by | Mar 19, 2024

Creative climate action for cultural and social change

In this blog by Maya Mailer, Co-Director of Our Kids’ Climate and Co-Founder of Mothers Rise Up, writes about the creative stunts and tactics they use in their aim to raise awareness of climate change and those that fund and invest in coal, gas and oil expansion.

It’s a windy Monday morning in the City of London. I’m outside the iconic Lloyd’s of London building with the Mothers Rise Up team, a renowned choreographer, professional dancers, stilt-walkers dressed as oil pumps, a young child in a Planet Earth zorb ball, and a crowd of parents, grandparents and toddlers. With gale-force gusts adding to the effect, Mothers Rise Up is about to stage a climate dance to urge Lloyd’s, the single largest source of fossil fuel insurance globally, to stop insuring coal, gas and oil expansion.

Forum theatre
A climate dance organised by Mothers Rise Up outside Lloyd’s of London to urge the fossil fuel insurer to stop insuring fossil fuel expansion, February 2023. Credit: Rebecca Ward

This moment is the culmination of months of work by a small team of women. Deciding on the overall creative concept: a classical dance that tells the story of insurance employees joining forces with mothers to take on Big Oil, helping protect a young child menaced by climate breakdown. Selecting the piece of music: Dvořák’s New World Symphony, symbolising our determination to create a new, healthier world for future generations. Handcrafting giant props. Sourcing second-hand costumes. Finding a choreographer (the wonderful Denni Sayers) and a troupe of dancers willing to take on this unconventional gig. Securing rehearsal space on a shoestring (my kids’ primary school). Convincing busy mums and retired grandparents to spend a cold February morning outside Lloyd’s. And on it goes.

Despite high winds that meant our stilt-walkers-cum-oil derricks had to get off their stilts, the action was a success. It secured global media coverage, including the Financial Times, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, Guardian, and Reuters – the publications our targets read over their morning coffee. As part of a Global Week of Action led by Insure Our Future, it mounted pressure on the insurance sector – an industry with huge, if overlooked, influence to fight climate breakdown.

It also did something not easily quantified by campaign media metrics: it brought an injection of joy, hope and inspiration at a time when many of us feel despondent in the face of the climate crisis and countless other injustices. 

Mothers Rise Up is a small, grassroots group of worried mothers that deploys art, creativity and humour in everything we do. We have conducted cake activism’ through a spin-off on the Great British Bake Off, resulting in the team appearing on an Extra Slice with their renewable energy cake (which won Star Baker!). We created quirky cricket-themed gifts for the cricket-loving Chair of Lloyd’s. We organised a Mary Poppins-inspired flash mob, brought Mother Earth in concert, and dropped a banner at Lord’s Cricket Ground. Through our actions, we have reached thousands of parents in the UK and globally, and secured meetings with the top brass at Lloyd’s.

A Mary-Poppins inspired flashmob organised by Mothers Rise Up outside Lloyd’s that went viral on social media, June 2022.  Credit: Sandra Freij
Cathy Come Home, performed by Cardboard Citizens member actors at Barbican for its 50th anniversary in 2016
A Halloween cake created by Chryso Chellun depicting the Lloyd’s building as part of the group’s spin off on the Great British Bake Off, October 2023

Once you’ve internalised the magnitude of the climate crisis and what it means for everything you love – your children, your home, your planet – grief and rage are rational responses. We aim to transform despair into determination through joy-filled campaigns. It keeps us going and builds our community.

Cultural interventions play a critical role in breaking down barriers, bringing people together and sparking the collective imagination about what is possible. In my role co-directing Our Kids’ Climate – a global network that supports parent-led and intergenerational climate organising in some 40 countries – I’ve seen the power of culture as a vehicle for change. 

For example, alongside Mothers Rise Up and Parents For Future UK, Our Kids’ Climate initiated an art project, called #OurOtherMother. We invited children’s illustrators to celebrate Planet Earth – Our Other Mother – resulting in thousands of pieces of artwork being created and shared. It empowered organisers in countries where space for civil society is constrained to hold art exhibits and conversations with fellow parents and government officials who are otherwise hostile towards climate campaigners.

Cathy cast and the #CitizensDo campaign
An image by award-winning illustrator Jim Field created for the #OurOtherMother global art campaign, March 2021

Alongside our use of culture, the global parent-climate movement has another superpower: the emotional strength of the parent voice. A 2023 landmark study by Potential Energy and Yale found that protecting the planet for the next generation is the most powerful motivator for inspiring climate action. Polling 60,000 people across 23 countries the data showed that “Across every country, love for the next generation was the dominant reason for action on climate change”.

This research confirms something that we in the parent-climate movement have known and observed for years. Whether it’s talking to parents at the school gates (or in my case, on muddy fields during my kids’ football training), we can connect with people emotionally and relay a powerful, unifying message about the need to act. 

Through creative, cultural actions like last month’s climate dance outside Lloyd’s, we can amplify this message of generational love and action, far and wide. We have the solutions to this crisis. So for the sake of all our children, let’s use them. Later is too late.


Main photo caption: A Mothers Rise Up protest calling on the Prime Minister to stop fossil fuel expansion as wildfires burn across Europe, August 2023. Credit: Anna Gordon
Union Chapel space converted to a food donation hub
A scene from a cricket-meets-climate advent calendar handcrafted by Chryso Chellun and gifted to Chair of Lloyd’s and cricket enthusiast Bruce Carnegie-Brown, December 2021.

Maya Mailer

Maya Mailer is the Co-Director of Our Kids’ Climate and Co-Founder of Mothers Rise Up



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