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People listen to Greta Thunberg because of her creativity, not just her science

Creative subjects are on the decline in schools and universities, yet they are vitally important to society

‘Greta Thunberg’s extraordinary global impact demonstrates her mastery of skills that have little to do with what we usually think of as science.’




‘Greta Thunberg’s extraordinary global impact demonstrates her mastery of skills that have little to do with what we usually think of as science.’
Photograph: Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images

Blue Planet, Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg are all household names bringing information about serious environmental issues to the masses. They’ve helped green issues shoot up the agenda for this year’s general election, with a poll last month revealing that more than half of voters said that the climate emergency would influence how they cast their vote.

If it wasn’t for the media these scientific messages wouldn’t be heard or understood by millions of people. And Greta Thunberg’s extraordinary global impact demonstrates her mastery of skills that have little to do with what we usually think of as science.

Her speech to the UN Climate Action summit was utterly different from what we have heard before. In fewer than 500 words, she reduced many in the audience to tears when she said: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

Meanwhile, on her trip to the COP25 climate summit in Madrid she sailed with YouTube influencers Sailing La Vagabonde, who have more than 1m subscribers to their channel.

Greta is still listening to the science, but she’s using creativity to bring her message to a global audience – and as a result, we’re listening. So isn’t it odd that the arts, and creativity in general, are in freefall in our schools?

A report by the Education Policy Institute revealed that with government education reforms pushing pupils towards traditional academic subjects in schools, there is a marked reduction in the number of people aged 14-16 taking subjects such as dance and fine art. Fewer pupils studying arts and humanities at A-level has led to a decline in students applying to study similar subjects at degree level.

While the arts are vital for arts’ sake, the skills students acquire in the arts feed into those all-important science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects.

Stem subjects require research, attention to detail and a critical approach which is useful in any profession or subject. This means Stem and the arts and humanities complement each other well. Many Stem careers need creativity as much as analytical skills, and most Stem roles are about coming up with solutions to problems – and problem-solving is often about thinking creatively or “outside the box”.

Research from Harvard University on the global jobs market has shown that while Stem-related careers grew strongly between 1989 and 2000, they have stalled since. In contrast, the UK’s creative industries are developing new jobs faster than other sectors. According to government figures, the creative industries made a record contribution to the economy in 2017, smashing through the £100bn mark. Their value has grown at nearly twice the rate of the economy since 2010. Film, TV, advertising and digital creative industries including gaming are all part of this thriving sector.

To help keep the UK’s creative industries we need more university-level training that combines creativity with business skills. People who know how to secure funding, negotiate international deals and screening rights, grow online traffic, identify new revenue streams, monetise content and more, are very much in demand.

To ensure universities are teaching the right skills, we need stronger links between regional universities and local creative businesses. One exemplary programme is the government-funded £80m creative industries clusters.

Business talent and entrepreneurship is vital if this burgeoning industry is to continue to grow – we have Netflix securing more and more studio and office space in the UK, while Apple TV+ and the BBC and ITV’s joint venture Britbox have just launched.

Greta understands the relationship between creativity and the sciences. We need to catch up with her.

  • Lisette Johnston is a former BBC World News editor and the head of school for the BA in content, media and film production at ScreenSpace, a collaboration between MetFilm School and the University of West London

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