Culture and
Climate Change

We convene workshops, seminars and events that invite contributions from leading researchers, artists, producers, journalists and policymakers. These are often shared as podcasts and generate material for our publications. We want this work to support a more dynamic and plural public conversation around climate change.

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Climate Change in Residence: Future Scenarios

In December 2015, Culture and Climate Change launched the Scenarios project in Paris during COP21. This programme of work includes three artists' residencies within key climate change networks and institutions; Climate Change in Residence: Future Scenarios. Each residency includes an award of £10,000.

When the artists' opportunity closed in February 2016, we had received 270 applications. We are currently in the process of assessing these applications before appointing the artists in April 2016. The year-long residencies will begin in June 2016.

The residency programme will test the idea of 'networked residencies'. Climate research has long relied on networked collaborations rather than individual, geographically-located centres. Through these residencies, the artists will be able to research issues around climate change scenarios and spend time exploring and developing their own artistic practice. We hope this project will encourage cultural depth in public conversations around future scenarios.

The Scenarios project is generously supported by The Ashden Trust, Jerwood Charitable Foundation, The Open University and the University of Sheffield

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Culture and Climate Change: Future Scenarios focuses on the imagining and representation of climate change scenarios.

Climate scenarios are ultimately collective acts of imagination about possible futures in human-natural-hybrid systems. Scenarios play a prominent role in climate research, policy and communication. However they tend to be dominated by natural science and economics, and there is little cultural depth to them.

In December 2015 at COP21, we launched the Climate Change in Residence: Future Scenarios networked residency programme, to catalyse new creative work that will encourage more open and imaginative, but also more purposeful, responses to the challenges of climate change in the present. We received over 270 applications from visuals artists, musicians, poets, writers, theatre-makers, choreographers and creatives from across film and digital media to the residency programme.

In July 2016, we announced Emma Critchley, Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping and Zoë Svendson as the selected artists for Climate Change in Residence: Future Scenarios. Working with artists’ moving image, photography, installation, theatre and performance, the chosen artists will undertake a new kind of residency programme which embeds them within climate research and policy knowledge networks, rather than within one institution. They will engage with climate scenarios, and explore and extend the ways in which society engages with the range of possible future climates.

The year long residency will end in June 2017 and each residency includes an award of £10,000.

This project is an experiment which pilots a new residency model — that of a ‘networked residency’. Climate research has long relied on networked collaborations rather than individual, geographically-located centres and the design of this Future Scenarios residency programme deliberately responds to and mirrors the distributed networks of climate change research

Rather than a traditional residency based in one institution, this networked residency engages with a community of people across institutions and disciplines whose work, individually and collectively, informs the development of climate scenarios. Through these residencies, the artists will be able to research issues around climate change scenarios and spend time exploring and developing their own artistic practice. We also hope that the programme will inform the way in which researchers from a wide range of disciplines think about the relationship of their work to wider cultural work on climate scenarios.

This website will host monthly updates from the artists as well as information on past and future events. It will act as a live archive of the residency programme and will seed future activity for the Culture and Climate Change programme and for those who engage with it.

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Image Credit: Emma Critchley

Emma Critchley

Being immersed in water is a powerful scenario that resonates not only with me as an artist but unites us all; it is something we have all experienced. Yet the shifts that occur when our bodies are in this space necessitate both a physical and mental realignment, which alters our basic structure of being and allows exploration into the human condition itself. For me scenarios provide the opportunity to distill the complex and multi-faceted research involved in climate change and create imagined environments that allow space to stop, reflect and invite challenge and debate from an experiential position.

I am aware of the challenges involved in working with such a deeply layered and complex subject area and look forward to developing sustained discussions with researchers from a network of disciplines that will enable me to draw out some of these tensions as well as make meaningful, integral connections. I look forward to exploring the philosophical shifts we are experiencing, where scientific research is impacting on our way of being on a seismic scale. Complexity is inherent to engaging with environmental change and emotion is a core tenet of how people engage with complex and abstract problems. This is an opportunity to use art as a point of encounter in which to engage with the nuances, complexities and intersectionalities of the current and future climate change landscapes.

My ambitions for the residency are:

Bringing scientists, media and those involved in policy making together to explore how science attributes meaning within research and how this information is disseminated to the wider public.

Generating scientific and cultural collaborations in order to explore the psychological, social and political implications of the transgressions occurring through climate change across the body & environment, land & water.

‘In a sense, we can expect human egos to be pock-marked with traces of hyperobjects. We are all burnt by ultraviolet rays. We all contain water in about the same ratio as the Earth does, and salt water in the same ratio as the oceans do. We are poems of the hyperobject Earth.’ Timothy Morton

Sound as a mobilizing force. An invisible yet omnipresent indicator of environmental change. The ocean; a reflective membrane to the Earth. I am fascinated by the way sound gives identity to the spaces we live in and how our sonic landscape shapes us. Underwater, sound operates in an entirely different way and is perceived through vibrations in the bone and thus becomes a corporeal experience.

‘(T)he soundscape of the world is changing. Modern humanity is beginning to inhabit a world with an acoustic environment radically different from any hitherto known ... what is the relationship between humanity and the sounds of its environment and what happens when those sounds change?’ Murray Schafer

Monitoring the Earth from space. Exploring the depths of the ocean from the depths of outer space. The rhythms of the Earth, atmospheric shifts, tectonic plate movement. A means of gaining perspective. Vast expansions of timescales. The sound of a climate disaster.

‘(T)he heaviness of the stillness that comes before the storm’ Yves Lomax

Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping

We are Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping an artist collaboration working with conceptual documentary photography and artist film. Since 2012 we have been working on self-initiated projects relating to Climate Change and the Anthropocene, most of which have focused upon the so called “Third Pole” or, as it is geographically known, The Tibetan Plateau.

Our ongoing work has examined the climatic and geopolitical importance of this region highlighting the relationships between glacial recession, desertification, development, the economy, human rights and global climatic systems. In our most recent body of work entitled Feedback Loops, we have created sequences of images and captions that depict these phenomena with the intention of creating a visual interpretation of the mechanism of feedback. By doing so we intend the idea of feedback to imply that every action humanity takes has consequences that return to shape the future in a way we cannot foresee.

Over the course of the Future scenarios Networked residency we will be working with the Anthropocene and Climate Change as a cultural paradigm of our time that shapes the way in which we imagine our future. To do so we intend to utilise our indexical representation of current climate, environmental, geological, economic and socio-political phenomena to illustrate the visceral reality of different hypothetical future scenarios. Through images of our present we will suggest a palatable imagining of difficult and improving futures.

We are going to continue to work with complexity and the scientific methodologies used to represent complex systems. To do so we will encompass a multitude of issues and subject matter in a large body of work that will reflect on the broad spectrum of researched disciplines that contribute to our knowledge of Climate Change. This is intended to make visible the contradictions which are at the heart of the scientific and ethical challenges that humanity is facing.

Throughout the residency we will continue to focus on phenomena we have already identified within our previous work. We will also explore the possibility of representing: climate induced migration, future cities, overpopulation, drowning islands, the psychological pressure of climate change and the prognosis of a difficult future scenario, among other subjects.

We also plan to document the process of environmental policy making, intergovernmental climate change summits, conferences, seminars and climate change research facilities and methodologies, with the intention of increasing the visibility of the scientific investigation and legislating of Climate Change further clarifying the relationship between environmental and socio- political issues, Climate Change and human rights.

One of our key intentions is to re-examine the place of humanity within nature through a discourse on beauty. We would like to consider how to represent human-natural-hybrid systems and to rethink and demystify the human-natural divide in the Anthropocene.

Above all we would like to discover, whilst engaging with researchers and their work, potential strategies to enable greater understanding of the Climate Change discourse through culture.

The year-long networked residency will allow us time to learn, grow and experiment. Our projects require duration, dedication and commitment to access the knowledge and the locations. With great enthusiasm we look forward to match-made collaboration with researchers and scientists, something that we see as an essential step in the development of our inquiry and something that we have struggled to facilitate alone.

But if there is one thing we hope to achieve in the next year, it is that we want to empower people through the knowledge that being informed about the climate discourse is doing something about Climate Change, and by admitting that we too often feel confused, daunted and powerless to stop it.

Zoë Svendsen

Although this is officially only the first month of the residency, my thoughts have been bubbling from the start of the year. They have come in many kinds: the initial thoughts that went into the application, through the ruminating about how to share those ideas for the launch, and then the efforts of starting the research process now that the residency is live. As this is about a network, there has been no physical change of location or state. But I’ve noticed a fundamental shift in my attention – for my radar for the climate and the future-related has been (re)sensitised.

Further, two weeks before officially starting, the relationship of British culture to the future underwent a seismic shift: a vote took place for a kind of ‘no future’. I don’t mean by that that the vote to leave the European Union was a kind of cry of despair (although some have perceived it that way), but that whilst the vote was about the future, no one had made a plan for that future. What resulted therefore was a kind of minor implosion across the political spectrum. Whilst the Department for Energy and Climate Change has vanished in the Brexit fallout, and climate change recedes in visibility as a political and social concern, never has it been clearer that our ability to survive, resist and thrive depends on our capacities to imagine our future.

Artistic practice is partly about defamiliarising, and then reconsidering, our habits, norms, and the unthinking acceptance of the status quo. Brexit has done this to politics – with great risk of tipping us into short-termist xenophobic inwardness – but also with potential for a recalibration of what matters. Art can also construct, envisaging alternative ways of doing things, enlarging our capacity to imagine, stepping into the breach where there is no plan. Never has the need for such imagining been so acute – and therefore so political. Yet thrust into the maelstrom of urgency, the kinds of short-cut to efficacy that is often willed for artworks, could reduce the capacity of the work to resonate differently. How to make works that address these acutely urgent political questions of our future – whilst retaining an autonomy that invites a different and more profound form of engagement and thought?

The questions that drive my research for this residency revolve around two intersecting areas, both relating to how we understand ourselves as human subjects. I am fascinated (and disturbed) by the largely non-transparent interconnectedness of our current financial, social and environmental situation. I plan to investigate the economics of climate change, and in particular, the implications of alternative economic models for how we conceive of ourselves socially and culturally. I’m curious about our embroilment in these systems – in how we are beneficiaries of some of the very financial structures that counteract the values and actions that we undertake elsewhere in our lives. The representation of human agency that drives drama implies we are individuals separate from our situation – but are we really? With that in mind, I’m interested in exploring experts’ future scenarios – coming from geographers, scientific modellers, sociologists, and economists. What I want to work out is this: how would we live within those scenarios? What would our relationships to one another look like? What would our challenges and conflicts be? Do we need to alter our perception of what it means to have agency?

Politically, I can imagine an outcome to Brexit that would address the deep underlying economic inequalities, the loss of a sense of identity [see here], and which would present a decisive shift for British society and culture. If economic stimulus were structured towards creating a green, de-carbonised economy – if the country were put on an emergency footing to design, manufacture and install or implement the technologies and social practices that would mitigate climate change – we might find the purpose we are seeking, with tangible effects and concomitantly a renewed sense of how we might connect to the global picture. Somehow, although this seems eminently sensible to me, it appears unimaginable to the mainstream. And I wonder if it comes down to how we conceive of ourselves as (successful) humans? World Factory [see here] suggested to its audiences that it was ‘up to you what it means to win’ – and perhaps that is now what is at stake on all fronts. At what scale do we want to win? At an individual level, or collectively? The question is urgent. How might we imagine success differently – and with that, our relationship to the planet and each other?

Photo: Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping, A disaster fuelled by a cretaceous catastrophe, (2016)

Emma Critchley

Tuning in

‘The land is silent and the sea speaks. The ocean is a voice. It speaks to distant galaxies, responds to their movements in its grave and solemn language. It speaks to the Earth, to the shore, with a moving tone, in harmony with their echoes; plaintive, menacing by turns, it growls or sighs. It speaks to humanity above all.’

Jules Verne 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

I was commissioned to do an underwater portrait for the Financial Times magazine this month, of an entrepreneur from California who invented underwater chess. As we chatted at the end of the shoot he tells me that amongst other things, he set up the publishing company Tenderbooks. A couple of days later, out of the blue, I received through the post a gift from a colleague and friend - Memo for Nemo by William Firebrace. Published by Tenderbooks.

This month I have been intensely filming, recording and editing a new piece of work commissioned for b-side festival in September that is inspired by the hundreds of wrecks that lie dormant on the seabed that surrounds Portland. The work started back in February on a residency in Barbados (Freshmilk), where I spent a month exploring the wrecks around this island. It's been recorded that Carlisle Bay alone has lost approximately 200 ships since the 17th Century primarily due to storms. Portland is a similarly perilous place due to a combination of ‘The Race’, a convergence of no less than 7 tides coming together and the ‘Dead line’ to the west of the isle that has a 10 knot undercurrent. Treacherous indeed.

These wrecks in Portland particularly, have tuned me in to activities happening all around the isle, both above and below the waters surface; of searching, unearthing, monitoring, watching, listening, responding … Throwing out light to the star-lit sky, sounding the fog horn when sight becomes redundant, sending out sonar waves and listening for returning echoes … Resonating, reciprocating, relational … human, vessel, landscape, tides …

My research filters down to a deeper level; in his book Sonic Warfare Steve Goodman describes an ontology of vibrational force that ‘delves below a philosophy of sound and the physics of acoustics towards the basic process of entities affecting other entities.’ He goes on to say that ‘vibrational ontology begins with some simple premises. If we subtract human perception, everything moves. Anything static is only so at the level of perceptibility. At the molecular or quantum level, everything is in motion, is vibrating.’

As I read the first chapter of my new book, Firebrace quotes Jules Verne, ‘The Ocean is a voice … It speaks to humanity above all’. I love this. I then discover that novelist Margaret Drabble argues that Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea anticipated the ecology movement. Firebrace writes; ‘During the 1960’s the undersea, along with space, was considered as the next step for exploration and inhabitation.’ He goes on to say ‘in a period of climatic change, our view of the undersea is increasingly complex. It is seen as a threat due to rising sea-levels, as a location for minerals and resources, as a militarized zone, as a location for fantasies, as a paradise apparently lost almost before it could be found.’ I couldn’t agree more – as someone who has spent over a decade exploring our human relationship with water, I’m fascinated by the layers of complexity that climate change is adding to the way we perceive and relate to water and the oceans. The physical and psychological boundaries between land and sea, body and environment are continually being challenged in new ways with the increase in flooding, tsunamis and sea levels rising. Yet it is still a place we know so little about.

Inevitably however, it feels like this won’t be for long. I have been researching some large-scale sonar mapping projects happening beneath the ocean’s surface, defining the outer limits of various nations’ extended continental shelves. Projects that not only add another layer to our relentless need to colonize but are claimed to be both in the name of environmental protection and in search of minerals; surely a contradiction in terms?

In this week’s New Scientist Nemo is there again, in an article titled Into the blue with Nomad and Nemo, about the Baseline Explorer research vessel, which for the last month has circled Bermuda releasing submersibles that dive 200 metres deep in the Sargasso Sea as part of the Nekton Mission, a global campaign to capture ‘what life is like in the ocean’s depths.’ Here the article tells us ‘We have better maps of Mars and the moon than we have of our own seabed’. One and a half centuries of exponential exploration and discovery after the tales of Captain Nemo and some 95% of the oceans remain unexplored. Part of me wishes it would stay that way.

Perhaps this is what has drawn me to these chambers that lie on the seabed, covered with silt, corals, sponges, inhabited by fish; colonized by nature. Unlike these open carcasses that lay splayed out on the ocean floor, the large windows in Captain Nemo’s submarine Nautilus’s provided both an opening and a barrier between his somewhat elaborate salon spaces and the underwater environment; a place where he can observe another world from the comfort of his own arm chair. As I edit the footage, through the camera’s eye I watch myself swim through the now redundant doorways and windows of various vessels and realize that whilst I was filming and thinking (in my human-centric way) of myself as voyeur in this other world, it was in fact the fish that were watching me, following me.


Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping

The second month of our residency has been an intense period of research, experimentation, organisation and planning.

During this time we have become acutely aware of the challenges associated with our intention to work with a broad scope of subject matter and a multitude of locations, to which we have responded by investigating a number of methodologies. It is our believe that to adequately represent the multiplicity of climate change we should not focus upon case specific subjects, but instead try to represent a complex entanglement of issues manifesting as loops of causality or feedback. Therefore we are tasked with considering how to represent complexity itself.

To initiate our inquiry we have devised a series of exercises and experiments to help us identify some of the conceptual and practical devices that we could utilise to consider complexity and to learn about the subject itself.

Our research dossier currently contains: a folder of hypothetical project proposals/scenarios, research collages, a body of preliminary photographic and moving image works and the summary of our first interview conducted with a scientist (Professor Rupert Ormond).

Project Proposals/Scenarios - Exploring Frontiers:

We have drawn up a number of hypothetical project proposals for research trips. The act of researching: locations, intentions, possible subjects, logistical means, philosophical shifts and cultural references is a fundamental part of our collaborative process. We find that this very considered and rigorous activity, one not always associated with artists, allows us to gradually accumulate and build upon initial ideas and develop them into more substantial and complex forms.

In the first few proposals we used the locus (place) based approach, concentrating on specific case studies that illustrated climate change symptoms. What we have discovered is that this approach greatly narrowed the possibility of revealing complex networks of interconnected incidents, phenomena, actions and reactions that cross multiple frontiers. This is largely due to the fact that phenomena relating to climate change transgress numerous boundaries which therefore renders the study of one place meaningless. Phenomena cross: political borders, different ecosystems, atmospheric spheres and all denominations of scale (from sub atomic to planetary) and time (geological to anthropocentric). They are also massively distributed in these spaces in many forms that are present for different reasons, each one an object (hyperobject) exerting a different effect. (1)

Furthermore, most natural resources (or ecosystem services), apart from land to build on or extract from, are commonly shared but not commonly owned (the atmosphere, groundwater, the oceans etc.). This is reflected in the problematics of implicating “global action” something that has resulted in natural resources becoming political entities.

Equipped with this new information, we have identified that humanity has habitually hemmed in these massive phenomena into the shape of countries and into the structure of their economies, creating boundaries on top of the existing geophysical frontiers. As a result the geophysical frontiers are obscured by political lines which make it harder to identify when climatic, social and political events simultaneously take place upon or within the constraints of a geophysical frontier.

One very striking example of a frontier that exemplifies this relationship is the aridity line as identified by Eyall Weizman in his book The Conflict Shoreline. Aridity lines surround areas that receive a maximum of 200mm annual precipitation; this terrain is called arid terrain and it is typical to find desert there. But the aridity lines themselves outline the fringes of deserts where agriculture is still possible which are areas adversely affected by drought when slight climatic changes occur.

The majority of arid terrain is found in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. In the north the aridity line goes right through the city of Daraa Daraa in Syrian where a huge numbers of farmers were displaced in the years leading to the 2011 uprising which took place in Daraa Daraa, an event that marks the beginning of the Syrian civil war.(2)

“The connection between water and heat stress and conflict is a recurring, intensifying pattern all along the aridity line: all along it you see places marked by drought, water scarcity, scorching temperatures and military conflict – from Libya to Palestine, to some of the bloodiest battlefields in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”(2)

Here political and military action clearly aligns with aridity lines, yet this is largely hidden by the political demarcation of borders and a focus upon country specific conflicts.

“…certain patterns have become quite clear: first, Western fighter jets followed that abundance of oil; now, Western drones are closely shadowing the lack of water, as drought exacerbates conflict.” (2)

Throughout our previous work which focused upon the Third Pole we were in fact already working within the confines of an invisible demarcation line that signifies the extent to which the environmental, climatic and geopolitical influence of The Third Pole reaches. The so called Third Pole is the third largest source of freshwater on Earth and a geological feature that influences the climate. As a geographic area it is easily defined by a change in relief yet the sphere of its influence is much larger; potential global and as a result much harder to define.

Therefore we have decided to investigate the idea of the frontier, and structure our future field trips around an exploration of these multifaceted visible and invisible lines. We will consider not just one line but many and how they converge with the intention of revealing their relationship to hydro-politics, population growth, rural-urban migration and agriculture.

Thus by exploring the frontier that marks the extent to which the effects of glacial recession reach or the trajectory of a river, one simultaneously explores the frontier of human struggle, economy, conflict and history.

We hope that our focus upon the dichotomy of the geophysical frontier could illustrate how lines both hide and reveal interconnected issues as superimposition and crisscrossing takes place concealing and mystifying, revealing and rethinking.

Research collages:

We have found it very useful colliding together images from the Internet and other sources in themed collages. These image collections serve several purposes:

To estimate what kind of representation has been created, collected and entrenched in visual culture.

To unpick how largely invisible abstract objects such as climate are being represented by symbols through semiotic systems of keywords.

To work with an associative process (image search engines) when researching, that somewhat mirrors the feedback mechanism or the identification of components in a feedback loop. The structure of the cluster reflecting the process of associative keyword image search but also the way one phenomena relates to the other in a non-progressive, nonlinear way.

To consider ways of presenting images that reveal hidden relationships.

We do not use these image search exercises to repeat an established mode of representation or to identify subject to photograph or film. We do so because we are in the process of developing our own set of symbols and indexes. Therefore we decode the already existing visual language associated with climate change to study how climate change has been represented and how do we relate to some of the images (symbols) associated with it. Such as: a picture of the sun, an engine, a leaf, or an iceberg.

The next thing we must think about is how we can create alternative representations or how to reinterpret or expand the meaning of well-known imagery. This is intended to increase understanding and questioning the relationship we have with established symbols. As part of the process we intend to access as many of the archives associated with the residency as possible.

Representing disaster:

For us to work with future scenarios means to consider the idea of the disaster, this is because we believe that to address the degree of urgency associated with climate change, art and culture are required to produce works which “scream with intelligence”.(3)

The presence of disaster is of course nothing new, as ever since the rise of environmental consciousness the impending ecological disaster has been its accompanying narrative. Previously in our work we have been trying to some extend to visualise the Anthropocene and therefore we have been focusing on human agency. The human force of the Anthropocene is now being compared to the collision of an asteroid with the earth, in this way equating their geophysical impacts.

Historically and culturally asteroids, comets or falling stars were perceived as dysfunctional (as they do not stay in the sky, they fall) and therefor they are called dis-astron: a fallen, dysfunctional dangerous or evil star that is an omen or harbinger of trouble to come. (4)

But there is a difference between the disaster and the apocalypse, the same way as there is a representational and ontological discontinuity between the event and its sign (smoke is a sign of fire but it does not resemble the fire, just as smoke does not reveal the extent of damage being done by the fire). Therefor we will be considering the idea of the disaster as an apocalypse, a disaster in the making.

We will be working with the meaning of Apocalypse in its original Latin derivative “apokalyptein” which means to uncover, disclose or reveal a meaning that was lost in the 14th century when it became connected to the catholic idea of “revelation”.

When approaching this subject one main thing needs to be realized: that the end of the world has already happened. It has happened at least once at Trinity, Hiroshima or Nagasaki, or with the invention of the steam engine. These meaningful events also mark the end of history and perhaps even the end of nature and the beginning of the geostory (Geo-history). (5)

The end of the world then is an indexical marker, such as a layer in an ice core or a sharp spike in CO2 levels on a graph, or traces of lead-207 in the strata. But the end of the world is also represented by an invisible spectrum of signs and marks that are reflected in the experiences of those who are there as it happened. This is what we as artists can hope to reveal through collaboration with scientists and through our field trips.

First interview: Professor Rupert Ormond

This month we conducted our first interview with a scientist.

We spoke to Professor Rupert Ormond, who is a tropical marine ecologist and biologist with a broad range of interests and particular expertise in the behaviour and ecology of sharks and other coral reef fish, and in the monitoring and management of marine protected areas.

In our conversation with Professor Ormond we discussed: The importance of Coral Reefs and the devastating impact climate change is having upon them. Ocean challenges, from micro-plastics to ocean acidification and warming. We also talked about researching, policy making and campaigning. The Middle East. The public not engaging with the facts and what culture can do. And what culture he thought was successfully communicating the urgent need to act.

The full report from this interview will soon be presented in the research section of our websites under Future Scenarios, to find out more about Professor Ormond’s work please visit here


1. Morton, T., 2013, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), 1-2.

2. Klein, N., 2016, Let Them Drown The Violence of Othering in a Warming World, Edward W. Said London Lecture, London Review of Books, Vol.38 No11,pages 11-14, Available here [accessed 30 July 2016]

3. Morton,T. , 2009, Creativity in the Face of Climate Change, University of California, UCTV, media release, Available here [accessed 10 August 2016]

4. Morton, T., Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 15.

5. Latour, B., 2013,The Anthropocene and the Destruction of the Image of the Globe, Facing Gaia, Six Lectures on the Political Theology of Nature, Gifford Lectures, The University of Edinburgh, media release, Available here [ accessed 30 July 2016]


Zoë Svendsen

This month I’ve been thinking about future scenarios of climate change through starting to explore visions of alternative economies. Over the past five years there has been a plethora of ideas for where the economies of the world could go next, away from neoliberalism, and whilst climate change is not the overt subject matter of these works, it haunts every one of them. Whether referenced in passing or providing stimulus, fears of what climate change will bring shadows these works as a ghost from the future, an augury of what we might have to face if we do not rethink the whole structure of how we engage with one another.

These are some of the economic systems I’m thinking about – all plausible, intriguing & above all hopeful:

· Circular or closed loop economies

· Postwork economies

· Economics of ‘enough’

· Zero-growth economy

· (New) manufacturing economies – and an emphasis on the value of making

Back in the present, the background hum of the past months has been the continuous breaking climate records: with each month being the hottest ever recorded

And then further back into the past – I’ve also been returning to the basics, to remind myself what it is actually about: these visualisations are alarming, affecting, compelling

Something I’ve been developing for a while is a practice of research-in-public. When making 3rd Ring Out, we met an array of extraordinary experts: scientists and geographers, town-planners and emergency planners. The theatrical show that emerged – an emergency-planning-style ‘rehearsal’ for a climate-changed future – was an amalgamation/transformation of everything we had encountered through those discussions. The show was never designed to mediate all of the fascinating material we had encountered – and yet it seemed a shame that the sharing of research had only been with the handful of other artists on the project. So with World Factory we held ‘café conversations’ – these were where we invited the experts we wanted to engage with to talk with us in public. Not only did this mean far more people were involved in those discussions over the course of the research, but it also enabled a widening of the range of consultation and the broadening of useful questions. This mode of operating seems ideal for the networked residency, so I am now planning that my discussions with experts about economic systems – and how they could be altered - will take place in public in a variety of forms. I hope some of you will be able to join me.

Photo Credit: The Economic Invisibility of Nature by Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping

Zoë Svendsen

Modes of imagining in language often reference sight – most obviously ‘vision’ or ‘to envisage’. When I think of a climate-changed future, I tend to envisage images of what it might look like. Whether I’m drawing on the general cultural appetite for the disaster spectacular, or translating green field sites in my imagination into vistas of solar or wind farms, my mental store of images of the future is already populated by how it might look. I don’t think I am alone in this: our first seminar, ‘Risk’, exploring scenarios particularly in relation to the polar regions, brought home the way that a cultural tendency to focus on the spectacular reaches an apex with the polar regions. Given that climate change is happening fastest, most acutely, and particularly visibly there, the representation of these places as remote, spectacular and other, is, as the polar oceanographer Mark Brandon pointed out, not entirely helpful. To demonstrate the reality of our interconnectedness he showed a map of where chemicals, used in our consumer plastics, turn up in the flesh of polar bears and seals in the Arctic region. I was struck by this: melting ice, that particularly potent image of climate change, is highly visible. Yet the complex and interlocking relationships relations between my local landscape of industrialised farming, busy polluted cityscapes and changeable weather and that landscape of snow, silence and apparent stasis – between climate change there and a changed environment here at home – are not visible. In theatre, the Stanislavskian system of acting enables a clear set of relations to be drawn between intentions, actions, and their effects. In a sense it is a mode of rendering visible (and therefore giving meaning to) why things happen. It is not an accident that such a theatrical system for structuring representation emerged alongside nineteenth-century science and Freudian theories – making even the unconscious narratable. But the demand for visible, knowable relations of cause-and-effect are not serving to help us accept the unquantifiable interconnectedness of our small everyday life gestures and the macro-scale of climate change influenced shifts in weather patterns.

Much of my artistic life is bound up with thinking about dramaturgy: the underlying structure that holds together – and produces the meaning – of what we see on stage. Rendering the systems of relation visible – the impetus behind the creation of World Factory, which explores our embeddedness in global consumer capitalism – is part of the project. But sight/visibility isn’t enough: the process made us realise that we do not only need to see, but to feel. In that show we invite the UK audience to imagine themselves as a participant in the system from a position that few will have direct personal experience of: running a small Chinese clothing factory. The conditions of doing so are felt because they become the means by which audiences work out what decisions to make. They are also felt in another way – through the haptic qualities of the show, through the handling of money, garments and worker ID cards, and through the proximity of others around small tables.

I was struck again by the power of the haptic again when to complement our first Future Scenarios seminar, we were invited to the British Antarctic Survey headquarters in Cambridge. Holding a slice of melting ice core (280 years old and drilled up from 110 metres underground in the Antarctic) to my ear, I could hear the crackle as bubbles of air trapped before the industrial revolution popped to mingle with our doubly carbon dioxide-laden contemporary air.

This then is where the power of the scenario comes in. It starts with envisaging, and draws on our powers of sight, showing how that sense is culturally and linguistically entwined with cognition and our beliefs about knowledge. But its fundamental power lies with the way in which it allows us to put ourselves in the place of others – to FEEL, not only to SEE – and therefore to DO. I have been hugely inspired by Future Scenarios Project Leader Renata Tyszczuk’s clever provocation, in the ‘Risk’ seminar, where she challenged us to reimagine the original Italian ‘scenario’ in the light of climate change. Taking us back to the origins of the word ‘scenario’, Renata introduced us to these commedia-dell-arte blueprints for improvised performances posted up at the back of the stage, indicating characters, props, entrances and exits – and only an approximate outline of what might happen. In the context of climate change, imagining future scenarios within this framework allows a concretisation of ideas that brings us much closer to how it might feel to act. As rehearsal (rather than performance), scenario-building allows us to work out how changed conditions might affect us, and who we might be under those conditions. It also opens a space for imagining the effects not only of climate change but also the proposed mitigation or adaptation strategies. As economic modeller Chris Hope pointed out, there is more work done on envisaging the climate-changed future than there is on imagining what it would be like to live in a world where successful climate action had been undertaken. Yet turning the tide on the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the air requires radical changes to our social, legal, political, technological infrastructure. This is where scenarios matter. Returning to terms that are often taken as metaphorical or transposed out of theatre contexts, such as ‘plot’ / ‘actor’ / ‘script’ / ‘scenario’, is to invigorate future projections not only with envisioning, but with enacting and enabling – embodying the future to make it one that we would want to live in.


Emma Critchley

There has been a great deal of food for thought this month, most of which I’m still processing …

A thoroughly inspirational workshop in Cambridge followed by a visit to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) really got me thinking about our relationship with the frontiers of our lifetime; the poles, the deep sea, space, and the plight of the explorer. These places are only accessible to so very few people, which is inevitably why they have captured our imagination throughout history. However across the projects I’ve been researching there is a consensus for the need to properly ‘connect’ the public with these distant places if we are going to instigate change. ‘The human experience’ is one of the key missions of the deep-sea Nekton mission: ‘a vital human link that can reconnect us with the oceans.’ Indeed for me, the experience at BAS of listening to the sound of ancient atmospheric gas releasing from a small piece of 280-year-old Antarctic ice core as it slowly melted in my hand is something that will stay with me for a long time. Holding this water, so old and so cold as it morphed and created the most amazing sound was magical and there was something in this experience that in a very small way made me feel connected. The following week I spoke with a scientist at NASA who is developing a project monitoring the opening and closing pores of plants from space: a scale that blows my mind, true transportation of space and time. Whether a plant is able to transpire and lose water determines the future ecosystem and is an indicator of drought to come. These moments of interconnectivity remind me of something Timothy Morton wrote; ‘there is something quite special about the recently discovered entities, such as climate. These entities cause us to reflect on our very place on Earth and in the cosmos. Perhaps this is the most fundamental issue – hyperobjects seem to force something on us, something that affects some core ideas of what it means to exist, what Earth is, what society is.’ Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects p.15, University of Minnesota Press


Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping

This month we participated in the first Culture and Climate Change: Future Scenarios seminar at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge which explored the theme RISK. This was to be our first encounter with scientists and researchers in a seminar context.

With a focus upon the Polar Regions the seminar and our guided tour of the British Antarctic Survey successfully diminished the geographic remoteness of the Northern most and Southern most reaches of our planet. Through a combination of visual, haptic and oral presentations we were enthused with the Poles multiplicitous significance as mythological spaces, geopolitical zones, climatic components, ecosystems and to those that inhabit them as a home. We were then asked to consider what implications different future scenarios will hold for these regions and what will result globally thereafter.

In this way were made aware of the need to create a representation of these remote regions that emphasized their connection to global: climatic, environmental, economic and social phenomena and therefore to our immediate environments. It has long been our intention that our work should emphasis the relationship between a seemingly remote landscape such as a glacial landscape in the Third Pole and our daily lives in the UK.

A relationship that we hope is appreciated through the representation of the connection between the glacier and the communities, economies and ecosystems downstream, the countries in which they reside, the hydro-political and geopolitical situation within those countries and the significant climatic role that the entire geographic area plays in influencing the formation of high and low pressure systems and the reflecting of heat back into space.

But how do we help others understand the significance of these far away locations if they have not visited them? What sort of experience do we need to create and what can art do that the satellite imagery and the data visualisation of scientific descriptions cannot? And in what ways can one utilise the other’s representation? These are some of the questions we have to ask ourselves now.

What is it that the experience of holding a piece of 250 year old ice from an Antarctic ice core (at the British Antarctic Survey) and listening to the crackling of bubbles from a past atmosphere escaping communicated better than a graph or a documentary film or a political statement and what made it an experience?

Was it that the previously trapped atmosphere contained significantly less Carbon Dioxide than our atmosphere now? Or was it because the ice melted in the hand and that the fragile beauty of the thing could be seen no longer, or was it the sense that the information contained within was lost for ever that made the experience significant?

Can we communicate in the same way?

Photo Credit: The agent, his agency and the whale, Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping, 2016

Emma Critchley

I recently watched Jacques Cousteau’s ‘Silent World’. With excited anticipation, I settled down to watch this iconic, pioneering film of underwater exploration by one of the world’s undersea heroes. What unfolded completely took me by surprise: a scene of sharks hoisted out of the water and axed to death on the boat deck to the narration of ‘every seaman hates the shark, the divers can’t be held back, they grab gaffs, hooks, anything they can to avenge the whale’. Another scene where one of Cousteau's crew in the uniform speedos sets off underwater dynamite from the shore, “It is an act of vandalism” he narrates, “but the only method enabling us to list all the living species”…. and so it continues. It got me thinking about Cousteau's legacy and the uncomfortable realities that have been somewhat ignored.

His productions were in fact funded by a petroleum company, something he is said to deeply regret, but is controversial nonetheless. It seems there is often a rather uncomfortable relationship between exploration and exploitation of the environments we humans encounter. Last year I started researching the US’ Extended Continental Shelf project whilst on a residency in New York. This is a sonar-mapping project to define the outer limits of the US’ continental shelf. According to their website ‘improved understanding of its resources will promote economic prosperity and enhance stewardship of our natural resources’[1], a statement I find somewhat contradictory. Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing. Cousteau’s long-time scientific advisor, François Sarano has defended him by saying "In 1954, nobody had yet foreseen future disasters, not even Cousteau.” With hindsight, “(Cousteau) himself found these scenes revolting and unbearable”. Perhaps then, we can use this as an opportunity to reflect on the way we go about future 'exploration'. Part of my research this month has been focused on the frontiers of today, the deep sea and space. Places that we now have the technology to go, so the question is no longer whether we should go there, but how we go there. At a British Antarctic Survey event I had a very interesting conversation with a squid expert about the colossal squid: a virtually mythical creature that inhabits depths that no human has yet been to. A specimen was recently caught as bycatch in a 1500 metre-deep fishery. This is a species we know so little about that inhabits the deepest depths of our oceans. As we start to encroach on the colossal squid’s environment, surely this is the point where we should be taking heed? An insightful conversation with marine biologist Jon Copley who has made multiple deep-sea submersible dives has really got me thinking on this question of how. The International Seabed Authority governs 45% of the earth. There are 25 people on the board, only 2 of which are biologists. This does not bode well. The Antarctic Treaty however is an example of rather successful frontier land management and I look forward to researching this further. All this has left me thinking about how we might be able to use the knowledge and hindsight we have to inform the way we move forward into these unknown territories. We have choice about what our future scenarios will look like, but this is something that needs to be acted upon.


Zoë Svendsen

I’ve been wrestling this month with the relationship between future climate change and the residency task I’ve set myself. My task is, in brief, to identify and understand economic models that offer alternatives to the current system we live in – and then to create some way of imagining what it might be like to live under those conditions. I am responding to the way that the well-known ‘business-as-usual’ scenario seems to be leading to accelerating disaster. Whether we wish it or not, change is coming; rather than accepting runaway global warming (which will by itself force economic change), I’m interested in what proactive change might look like in relation to our systems of value and exchange. This change might provide a greater degree of social justice and reduce reliance on carbon. By ‘economy’ I mean ‘system of exchange of goods and services’ – and the reason it interests me is because it enshrines or encodes the ways in which we perceive ourselves to be successful as human beings. To come up with a resilient alternative to the current scenario, a different model of what signifies achievement will be needed. But – and this is what I’m currently wrestling with – it would be fantastical to imagine that we could possibly embrace an economic system that diverted human activity to ends that did not damage the planet, and that climate change would suddenly cease. There is much concern about the arrogance of placing the human as the initiator of a whole geological epoch – the Anthropocene – but whilst it is entirely conceivable to me that this could be the case (in a species sense, just as locusts decimate large areas when they reach critical mass), what is truly arrogant is to imagine that having set such change in motion, that we have the power to make it stop.

Thus my task - to imagine how to live and to imagine who we would be under conditions of alternative economies - cannot just take the physical environment as it is now. Because to model that would be to imply that climate change might not happen, that we could somehow engineer a complete solution, and all would be well. Not only is that a fantasy in relation to the future, it ignores the reality of many lives around the globe for whom climate change has already had extreme social, economic and indeed existential implications.

But if imagining the complexities of the social and personal effects of changing our economic system is daunting, the need to posit a model for how the climate might be different in which these alternative economies might play out, is mind-boggling. To ‘rehearse’ effectively for the future, there needs to be a recognition among all participants not of ‘truth’, but plausibility. Any scenario must be comprehensible and possible. But how to pinpoint just one, when climate models show us how extraordinarily varied the possibilities are? The ‘if’s proliferate.

In the meantime, in everyday life, the future is postponed. As a family we (Zoë, Leo, Max, Tom) spent last weekend in Glasgow with the Family Activist Network. Seven families were at this event. We crossed Glasgow Green, lacking ourselves any epiphany to match an idea George Watt had there in 1765 on his morning stroll. An idea that made the steam engine massively more efficient, and - supposedly – exponentially accelerated the industrial revolution. If only someone could have an idea now that topped this, and there could then be a pivot away from the environmental damage that Watt’s idea has led to. Locating momentous change in single lightbulb moments is dangerous: if it is really true that a morning walk changed the whole course of industrial history, then all we need to do is wait for someone to have another such idea, and everything will be solved. We might be waiting a long time…

I wondered, as we walked – is the responsibility in relation to climate change rather like being in a group with children there? We are both responsible and not responsible? The planet is not owned by any of us, directly, and no one is charged as an individual with taking care of it, but we feel a responsibility to it - in our peripheral vision. But we can be easily distracted, and by accident we might all move away, paying attention to other things, and leave it to its fate.

The group discussed future scenarios and how to talk about climate change with children. Paula McClosky suggests that the way forward with the children is to enable them to imagine a world without humans. To move beyond our concerns with ourselves and recognise we are merely part of something that doesn’t ‘need’ us. It denaturalises our perception of our centrality. This is not a case of taking children on an imaginative journey through the apocalypse and out the other side, but rather to reduce the othering, by simply imagining a landscape/world that does not miss us. This is not about the end of humanity but about our non-necessity. I think this is brilliant. It is like a kind of relief. It renders my moral knots null and void and takes us away from the strictures of language (of ‘fear’, ‘sacrifice’, ‘loss’) that currently shape climate change discussions and also which I think are the thing that feel wrong to share about the future with children. We talk about the need to try to equip our children to handle complexity, complexity and uncertainty. That this is what might make them resilient. Because we don’t know what the future will be, we don’t know what kind of climate we will be living in. Paula describes imagining the posthuman landscape as an act of grace.

And indeed it offers a space in which to think about how we might want to live differently: if we recognise the planet doesn’t need us, then we also recognise that we need the planet. We need an economy that recognises the symbiosis of ecosystems – rather than mastering them (and with it, us) out of existence.


Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping

This month we have been talking to Dr Jason Hall-Spencer, who is a marine biologist specialising in Ocean Acidification based in Plymouth University. Together we discussed how we might represent the process of Ocean Acidification, which is perhaps one of the most significant, unknown and underrepresented issues relating to climate change. Together with Dr Hall-Spencer’s students we participated in the collection of plankton from outside of the break water off Plymouth, which we then had a chance to look at under the microscope in the universities’ lab.

Looking through the microscope at the contorting translucent plankton we are once again being reminded of the multiscalar character of climate change. In this instance we were confronted with the knowledge that changes at the molecular level amounted to changes on the macro scale. The appreciation of the multiscalar we concluded seemed to be inseparable from the understanding of any of the complex processes or systems relating to climate change, and that it was something that had led us to understand the total influence of our activity upon the planet.

Throughout our work we have come to appreciate that the gigantic and all-encompassing nature of climate change is surpassed only by the enormity and complexity of the fearful relationship we have developed not only towards it, but also toward the understanding of our own agency within it (be it as individuals or as a collective human kind).

This peculiar relationship, that of conscience to climate change, we found elegantly portrayed within the story of a certain painting that we stumbled upon in the collection of the FitzWilliam Museum during our last visit to Cambridge. The painting of Scheveningen Sands by Hendrick van Anthonissen was until recently a rather typical 17th century depiction of people on the beach upon a winter’s day. Yet while undergoing a recent restoration it was discovered that the painting had originally included the body of a beached sperm whale. The whale which had been painted over some time after the initial creation of the work and was now restored once again became the central element of the image at once dramatically changing the meaning of the painting. The reappearance of the whale had transformed the otherwise typical wintery beach scene into the depiction of an unusual spectacle, the previously unknown gathering of people suddenly becoming spectators at the demise of a leviathan.

The whale we were told, had supposedly been removed from the picture approximately 140 years ago due to the negative connotations associated with beached whales: they were seen as bad omens. Whaling which was an important economic activity at the time, was hazardous, synonymous with death and hardship and was beginning by the mid-19th century to be superseded by the discovery of other sources of energy such as kerosene oil. The gallery invigilator pointed out that the decision to reveal the whale (apart from the fact that it was the original intention of the artist) was to allow the understanding of the economic, industrial and material contexts of the time. For us the restoration of the whale revealed the agency that had acted upon the scene all along, despite the agent (the whale) not being visible.

With this in mind we equated the missing whale (the agent) to the absent figure of climate change that acts upon the scenes depicted within our own photographs and films. We concluded that without the appreciation that the agent (climate change) is present but not visible in our imagery there would be no understanding of what was depicted, no rationalisation of why images were grouped together and no acknowledgement of the power of human agency and the anthropogenic origins of climate change.

We are left asking ourselves how do we reveal the whale? How do we reveal anthropogenic agency? One of the ideas which we are currently considering is to create an artist film that personifies human agency. We imagine the agent’s moral dilemma as it sees the affect it has on the landscapes it visits, as it is scowled at by some people or mocked and ignored by others, as it transgresses scales and political frontiers. Perhaps this is how we will do it?

For more information on Dr Jason Hall-Spencer’s work please visit here


Emma Critchley

As we’re now a third of the way through the residency I’ve used this month’s blog as an opportunity to reflect on the conversations, connections, thoughts and ideas from the past few months in order to start carving out some creative responses. This page's lead image is one of those mind maps.


Zoë Svendsen

The future is rapidly becoming the present – and what was recently an apparently unlikely future scenario is becoming the news. The backbeat of the past year of exponential global temperature rises is terrifyingly capped this month by measurements in the Arctic registering air temperatures of around 20 degrees centrigrade warmer than recent years . The ice is currently melting rather than freezing, a situation previously unheard of at this time of year. We are lurching into the future faster than we can imagine it; the times are volatile, climatically and politically.

Conceiving an unknown future relates to understanding the knowns of the present (and, indeed, a significant method for understanding future climate change is analysis of past climate change); yet the grounds of this present are currently shifting so rapidly that every month of my residency forces me to make a recalibration. One of the excuses made for political inertia in response to climate change is that its timescales are slow, extending across generations (although Mark Carney’s analysis is perhaps more precise when he describes it as a ‘tragedy of the horizon’ due to it being beyond the timescale of specifically financial cycles). Current changes in global weather patterns imply that a future of extreme and irreversible change is closing in on the present.

Faced with such urgency, I feel I’m already living in a dystopian scenario, not dissimilar to that played out at the start of the Cold War TV drama Threads; for in the UK we carry on living our relatively cushioned lives paying no heed to the warning signs that spring not only from the TV in the corner, as in the 1980s, but also now from our laptops and smartphones. Are those of us who are bothered, cursed Cassandras, fated to remain unheeded, simply talking into the ether? In Greek mythology Cassandra displays characteristics that would identify her in the modern era as insane, and I have an increasingly deafening sense of such mental disturbance: for I find our inability to respond to the threat of climate change, at whatever level – local, national, international – completely irrational. I just cannot understand why humans aren’t harnessing their individual and collective ingenuities to this problem – especially as all my research shows that the ideas, both for technical and cultural change, are there. I’ve tried to buy into the notion that climate change is too complex, or too frightening, or too uncertain to capture the public mood – but ultimately these excuses feel patronizing.

After all, if I can get it, why not everyone else? Moreover, a lot of people DO get it - and even if individuals don’t, it is in fact at the level of regulation, policy and strategy that the scale of change needed must occur, so what matters is that businesses and governments get it. I recognise the argument that it may be too little, too late – but it still seems crazy not to try. I keep thinking surely the human world cannot be so utterly indifferent to its survival; so many are already suffering the effects, we only need to attend to their present to understand our future.

In the face of apparent global indifference, I start to feel I must be insane to feel the challenge of climate change so acutely. I feel I’m already living in the future scenario that over the past ten years has been described as ‘worst-case’ or dismissed as ‘scaremongering’ – a life where the self-congratulatory comforts of immediate self-interest, fostered through ‘Black Friday’ discounted shopping offers, or the outlet of Twitter outrage, take precedence over any other value – human or otherwise.

On the day Trump was elected I was coincidentally reading a book called (appropriately enough) Ego: The Game of Life. This is the text that has started to help me unravel the tangle of indifference and myopia. In it Kurt Schirrmacher describes convincingly the post-cold-war harnessing of the notion of rationality to a fictive creature, homo economicus, as a means of mathematically predicting a human’s actions. He argues that the ‘game theory’ modelling of the military (mainly US) Cold War was imported into the world of finance after 1989 – and that in order for financial predictions based on self-interest to work, self-interest had to be inculcated as the primary cultural value for individuals in a population. If you can predict how people will act, then you can make money – so it then becomes important that the economic definition of how people should act (in self-interest, so their actions can be predicted) is perceived as scientific and natural, rather than an abstract and artificial construct. Game Theory is particularly well-suited to creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, where fear of betrayal reinforces the view that acting in self-interest is the only viable option. It doesn’t completely work, luckily, as humans endlessly resist such narrow definition.

But the residues of that impression, that not to be personally selfish is foolish, do seem to have a stranglehold on contemporary western culture; and it is the perpetuation of this myth that disables a genuinely rational response to climate change, and which also enables Trump’s power (when asked whether he regretted the misogyny and racism of his presidential campaign, Trump answered ‘no, I won’ – a pure game theory answer). This is the rationality claimed by the current economic system.

It is of scant comfort to understand better that the insanity isn’t solely mine – that I might be facing cultural psychosis, not a personal one; for the reinvention of the term ‘rational’ thus has led to rationality becoming its polar opposite: an irrationality that threatens the very planet. Jung (in ‘The Undiscovered Self’) reflecting on demagogic appeal in the aftermath of Nazism, exposes its operations in a frighteningly prescient way (bear with me whilst I quote in full):

What will the future bring? From time immemorial this question has occupied men’s minds, though not always to the same degree. Historically it is chiefly in times of physical, political, economic and spiritual distress that men’s eyes turn with anxious hope to the future, and when anticipations, utopias and apocalyptic visions multiply.


Everywhere in the West there are subversive minorities who, sheltered by our humanitarianism and our sense of justice, hold the incendiary torches ready, with nothing to stop the spread of their ideas except the critical reason of a single, fairly intelligent, mentally stable stratum of the population. One should not, however, overestimate the thickness of this stratum. […] it is regionally dependent on public education and is subject to the influence of acutely disturbing factors of a politic and economic nature. Taking plebiscites as a criterion, one could on an optimistic estimate put its upper limit at about 40 per cent of the electorate. A rather more pessimistic view would not be unjustified either, since the gift of reason and critical reflection is not one of man’s outstanding peculiarities, and even where it exists it proves to be wavering and inconstant - the more so, as a rule, the bigger the political groups are. The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinaire and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional State should succumb to a fit of weakness.

Rational argument can be conducted with some prospect of success only so long as the emotionality of a given situation does not exceed a certain critical degree. If the affective temperature rises above this level, the possibility of reason’s having any effect ceases and its place is taken by slogans and chimerical wish-fantasies. That is to say, a sort of collective possession results which rapidly develops into a psychic epidemic. In this state, all those elements whose existence is merely tolerated as asocial under the rule of reason come to the top.


Their mental state is that of a collectively excited group ruled by affective judgements and wish-fantasies. In a state of ‘collective possession’ they are the adapted ones and consequently they feel quite at home in it. Their chimerical ideas, upborne by fanatical resentment, appeal to the collective irrationality and find fruitful soil there, for they express all those motives and resentments that lurk in more normal people under the cloak of reason and insight. They are, therefore, despite their small number in comparison with the population as a whole, dangerous as sources of infection.

Dealing with climate change requires the opposite of rule by ‘affective judgement and wish-fantasies’; but faced with such a challenge, in a culture dismissive of expertise, it is tempting to retreat from the future into a localised present, in introspective despair at the global challenge. Yet, excitingly, I have just come across some research that suggests that there need not be a disconnect – scientists are starting to demonstrate ways in which action at a local level can network to produce large-scale change. Its authors point out that ‘preserving global public goods, such as the planet’s ecosystem, depends on large-scale cooperation, which is difficult to achieve because the standard reciprocity mechanisms weaken in large groups’, as expressed in the idea of the ‘tragedy of the commons’. But they claim to have found an alternative mechanism whereby networked reciprocity can translate to global change, through enabling localized generosity to be perceivably related to the greater global good. The uncertainty of the present perhaps provides the impetus for the strengthening of local networks – and thereby the production of a collectively imagined future.

Firstly, though, any viable vision of the future must accept that change is happening, both climatically and culturally. Sometimes it feels as though the very positing of climate change ‘solutions’ imply that a successful response to climate change would mean that cultural change is not necessary – and that the aim of responding to climate change is to prevent cultural change. But both are already underway – and future scenarios are urgently needed to combat the danger posed by the irrational-rationality in the promotion of immediate self-interest. In this spirit I’m searching for structural economic systems that encode other values. From January I’ll be holding conversations ‘in public’ to further that search. The first events of my commitment to research-in-public will take place in January, at Hot Numbers café on Gwydir Street, Cambridge . On the 10th January I’ll be discussing architect Carolyn Steel’s idea of ‘sitopia’ with her, whilst on 30th January I’ll be interviewing climate modeller Chris Hope. The conversations will begin at 7pm and will be bookable (for free but with limited places) from early December through Cambridge Junction


Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping

Over the last month we have refined our ideas and laid the foundations for focused work on an artist film and a body of photographic work. Here is what we intend to do.

FILM Working Title: The Angel of Geohistory

An embodied camera glides through an array of disparate landscapes and environments as the unknown protagonist behind the lens, who is seemingly not in control of where he or she goes, reflects upon what is seen over the course of what appears to be a non-linear journey through many different landscapes.

The film’s protagonist or the unknown Agent is a symbolic personification of what has been recognized in the Anthropocene as “human agency” through which we will explore the complexity of climate change from an individual's perspective. This personification is made in response to the literal meaning of Anthropos which means man and the subsequent implication that there is one human in charge of the geostory that is the Anthropocene.

By asking who is the Anthropos we intend to reveal how human agency is actually made up of many different individuals each with varying degrees of agency that cannot all be ascribed equal responsibility for shaping the planet and therefore our future as a newly defined geological force.

To do so the protagonist’s identity will be divided into three personas. Each persona representing a mode used to construct representation or for constituting knowledge: the subjective lens (cultural), the objective lens (technocratic), the lens of the Other (the postcolonial environmental justice and the non-human) and several different Anthropos with different degrees of agency for example: a hunter gatherer, a telemarketer and the CEO of an oil company. In this way we wish to interrogate the language of representation itself: the ideas of subjectivity and objectivity and othering.

The many varied landscapes through which the protagonist travels are intended to illustrate human agency’s varying effect across global systems. The film will be shot in England and several countries that are among the one hundred nations considered most vulnerable to climate change according to the IIED, see here for the list:

Working across many different ecosystems and cultures we will be looking at human nature to consider whether empathy can be extended to the entire human race, our fellow creatures and our biosphere. In this way our protagonist will consider cultural, ontological and ecological paradigms and imagine how different levels of coexistence will shape the future.

The working title of the film references both Walter Benjamin’s angel of history from his essay Theses on the Philosophy of History that talks about a Klee painting named Angelus Novus. It also refers to a dance piece The Angel of Geohistoire (FR) / The Angel of Geostory (EN) directed by professor Bruno Latour that is based upon Benjamin’s text but instead depicts an angel that has been informed of the implications that the Anthropocene has for history.

Benjamin describes his angel as having his face turned towards the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, the angel sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

By personifying the Anthropos we are seemingly embodying Benjamin’s storm or that which we call progress, and yet by working with a photographic medium that is only capable of representing the past we too look at history as the angel does. The definition of the Anthropocene seems to suggest that the Angel (the representative of human morality) and the storm (the representative of the damaging power of human agency that is justified in search of progress) are in fact one and the same thing. In this geostory (the Anthropocene) the angel is blown by the storm which it has itself created to move toward the future whilst looking backwards at the chain of events which we now perceive as one single climatic catastrophe.

From this allegory it would appear that if we wish to move toward a future that is anything other than a catastrophe we must be looking forward in order to navigate carefully through the wreckage of past disasters towards the future that we wish to move in the direction of. In response to this the Anthropos in our film will move in the forward direction facing the future, encouraging the imagining of what future scenario we would like to experience.

PHOTOGRAPHS Working title: Future Scenarios

Within our photographic work we will be working with the Anthropocene and Climate Change as a cultural paradigm that shapes the way in which we imagine our future. Much of how we imagine the future is shaped by stationarity: the idea that we can anticipate the future by looking at the past and plan accordingly. As unprecedented climatic events (discontinuities) related to Climate Change surpass all statistical norms stationarity has become obsolete, and yet it still shapes many of the models from which we derive different hypothetical future scenarios. As a new condition of uncertainty arises the need to readdress what criteria we use to imagine our future becomes increasingly important.

We intend to investigate several unprecedented climatic events and their subsequent socio-political impact to illustrate how we can no longer depend on stationarity to define different hypothetical future scenarios. Our investigation will include the making of sequences of photographs in the location where events occurred and work around them through the exploration of historical, scientific and political contexts. By constructing sequences of photographs we intend to reveal how representations of circumstance are selected from a set of spatial and temporal variations depicting a given moment and how narratives are constructed that suggest certain futures. Different sequences will then be juxtaposed in spatial layouts to create narrative arcs that lead to the act of imagining how the uncertain future might be, with the intention of revealing how we are responsible for shaping the way we imagine our future and therefore what will happen in the future.


This month we have engaged in two very stimulating conversations. One was held with Dr Gareth Rees, a researcher at The Scott Polar Research Institute, to whom we spoke to about remote sensing of glaciers and remote sensing imaging technology. Another was with Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop a marine conservation ecologist and lecturer at Plymouth University with a focus on planktonic systems with whom we spoke about her work in science-policy knowledge exchange, plankton as crucial ecosystem indicators, the marine food chain and ocean acidification. Our conversation with Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop took place as we were collecting plankton aboard a boat within Plymouth breakwater with the help of Richard Ticehurst and then continued as we filmed the plankton under a microscope within the Plymouth University Marine Station.

To find out more about Dr Gareth Rees’s work please visit here

To find out more about Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop work please visit here and here

Zoë Svendsen

Some things that I have found out / decided in the past weeks, from the macro to the micro and back again…

• That there was no official British pavilion at COP22 in Marrakech in November, and no politicians present. Just a tourist stand promoting the UK as a holiday destination.

• That the greatest degree of inaccuracy on the part of climate scientists over the past 20-30 years has been their fundamental conservatism in estimating the speed of climate change. For it has been the supposed outlier IPCC ‘worst case’ scenarios of the past 20 years that have translated into reality (whilst the retreat of Arctic ice has gone beyond any scenario envisaged)

• That I will replace wrapping paper with fabric – I’ve found a stash of Christmassy fabric and some ribbon, and with a little supplementation I’ve created my kit for Christmas present and future.

• That the Institute Mercator (Berlin) has calculated that we have between 9 and 20 years of burning C02 before we have produced the required amount of greenhouse gases to hit 2 degrees of warming (although they may be in danger of being over-conservative as they peg annual carbon emissions at 2014 levels, when in fact, as they note, between 2000 and 2010, there was an annual growth of greenhouse gas emissions of 2.2%).

• That Trump has appointed a climate change denier to head the US Environmental Protection Agency, and Exxon Mobil’s chief executive as his Secretary of State

• That the current US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted on a message of hope at COP22, despite Trump: ‘the United States is right now, today, on our way to meeting all of the international targets that we’ve set, and because of the market decisions that are being made, I do not believe that that can or will be reversed.’

• That under the incoming Trump administration, climate science might be the new red (green) peril - while Russia is America’s new best friend.

• That the Nordic countries have a worked-through plan for a post-carbon future; that there are a plethora of low carbon strategies in India; that South Korea is considering a credit-card style system that gives consumers ‘green’ points; and that the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales have gathered and are publishing details of 100+ scenarios for a low or zero carbon future from across the globe.

• That more electricity is used in an evening by people if they each stay at home rather than if they go to the theatre… Especially if they go to one of the theatres belonging to the London Theatre Consortium, where reductions of 13% have been made in energy use, saving almost £100,000

• That bottom-up action (based on consumer decision-making), in the absence of top-down decisiveness, can still have impact. But every expert I speak to says what we really need is transformational decisiveness on the part of governments to achieve rapid social change.

• That there is no aspect of my life that does not involve the purchase of plastic. But parenthood seems to be wedded to plastic in contemporary culture. Inspired by a contact at Artsadmin I am thinking about making ‘no purchase of plastic’ my New Year’s resolution but it would require a complete rethink. I’m thinking…

Even just to think about it involves a remapping of my everyday life…

• That for a long time, money has been poured into climate change denial. But Bill Gates has now announced a 1 billion fund to invest in clean energy to reverse climate change (it is a ray of hope, but am wondering why didn’t they do this sooner? Is it not the greatest philanthropic opportunity ever…? ‘Save the world!’ But will we have to name the planet after them once they’ve saved it?!).

• But that what is really needed is 100 billion in climate finance for developing countries.

• That most plays in the Western canon since Shakespeare are in some way about crisis points in life; points between obligation and freedom – at one end of the spectrum is total restriction, at the other, total isolation. A rule-of-thumb for how any scenario might play out (or run into trouble?)?

• That despite big politics appearing slow to adopt sufficient socio-economic changes, cities all over the world are getting on with it.

• That there are some further sources (new to me) of hopeful information: Desmo Blog / Carbon Brief / Nature / MCC-Berlin


Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping

We are now preparing for our first field trip to Lao PDR where we will be focusing on the subject of forestry and food security.

After a lengthy period of researching we have made a final selection of the locations that we will investigate over the next six months. Our rigorous selection process has revealed an underlying theme running throughout our locations, which is forests. Through this prism we will explore the political, economic, environmental and cultural contexts of forests and their relationship to climate change and future scenarios.

The orientation of our project around forests has largely been informed by conversations with Dr Poshendra Satyal, with whom we have had regular contact with since the first residency seminar in the Scott Polar Research Institute in September.

Dr Poshendra Satyal has a background in the natural and social sciences, working with an interdisciplinary approach and a wide scope of research interests, ranging from forestry management to development issues such as human rights and natural resource conflicts. Dr Poshendra Satyal’s multidisciplinary approach to Climate Change and work within multiple nations in relation to schemes like the UN’s REDD programme has demonstrated a need for our project to be carried out across several locations with a focus upon a broad scope of subject matter.

In our most recent conversation we discussed ideas far beyond the usual rhetoric of why we need to protect our forests. Together we considered how we manage our forests and what is the role of forests in the mitigation of climate change and in the futures of those relying on them for their livelihoods. We spoke about environmental justice and the fundamental questions of who has access to the forests and the potential differences and conflicts that arise from the simultaneous presence of global policies, governmental legislations, indigenous customary practices and indigenous politics.

Dr Poshendra Satyal revealed that close to 1.6 billion people, that is more than 25% of the world's population rely on forest resources for their livelihoods, food security and income, and that forests do not just provide food and shelter but that they are also at the centre of peoples cosmologies, their identities and their cultures.

Deforestation together with farming and mining is perhaps the next most radical and extreme form of land modification and one of the ugliest signatures of the Anthropocene. By working with forest systems and their cultural, economic and environmental significance we intend to work with forests as a visual representation of a complex system, life itself and the different possible pathways we can take to the future.

This is because we think that:

The growth of the tree has always been a powerful cultural metaphor for the persistence of life through time as an important symbol in many religions and traditions and is perhaps best known in science through Darwin’s Tree of Life.

The tree is often anthropomorphised, for example when we say that humans and culture are rooted in a specific location, implying that they exist according to a specific set of conditions, we are of course referring to trees.

The tree also contains the same temporal register as the ice core or a coral, making it an important source of data for paleoclimatologists.

The forest is used to represent the unconscious and is emblematic of entering the unknown and not having a clear pathway ahead, the protagonist who enters the forest is always changed by the passage through its depths, revealing something about themselves…what will our Anthropos learn?

The jungle is used to describe complexity and density such as in the metaphor, ‘the urban jungle’.

With great trepidation we look forward to our first field trip in January and the continued development of our research and our project. Stay tuned for an update from the field next month.

To find our more about Dr Poshendra Satyal’s vast array of interdisciplinary work please visit here and here


Emma Critchley

Time has been spent this month putting components in place in order to start moving the two projects developed from research so far into production, which will start in the New Year. Below are the outline proposals for the two projects.

Human | Nature

‘The Future is in the hands of those who explore’

- Jacques Cousteau

Human|Nature is an immersive film piece that explores humanity's critical frontiers: the deep sea and space. Working with scientists from organisations such as NASA, NOAA and BAS the film will examine the close relationship between exploration and exploitation and ask questions about the choices we currently face in how we should migrate into these new frontiers. Taking, as its starting point the contentions of Jacques Cousteau’s pioneering underwater expeditions, Human|Nature is an investigation into the impact of our romanticised relationship with these ‘otherworldly’ places. The film will explore how the international laws of the sea and space and the Antarctic Treaty reflect on what has happened socially, politically and environmentally on Earth. Combining archive footage with originally shot material in a poetic montage, imagery from the deep sea and space will be interwoven with that of human exploration training stations, environments used as rehearsal space for a future scenario.


Acoustic Pollution Soundscape

This project explores sound as an indicator of environmental change. It also posits sound as a metaphor for climate change: something we are permanently immersed in yet for the most part is not immediately visible and therefore gets shifted to our subconscious - to the point where it can be denied. The focus is primarily on what is happening beneath the ocean’s surface, a space inhabited by sound-oriented animals. This in turn will be used as a window to reflect on the world we inhabit.

Levels of anthropogenic noise have drastically increased in the oceans, caused by activities such as: sonar scanning from the oil and gas industries, military sonar activity, Acoustic Deterrent Devices (ADD’s) on fish farms, dredging and construction activities, shipping, offshore wind farms and offshore oil rigs. Anthropogenic sound has now in fact been detected in the Mariana Trench, the deepest known part of the world's oceans. The potential impacts of this noise pollution on cetaceans are physiological, psychological and perceptual, inducing changes in behaviour patterns, temporary and permanent hearing threshold shift
s and masking of communication (Dolman, S. J. and Simmonds, M. P. (2006). An Updated Note on the Vulnerability of Cetaceans to Acoustic Disturbance’. SC/58/E2’2 Submitted to the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission)

The sound piece will be composed from recordings gathered from scientists working in the field. Organisations include the British Antarctic Survey, the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust and NASA (earth monitoring). This sonic work will be designed for installation in an urban subterranean tunnel, operating like a score that you traverse as you walk through the space. Composed in phases of time including both past and future, this work explores the politics of sound, the implication of tolerance, and asks questions about our ability to listen.

Photo Credit: Untitled by Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping

Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping

This month we have began the production of our artists film and photography work that we intend to produce as part of the residency. We are currently in Lao (People’s Democratic Republic of), working in the North West part of the country in Luang Namtha province within the Nam Ha National Protected Area. This section of the project will focus on Lao PDR’s vulnerability to climate change and will explore the relationship between climate change and food security, forestry and agriculture.

During the first week of our stay we were able to consult with RECOFTC scientists (The Centre for People and Forests) and UN REDD+ programme coordinators in Luang Prabang to establish a greater understanding of Lao PDR’S vulnerabilty to climate change and what is being done about it. We now hope to connect with local nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and the Deputy Director from the Department of Agriculture and Forestry in Luang Namtha.

We have so far visited a number of villages belonging to different ethnic groups (Akha, Khmu and Hmong) that are largely dependant upon subsistence farming and foraging from the forest that make up the Nam Ha National Protected Area. We will now trek for 2 days to reach more remote communities living within the Nam Ha National Protected Area.

The Nam Ha National Protected Area despite being a protected area is under pressure both from the encroachment of monoculture plantations of rubber trees that are processed at a nearby Chinese rubber factory, and by the continuation of hunting. However the practice of slash and burn and clearing of upland slopes for rice cultivation are now largely controlled.

As the national park authorities clamp down on the traditional practices used by the communities within the park to secure food, questions of environmental justice frequently arise as access to the forest becomes restricted. Whereas some communities have quickly adapted to the new rules, taking up lowland cultivation and providing ecotourist infrastructure, others continue to practice hunting and timber harvesting in spite of the rules due to the lack of alternatives.

What we are hoping to achieve here is to gather images and film material that will not merely describe the environmental and political actions of vulnerable countries, but allow us to engage with those communities that have the smallest carbon footprints and at the same time are most vulnerable to climate change. The same communities that feature in scientific and media reports as future climate change migrants.

When trying to pursue work about climate change in developing countries in the light of the current political climate of the western world one can't help but face a wall of resentment and sense of pointlessness of such a task. We keep asking questions such as: how is it possible that an eight year old child in a developing country knows more about climate change than some of the most powerful figures in contemporary politics? How is it that the most disadvantaged have the most willingness and determination to do more in their daily lives and in their actions as communities to constructively try to mitigate climate change? And, above all, how is it possible that those who are on the frontlines of climate change and who will suffer the greatest consequences are able to psychologically and conceptually engage with climate change without fear, anxiety or a sense of guilt? Maybe it is because the environmental emergency is a central subject not a marginal subject in their conversations?

Maybe because future scenarios are just the symptoms of the greater disease already present in their day to day lives? Maybe it is because they just accepted that this is the situation, whereas we are still trying to resolve it?

Developing nations are pioneers in education and in the implementation of low carbon programmes and the use of renewable sources of energy where possible. They are also more willing to transition from fossil fuel economies. But can they lead the way to a fossil fuel free future when the richest and most powerful nations spend time, resources and efforts on what prove to be sluggish plans for actions and endless debates?

2016 now seems like a tragic year in which to have begun a climate change residency, but nevertheless perhaps the political, social and climatic upheavals of 2016 were the only set of circumstances that could have happened in order for things to really start to dramatically change. And with this hope we will continue to pursue our work and the task ahead in this new year of 2017.


Emma Critchley

"The requested page "/energy/climate-change" could not be found."

The beginning of 2017: a time of unprecedented unknowns. As I listen to Barack and Michelle Obama’s farewell speeches, watch Donald Trump become the most powerful man in the world, and read about solutions for a positive future based on interconnectivity whilst Theresa May gives her first ‘comprehensive’ Brexit speech, I feel like I’m in an episode of Black Mirror. Yet with the cruel twist (that makes Black Mirror so excruciatingly compelling) that this is real ... or at least is what the screens through which I’m watching the events unfold tell me is happening. The cherry on the ‘reality TV show’ cake is Nigel Farage being hired by Fox News as a political analyst (which in turn means he will become a US immigrant).

The climate responds by letting out a groan, which like a weeping sore opens a crack in an Antarctic ice shelf known as Larson C, so large (now more than 100 miles) that British Antarctic scientists have to be evacuated. Without slipping too far into the depths of despair, I simultaneously get to the chapter in Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, published in 2014, where I’m informed that the International Energy Agency’s chief economist warned us 3 years ago that ‘The door to reach two degrees is about to close. In 2017 it will be closed forever’ and we will reach what some activists have started calling ‘Decade Zero’. Happy New Year.

The timing is uncanny. Almost exactly half way through a residency that has enabled us to have some of the most rich and insightful, if not alarming, conversations with top climate researchers all over the world, a US president is elected and within 24 hours of his inauguration the US plan for combating Climate Change is wiped from the White House website. [3]

However, despite all of the above there is a commonality with the climate experts I’ve been speaking with on this residency that I need to take heed of ... and that is optimism. Regardless of knowing better than most of us about the future scenarios we face, they continue to offer positive and creative solutions, and I admire this.

Naomi Klein writes that confronting the climate change crisis means a deep civilizational change, recognising that the power relations between humans and Earth are the reverse of the one we have assumed for centuries. That due to Colonialism and Industrialisation there is a belief that the Earth is a completely knowable and controllable entity. She quotes philosopher William Derham, who in 1713 said, ‘We can, if need be, ransack the whole globe, penetrate the bowels of the earth, descend to the bottom of the deep, travel to the farthest regions of this world, to acquire wealth.’ (quoted in Naomi Klein, ‘This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate). As we are all too acutely aware, this concept of the Earth being a commodity for humanity to exploit stills ring true today. Thinking about this in relation to the work I’m developing, it not only conjures images of what author Rob Nixon describes as the ‘slow violence’ wrought by climate change (Rob Nixon, ‘Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor’, Harvard University Press, 2013) but also renders an image of the sea as an agent of industrial and capitalist trade. It is a space that ‘seemingly’ has the capacity to absorb these histories along with the waste that accompanies them, into the depths beneath its beautiful glistening surface, away from human sight and mind.

As I continue my research for Human|Nature, reading about Trump’s plans to stop all Earth monitoring research conducted by NASA as part of a crackdown on ‘politicized science’, 2 events occur. On January 17th I wake to the news that the search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 is suspended. In an email, the passenger’s families were told that despite a 2-year underwater search of 120,000 sq km using the ‘best science available, cutting edge technology, as well as modeling and advice from highly skilled professionals who are the best in their field’, the plane has not been found. This somewhat incomprehensible disaster, played out on the stage of the oceans appears to me as a cruel reminder of the overwhelmingly unknown depths of our own planet. On the same day, almost as a reminder of how long it’s been since a human has set foot on another planet, Eugene Cernan - the last astronaut to leave his footprints on the surface of the moon during Apollo 17 December 1972 dies. As the Space X and Mars One missions earnestly continue their training and developments I can’t help but feel that space is shifting from being one of humanity’s frontiers to an escape route from planet Earth - ‘Don't’ worry Baldrick, I have a cunning plan!

In November last year, Guardian journalist George Monbiot wrote that the problem with today’s governments is the lack of courage and imagination to even open up the conversation of reframing economic life that responds to the risks of climate change. The task, he writes, ‘for all those who love this world and fear for our children is to imagine a different future rather than another past.’ Now imagining is something I can do. In fact it’s something we can all do can’t we? When exactly in this life-long episode of Black Mirror did we stop imagining or need ‘courage’ to do so? My 2-year-old niece can do it perfectly.

So in the name of interconnectivity and imagination I would like to open out my research for Human|Nature to the readers of this blog and ask the question that I have been asking the climate researchers I’ve been speaking with:

Using space exploration as a window to reflect on what is happening socially and politically on Earth and our future scenarios, if we were to draw up an international treaty for life on another planet, what law would you put in place?

Please get in contact with me at infoatemmacritchleydotcom and let me know what you think.


Zoë Svendsen

In attempting to understand complex theories and ideas around economics I’m struck again and again how much comes back to what is valued - and to how we conceive of ourselves as human beings with certain values. I held the first of my ‘in public’ conversations with the architect and writer Carolyn Steel in Cambridge on January 10. We examined how the production and consumption of food is a way of revealing, especially to ourselves, the scaffolding underlying our social structure. If economics boils down to the system of exchange of goods and services, then how we handle food is both a driver of any given system – and symptomatic of its values.

It might seem a lifestyle choice whether we buy a ready meal and eat it in front of the TV - or put hours of effort into creating a dish from scratch to be shared with friends and family. The latter apparently places food at the heart of sociability, while the former sees food at worst as a necessary inconvenience, at best as a solitary comfort. But what Steel makes clear is that such ‘choice’ is partially engineered by our built environment: from road and rail infrastructure to hygiene regulation, from supermarket discounting policy to the absence of planning rules for new-build developments. For, to take the example of planning rules, many modern houses or flats are built in such a way which assumes that eating away from the site of cooking, and probably not at a table, is the norm. Therefore the eating with others, at a table, close to where the food is prepared becomes impossible, because the kitchens of these new builds are allocated insufficient space. An apparent choice is actually already dictated.

And what has this to do with future scenarios?

If a present filled with such ‘choice’ builds the future in its image, this affects the perceived ‘realism’ of any given future scenario. Steel mentioned Aristotle’s concepts of oikonomia: the management and exchange of goods for use in the production and sustaining of the household as central to good governance; and chrematistikē: the creation of personal wealth for its own sake, through the maximising of short term monetary exchange value. It is perhaps ironic that the contemporary word economics derives from the former term, and yet our economic system looks more like the latter. A future that places Aristotle’s notion of oikonomia and not chrematistics at the heart of our relation to food doesn’t invite anything new into the contemporary cultural imaginary – there is nothing actually innovative about cooking and eating together. But once it stops being a normal part of culture, eating together does start to feel fanciful and unrealistic, and open only to certain sections of the population who are seen to make such choices actively as part of a lifestyle that most cannot finance. Yet eating together only costs too much money when the social structure is engineered in the other direction, when chrematistics and not oikonomia drives the culture.

Partly, of course, it has come to this because the labour required for the home growing, preparation, presentation and cleaning up of meals on a day-to-day basis has for the most part been the uncosted, unremunerated and unrecognised labour of women. As women enter the paid workforce, specialising in areas they are suited to, the outsourcing of food production to the ready meal has been described as a ‘liberation’. Indeed, when I enjoy the future scenario of the oikos-driven society – ‘sitopia’ in Steel’s terminology – then I think of myself as a consumer of the food, in company, rather than the producer. That is, I want to eat, but I don’t want to be the one (always, or even usually) responsible for the home growing, cooking and organising of the sharing of food.

The reality is that we would all need to participate in both production and consumption, but that would require a very different gender balance of work in the home than the current norm. It would also require a distinctive reimagining of the self – a self no longer able to follow the dictates of personal choice (within limitation) – such as: do I buy from M&S or ASDA? Do I buy a ready meal or bake a potato? (etc. etc. etc. ...) Instead my ‘food self’ would be dictated to by the season. In a way this could be a relief – these days, for different reasons, I feel a bit sick when I look at vegetables in both M&S – organic but with swathes of air miles and packaging – and ASDA – often just seemingly inorganic, lacking in taste and more pesticide than plant matter (these happen to be the two nearest food shops (of any type) to my house). But mediating between winter scarcity and late summer abundance, the obligations of food generation as dictated by seasonal need, might I feel my individuality had been compromised? Haven’t we been sold a myth of individualism through the very act of making produce available all year round? What kind of ‘self’ might a rethinking of my ‘food-self’ lead me towards?

With progress reversing in many political and social areas, looking to a better future (even just across the year of this residency) sometimes feels like looking not that far back in time. A herculean effort is now required to reverse the retrogressive spiral that dismantles intercultural collaboration, steals sovereignty from our bodies, sows distrust of our neighbours, and focusses on the opposite of oikoschrematistics. But what was so heartening about the conversation with Steel was not just the numbers of people who wanted to join in to listen and respond at the event, of many ages and backgrounds, but also that an alternative economic structure is possible. For it is not complicated and out of reach, but rather requires sustained political support for the myriad of structures, from community farms to neighbourhood food sharing apps, that are already being sown, tended to, and nurtured by people everywhere.

A coda.

Could we create an everyday life in which:

a) Our actions do not contribute to climate change

b) We don’t have to think about whether our actions contribute to climate change

What would that world look like, feel like?

Photo: Zoë Svendsen, Research in Public

Zoë Svendsen

TITANIA We are their parents and original….

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Act 2, scene 1

I’ve just been working as dramaturg on a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Reactions in the press are mixed, with some feeling our at times dark and painful version does a disservice to generations of lightly-skipping Dreams – even though we’ve simply directly translated what is there on the page. They are Shakespeare’s words, not ours. It makes me think of the way that discussion of social changes that might avert a disastrous future seems to make people feel under attack for their current lives, a fear Renata Tyszczuk illuminatingly describes in her definition of Anthropocenophobia.

What is it about a culture that continually valorises originality and innovation but is so resistant to any perspective outside the norm?

A Midsummer Night’s Dream has one of the greatest proleptic explications of ecological disaster in the history of literature. It is a play of non-reciprocal exchanges – there are no transactions as such – no ‘this for that’. Indeed, when King of the Fairies, Oberon ‘begs a little changeling boy’ from Titania, Queen of the Fairies, and she, bound by a prior deathbed promise to the boy’s mother, refuses to give up the child. The inability to conduct such a transaction is figured in one of the very few economic references in the play; ‘The fairyland buys not the child of me’. Written more than 400 years ago, Dream represents a world in which straight swaps only cause damage, figured particularly in the love-juiced lovers’ switches in affection – but in which the play’s many non-reciprocal exchanges can and do occur outside an economic framework. Through falling out with one another, the fairy monarchs fail to perform their role in the ecosystem, ‘to dance our ringlets’, and nature takes her ‘revenge’, causing environmental and seasonal chaos, as Titania admonishes Oberon:

…never since the middle summer’s spring

Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,

By pavèd fountain or by rushy brook,

Or in the beached margent of the sea,

To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,

But with thy brawls thou hast disturbed our sport.

Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,

As in revenge, have sucked up from the sea

Contagious fogs which, falling in the land,

Have every pelting river made so proud

That they have overborne their continents.

The ox hath therefore stretched his yoke in vain,

The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn

Hath rotted ere his youth attained a beard.

The fold stands empty in the drownèd field,

And crows are fatted with the murrain* flock. *sheep-plagued

The nine men’s morris is filled up with mud, *a game similar to noughts and crosses cut into turf

And the quaint mazes in the wanton green

For lack of tread are undistinguishable.

The human mortals want their winter cheer;

No night is now with hymn or carol blessed –

Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,

Pale in her anger, washes all the air,

That rheumatic diseases do abound.

And thorough this distemperature we see

The seasons alter; hoary-headed frosts

Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,

And on old Hiems’* thin and icy crown *winter

An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds

Is, as in mockery, set. The spring, the summer,

The childing autumn, angry winter change

Their wonted liveries, and the mazèd world

By their increase now knows not which is which.

And this same progeny of evils comes

From our debate, from our dissension –

We are their parents and original.

We are their parents and original: we caused it, and we are responsible. Like Oberon, by placing personal desire above the common good, the acquisitive nature of consumer capitalism makes us collectively place having stuff above the ecological ‘progeny of evils’ unleashed by our exploitation of material resources. Like Titania, our sense of obligation to others, to promises made and our pride in our society, history and nationhoods, make us stubbornly cling to our ‘rights’, whether it is the contemporary British conservative obsession with rolling back the state or Chinese state commitments to economic development in line with Western consumer values. China currently emits up to 30% of global carbon emissions (a proportion of which, perhaps around a quarter, is due to its production of consumer goods for the rest of the world). If China were to unilaterally ‘green’ its economy (for which many of its smog-ridden city-dwellers would thank it enormously), it would have an astonishing impact on carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

Whilst the latter perhaps has greater purchase on a moral stance, what Shakespeare makes clear is that neither position carries much value in the face of the destruction unleashed by actions so out of kilter with nature.

I held two ‘research-in-public’ events this month, with climate modeller Chris Hope, and architect Doina Petrescu. Future events are currently under discussion in London, Manchester and Brighton, as well as in Cambridge with Joe Smith on 23rd March, and Ha-Joon Chang on 8th May. Climate modeller Chris Hope’s thoughtful, clear and cogent articulation of how a tax on emissions would function (under the polluter pays principle) made the idea seem so self-evident that my only real question was ‘why aren’t we already doing this?’. Hope pointed out that there is clear evidence that as well as encouraging reductions in emissions, such a change in the tax system would produce economic growth. Amazingly, on Hope’s calculations of what each future tonne of carbon dioxide emitted might ‘cost’ ($125), such a shift would generate enough revenue to reduce significantly other taxes like income tax and VAT, whilst still leaving enough to increase funding for public goods like the NHS. I imagine such a change in the tax system would also encourage a profound shift in values away from material/consumer culture, to what might be called an event/experience culture. This is a shift that is already under way, but governmental measurements of economic outputs lag behind the times in the continued emphasis on consumer spending.

Bizarrely, I wasn’t even able to be at the second event with Doina Petrescu (my baby son came down with chicken pox complicated by bronchiolitis, and I couldn’t travel). But the event, as it turned out, didn’t really need me for it to work. Meanwhile I’ve absorbed a huge amount from listening to the audio recording. One of the key elements of this residency is the idea that artists ARE climate researchers, in the context of networks of connected artists, scientists and others. What ‘research in public’ allows is incongruous encounters, new engagements, and unforeseeable futures to connect. Through my accidental absence, and listening-in after the event, I’ve become more aware of how the event is a performance structure that is dependent on a number of actions, not on a particular individual. This is inspiring me to write a manifesto of ‘research in public’. Following the manifesto, in theory, means anyone could hold such an event – I will publish it at the end of the residency. Doina Petrescu’s reflections on scale, on the relationship between top-down legislation/facilitation, and bottom-up action, renew this sense of a network of relations. It isn’t just what is done, but how it is shared, and how the conditions for that practice can thereby be altered. If we are the parents and original of climate change, we are also the architects of the transformative practices that will combat it – and in doing so, improve the quality of people’s lives. As Petrescu said, ‘It is exciting to live in this transition because we have to be more creative’.


Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping


We returned from Lao PDR at the beginning of this month in time for our second seminar in Sheffield. The intense 28 day shoot was highly productive and we now have much material with which to experiment with as we begin to construct our artist film and photographic works.

Over the course of our shoot we worked with communities belonging to 9 different ethnic groups: Khmu, Akha, Hmong, Lou Loum, Tia lue, Sidar, lanten, Lahu (Muser), Thai Neua. In dialogue with these communities we considered the challenges that they would face in the future due to climate change in relation to the ecosystem services provided by the forest surrounding the communities: food security, poverty, water stress and the loss of resources.

The experience allowed us to once again witness and confront climate change at ground zero as we crossed the gap between climate theory, policy, models and agreements to where climatic events, losses, discontinuities and catastrophe are indexical and present.

Over the course of the next month we will be working with the material we collected in Lao PDR and deciding how to progress.

Seminar two in the Sheffield School of Architecture

The second Culture and Climate Change Seminar which was held at the Sheffield School of Architecture focused upon Energy Futures and Urban Humans and considered future urban transformations and energy system changes.

Throughout the seminar we were asked what is it to live in an age described as urban and an epoch named after humans: The Anthropocene. And what are the central societal, economic and environmental challenges facing our cities now and in an uncertain future, and how our architects, urban planners and policy makers might respond.

Having just returned from a developing nation our questions centred upon the issue of rural urban migration and the gap between policy and practice. We wanted to know how do we plan for a massive increase in urban populations in developing nations and the boom of informal housing (slums)?


This month we are honoured to have had our first meeting with our mentor Oliver Chanarin in his London studio in Hackney. Together we discussed strategies to create a jarring experience for the viewer, questioning how we may contrast the environmental and humanitarian concern that is implicate in our footage and photographic works with for example a formal investigation of the gimbal* ( a footstep-less camera) which we are working with, a discourse on simulation or a formal investigation into the representation of climate change / environmental catastrophe in photography. Oliver is half of the artist collaboration Bloomberg & Chanarin. To find out more about their work please visit here.

*A Gimbal is a motorized evolution of the Steadicam that with practice creates very smooth footstep less footage even when the cameraman is walking or running.


Whilst in London we went to see Richard Mosse’s new Exhibition Incoming, an immersive multi-channel video installation at the Curve gallery in the Barbican London. The work maps the unfolding migration crisis across the Middle East, North Africa and Europe with an advanced weapons-grade thermal camera which records the biological trace of human life.

As well as visiting the exhibition we also attended the two talks that accompanied the exhibition. The first with Sophie Darlington, Richard Mosse, Trevor Tweeten and Ben Frost explored the creation of the work. The second with Richard Mosse and Anthony Downey considered how Richard Mosse used the military grade thermal imaging camera to attempt to engage and confront the way our governments represent and therefore regard the refugee.

During both talks Richard Mosse inferred the significance of climate change, amongst other factors, as a driving force for migration, stating that the current international migrations crisis is only the beginning of what we are to expect from climate change-influenced migration in the future. We highly recommend going to see the intensely moving installation, as we felt that the experience enabled us to come closer to an understanding of what is the quintessential experience of the Anthropocene from the perspective of migrants.

To find out more about Richard Mosse’s Incoming visit here

Collaboration at the British Antarctic Survey

In addition to what we are working on for the residency we have begun a collaboration with Anje-Margriet Neutel that is supported by the British Antarctic Survey. Anje-Margriet Neutel is a Community & Ecosystem Ecologist who works to understanding of the relation between the structure and stability of ecosystems. Together we are working toward a piece of work relating to climate change, ecological networks and the mechanism of feedback. The work we produce will be shown during the Festival of ideas in Cambridge in October.

To find out more about Anje-Margriet Neutel ‘s work please visit here

What now

Over the next month we will be working with the material we have already gathered in the UK and Lao PDR, creating new material and continuing the all-important conversations that are feeding our exploration of future scenarios. Stay tuned for excerpts of film and photographic works in progress!


Emma Critchley

William Beebe and Otis Barton’s Bathysphere expeditions of the early 30’s paved the way for the pioneering adventurer travelling to distant worlds. Their first dive was also a cultural milestone. Over 30 years before the world watched a man step foot on the moon, through their box TV sets people across the US and UK were able to join these two men on their mission to the deep through a live radio broadcast, conjuring up images of abyssal landscapes and alien-like creatures as they vicariously journeyed to the deep. The rest of the world was able to live these adventures for years to come through the photos and books the two men created of their pioneering adventures.

The 60’s fired the starter gun for the race to the bottom of the Challenger Deep, the deepest known part of the ocean in the Mariana Trench. USN Lieutenant Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard made the first manned dive in their bathysphere named Trieste. The descent took almost 5 hours, but they barely spent more than 20 minutes at the bottom due to a crack in their outer window – eek. No less than 50 years later James Cameron won the media-facing race with Richard Branson in March 2011, successfully completing a solo dive to the deepest known part of the ocean. Along with collecting samples for science Cameron’s main mission was to gather footage - images that will immerse us into unfathomable depths from the comfort of our cinema seats. Subsequently in 2014 Virgin Oceanic’s Deep Flight Challenger submarine, whose mission Branson described as ‘the last great challenge for humans’ was quietly shelved, somewhat shining a light on the motivations of the mission.

But aside from ‘challenging the adventurer inside us’, what are the driving forces behind our voyages to the deep? Is it in the name of exploration or exploitation, and can these interests be distinct? The infamous Jacques-Yves Cousteau opened up human ocean exploration through his films, books and TV series, along with co-inventing the aqualung that has allowed me, and thousands of fellow divers, to physically experience the magnificent underwater environment first hand. There is no doubt that Cousteau had a deep passion for the oceans and spoke out about the impact of human pollution, but there was another driver behind his work – his funders. Most of Cousteau’s environmental and marine survey research was funded by the oil and gas industry and the technologies invented were used to search for minerals. In 1954 Cousteau in fact conducted a geological and hydrographic survey of the Arabian Gulf seabed on his ship Calypso, identifying drilling sites which was the first phase in an exploration programme that eventually led to the discovery of oil. Another iconic ocean expedition from our history books is the great HMS Challenger (1872 – 1876). The only extensive voyage of its kind planned explicitly to gather data from the oceans, which made many discoveries that laid the foundation of oceanography today that was set in motion by the telecommunications industry. The first submarine telegraph cable laid across the English Channel in 1851 triggered a boom in telegraph communication and simultaneously prompted a realisation in both the government and cable companies that knowledge of the seabed was critical to the development of the industry. The Challenger’s epic voyage received national funding in the name of better understanding the depths of the oceans, whilst simultaneously ensuring expensive cabling could be laid down properly, opening up the possibility of connecting continents.

And what of today? The current industry driving ocean exploration is deep-sea mining. Amongst other things, the sea floor contains rare earth minerals, which are used to power emerging and ‘next generation’ technologies; electronics, computer chips, mobile phones, chemical sensors, cancer drugs, flat panel displays … the list goes on. According to an article in Nature magazine written in 2011, ‘demand for rare earth minerals has leapt from 30,000 tonnes in the 1980s to about 120,000 tonnes in 2010 — higher than the world's current annual production of about 112,000 tonnes.’ There are two huge contentions here – firstly, scientific communities are struggling to keep up with the pace of industry movement and without sufficient baseline data of deep sea ecosystems, it renders it very difficult to manage and protect the land. We simply don’t know enough about this environment that covers the majority of the planet to understand the real impacts of mutilating it. In addition to this, there is also the very interesting problem of – if we’re going to extract these resources out of the ground who has the right to them? As much of the land we are talking about falls outside the areas of national jurisdiction it is the Common Heritage of Mankind. And just like the moon, the interpretation of what this actually means is somewhat vague and managed by a very small group of people. As Dr. Kerry Howell beautifully pointed out in a conversation last week – with the Antarctic the Common Heritage of Mankind is interpreted as ‘no-one should go there’. With the oceans it is interpreted as ‘everyone has a right to benefit from its resources’. In a conference on Space Law and the UN Treaty I attended a few weeks ago, rather than seeing the principle as potential for a future scenario where we might share resources and live more peacefully, the Common Heritage of Mankind was seen as a hindrance to space exploration. I actually noted a comment from someone who said ‘I’d like to see the treaty changed from space exploration to space exploitation’.

Whichever way we choose to frame this, there have been very strong warnings in a lot of the research I’ve been doing around deep sea exploration and the inevitable exploitation that follows – we simply don’t know enough about this epic frontier and its inhabitants to blindly move in. This is made comically evident in an anecdote from William Beebe’s biography. On one of his pioneering dives he tied a lobster to the outside the Bathysphere as bait, or in his words ‘a sacrifice upon the alter of oceanography’. On returning to the surface after a dive to 2200ft it was reported that the lobster was ‘more active than when it was sent down.’

… take heed, there’s much we don't know of the deep.

Photo: Untitled by Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping


Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping

In a recent residency meeting we were asked the following question by Joe Smith:

“What will your proposed work in Bangladesh contribute to the narrative about Bangladesh's vulnerability to Climate Change? Are you aware that Saleemul Huq has suggested that Bangladesh should be viewed as the world’s leading expert in Climate adaptation and that soon the rest of the world will be asking them (Bangladesh) for advice on how they should adapt to climate change...... “

This question was something that we had been struggling to articulate for ourselves. But most importantly the realization of the answer to this crucial question turned out to be the single turning point in our thinking (the answer was known and clear to us probably since the beginning of the residency and yet we were failing to see it all along):

“The narrative of vulnerability is an old one. The new narrative for the most vulnerable nations is the narrative of resilience and adaptation”

It was this sentence that we heard during our Skype call with Saleemul Huq - a research fellow from the International Institute of the Environment and Development (IIED) and one of the most internationally prolific experts on the links between climate change and sustainable development, particularly from the perspective of developing countries. The conversation that followed was the single most inspiring and clarifying conversation we have had about Climate Change ever… and it lasted no more than 20 minutes.

“The notion of vulnerability is a subjective one. We all are (all nations) vulnerable to Climate Change! Not just the 100 most vulnerable nations but also the USA, the UK and Europe too.”

The resilience and adaptation narrative is an altogether different way of framing the environmental crisis. It is also a far more realistic and a much needed perspective on the representation of the Other in the context of climate change, where those subjected to climate change are not simply reduced to objectified powerless victims but are presented in a representation that endorses their political agency and their possession of the scientific and indigenous knowledge needed to mitigate climate change.

Some also argue that the narrative of vulnerability can be harmful because it “silences alternative voices of resilience (even if that means accepting the inevitability of global warming)”. It has also being recognised that the dangers of the portrayal of fatalistic environmental chaos simplifies climate change and creates a “narrative of isolated localism (where the effects of climate change are foregrounded with no reflection on the global cause)“ Quoted from TJ Demos, Decolonising Nature. All subsequent quotes also from this source.

At COPP 22 in Marrakesh the Climate Vulnerable Forum (an international partnership of countries highly vulnerable to climate change) declared that they would lead the way by becoming carbon neutral and 100% renewable by 2020. These countries decided to work towards achieving this goal regardless of the decisions and actions of the highly developed nations, regardless of financial or charitable support of these nations and that they will do it simply because it is a right thing to do (even though the 100 most vulnerable nations contribute less than 5% of total anthropogenic emissions). The Climate Vulnerable Forum hoped that its actions would help trigger increased commitments from all countries in the world for urgent progress towards the 1.5°C or below goal.

When we were reading the Climate Vulnerable Forum’s manifesto we began to understand the need for emancipation from the mercy of the highly developed nations, from the disappointment brought with the lack of urgent international resolutions on climate change action and the desire to take matters into their own hands therefore becoming masters of their own destiny (even if it is on course for inevitable catastrophe).

As we plan and organise our second field trip and prepare to shoot more material we will think very hard about what our work could contribute to the narrative of future scenarios and in particular to the narrative of the future climate refugee. To quote the question from the chapter ‘Climates of Displacement’ from Decolonising Nature by TJ Demos: “… Before we accept the inevitability of climate-refugee narratives, we must ask: How might we invent creative modes of resilience and mitigation in the face of approaching climate chaos, and think aesthetics in relation to the politics of climate justice (…) rather than surrendering to futurist speculation that potentially eclipses the real options in the here and now?

Saleemul Huq is a Bangladeshi scientist based in London and Dhaka. He is an expert on the links between climate change and sustainable development, particularly from the perspective of developing countries. He is a Senior Fellow in the Climate Change Group at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). To find out more about Saleemul Huq’s work please visit here.


Emma Critchley

I spent a number of days this month on the Isle of Mull at the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust, listening and gathering sounds from their 5-year archive of underwater recordings. These are sounds used to research and monitor the impact of human-made-noise on cetaceans. After the first couple of hours of subjecting myself to an exercise of focused listening, it dawned on me how intense the next few days would be. Sounds of explosions ricocheting through the sea bed, dredger chains, speed boats, trawlers, commercial ships; noises that sounded like Star Wars laser guns, pneumatic drills … Simultaneously, I became highly aware of the fact that at any time I could press stop, take off my headphones and release myself from this sonic assault.

The process of putting on headphones and listening to the undersea world is truly magical and something that I would highly recommend to anyone who gets the chance. I have spent quite a long time underwater but ones sonic experience when immersed is of course different to what you hear through a hydrophone. I always look forward to the moment when the headphones go on, I close my eyes and a vast landscape opens up around me. This is a space where ears rule over eyes, where sound, and in fact pressure is used to communicate, to breed, to feed, to survive; where larvae listen to the noise of the reef to know where to settle and whales draw acoustic maps to navigate their way. We are an ocular centric species. Vision is so deeply ingrained, particularly in western culture, that it has become part of our everyday language, associated with clarity, knowledge and understanding (the connotations of ‘insight’ as opposed to ‘hearsay’ for example). There are also strong connections between light, sight, and purity within religion (for a detailed analogy of this see Martin Jay’s Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought). Listening and being listened to can be political. Through the research I’ve been doing for Human/Nature, I’ve heard both anecdotal and archival accounts of UN conferences where vitally, yet somewhat painstakingly, each attending country must have the opportunity to respond to the agenda and have their voice heard. Incredibly, I also found out that last year’s IPCC meeting was the first time that the oceans had been talked about.

So how can we start to understand what it might feel like to become subject to this chronic level of acoustic invasion? One of the things that scientists are trying to establish through their research is ‘threshold values’. So it becomes a question of tolerance. My instinctive reaction to this is to ask who are we to judge, this is not a world we inhabit. But at the same time I know that we have to somehow move forward and that researching, monitoring and setting threshold levels is a really important process that is becoming more commonplace in policy, which is all very positive. But how do we get to a position where we know what an acceptable level might be, so that we can build regulation to prevent damage to these ecosystems? One of the processes I’m engaging with, of having to manipulate sounds into a frequency range that I can hear, highlights the human limits of being able to gain true understanding. There have been studies on jellyfish, squid, octopus and cuttlefish, which show signs of massive acoustic trauma when exposed to low frequency sounds analogous with offshore activities. Philip Hoare writes, ‘A common octopus brain has 500m neurons, a “smartness” that ranks alongside dogs and even a three-year-old child.’ He goes on to say that an octopus’s neurons run throughout its entire body, including its arms, which act independently and sense by taste as much as touch. The octopus “lives outside the usual body/brain divide”. How can we know what an octopus’ threshold levels are - really? It thus seems quite apparent that there are complexities to this narrative that we simple aren’t equipped to answer. To really know the impacts our noise is having on the 9 - 10,000 species of non-deaf marine invertebrates, which inhabit the oceans. A common phrase I am encountering is ‘we just don’t know’.

On a more positive note, both a fascinating and enjoyable part of this gathering process has been collaborating with a network of scientists and organisations (so far includes the British Antarctic Survey, the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust, the University of Plymouth, University of Washington and Cornell University). Collaboration must be the key to moving forward; and when you talk about the ocean, by its nature, one immediately starts thinking globally and internationally; about environments that are beyond continental borders and therefore require international collaboration, and this can only be a good thing. Collaboration involves a process of sensitive listening and to me, listening feels like one of the most important things we can do right now. It’s something I became acutely aware of during an incredible 4-day conference called the School of Sound, and I know is something that I personally have to get better at. It feels like we’re in a world where everyone is shouting to be heard, and through this process we are losing the ability to truly listen. There also seems something important about the practice of attending to sound without trying to quantify or reduce it. What could we learn by listening more?


Zoë Svendsen

This month I’ve started making postcards. These are a distillation of the ideas – single words, phrases, arguments – from the reading and the meetings that I’ve had in the past months. Eventually the postcards will be – I think – for sale. I’m hoping people will pick them up and post the ideas on to others who might be interested. A kind of analogue meme. The postcards were unconsciously inspired by Hans Fallada’s novel Alone in Berlin (I only realised this when when Judith Knight of Artsadmin mentioned it). Disseminating slogans on postcards express both hope and despair in response to the contemporary moment. I know at some level that sending out postcards that scream in large lettering won’t make anyone listen. But I want to do it anyway. Whilst Fallada’s working class couple who write and distribute their critical postcards in Hitler’s Berlin are in very real danger, my gesture simply faces indifference – a blanket disinterest in doing anything real to respond to an increasingly acute threat. The gesture of the postcard makes me think of Joan of Arc’s comment about glory in Henry VI (i)

Glory is like a circle in the water,

Which never ceaseth to enlarge itself

Till by broad spreading it disperse to nought.

But at another level it is cathartic to write these postcards, and distribute them, and hope that they spark a conversation, somehow, somewhere. So far I’ve only shown a few people the first few, but the word OIKOS writ large already always sparks a conversation, especially in its unfamiliarity (see the blog post from January, on Aristotle and oikonomia).

The last couple of future scenario research-in-public events, in Manchester and Cambridge, have yielded a wealth of thoughts that I am still processing. But the discussions also brought me close to what I think the central conundrum of thinking about responses to climate change in terms of economics. On the one hand, as David Alderson pointed out, the systematic logic of capitalism at some level won’t let us contemplate what the alternatives might be. Indeed, ‘GET REAL’, or ‘it’s not realistic’ is an over-familiar and deadening response to any articulation of how things might be different. In every event I hold, audiences wrestle with the problem of how to imagine alternatives, because imagining how the alternative might arrived at from here feels so daunting. On the other hand, climate change won’t wait for us to find a future beyond capitalism… Time is running out, and Joe Smith suggests we need capitalism right here, right now, to harness the considerable innovative energy of an already existent system to create the goods, services and cultures that will take us into a low-carbon, longterm future. What that then needs, of course, is a reformed capitalism. This would be a capitalism structured by the recognition that every ‘good’ needs to be realistically costed for what it exhorts in human labour and the planet. To do so, as Chris Hope so cogently articulated, is entirely within the realms of possibility.

I also discovered something wonderful – thanks again to Renata Tyszczuk, who is a font of wisdom on etymology – that the word ‘manifesto’ means to make clear or conspicuous, obvious, public. Although manifestos are created as political prescriptions these days, something to test a political party’s actions against, in their futurist heyday they were salvos into the fight for a different future. I like the idea, given that there are so many excellently thought-through models of workable future structures currently available, that a manifesto that shoots a light into the dark of the future might also be a case of ‘making obvious’ or ‘making clear’.

I’m reading For Humanism, a collection of essays exploring what it might mean to be a humanist in the 21st century, and have no less than three books on the go that explore Utopia: Utopia as Method, Envisioning Real Utopias, and Utopia for Realists. They are all rich provocations, and I’m enjoying the titles as much as anything – the claim that they all tacitly or explicitly make, that imagining the future is part of making the future.

We will list all events linked to the Future Scenarios residencies.



Future Scenarios – Surgery & Network Event

Wednesday 27 January 2016, 7:30 pm

Future Scenarios – Surgery & Network Event, Arts Admin

January 2016

This evening explored why scenarios are such a key element of climate change research and politics, and also why it is important to invite a wider range of perspectives on these themes.

Listen to an audio recording of the evening here

Announcement of Award Winners

Monday 23 May 2016, 7:30 pm

We were delighted to host the announcement of the residency award winners for our Culture and Climate Change: Future Scenarios Residency Programme at Jerwood Space in May 2016.

The evening included a speech from Roger Harrabin, BBC Environment Analyst on climate change scenarios, and talks from the Programme Managers Renata Tyszczuk and Hannah Bird. The three appointed artists introduced their aims and aspirations for their year long residency.

Ways of Knowing the Polar Regions: Past, Present and Future

Thursday 15 September 2016, 6:00 pm

Ways of Knowing the Polar Regions: Past, Present and Future
Polar Museum, Cambridge

The Arctic and Antarctic have long claimed a strong hold on the western imagination, but climate change has given these regions new prominence and meaning. Why have these places held such a strong attraction for western explorers and storytellers? Has Polar science been well represented in climate change coverage in professional journalism and social media? What have we learned from controversies, whether about natural science, or the interests of the people and places most affected by change? How much do we know about future scenarios for these sensitive regions, and how should we tell those stories today in a way that might change the future for the better? Finally, is the future the next frontier for explorers and storytellers?

This free public event will explore these themes with contributions from climate modeller Tamsin Edwards (Open University), oceanographer Mark Brandon (Open University), Cambridge Polar Museum curator Charlotte Connelly, poet Nick Drake (author of Arctic themed poem cycle ‘Farewell Glacier’) and writer Tony White (author of the novel ’Shackleton Goes South’). Broadcaster and writer Dallas Campbell (presenter of BBC’s Bang Goes the Theory and City in the Sky) will introduce and chair the event. It is co-organised by the University of Cambridge Polar Museum and The Mediating Change Group, which is based jointly at the Open University Geography Department and the University of Sheffield School of Architecture.

Future Economies: A Café Conversation

Tuesday 10 January 2017, 7:00 pm

Hot Numbers Café, Gwydir Street, Cambridge
Free Event, No RSVP

Climate Change in Residence artist, Zoë Svendsen, interviews a series of experts to explore the question of what kind of future economic structure might transform our relations to the environment and to one another. Each evening will begin with a structured interview, and evolve into a conversation. Zoë will invite each expert to envisage a future scenario in response to the questions:

What is the best possible economic structure for responding to climate change? & what would it be like to live in this future system?

On Tuesday 10 January, Zoë will be talking food, architecture and distribution systems with Carolyn Steel, author of The Hungry City, and creator of the concept of Sitopia

Future Economies: A Café Conversation

Monday 30 January 2017, 7:00 pm

Hot Numbers Café, Gwydir Street, Cambridge
Free Event, Booking via The Junction

Climate Change in Residence artist, Zoë Svendsen, interviews a series of experts to explore the question of what kind of future economic structure might transform our relations to the environment and to one another. Each evening will begin with a structured interview, and evolve into a conversation. Zoë will invite each expert to envisage a future scenario in response to the questions:

What is the best possible economic structure for responding to climate change? & what would it be like to live in this future system?

On Monday 30 January, Zoë will be talking policy and its consequences with climate modeller Chris Hope, Cambridge Judge Business School. Exploring climate change scenarios is not only about the changed landscape and atmospheric conditions of those situations, but also invites the question ‘how to live’ and brings with it the opportunity to ask the question ‘how do we want to live’?

Future Economies: A Café Conversation

Tuesday 7 February 2017, 7:30 pm

Blue Moon Café, Sheffield
Free Event, No RSVP

Climate Change in Residence artist, Zoë Svendsen, interviews a series of experts to explore the question of what kind of future economic structure might transform our relations to the environment and to one another. Each evening will begin with a structured interview, and evolve into a conversation. Zoë will invite each expert to envisage a future scenario in response to the questions:

What is the best possible economic structure for responding to climate change? & what would it be like to live in this future system?

On Tuesday 7 February, Zoë will be in conversation with Doina Petrescu, Professor of Architecture, University of Sheffield, exploring the question of who we would be under conditions of an alternative economic future.

In Public Conversation - Thursday 23 March 2017

Thursday 23 March 2017, 7:00 pm

University Centre, Mill Lane, Cambridge (booking will be via Cambridge Junction)

Zoë Svendsen will be in conversation with Joe Smith, Professor of Environment and Society, The Open University, Department of Geography, co-creator of the Stories of Change AHRC-funded project, and co-author of Culture and Climate Change: Narratives.

We are delighted to be working with Emma Critchley, Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping and Zoë Svendson on the first Future Scenarios Networked Residency Programme.

The year-long residencies began in July 2016 and you will be able to see their progress through monthly updates. Join our mailing list to be the first to hear all the residency news.

Emma Critchley is an award-winning underwater visual artist and commercial diver working with photography, film, sound and installation to explore the human relationship with the underwater environment. Critchley will use the residency to inform and shape her ambitious ongoing work, When the Waters Recede, inspired by the Bristol Channel floods of 1607, the largest and most destructive in human history and commonly believed to have been a tsunami.

“This residency is a fantastic opportunity to collaborate with a diverse reach of climate researchers, using scenarios as a way to distill the complex and multi-faceted research involved in climate change and create imagined spaces that allow room to stop, reflect and invite challenge and debate.”

Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping are a Polish-British artist collaboration working with conceptual documentary photography and artists’ moving image who have won many awards and prizes, and exhibited across Europe. During the residency they will investigate their interests in glacial recession, climate induced migration, drowning islands, the psychological pressure of climate change and the prognosis of a difficult future scenario, amongst other issues.

“We are working with the anthropocene and climate change as a cultural paradigm of our time that shapes the way in which we imagine our future. Over the course of the residency we intend to utilise current climate, environmental, geological, economic and socio-political phenomena to illustrate the visceral reality of different hypothetical future scenarios.”

Zoë Svendsen is an internationally renowned theatre director and dramaturg who creates research-driven interdisciplinary performance projects exploring contemporary political subjects. She has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Young Vic, New Wolsey Theatre, TippingPoint and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin amongst many others. Following her recent performance project, World Factory, Svendsen will use her residency to further explore the relationship between ethics and action, the economics of climate change and the tragic absence of real action against it.

“I am very excited by the residency – both by the idea of the ‘network’, and also by the chance to think more fully about the future, and the implications for human interactions that are implied in climate change scenarios, but which often are not fully fleshed out.”

The Scenarios residency project is working with a network of individuals and institutions involved in climate research. This Scenarios network comprises a broad range of professional and disciplinary perspectives on climate change scenarios: earth systems, modelling, the insurance industry, oceanography, climate change policy, fashion and design, the built environment, philosophy, literature, theatre and visual arts. It is hoped that collectively, the Scenarios network will also benefit the wider academic research community through its engagement with novel framings of climate change responses and interdisciplinary and collaborative working methods.

For more information about our Scenarios Network, visit the Network section of the website

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Culture and Climate Change: Narratives features six essays, 11 short stories and an edited transcript from an event held in December 2013 at the Free Word Centre. Over 20 contributors including the authors Marina Warner and Caspar Henderson, the poet Ruth Padel, the journalist Isabel Hilton and the neuroscientist Kris De Meyer address the question ‘What Sort Of Story is Climate Change?’ In the introduction the editors argue that more diverse and dynamic accounts reflect this complex topic more accurately than the simplistic insistence that ‘the science is finished’. The editors suggest that more plural and nuanced stories about climate change will lead to better understanding and more credible actions.

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In recent years, an increasing number of exhibitions, performances and publications have presented cultural responses to climate change. But is this really something new? Or are we simply reinterpreting long-established themes around human society and nature, apocalypse and utopia, hubris and nemesis? Culture and Climate Change: Recordings sought to ‘map’ new cultural work on climate change and to draw links between this new work and long-standing cultural framings. The publication features three essays and edited transcripts from four dialogues. The first dialogue is on the history of cultural responses to climate change; the second considers publics through popular culture and mass media; the third offers an anatomy of works in this area and the fourth explores the way that culture, politics and science interact as we imagine and respond to possible futures. More than 20 artists, academics, producers, broadcasters and journalists, including Professor Mike Hulme, the BBC's Roger Harrabin and The Economist's Oliver Morton, contributed to the publication.

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