for growth. It’s understandable why there is a political ambition for growth: our current economic system centralises resources in larger urban centres, and therefore, with growth brings the economic prosperity to improve outcomes for residents.
Why not look for system change to create a more equitable society, instead of bending to the existing system?
To restore our earth will take careful examination of the interconnectedness of the many causes and impacts of the climate emergency. For example, the destruction of natural habitats in the pursuit of growth, bringing into closer contact animals and humans, is likely to cause further pandemics. It will also take system change. Because alongside the environmental crisis, our existing systems have also produced other inequalities that have been deepened and highlighted by the pandemic, such as racial inequality, income inequality and educational inequality, which often intersect.
Drawing myself back to the space of environmental activism; throughout Hot Contents, I have been looking for ways for my artistic practice to act in solidarity with others working in this space. In March, I spent a lovely day planting trees along the site of the former Stockton and Darlington Railway. And currently, I am working with Friends of the Earth to support their call for a Green and Fair Recovery from the pandemic. Together, we are reflecting these questions out to the public to ask what a green and fair recovery looks like for Darlington, to create a digital signpost. This began in March, capturing a reflection from the Darlington Forest Project as part of their community planting weekend, and I am recording interviews across April and May that form the basis of the digital signpost, alongside a digital mapping of a local counter narrative to growth.
 Supplementary written evidence submitted by Professor Nicky Gregson, Durham University [IWS 035] for Parliamentary Enquiry, June 2019, p2, http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/housing-communities-and-local-government-committee/implications-of-the-waste-strategy-for-local-authorities/written/103388.pdf
 Destroyed Habitat Creates the Perfect Conditions for Coronavirus to Emerge, Scientific American, March 2020