The Musical Activist podcast

The Musical Activist #9: 12 Years 2020 tour | Richard Betts MBE

May 26, 2020

In May 2020, I should have been playing '12 Years' at Exeter Phoenix and the post-show discussion would have been with the brilliant Richard Betts MBE. In lieu of being able to meet in person, we have recorded a short conversation, where Richard shares incredibly valuable insights, coming from a place of great knowledge: this is the man writing the UK's risk assessment on climate change.

After my show for South Street Arts, Reading, which happened online in April, Richard shared a thought about how we talk about lifestyle change. He urged us to replace ‘giving up’ with ‘liberation’ and I was really interested to read shortly after, in a permaculture book (Earth Care Manual by Patrick Whitefield), the following:

“I feel it’s important not to feel guilty about our lifestyles. The time to make a specific change is when the positive desire to do so grows to the point where it’s greater than the discomfort of giving up an old habit. If we take the trouble to learn about the ecological impact of our daily lives, the process of lifestyle change happens naturally. Then it’s not a self-imposed penance but a process of liberation.” 

It is really helpful hearing about how Richard gained his ‘liberation’ from owning a car: the tedium of the regular commute, the upset caused by an oil spill in Pembrokeshire - the obvious associations between his regular daily drive and the fossil fuel causing untold damage to his favourite beaches, and finally being caught for speeding (!). The cascade of negative events or daily experiences which led to him finding a much happier solution – you do get a genuine sense that he is liberated by cycling and taking the train, sharing a car when needed.  There is something really important here about language and also personal discovery.

He made some very clear statements about the bigger picture though: “We’ve got to have changes at the system level” and “It’s very clear that if we’re going to slow the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere… we just can’t keep burning fossil fuels and we have to rein it in soon”.

When I asked him about the arts, I found his answer so clear and resonating with what I am hoping to achieve through ’12 Years’: “The arts play an incredibly role in people understanding within themselves what something really means… not just having a technical understanding but what it means to you - that’s a very personal thing… [That with the arts we can] open people’s minds to an issue and allowing them to make sense of it themselves.”

Finally, at the end, I asked him what he would say in a 1-minute primetime TV advert to the nation and he said: “It is real and it is definitely our fault, we know this now. We’ve got to face up to the fact that some further climate change is inevitable and deal with that but also don’t lose hope about avoiding the worst: we still can avoid the most severe changes.”

Let us all take heed.