A siren call from culture

| 6th August 2020
Pollution Pods
Cape Farewell
Artists and poets offer voice and visionary direction in the recovery from Covid-19 and in the fight against climate breakdown.

Over 20,000 people experienced the pollution and media coverage was stratospheric. Art can engage and change people.

The devastating Covid-19 virus and the realities of climate breakdown are global challenges of unprecedented magnitude. 

Our need for a green recovery is much discussed, and getting public buy-in is crucial to making a green recovery really work. 

The virus has already triggered a societal shift: 48 percent of the public agrees that the government should respond "with the same urgency to climate change as it has with Covid-19", with just 28 per cent saying it shouldn't.  66 percent of Britons believe that in the long-term climate change is as serious a crisis as Covid-19, compared to 71 percent on average across those 14 countries, an Ipsos poll conducted across 14 countries in April 2020 showed. 

Cape Farewell

I founded Cape Farewell in 2001 with the belief that artists have a unique power to communicate complex messages to the public. 

Our maxim is ‘Climate is Culture’. Real change requires a social shift to impact behaviour and this is true for both the Covid-19 and climate challenges.  We strongly believe in the power of the arts to effect that change. 

We work across disciplines to reach as wide an audience as possible, partnering with artists, designers, film makers, writers and other creatives around the globe, informed by climate scientists, economists and social innovators to imagine and articulate a dynamic and sustainable future. 

Founded in 2001, Cape Farewell has been chipping away at the cultural shift for twenty years working with artists and creatives who have both a global reach and a community following. 

Over 20,000 people experienced the pollution and media coverage was stratospheric. Art can engage and change people.

For example, Michael Pinsky created Pollution Pods, an interactive artwork of five interlocking geodesic domes each holding the (simulated) air of major polluted cities: London, Beijing, Sao Paulo, New Delhi and as a contrast, the final dome contained a simulation of the purer air of Trondheim, a remote town in Norway.  

Cape Farewell managed an international tour of the pods, from Somerset House in London, to the front lawn of the UN building in New York for their Climate Action Summit, to the yearly launchpad of Ted Talks, to Melbourne, Geneva and finally to COP25 in Madrid.

Over 20,000 people experienced the pollution and media coverage was stratospheric. Art can engage and change people.


For Cop21 in Paris, Cape Farewell and French partners COAL staged the first global cultural festival for climate. Instead of artists flocking to Paris with huge carbon footprints, we encouraged them to stage events in their own backyard, to engage as many people in the possibility of a better, greener, more sustainable world culture.

At the end of a successful Cop21, ArtCop21 delivered over 600 cultural events in fifty plus countries, working locally to deliver globally.

Now, more than ever, as the world undergoes unprecedented change, those with creative vision can help give us a much-needed cultural handle on what it means to be human, with a focus on our environmental footprint, the role of our physical ‘home’ and of our collective wellbeing. 

Amid economic free-fall and restrictions on social movement, Cape Farewell has launched Siren Poets, a four-month project, that is engaging four South-West of England poets to reach out and give voice to communities, through social media, as we try to pull out of the pandemic.

The Siren Poets have been chosen for their skill to transform the abstract into human scale Siren calls. Reflecting on their lives, constructing interventions that question convention, illuminating new scenarios and listening to the voice of others. They are using music, graphic visuals, power words, the poetry of life and the ability and courage to create the new.


The project has begun virtually, but in time, as the virus retreats, the poets will gather at the WaterShed in Dorset, Cape Farewell’s HQ, a low-carbon, artists’ studio, workspace and office immersed in a wild, river-filled landscape. They will produce a live Siren performance in September, reaching out online to a worldwide audience with a Siren call, hopefully irreverent, definitely entertaining.

The Sirens have been mandated to reach as wide an audience as possible, despite current limitations on physical interaction with the public.  Peter Bearder has run a workshop entitled 'Technologies of re-enchantment: creative writing in the age of collapse'.  

Shagufta Iqbal is observing the bee community as a template for our own , observing how the insects communicate, build to survive and sustain their way of living.

Drawing on her experience of local community and her religious heritage, Shagufta is collecting narratives on food, how we used to eat and how we can feed ourselves now, with the domestic ‘habitat’ now more crucial than ever and how that affects our ability to sustain our diverse cultures.

Liv Torc is inviting people to submit examples of when and how the Earth has tried to help us during lockdown and given us messages, metaphors and mirrors from our natural environment - the wisdom on the tip of the tongue of the world. 

Chris White (Emerging Siren) is recording and gathering people’s “favourite plastic things” to create a 'Plastic Love Stories' feature and has presented a spoken-word scratch show Plasticles live from Cape Farewell HQ in Dorset, featuring music from Hal Kelly. 


Cape Farewell has been working from the get-go to inspire the making of climate-focused artworks, films, written word and music. Today we hope to inspire the poets to create something that has resonance in our and their communities, a siren call - initially in the virtual space - tapping into our and their national and international networks.

This is an urgent opportunity: as society is trying to emerge from the pandemic, we need voice and visionary direction. The arts can give this, and they can help us make the huge cultural shift that is essential to a greener future.

This Author 

David Buckland is founder and international director of Cape Farewell.


The Ecologist has a formidable reputation built on fifty years of investigative journalism and compelling commentary from writers across the world. Now, as we face the compound crises of climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and social injustice, the need for rigorous, trusted and ethical journalism has never been greater. This is the moment to consolidate, connect and rise to meet the challenges of our changing world. The Ecologist is owned and published by the Resurgence Trust. Support The Resurgence Trust from as little as £1. Thank you. Donate now.