Arts and Humanities

How the Arts and Humanities can contribute to sustainable policies and practices

Questions about the role of humans in the larger eco-system are central to the arts and humanities. Formulating solutions to issues of sustainability requires more than just technical and economic expertise. It requires a deeper understanding of what it means to be human. What do we value most? What kind of world do we wish to live in? It requires not just new technologies, new laws, and new economic initiatives, but, more importantly, what one of our Summit speakers, Natalie Jeremijenko, calls an 'eco-mindshift'.

The arts and humanities can contribute to bringing about this 'eco-mindshift' in three main ways:

  1. by helping individuals and societies define their core values and ethical principles and understand how those values and principles relate to sustainable practices and policies. Definitions of sustainability from a humanistic perspective look beyond 'survivability' and 'development'. There is no one definition but definitions that arise from one's culture, religion, social background, etc. In pluralistic societies like Hong Kong, the recognition of diversity is particularly important in the discussion of sustainability.
  2. by helping individuals and societies engage in critical debates about those values, practices and policies. Being critical means more than just questioning particular policies or practices. We need to critically evaluate basic assumptions about concepts like 'economic growth', 'consumption' and even 'green' policies and products.
  3. by helping individuals and societies come up with creative responses to environmental issues which involve new ways of thinking and inspire new ways of acting. Art is able to 'reframe' our everyday experiences in subtle ways. These small, incremental mind-shifts can eventually add up to larger, more radical shifts in attitude and priorities that will be necessary to create cultures of sustainability.

What are the practical implications of these contributions for policymakers, particularly in the contexts of Hong Kong and Greater China?