Twelve days of Climate Christmas at the Young Vic

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Dreaming of a Zero Carbon Christmas? Paul Allen has been exploring the possibilities with a group of visionaries at London’s Young Vic Theatre.

Following up on the cultural launch of CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen report at the National Theatre on London’s South Bank, I was invited to make the keynote presentation at the Young Vic’s Twelve Days of Climate Christmas event, organised by the youth action group ‘What’s Next Generation’.

The previous events, held over the preceding 11 days, had focused on how theatre can green its activities and its reach. The organisers told me of their enthusiasm to replace product placement with planet placement, so rather than focusing on ‘stuff’, the characters in their dramas are seen to take pro-environmental actions. So, to help the group open new conversations, I shared CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain work, framed within a presentation entitled ‘The Extraordinary Story of Human Beings, Energy and Happiness’.

Beginning with the birth of the sun and ending with the Paris Climate Agreement, the ‘Extraordinary Story’ challenges what we currently think of as normality; by taking the long view we can offer some useful perspectives, and using ‘story’ is a much more powerful way to change hearts and minds than presenting data alone.

Our current relationship with energy is only the most recent chapter in a very much longer story. This wider historical context can help us understand and unpick today’s energy-extreme lifestyles, seeing them not as a natural evolution of human development, or even well intentioned progress gone slightly astray, but rather a deliberate re-manufacturing of both our external (physical) landscapes and our internal (psychological) landscapes to make us consume more energy and more stuff. I have found that sharing this story can change how we think about our world and ourselves, opening audiences up to new possibilities, not least in the run up to Christmas time, when shopping for stuff hits its annual peak.

Following the presentation, I ran a special workshop entitled ‘Rethinking the Future: Christmas 2050’. Participants gathered into groups and wrote and shared their ideas, not on ‘what it could be like’ or even on ‘what it should be like’, but actually imagining themselves enjoying a zero carbon Christmas in 2050 – exploring that zero carbon world which a great many of us are trying so very hard to bring to life.

The powerful and vivid imagination of participants in the room led to some really engaging zero carbon Christmas visions: from shared meals to shared (and re-shared) bauble gifts and from local food Christmas dinners to celebrations focused on offering ‘gifts of time’.

The event was made more engaging by the live contribution of pianist Lola Perrin, playing a number of pieces she composed especially to accompany the story – you can hear her work at

This event opened some interesting conversations and may well lead to other arts-related events in 2018 – watch this space!