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Last night I went to the first in a series of talks organised by Arts Catalyst, the British Library and the Open University on Climate Change & Human Rights. The President of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, Greenland – Aqqualuk Lynge – made some very simple, very direct pleas.

Work with us as equal partners. Develop mutual respect and compassion. Exercise moderation for the sake of our people today and your people tomorrow. He talked of ethics and human rights, of responsibilities to the earth and each other, in the context of science – of reaching for courageous alternatives. You could say the usual stuff and shrug – but coming from a highly intelligent and articulate man whose world is increasingly polluted and destabilised, it made for thoroughly uncomfortably listening.

Can Lynge’s appeal to the science community stretch to the arts as well? The chair, Dr Michael Bravo of the Scott Polar Research Group, University of Cambridge, rather wearily said he was tired of artists expressing the romantic in this context and yearned for something more critical. Someone from the audience said the arts can open the debate. Surely we can go further than that?

Tomorrow (Wednesday 7 November, 2007) at SOAS there is a day long symposium on how artists, technologists and scientists can lead African responses to climate change. Melting the Ice – African Perspectives on Climate Change – will be chaired by the publisher and playwright Margaret Busby OBE. Speakers include artists Yinka Shonibare MBE, Baaba Maal and Romuald Hazoume. Email nr20@soas.ac.uk for a place.

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