Here is my diary of the 2022 Greenbelt Festival. Greenbelt is an arts and ideas festival, with the emphasis on good and spiritual causes. You might call it a festival of the spirit.
On Friday evening Angela Saini gave a fascinating talk about how modern science can be used by racists to reinforce their narrative.
Using her knowledge of science Angela dispelled many myths on race, from sickle cell anaemia to supposed differing racial vulnerability to COVID-19.
A giant globe appeared above the path in one area of the festival.
Seagulls are rarely found this far inland but these enterprising birds can adapt to any situation.
Veteran electronic musician Brian Eno was in conversation on Saturday afternoon. There was interesting information about his collaborations with David Bowie: ‘he had lots of lyrics but no songs, I had lots of music but no lyrics’.
Interestingly he compared art to religion. Both are made up, he said. That could get anyone killed in some parts of the world! Then he brought in science. He thought they all differed in how they approached truth. Science tries to rationally strive at return through evidence and reason. Art irrationally aims for truth since the artist creates ‘truth’ as he or she sees it. Religion also irrationally tries to be true but unlike art often requires people to believe the results.
Eno also claimed that the post war period, supposedly the golden age of capitalism, was actually the golden age of socialism since it created socialised medicine, welfare and more rights for working people.
Brian Eno is clearly a fascinating and deep man. He could only exist now and in a free society.
Greenbelt is about all the arts including music. Here ‘The People Versus‘ entertain the crowd on a hot dry Saturday afternoon.
In the Greenbelt Treehouse venue there was a fascinating discussion about art and strife titled ‘When words fail art speaks’. A trio of Palestinian artists talked about the very precarious lives of their colleagues in Gaza and how many of them have been killed during the regular eruptions of hostilities.
Gaza is a place like few others in the world, where artists are under tremendous pressure from political and social actors on all sides. Fundamentalism, urban armed groups, government military forces, strict gender expectations, factional fighting can all make an artist’s life dangerous.
Eno asked what was the opposite of art, which got me thinking. I think he might have meant that war, here the tragedy playing out in Palestine, might be that opposite.
I got the opportunity to try apple and cinnamon tea which turned out to be a treat. I’ll definitely be buying some cinnamon sticks when I get back home. When not drinking tea I just chilled and was all the better for it.
A talk about creativity was in order from the musicians Big Samir and Aja Black aka the Reminder. They were a fascinating pair of characters. There was a lot of talk about identity and knowing you you are. Typically American! Their music sounded to me like hip hop but I know very little about contemporary popular music.
Climate change is always a big subject at Greenbelt, so I enjoyed a talk on the subject of ‘Who pays for climate change’. Basically it seems the poorest people in the poorest countries pay for it. No surprises there. The poorest always pay for everyone else’s mistakes.
I learned that the three Rs are apparently repentance, reparation and restoration.
The speakers included a senior manager from Christian Aid and a senior charity worker.
Someone asked an awkward question about Christian Aid’s Bank account at Barclays Bank, a major fossil fuel investor.
Time for some more music: Harriet Braine. Winner of musical comedienne awards. Her show definitely required parental discretion but it was very clever and funny in an original way.
For a more cerebral musical experience I then listened to an alternative type of ambient music show called ‘Immerse’ by Wilderthorn. The music itself was chill music with no beat, which went well with the rustic surroundings and general spiritual nature of Greenbelt. People were laid on the grass or on the wicker carpet inside the venue, just listening and enjoying and maybe entering a minor trance like state.
Martin Joseph, folk singer and a long time Greenbelt favourite, entertained the crowds in the early Sunday afternoon. His songs about powerlessness, inequality, injustice and other ills are well honed for the audience. Maybe too well honed. I yearned for a song about bad behaviour or something that would annoy the middle class blue chip congregation that is Greenbelt.
Monday morning and it’s time for some eco-doom. Paul Morozzo of Greenpeace certainly provides it. He does have a point. For example he points out that there is no more space for agricultural land in the world. Therefore to feed more cattle for more beef-burgers, corporate agriculture will need to invade more of the remaining natural habitats.
Next a talk by invertebrates expert Vicki Hird. Did you know that hoverflies are good guys as prolific pollinators of crops? They are also often economic migrants as they can fly thousands of miles in search of better living. Vicki advocates replanting hedgerows as it seems that these and other insects need corridors that they can travel along but alas modern agriculture or monoculture has destroyed these corridors. All it takes to make a corridor are some trees and hedges. The good news is that the UK government seems to be listening on this at least for now.
Just as big a problem for insects are the powerful pesticides which are now used, which cannot distinguish between friendly and harmful insects. These pesticides wash into our rivers and streams where they also affect aquatic insects which form a part of the food chain for fish and amphibians.
I didn’t know that bees’ honey has so many medicinal properties and can for example heal wounds, because nature has stuffed it full of anti-microbial and anti-fungicidal compounds. Vicki certainly improved my already positive attitude toward the little six legged critters which share our world. Curried locusts anyone?
Greenbelt is where various disciplines meet with faith so the next talk I attended made sense: science, awe and spirituality. Do scientists encounter, in their work, things which fill them with awe and is this a spiritual or even religious experience? It seems usually no – only 25% of UK scientists polled felt they were spiritual or religious according to Brandon Vaidyanathan. But that still leaves a lot who do feel spiritual when they find something awesome.
Ruth Bancewicz pointed out that ‘Biologists like complexity, physicists like simplicity.’
Interestingly the scientists confessed that, like everyone else, they turn to the arts – literature, drama, music and so forth – to relax after they have done their day’s science.
The ‘Selfish Green’ panel discussion started with the biblical book of Genesis which tells us we have dominion over nature and to go forth and multiply. Has this advice been disastrous for nature and ourselves? Panelists Chris Oldfield, Mazviita Chirimuuta, Timothy Howles and Hannah Malcolm agreed that humanity has historically had an attitude problem. The panel also agreed that we should try and address the problem in ways large and small from rewilding our gardens to regulation of corporations.
By 5pm on the final day my brain was addled from talks, so I settled down at the ‘Pagoda’ tent. Enough conceptualising and listening to panels of the good. Now I just listened to some young people who have written humorous poems. Some of them have won awards. Harry Baker and Helen Seymour were two of the young poets. No doubt they will soon turn up on TV panel shows.