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Culture and
Climate Change


We convene research projects, workshops, exhibitions, events and publications that invite contributions from leading researchers, artists, producers, journalists and policymakers. All of our work tends to be collaborative, interdisciplinary, experimental and ‘in public’. We want all of this work to contribute to a more dynamic and plural conversation around climate change. Projects under the Culture and Climate Change banner include: Recordings, Narratives and Scenarios (see links below).

Other linked projects include: Collective ScenariosInterdependence DayEarth in VisionStories of ChangeProvisional Cities


Culture and Climate Change: Scenarios presents reflections on scenario-making in the context of climate crisis. Scenarios have played a prominent role in climate research, policy and communication. However, we were also interested in their potential as stories and speculative fictions, for both imagining and responding to climate futures. Our challenge was to open up thinking on climate change scenarios in the wake of the Paris Agreement that emerged from COP 21. The book includes a series of essays from across a network of climate researchers along with accounts of the Culture and Climate Change ‘networked’ arts-research residency programme. Together these contributions invite transformational thinking on unpredictable climate-changed futures. Our hope is that collective scenario-making can help to animate careful but purposeful action. After all, when we generate scenarios we are asking ourselves what kind of future do we want.

The Climate Change in Residence: Future Scenarios programme was an experiment to pilot 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 the Climate Change in Residence: Future Scenarios residency programme deliberately responded to and mirrored the distributed networks of climate change research. Rather than a traditional residency based in one institution, the networked residency engaged with a community of people across institutions and disciplines whose work, individually and collectively, informs the development of climate scenarios.

The Scenarios residency programme was launched in December 2015 at COP 21 and received over 270 applications from visuals artists, musicians, poets, writers, theatre-makers, choreographers and creatives from across film and digital media. Each residency included an award of £10,000. The awarded artists were Emma Critchley, Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping, and Zoë Svendsen. Their residencies began in July 2016 and each month the artists published an update on their work in progress.

Throughout their residencies, the artists were able to research issues around climate change scenarios and spend time exploring and developing their own artistic practice. The programme has also provoked new thinking about the ways in which researchers from a wide range of disciplines consider the relationship of their work to wider cultural work on climate scenarios. You can read the month-by-month accounts of the residencies here.

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: http://pubs.iied.org/17022IIED/.

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.

Photo Credit: Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping, Yet to be titled (Swaling#1), (2017).


Emma Critchley

I am currently preparing to go to Chile where, amongst other things I will be going to the Atacama Desert to do some filming for Human/Nature. I have been granted permission to film in the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) - the world's most powerful observatory for studying the universe at the long-wavelength millimeter and submillimeter range of light. ALMA sits at 5000m above sea level and is designed to find some of the most distant, ancient galaxies, and to probe the areas around young stars for planets in the process of forming. One of the aims of the filming will be to explore how astronomy shapes human imagination, which has in turn fuelled both deep sea and space exploration. As described on their website ALMA opens ‘an entirely new "window" on the Universe, allowing scientists to unravel longstanding and important astronomical mysteries, in search of our Cosmic Origins.’ I’m also interested in the fact that ALMA is an international partnership of the European Southern Observatory, the U.S. National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences of Japan, together with NRC (Canada), NSC and ASIAA (Taiwan), and KASI (Republic of Korea), in cooperation with the Republic of Chile). To me in this light, the group of antennas become a visual metaphor for global collaboration. I will also film in the Atacama Desert itself – the driest non-polar desert in the world. So much so that a team of scientists from NASA, the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Louisiana State University and several other research organizations have used the Atacama Desert to investigate why NASA’s Viking missions to Mars in the 1970s failed to detect life in the soil. The expedition's principal investigator Dr. Chris McKay said, "In the driest part of the Atacama, we found that, if Viking had landed there instead of on Mars and done exactly the same experiments, we would also have been shut out." Hence the Atacama has become a valuable test-bed for developing instruments and experiments to find microbial life on Mars – another rehearsal space for a future scenario.

We have been asked this month to think about the 1.5-degree target set at the Paris accord in relation to the scenarios we’re exploring during the residency. Naturally my thoughts initially turn to the Atacama landscapes I’ve been researching, as for the most part the desert only receives rain every ten years and some areas have not received a drop of rain in hundreds of years. Most of the landscape is composed of stony terrain, salt lakes and sand, which are perhaps images that may become more familiar to us in the future, even with a 1.5-degree increase. Perhaps the research that is being done for Mars will become increasingly applicable to the soil on Earth and the Atacama Desert will become a testing ground for developing technologies that allow us to generate genetically modified crops in extreme environments?

It has been useful to think about this 1.5-degree target in relation to the concepts behind the Common Heritage of Mankind (CHM) principle, which has become the crux of the Human/Nature project. The CHM principle states that the natural resources of the deep seabed and of outer space are held in common by all nations, and should be distributed equitably for the benefit of all humankind. As the Maltese Ambassador posited in his inspirational 1967 UN conference speech that instigated the development of the treaty, following the implications of the ‘last century’s colonial scramble for territory’ and the ‘sharply increasing world tensions,’ the development of the CHM is an opportunity to revolutionise history and bridge the gap between developing and developed nations, through sharing the world’s resources as a common heritage of mankind. In the same way that the CHM principle was triggered by the insight of a small island in the middle of the ocean witnessing first hand the sudden ‘exploration’ of rich mineral resources in the deep ocean floor, it was the most vulnerable nations who led the call in Paris for a 1.5-degree target.

However, how these global average targets are calculated and set is a highly political issue, which relies on judgment values around risk and danger. Scholar Joni Seager discusses how notions of acceptability always mirror ‘a prism of privilege, power, and geography’. The 1.5-degree figure works on a global average, which is a scenario that no individual person or species will encounter. Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke in the Copenhagen COP (2009) about the fact that a 2°C global average would mean 3°C–3.5°C or more for Africa, which creates scenarios that are somewhat off the scale of the more commonly 1.5-2°C implications described. In her paper published in 2015, Petra Tschakert of Penn State University discusses how the risk will be unevenly distributed with ‘higher risks and earlier impacts for socially marginalized groups, the elderly and children, and outdoor workers, as well as for people who may shift from transient to chronic states of poverty’. This vitally important discussion does however complicate the already difficult task of imagining what this future might look like, but it also highlights the importance of international dialogue in order to help us exercise our imagination.


Zoë Svendsen

Ophelia: We know what we are, but know not what we may be.
Hamlet, Act IV, scene v.

We have, according to the Mercator Institute, Berlin, 4 years and 21 days until we have released the amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that will induce 1.5 degrees of global warming. This estimate is based on their most ‘optimistic’ estimate of the effects of greenhouse gases on warming, coupled with a rate of carbon use taken from 2014 figures (whilst in fact the annual rate of greenhouse gas emissions continues to grow). The carbon counter also allows us to look at a more ‘pessimistic’ but still highly plausible estimate, alarmingly giving us 1 year and 3 months until we have burnt sufficient carbon to take us to 1.5 degrees of global warming.

The Paris Agreement surprised the global community, not only by achieving a global consensus that keeping ‘a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels’ is necessary, but by including the aim ‘to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius’.

But is the Paris Agreement all a fantasy? Does the inclusion of the aim to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees in fact expose the whole agreement as a kind of collective fiction? There is a distressingly significant gap between the aims discussed and the reality of the effects of the current rates of carbon use. If these politicians and policy makers worked in the theatre, there would be serious concerns about the (im)plausibility of their narrative when compared with the facts. In the theatre, absorption in a fictional scenario is dependent on that scenario feeling credible to an audience. By buying into the fiction that limiting emissions to 1.5 degrees is plausible in the current policy context, there is a collective denial of the urgent need to make radical, extreme change to our socio-economic conditions.

According to the ADVANCE project, set up in response to the Paris Agreement, specifically to examine 1.5 degree scenarios: ‘to meet the long term goal of the Paris Agreement, net emissions would need to reach zero by 2050, and then go below zero in the second half of the century.’

However, Current policies presently in place around the world are projected to reduce baseline emissions and result in about 3.6°C warming above pre-industrial levels. The unconditional pledges or promises that governments have made […] as of 1 November 2016, would limit warming to about 2.8°C [3] above pre-industrial levels’.

The naturalisation of current levels of fossil-fuel dependency offers a comforting myth of powerlessness – ‘this is just how things are’. Yet not only do we, with Ophelia, not know what we may be – we also do not know what we were. For to imagine a future of reduced carbon emissions is also to invoke a past of less carbon. Since 1970, the still-operational US Environmental Protection Agency tells us, there has been a 90% increase in carbon dioxide emissions. Knowing that the intensity of fossil fuel combustion has increased so radically does not however enable us simply to turn the clock back.

If we do not collude in the fiction of the compatibility of keeping temperatures to 1.5 degrees and the sustaining of current socio-economic structures, then the question must be asked: does the lifestyle of the so-called developed world mean more to its inhabitants than the future of humanity? Fear of encountering the unknown of ‘what we may be’ somehow seems to imprison us in the comfortable space of knowing ‘what we are’ – a fear of change that somehow seems to outweigh the ever more apparent threat of planetary destruction.

In the development of my postcards, I’ve been thinking this month about opposites; this is in the context of imagining a move beyond the economic structures that limit effective action to mitigate climate change. In this context, I wonder, what is the opposite of ‘to grow’? It isn’t, exactly, ‘to shrink’. What is the opposite of ‘more’? ‘less’ is often figured as ‘sacrifice’ – which binds us to the same value structure that makes virtues of ‘more’, ‘growth’, and ‘accumulation’. What does achievement look like in an alternative economy? Collective success would be the saving of the planet – but how would personal value be recognised? Could the values of ‘ingenuity’ be valued over ‘accumulation’? Could (non-material) ‘experience’ be the aim, rather than (material) ‘goods’? Can ‘lightness’ be sought after, rather than the heaviness of the cost of our carbon use (imperceptible to many of us, being beyond our immediate horizons)? Could ‘stewardship’ replace ‘ownership’? And then the question: what kinds of lives would we be living if this were the case? Could we know what we may be?


Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping

We are currently preparing for our visit to Bangladesh. During the month long field trip we will be working with The International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) in Dhaka following an invitation by Saleemul Huq. With the support of Nadine Suliman a researcher in residence we will collaborate with ICCCAD to understand the formal and informal adaptation strategies that Bangladesh has developed to mitigate climate change.

By visiting Bangladesh a nation that is already experiencing the climate change reality of what for many nations is still a future scenario we hope to gain a greater understanding of how vulnerability can be turned into adaptation and how climate change action can strengthen development.

Our photographic and film work in Bangladesh will continuing to focus upon the future scenarios of climate induced migration, conflict, water stress and food security. However we intend to expand upon the usual gamut of notions and imagery surrounding the narrative of vulnerability by foregrounding the following ideas:
- The need for environmental justice.
- The need to shift the representation of the most vulnerable nations from a fatalist narrative about vulnerability that compounds victimhood, to a narrative about resilience and adaptation that opens up a dialogue about a still yet-to-be determined future.
- The need to recognise that the most vulnerable nations to climate change are now the leaders in the development of adaptation strategies, renewables and the closest to decarbonizing their economies.
- The need to displace climate change by creating a narrative that does not focus upon one place.

In order to foreground these ideas we have developed several new strategies that we will be trialling in Bangladesh alongside our already established methods. These new strategies have been developed following the consideration of how we could make our methodology more inclusive and less extractive. This topic was discussed in a recent conversation with Poshendra Satyal about how he is trying to use more inclusive research methodologies in his CoCooR project (2014-2018) field work and with fellow artist in resident Emma Critchley who introduced us to the idea of research fatigue. Research fatigue is the idea that community members feel exhausted or over-whelmed by being the subject of research —particularly when they do not see tangible results from research activities. One of the strategies that we will be trialling in Bangladesh we have aptly dubbed the ‘scenario methodology’. Working with our gimbal stabilised point of view camera we will invite different groups from different communities to participate in a scenario with us for example:

Scenario #1: A future Bangladesh sues Exxon Mobile

Props: A future Newspaper headline or news report voice-over

Community group: Law students at the University of Dhaka

Method: Ask a group of university students to respond to the idea that a future Bangladesh would sue Exxon Mobile for damages done to the nation a result of climate change.

Prior to the performance, a conversation should be held about who is culpable for climate change and the implementation of environmental justice through the repayment of carbon debts to vulnerable nations with the intention of further facilitating the mitigation of Climate Change.

The aim of this scenario is a reference to the casual relationship between the damages done to Bangladesh as a result of climate change and the culpability of someone else’s carbon intensive practices. The scenario is also intended to empower those participating in the performance and reverse the power dynamic of the camera and the subject as the performers appear to directly challenge, indict or educate the viewer.

Other scenario ideas explore such subjects as informal adaptation in slum areas, future Bangladesh geoengineering, work for climate migrants, the rickshaw economy, a cyclone shelter re-enactment, domestic adaptation, salt and flood resistant agriculture and a water-world Bangladesh.

In the lead up to our participation in the 2 degrees festival in London in June, Renata Tyszczuk suggested we all reflect upon the 1.5C goal ratified by the Paris Agreement.

In our opinion, as artists examining the politics of climate change, we share the view of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, expressed in the words of Saleemul Huq: "Even if it may not be achievable, 1.5°C is the right goal to have. It is what we should, as leaders, agree to in Paris. While 2°C as a long-term goal is safe for many countries and many people, it is not safe for all countries and all people. And so if we want all countries and all people to be safe, we need a 1.5°C goal. The global leadership meeting in Paris that adopts a 2°C goal will knowingly be writing off many people and many of those people are from the countries represented here and saying to them we cannot protect you because it’s too difficult for us to make the emission cuts that are necessary to protect you, the most vulnerable people on planet Earth. That’s a bad decision for world leaders to be making.The reason for pushing the 1.5°C goal is not whether it’s feasible and possible – we know it’s going to be difficult – but whether it is morally correct or not." Therefore our work with scenarios is based upon achieving this goal. Huq’s statement was made during the Climate Vulnerable Forum summit in Manilla, Phillipines on the 9/11/2015.

If you would like to find out more about Climate Change impact in Bangladesh and the adaptation strategies being developed we highly recommend this concise documentary with Michael C Hall.

If you are interested in finding out more about what an inclusive research project entails we would like to recommend this documentary about Joanne Jordon’s research project in Dhaka: The lived experience of Climate Change.

To find out more about ICCCAD and their work please visit their website. For a brief introduction to their work please watch this interview with Ina F Islam, Assistant Director of ICCAD, speaking at The Sixth International Conference on Community-based Adaptation (CBA6) taking place in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Photo Credit: Emma Critchley


Emma Critchley

Something that returns to me again and again, is our adept tendency to ‘other’ anything that is inconvenient, uncomfortable or means we have to change, and the ease with which we are able to perceive things as distant or remote. This comes up in conversations within the context of Human/Nature, which is precisely focused on the critical importance of our present-day relationship to remote locations like the deep-sea and space, but it also surrounds the topic of underwater acoustic pollution. I have been grappling with finding a way of relating what is happening ‘under there’ – beneath the membrane of the ocean’s surface to non-human creatures with us, here in the every day.

This has been particularly interesting to think about within the context of another strand of research to do with enclosed ecologies, which I’ve started exploring with the Urban Institute at the University of Sheffield. These are controlled environments that already exist to varying degrees but are becoming increasingly important within the context of climate change as for the most part they are designed to separate a hostile or undesired outside from a controlled inside. Plans for Dubai’s ‘Mall of the World’ show a major retail and leisure destination that will allow people to consume away, whilst sheltered from the arid heat outside; Chengdu's existing ‘New Century Global Centre’ enables people to enjoy a beach resort, a replica Mediterranean village, cinemas and shops all with shielded protection from soaring air pollution; but these environments also include spacecraft, submarines, airplanes, Centre Parks, hotel foyers, hotel rooms, trains and offices. It’s another great example of a fantastical future that you’re already living in.

There are a number of concerns that immediately come to mind when I think about these enclosed ecologies. Firstly, would this mark the end of atmospheric commons? Who would control the air and would this button supersede the code to the atomic bomb? How would we deal with the air itself – smell? heat? pollution? Our environments are already regulated, there are people who design and moderate how warm a space should be, what it will smell like, sound like, feel like. In Sheffield I learnt of the vast yet hidden technical management and waste disposal systems behind the air conditioning units that control a single hotel. I guess we just don’t notice until they get it wrong – something I was made acutely aware of on the train home as I sat freezing from someone’s over reaction to the first sunny day of the year. Would we want a breeze or wind even, living in an enclosed ecology? Would it have to be voted on and how would that be managed? I also learnt this week that trees need wind in order to strengthen their branches so they don’t collapse, so the Winter Gardens in Sheffield have fans in the ceiling and harnesses to hold the branches, as they are weak from being inside. How would we evolve in a windless world?

Another thought that fires is about what our sonic worlds would become in these controlled environments? We all know what it’s like being inside buildings made of hard shiny surfaces – imagine being locked inside a shiny glass dome for life! Inescapable sound bouncing around off the hard ceiling you are encapsulated in. Would you ever be able to experience silence again? But then when was the last time you experienced silence – real silence? As I’m writing this now in the early morning sitting on the roof tops in a quiet area of Brighton I can hear cars, buses, seagulls, other birds, someone washing up, a distant car alarm ... the list goes on. I was filming in the Atacama Desert in Chile this month, which is the closest I’ve come to silence for a long time. But although there were moments that I think were probably silent, because I have tinnitus I wasn’t able to fully appreciate this – I knew it was there but I couldn’t experience it. This is not by the way meant as a sympathy vote – 1. I was lucky enough to be in the Atacama Desert in the first place and 2. I am fortunate enough to be able to manage it in everyday life, but it made me think about the fact that I’m normally able to manage my tinnitus because of the spectrum of other sounds we are continually immersed in. So I can tune in to all these other sounds and distract my brain – even at night. It also made me recall the fact that it was caused by sonic damage to my ear – a love of music and hence spending too much of my time close to large speakers (a habit I haven’t managed to shake). To me it seems that with both sound and air pollution, we only notice or really care either when it’s gone, or the intensity is at a point where we can’t get on with our daily lives. This month London breached the annual air pollution limit for 2017 in 5 days - why aren’t we more concerned about this? To our individual perception this may seem abstract but it’s the air we’re living in. One of the things I love about the underwater world is how the density of the space makes it impossible to ignore the environment you are held within. In air we feel and hear the breeze when it moves, we sense the sun’s rays when it warms but why are most of us so blissfully unaware of, or at least not too bothered about the pollution of the air we are immersed in?

What I find so conceptually interesting about these controlled environment designs for our urban futures is how they accentuate and therefore call into question what is already here and now. Even in their imagining there is no evasion of where one decides to place the dome. They are an inescapable demarcation of what you want and what you don’t want – to be associated with, to engage with, to be surrounded by. Yet these are decisions that most of us already make to a greater or lesser degree, in the way we go about our everyday lives.


Zoë Svendsen

A week in a life of thinking about future scenarios…


Café conversation with Ha-Joon Chang in Hot Numbers – Chang’s perspective is refreshing: optimistic, but there’s something of JG Ballard in his suggestion that political apathy is more damaging to democracy than the rants of a UKIP-er type who is still engaging with political process.

He invites the recognition that the imbalance in global equity must inform views on growth – ‘degrowth’ is necessary, but it isn’t one-size-fits all – you can’t insist someone who doesn’t have enough to eat should eat less. ‘Growth’ is only a problem when ‘needs’ have become social rather than existential. Redistribution might be a better term – enabled through three elements Chang identifies: an economy that is more high tech, more collectivist and more egalitarian – that is, one in which technology transfer from those that have the means to do research and those who have the need to apply the technologies. When Chang talks about it, it sounds self-evident, this politics of generosity, of meeting need where it needs to be met – and on the way changing the whole value structure of ‘development’ away from the materialist, individualist model promulgated by recent Western societies.

Chang’s discussion of alternative forms of finance is a reminder that climate change is not only about time running out, but that the difficulties of doing something about it are also related to time: we are now a world of finance so fast no human can keep up with the algorithms running the stock exchange; in which the average length of a share-holder staying with a company has gone down to just 6 months. This destroys the notion of the ‘enlightened individual’ – we cannot think for our children and grandchildren when the value of ‘return’ is measured in split-seconds, when no one who finances a company stays with that company long enough to engage with what it is actually producing and how it might affect the world. Here I have the start of a response to one of the questions I posed at the start of the residency: ‘Why are there so many Cassandras truth-telling, and why are those in power unable or unwilling to listen? And why don't they care about the future of their children like I care about the future of mine?’


I go to a meeting at the University to discuss the government’s green paper on future Industrial Strategy. On first reading this document I was astonished by the lack of reference to climate change, when everything about a future industrial strategy must surely be considered in the context of the (legally, morally and scientifically) required transition to a low carbon economy. The green paper was published by BEIS which is the new government department that didn’t so much merge with the former Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) as swallow it whole. Originally there was a plan for the artists on the residency to visit DECC. How times have changed – that proposed encounter now feels like another scenario in an alternative life. Again the ‘Cassandra’ feeling resurfaces. How can it be that artists, with access to scientific, industrial, environmental, architectural, and economic expertise, can be clear that climate change is now the context for all future scenarios, industrial or otherwise, whilst those whose disciplinary backgrounds would appear more appropriate to understanding what is at stake, and further who are tasked with the actual future of the country, do not appear interested in taking it into account?


The Labour Manifesto is leaked. It is tantalising. It occurs to me that it is itself a future scenario for an alternative economic structure – one which would have a far greater possibility of addressing the technological and social changes than the current state of affairs – not least because the mantra of ‘for the many, not the few’ invites a collectivist coproduction of society, which Ha-Joon suggested on Monday was necessary for garnering an adequate response to climate change. I’ve been experimenting with the postcard format that I’m developing for summarising possible scenarios, and I decide create some around Labour’s manifesto (see @metisprojects) – I’m posting one or two a day up until election day; summarising the alternative economic structure the manifesto articulates.

In the small window between the manifesto’s publication (officially 11th May) and election day (8th June) is when this document can be seen as a future scenario. On first reading, it seems a beautiful fiction for another future – not because the recalibration of the socio-economic structure is not plausible but it seems so unlikely that Labour will win the election. But things move fast: at the time of writing, the polls are narrowing and this future scenario is (perhaps only for a brief hopeful moment), gaining traction as an actual possible future. At the moment it seems to depend significantly on the turnout of under-twenty-fives. For once the future lies in the hands of those it will affect most. I hope you recognise your power and use it.


I do a research-in-public conversation with Paul Mason at the National. A slightly different constituency of people, this audience consists of staff and artists linked to the NT. The National are developing a new environmental policy, being of a scale of institution that CAN model how to make things work differently. As with Monday’s event – and indeed all the ‘future scenario’ conversations – the questions from those who attend hugely strengthen and broaden the conversation; it is exciting to be researching with others in this kind of co-thinking space – a network of colleagues, friends and strangers.

Paul reminds us that in relation to the time of the planet’s existence – c. 4 billion years – or even the time of overall human existence (c. 250,000 years) – or even the time of industrial capitalism (250 years) – that the 25+ years since the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the advent of neoliberal market system across the globe, is a mere temporal flicker. That this form of capitalism should have such an exponentially detrimental effect on the environment (through the exponential increase in fossil fuel burning) is a stark image of humanity out of kilter with both itself and its surroundings. Again, the conversation turns to the unsuitability of the structures of contemporary capitalism for the future technologies required. What is intriguing is that Mason’s response also offers a kind of answer to the political and social resistance to the technological change required to drive climate mitigation. He points out that the structures of financing required and the types of energy provision that result from a serious transition to renewable energy will of themselves start to change the economic system: ‘once you do this it doesn’t feel like capitalism any more’. His examples are of the predominant use of wind power (intermittent, unpredictable), and an enormous tidal barrier that would cost billions to put in place, but then would provide energy at almost no cost (other than maintenance) for 60% of UK households for generations. This is a kind of investment in the long-term future no current private company is likely to consider: and therefore ‘the solution is not the market’. Again, this comes back to a relationship to time – part of the resistance to significant long-term change is the charge that we cannot know what will happen. This is where future scenarios come in: if we don’t know, we can model it by rehearsing it. Mason is a strong advocate for agent-based modelling, pointing out that one of the significant problems of the current US administration is that they are no longer interested in constructing and testing scenarios, relying on emotional immediacy to drive policy.


My son Max likes the CBBC downloadable animation series, Go-Jetters. Each episode, the Go-jetters head to a different famous place in the world, which they then find is being ‘glitched’ by Grandmaster Glitch, who is ruining it for his own selfish purposes. After hearing some ‘funky facts’ about the place, Go-Jetters then have to work out how to save it from him. Sometimes this involves stopping him vandalising a landmark, or stealing something precious, or damaging an animal habitat (echoes of colonialism here…). But tonight we watch one about ecological damage: of the Amazon rainforest. Glitch wants to picnic, but by drying out a bit of the forest to make himself more comfortable, he upsets the ecology; ‘a delicate balance with nature where small changes can make a big difference’. I tell Max I’m going to write about it for this blog post – and he recommends we watch another one, in which Glitch dumps masses of custard in the dead sea, because having already eaten vast quantities of it he’s decided he doesn’t fancy any more so wants it out of his sight. The bottom of the sea seems the ideal space of invisibility to him. Out of sight, out of mind. ‘Dumping things is no way to treat the sea’ and ‘take your litter home with you’ the Go-Jetters tell Glitch as they gleefully extract Glitch and the massive pool of solidified custard and plunk them back on Grim HQ… Max gets the moral structure; he is five years old. Fairness appeals to kids, and it really is as simple as an 11-minute children’s animation.


I wonder how we would feel if the Go-Jetters got real and like Glitch’s custard, dumped all our plastic that is clogging the oceans back on us. I did only last just over a month collecting all the plastic we used that wasn’t recyclable (see December’s blogpost), having it all in the house, piling up, started to choke the family (so like Glitch I dumped it). I still have the plastic I did save, but just couldn’t keep adding to it. It has definitely had a lasting effect on my purchasing behaviour however. It is not only that less plastic now comes into the house, even if non-recyclable plastic does still end up coming in and out (food packaging is the worst). It is also that I have an increasingly distributed sense of ownership. I don’t have the comfortable sense that Glitch does, that when I throw the plastic away that I will no longer have to think about it. This queasiness does translate into action, eventually, and in a way that sustains more than any moral injunction. It was similar with clothing when I was making World Factory. I couldn’t keep up the moral fortitude it took to stop myself ever buying new clothes, despite the ethics. But knowing the methods of production, sooner or later it just made me feel a bit sick when I saw those clothes – I no longer had to feel particularly moral, I just didn’t want them any more. I’ve not bought any such clothes now in a long time, and I don’t think I ever really will again. The same is slowly happening with plastic. It is difficult when the culture doesn’t support such transitions – I’m not someone who defines myself through specialist purchases, so it isn’t of interest to me as a ‘lifestyle’ choice. It takes this queasiness, a personal ‘just can’t do it’ to make me change… What would the equivalent be for using fossil fuels? The fact my slightly asthmatic younger son, who is now just over one-year-old, can’t breathe properly on high pollution days? But unlike plastic or clothing, my consumer ‘power’ feels very limited when it comes to the actual air we inhale…


Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping


This month we undertook our month long field trip to Bangladesh. Over the course of the month we worked in Dhaka and three divisions in the south of Bangladesh: Barisal, Bhola and Borguna. Our decision to come to Bangladesh was largely informed by a few core interests. The first was the phenomenon of rural-urban migration and its relation to the future scenario of climate change induced migration. The second focus was the adaptation strategies being developed in Bangladesh to mitigate climate change threats by individuals, communities local movements, NGO’s and the government. Our third and most significant interest was understanding and exploring the conceptual shift in the narrative of the vulnerable nations from the vulnerable to the resilient and the adapting.

Bangladesh is the leading proponent of this conceptual reframing and is currently leading the way for other climate vulnerable countries. The change from the narrative of vulnerability and passiveness (waiting for funding that may never come or will come to late) to proactivity, leadership and taking control over the tackling of climate change is a strategy that was eloquently summed up by Saleemul Huq as: ” making a negative into a positive”.

We were extremely honoured to be invited and supported by the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) during this trip. ICCCAD’s support allowed us to dive bold and deep into these complex issues at the forefront of climate change knowledge, politics and policies, both in the context of Bangladesh as well as globally. During our stay we had an opportunity to learn from a large range of people from: the academic circle, international researchers, NGO's and development workers, local youth groups, students, young professionals, tenants of informal housing, migrant workers and people directly affected by cyclones, heat stress and river erosion.

In the first couple of days we had an inspiring conversation with Sarder Shafiqul Alam, a climate change expert and a senior research coordinator at ICCCAD. Sarder is very much a hands on applied researcher who has spent most of his scientific career in the field inventing ingenious climate change adaptation designs for impoverished climate vulnerable communities that can be utilised with almost no cost. His many inventions include a floating house on which he lived for a period of time, floating vegetable beds which allow people to cultivate during flood periods and wet seasons, water harvesting systems for drought stricken and saline contaminated areas, and a theatre play that communicated to communities the need to follow emergency procedures for cyclone evacuation in order to save lives. And Sarder also established a public library for the people of his village in the Borisal division from his own funds.

His knowledge has materialised in the form of a research centre established by him called the Wetland Research and Training Centre or WRTC for short. The centre’s primary role is to provide skills training to local community members so that they may diversify their income and host international and Bangladeshi researchers interested in adaptation.

When we first discussed our research interest with Sarder we were immediately led to understand that the narrative of climate induced migration is far more complicated than often reported. This is because most people migrate for economic reasons and therefore consider themselves economic migrants even when their financial instability has resulted from multiple evacuations (up to 9 times in some cases) due to river erosion.

With Sarder we also understood that although Bangladesh has a long history of coping with natural disasters and environmental adversity it is only long term coping strategies that can be seen as adaptations. Migration is therefore recognised as a method of adaptation in Bangladesh.

Other adaptations include cyclone shelters, early warning signal systems and community cyclone awareness programmes, such as ICCCAD’s GIBIKA project, flood resistant and salt resilient rice varieties, drainage systems and water harvest systems, community capacity building through skills development among young people, and costal and river erosion defences.

Indigenous perception and experience based adaptation strategies have also been developed over time by vulnerable communities. Such as raised foundations for houses, ponds for rainwater harvest and diverse agricultural practices that have resulted in yields of multiple crop types.


Through our field work we learnt that those who migrate to Dhaka from other parts of Bangladesh often fall into one of three categories.

1. Those with capital to establish themselves in Dhaka with a rented flat and/or business.

2. Those that rent in low income housing areas or slums – this group often work as rickshaw pullers or formal or informal garment workers, and can include seasonal migrants.

3. Those that have no fixed abode – the floating population of Dhaka that work informally or live hand to mouth, this group can also include seasonal migrants.

Most migrants, regardless of their reason for coming to Dhaka, arrive in search of better income as a poor rural economy offers little chance to send children to colleges or university or to establish a more substantial home or to purchase land that is not as vulnerable to river erosion or other climatic disasters.

Those individuals, single men (with families that remain outside of Dhaka), or parents without children (children stay with grandparents in their village), usually send most of their earnings as remittance to their families in the village they came from.

Whereas if a whole family group has come to Dhaka all earnings are spent on sustaining the family in Dhaka and or saving to re-establish the family with a better home, business or livelihood in the community they originated from or to buy land in a new location that is not so vulnerable in their original community or in a totally new location.

It is a common misconception that slums are disorganised and all that live within them are living so for free or with the support of NGO’s. In actuality the cost of living in a house in a slum is very high and it is necessary for all that live within the slum to be in full time employment. As a result there are a huge number of informal business within slums from hairdressers, restaurants and phone shops to jewellery and furniture workshops. All of these informal business make up part of the informal economy of Bangladesh which is dubbed the “Rickshaw economy”.

When compared to the cost per square foot of renting a four bedroom apartment in Dhaka the slum dweller invariably pays more for a single room shack of 30 square foot with no amenities than those that can afford an apartment. Both electricity and water prices which are dictated by the gangs who provide the illegally sourced connections are also 6-10 times the price of what is paid for legal connections. All of these factors add up to it being very hard to save as a slum dweller. However, almost everybody that we spoke to enthused that they had earned more money in Dhaka than they would have done in the countryside and that their dreams of returning or relocating was what drove them.

The more established slums are characterised by a strong community network with ties to the community from where people migrate to Dhaka. As a result it is typical to find that a slum has a community that is made up of people from one region outside of Dhaka for example Bhola slum is made up of people from several different villages in Bhola. Bhola slum was actually established two generations earlier by the environmental migrants who fled Bhola island after the 1970 Bhola cyclone devastated their homes and livelihoods and it is these original migrants who paved the way for the ongoing influx due largely to river erosion.

Those from the second group of people tend to live within areas of informal housing which are less established and more prone to eviction such as those on train tracks or road sides. These tend also to be people coming to Dhaka mostly for economic reasons, but sometimes also because of family or social matters. Access to facilities is very limited in these slums, with limited toilets, and water points being up to half a mile away. Electricity is often scarce and expensive. Living conditions are often dangerous due to the communities proximity to trains, sometimes passing as as little as 1.5 feet from the threshold of the shelter and generating incredible amount of noise pollution. Strangely one of the most repeated dissatisfactions after the lack of water and electricity was with the lack of entertainment in their lives.

Those from the third group, the floating population of Dhaka tend to sleep rough under plastic sheeting or in very informal shelters in parks, on road sides and around the docks in Dhaka. This group of people is the most vulnerable and often without any supporting family network. The situation of these people is very hard with no access to sanitation, water, electricity or any other basic facilities. However even this group work to survive daily and in some cases to send remittance home.

While we were documenting some of the specificities of the situations of these people, it was more important for us to speak to these people and learn about their lives, living conditions, how people move, how do people travel and how people’s lives are in terms of living standards and livelihood prospects once they reach their destinations. We were also looking at how migration affects and sometimes defines people on the individual level as well as family units and larger communities and how migration becomes a generational phenomenon.

We were also looking at the difficulty of the term of ‘climate migrant’ or ‘refugee’, in particular what makes one a climate migrant? Such specificity is hard to define, as it is commonly found that people move for a variety of economic and social reasons.


With the help of ICCCAD’s youth team Adnan Qader and Jennifer Khadim we conducted two future scenarios workshops / seminars with two different youth groups. One with a youth think tank called Project Be and the other with a group of young children from Jaago NGO School in Korail Slum. The point of these workshops was to have a conversation with Bangladesh’s younger generation (the future) about their perspective on climate change and the future of Bangladesh and the rest of the world. We also wanted to discuss the scenarios that we intended to work with whist filming and photographing in Bangladesh (to see some scenarios please refer to April’s newsletter). Following our conversation we asked the groups to elaborate on a theme of their choice in a series of improvised conversations with our video camera. Some of the most prominent topics that were raised by Project Be were divestment, decentralisation and what does it mean to be an activist in the Global South?


During the two weeks we spent in the South of Bangladesh in the divisions off Barisal, Bhola and Borguna we focused upon the reasons why people are migrating to urban centres in Bangladesh. Here we learnt about how the coastal regions are prone to cyclones, river erosion, saline intrusion and sea level rise among other more developmental and social economic issues.

We wanted to go to these locations as a large proportion of Dhaka’s rural-urban migrants come from the coastal parts of the country, which are also considered the most vulnerable to climate change. In these locations we observed the construction of many embankments which help to strengthen the contiguously eroding coastline and hold back storm surges, some permanently and some just temporary.

Despite these measures the loss of the land has been severe. In some places as much as 2km of land has disappeared under the water in the last 4 years and as much as 20km in 60 years. As much as it is difficult for us to visualise where land used to be without the descriptions of those who have seen it go, one can often see the signs of this ongoing phenomenon such as trees growing out of the water and collapsing river banks.

Through speaking to individuals about their experience of cyclones and flooding we learnt about how Bangladesh is preparing communities for disasters so that they may save them selves and their livelihoods. In Dalbanga South a village which was badly hit during cyclone Sidr in Borguna Divisions we participated in a disaster management and cyclone properness training session that was run as part of ICCCAD’s GIBIKA project. Through this experience we learnt a lot about the reality of living in climate change vulnerable locations and specifically about how communities prepare themselves to cope with cyclones (not just surviving them but being able to carry on with your livelihoods afterwards).

During the time we spent in the South, Bangladesh was in the grips of an unseasonal heat wave. The heat was unbearable and many people, including ourselves, were falling ill due to the heat stress (causing heat stroke, fevers, break outs of diarrhoea and mosquito born diseases). In these circumstances it is very hard not to be thinking about the significance of the 1.5 C scenario. What we found scary was that if these heat waves are already happening at not even 1 degree temperature increase. We cannot imagine what it will be like to live in Bangladesh in the 2 degrees world or even 1.5 world. Many here, quite rightly, remind us that there are limits to how adaptable people can be, and heat stress is definitely one of the climate stresses which represents the limits of adaptability of the human body .


During our fieldwork we worked with a highly skilled translator called Naimul Amin or ‘Rocky’ as he likes to be called. Rocky is a social science researcher himself with a background in anthropology and experience as a project coordinator and consultant on many development projects for the World Bank, BRAC and the UNDP. Working with Rocky allowed us to access and learn from communities, issues and situations that otherwise we may never have been able to. Through Rocky we were given the opportunity to understand a given situation from the international, national, local and indigenous perspective. Rocky’s sincere moral and empathetic drive to learn more about his country and help those who need it meant that we were collaborators that were working toward a mutual goal. we would highly recommend working with Rocky to anyone.


Although it will undoubtedly take time for us to properly reflect upon the experiences we have had, there are a few closing thoughts that we believe will become ever more significant following our departure from Bangladesh:

- We have begun to think about climate change as a developmental issue rather than purely environmental one. In our pursuit of a representation of Climate Change through the examination of the landscape, anthropogenic agency and the narrative surrounding resources we understood that the traditional environmental and ecological understanding of these notions is being challenged.

- The more we understand the mechanisms of climate change and how they affect people’s lives the more we perceive climate change as a combination of poverty, environmental disaster and consumption.

- Climate change is a problem that demands collective action. Only by working together, not against each other, we stand a chance of adapting to what our climatic futures will bring (the coming together of those who are responsible with those who are vulnerable). We are all participating in climate change, not equally, but nevertheless we all have a footprint and therefore we all have a role to play in climate change.

- That narratives create their own reality. For Bangladesh the key narrative is the inversion of its biggest disadvantage – its vulnerability to Climate Change– into its greatest developmental asset– is key to its tackling of Climate Change. Partly a performative statement, this narrative has empowered Bangladesh and other vulnerable nations adding strength to achieve goals such as negotiating the 1.5 degree goal down from 2 degrees in Paris. This changing of the paradigm created a more conducive, more positive, more supportive reality for countries such as Bangladesh to continue facing the challenges that climate change is bringing.

As we leave Bangladesh we are yet again reminded of the impact that climate change has already made in Bangladesh as cyclone Mora makes its landfall between Chittagon and Cox’s Bazaar. Mora is untimely appearing long after the end of the cyclone season which should run from March to April and October to November. So far one million people have been evacuated into cyclone shelters and over 200 homes have been destroyed.


International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) is a leading international research institute on climate change with a particular focus on adaptation, based at the Independent University of Bangladesh. The main mission of the institute is to gain and distribute direct knowledge on Climate Change and specifically adaptation from a real-world context and thereby help people to adapt to Climate Change with a focus on the global South. To find out more visit here

Jaggo Foundation is a movement initiated by the young people of Bangladesh to eradicate poverty through education and empowering the youth. To find out more please visit here

Project Be is a Dhaka based youth organisation who endeavour into ambitious projects and offer encouragement and support to each other through successful execution. The projects are interdisciplinary and so are the members of the project Be, who come from all sort of academic backgrounds and disciplines. To find out more about this truly gifted and passionate youth group please see their Facebook page here

Image Credit: Zoë Svendsen

In December 2015 at COP21, the Culture and Climate Change group launched the Scenarios project with a call to artists to apply to the Climate Change in Residence: Future Scenarios networked residency programme. Our ambition was to catalyse new creative work that would encourage more open and imaginative, but also more purposeful, responses to the challenges of climate change in the present. From July 2016 to June 2017, Emma Critchley, Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping and Zoë Svendsen – the artists selected from amongst 270 applicants – have engaged with climate scenarios within climate research networks. They have explored and extended ways of thinking the range of possible future climates.

This is the last monthly update from the artists on this year-long pilot of a new model of arts-science residency, that of a ‘networked residency’. The framing for the residency was one of ‘collective improvisations’. The collaborations around climate scenarios between the artists and their academic and policy community co-researchers (including ourselves as both convenors and participants) have demonstrated the diversity and contested nature of climate change research. Our ambition with the programme, paraphrasing artist Joseph Beuys, was that, ‘we are all climate researchers’. This has been borne out through the rich and varied encounters and exchanges between different modes of climate change knowledge making developed over a year where polar oceanographers, climate modellers, economists, architects, theatre-makers, artists and geographers have collectively responded to the prospect of climate-changed futures. The residency programme has also encouraged researchers from a wide range of disciplines to think about the relationship of their work to wider cultural work on climate scenarios.

The artists will continue with their projects informed and inspired by this residency. We will post news of developments on the Culture and Climate Change website. The Scenarios project continues with an academic research network and a forthcoming publication. We are enormously grateful to Jerwood Charitable Foundation, Ashden Trust, The Open University and the University of Sheffield, and the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures for supporting different elements of this programme of work. Thanks especially to all the climate researchers who gave time and careful attention to supporting the networked artist’s residencies.


Zoë Svendsen

Over the past six months I’ve held ‘research-in-public’ events every few weeks – and the final one will be on 5th July (details below), when I’ll be launching my ‘manifesto for research in public’. These conversations have provided extraordinary pulses of energy through the residency – with every event I’ve asked the same initial question, and then my interviewee has responded with those who have gathered to listen and question – I hesitate to say audience, because the people at these events have been a group gathered to a short spurt of collective co-thinking. I have been enlightened and excited by questions emerging that I wouldn’t have thought to ask, and that through the process of these events being small-scale public (ranging in size from around 6 people to around 50), each has built a mini-network of its own.

Each discussion produced a rich network of thoughts that influences my response to the next set of questions, and in the past months have more directly fed into the development of a performance work that will be produced by Artsadmin at the Barbican in September 2018. Entitled WE KNOW NOT WHAT WE MAY BE, it will gather the expertise encountered in these conversations to co-produce a vision of what it might feel like to live in an alternative economic structure – in response to, and under conditions of, climate change:

The feeling that time is running out has only intensified over the course of the residency – a rollercoaster of hope and despair, as the present vied with the future for the prize for utter uncertainty. How to make a project exploring future scenarios when the present is so full of variability? The rollercoaster of entwined strands of political events shifting the social, economic and climate territories kept changing the lens. There was the backbeat of the ratification of the Paris Agreement by almost every signatory, only for Trump to renege, only for corporations and whole US states to declare their aim to comply regardless – implying there might be a route to carbon reduction that is beyond the national. Nevertheless the English/Welsh vote to leave the European Union has put in jeopardy social and environmental rights, whilst Trump’s ascendancy to the White House has brought a number of significant climate deniers to the forefront of power. Throughout 2016 global climate temperature records were broken, again, whilst the Arctic melt accelerated beyond all expectation – in November, perhaps weeping at Trump, the ice actually started to remelt – whilst the Global Seed Vault, designed to preserve seeds of every kind forever in completely secure surroundings, in deep rock in the Arctic, was flooded thanks to never-envisaged permafrost melt.

You couldn’t make it up. It is a condition of being an artist in a time of seismic change – nothing we can imagine is as bizarre, telling or frightening as what is actually happening.

Perhaps this is what it really means to make art now: we need it as a source of connection, to make us feel as though we are doing something (when witnessing might be all that is possible). In despair at the incapacity of the political mainstream to act in accordance with human reason, the artists have to come out and make what should be the concern of policymakers and politicians apparent on the cultural map. But then another change took place – just a few weeks ago, a surge in support for Labour in the UK, thanks to an extraordinary manifesto that recognised that social justice and responses to climate change go hand in hand. The conditions are changed again. If this support for social justice, a rebalancing of values away from the accumulation of capital and towards the fostering of care – between people, communities and the environment – actually produces a government that enacts these values in the social and economic structure, then the challenge of WE KNOW NOT WHAT WE MAY BE will also alter… It may become less a cry in the dark and more an effort towards an actually possible future. But what conditions will the work actually take place under, by September 2018? Who knows?

What I do know is that it has been a complete pleasure to work with everyone involved in the residency – at once enabling the artists to be collaborative and autonomous, the ‘networked’ nature of the residency has been a spirited source of unconditional support and intellectual refreshment. Thus in the spirit of this project of picking up and entwining multiple strands of thought towards a rehearsal of the future, I will finish with a by quoting a fragment of a quotation (from my most recent interviewee Andrew Simms quoting from Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark):

To hope is to give yourself to the future, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable.
Rebecca Solnit.


On the 5th July, at Hot Numbers Café on Gwydir Street, Cambridge, I will be in conversation with Stephen Peake, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Technologies at the Open University. I will be presenting a sketch of a future scenario derived from all the previous café conversations and asking Stephen Peake to act as ‘respondent’ to the scenario – together we will imagine what it might be to live in that world with both intended and unintended consequences. Further event information here.

I hope to continue holding such conversations in public throughout the future creation of this work – please follow @metisprojects or sign up to METIS here to follow – and perhaps even share in – the journey from here.


Emma Critchley

Writing this in the baking temperature of the UK’s current heat wave feels quite an apt scenario in which to be contemplating the last blog for the Culture & Climate Change: Future Scenarios residency. I have been reflecting on the incredible journey we embarked on last year and would like to leave you with some thoughts and quotes taken from my notes on conversations with climate researchers over the year and the last month in particular.

Our future scenario is in our hands.
Collectively we have the opportunity and responsibility to act upon this.
This is exciting.
We have control of the way we perceive and engage with climate change; it is a choice of mindset.
We decide how we want to frame our future scenarios.
We can choose to tune in or tune out.
We control how we engage with the narratives we are told; whether to take them at face value or question; whether to allow them to overwhelm us or provoke us to act.
Global politics over the last 12 months has fundamentally demonstrated the opportunities we have to instigate change and alter the scenarios we live in.
We should think the unthinkable.
It doesn’t have to be linear or singular.
It doesn’t have to be realistic or likely.
It does have to be curious, experimental, risky and collaborative.

When a camera lands on Mars it looks in one direction. If you put a microphone there you would hear its surroundings in all directions.
Diving goggles instigated an entirely new field of visuality.
The visible invisible.
The subaquatic subconscious
A space where ears rule over eyes
Listening and being listened to is political
Who determines these threshold levels?

The ocean is an ecosystem of goods and services.
Exploration has driven our progress.
There appears to be an uncomfortable relationship between exploration and exploitation.
Scientific communities are struggling to keep up with the pace of industry movement.
A common phrase I am encountering is ‘we just don’t know’.
Environments beyond continental borders require international collaboration.
International dialogue helps us exercise our imagination.
Fish don’t understand political boundaries.

Change doesn’t have to be radical: a shift in perspective only has to be small to instigate big change.
There are possibilities in the everyday.
Almost everything we experience day to day, we know.
Art offers a safe space that gives us permission to imagine.
Art provokes to help us understand what we value.
We need to develop a new vocabulary.
Science fiction is a model for discourse that is good at thinking up new languages.

It is important to look back as well as to look forward.
But we do have to presume a certain present to be able to think about our future.
We tend to anchor our thoughts on what we know.
We think the future will be like the recent past with a little amplification.
The task is to imagine a different future rather than another past.
The beginning of 2017: a time of unprecedented unknowns.
We are continuing to live in an uncertain present: how can we positively embrace this to encourage a more unconventional and improvisational response to thinking about future scenarios?


Lastly, I would like to say a huge thank you to the climate researchers I have been meeting, talking and collaborating with over the year: Josh Willis, Josh Fisher, Walter Smith, Dean Roemmich, Alex Randall, Iain Staniland, Beatrix Schlarb-Ridley, Paul Rodhouse, Oliver Morton, Mark Brandon, Jon Copley, Nick Drake, Robert Butler, Chris Hope, Ilan Kelman, Catherine, Butler, Tony Myatt, Lindsay Irving, Nicola Whyte, Jeremy McKane, Frazer Coomber, Matthew Herbert, Kate Stafford, Christopher Willis Clark, Jenifer Austin, Gwyneth Jones, Clare Embling, James Robbins, Adam Manning, Tony Milligan, Kerry Howell, Maria Baker, Penny Holliday, The Mars Generation, Itzair DeGregorio, Hali Felt, Simon Marvin, Jonathan Rutherford, Shonagh Manson, Elena Hill, Cressida Ranfield, Hannah Bird, Renata Tyszczuk, Joe Smith, Zoe Svendsen, Teo Ormond-Skeaping & Lena Dobrowlska. It has been an amazing journey that has been shaped by you and I hugely value your generosity of time, energy and creative vision. You have given me inspiration, ideas and material that I will feed off for years to come and I look forward to embarking on this next phase of our work together.

Quotes from: Steve Goodman, Kerry Howell, George Monbiot, China Miéville, Tamsin Edwards, Chris Hope, Caroline Edwards, Alex Rogers, Timothy Leighton


Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping


Our work over the course of the Culture and Climate Change: Future Scenarios networked residency has focused upon the future scenarios of those nations which are most vulnerable to Climate Change, a group of around 100 nations that are mostly small low-lying island and coastal states, African nations, and Asian mega-deltas. For the majority of this group Climate Change is no longer a future scenario as they are already experiencing its impact.

Over the last year we have learnt how the narrative of vulnerability that once surrounded these nations most vulnerable to Climate Change has developed into a narrative of resilience and adaptation. The countries once thought of as helpless in the face of Climate Change are now emerging as leaders in the development of mitigation and adaptation strategies, the use of indigenous resilience and adaptation knowledge, research into loss and damage, knowledge sharing, renewables and are the closest to decarbonizing their economies, even though as a group they have contributed the least to total global carbon emissions.

We have come to understand how as artists we can play an essential role by foregrounding this new narrative about resilience and adaptation, and how this story opens up a dialogue about a still yet-to-be determined future that rejects the fatalist narrative about vulnerability that compounds victimhood. As part of our investigation we have so far developed work in the United Kingdom, Democratic People’s Republic of Laos and Bangladesh with the support of The International Centre for Climate Change and Development and we intend to develop work in East Africa before the end of the year.


Throughout the residency we have developed a body of photographic work that considers the ideas of vulnerability and responsibility through a focus upon the future scenarios of climate induced migration, intensified natural disasters, energy, conflict, water stress and food security. We consider this body of work is an open formal investigation into how we may represent climate change through photography and how we can more broadly contemplate the shifting cultural meaning of nature, how this is changed by the definition of the Anthropocene and how as photographers we may ‘decolonize nature’ (T.J. Demos).

Working with scenarios thinking we have pursued multiple representations of climate change through various forms of photographic documentation from studio still life and portrait to topographic landscape works, with the intention of creating a dialogue that has a greater potential to represent the complexity of climate change discourses. This dialogue will be fashioned by juxtaposing prints of different dimensions to create narratives that emphasise the subjective nature of vulnerability and the displacement that comes with climate change. The generation of these narratives will be supported by the presentation of the expanded research in vitrines and a computer terminal that hosts an interactive documentary.

A much intended consequence of this exercise is to create a jarring experience for the viewer that will reveal how different forms of documentation create different narratives and how these different types of documentary narrative shape how we perceive our world and therefore how we imagine our future. By creating work in a number of different nations we intend to displace climate change and create narratives that skew the responsibility/ vulnerability divide. In this way we wish to draw attention to how we are all responsible for and all vulnerable to climate change. Of course we are not equally responsible, but nevertheless we all have a carbon footprint and therefore we all have a role to play in tackling climate change.

Artist Film

In addition to our photographic work we have also developed an artist film that will be resolved as an experiential large scale multi-channel installation. The film is being shot in cinematic 4k with a stabilising gimbal camera system. The film considers the question of who is the Anthropos of the Anthropocene? Who is the singular human implicated by the literal meaning of Anthropos (”man” singular or “human” archetype) that is behind humanities detrimental effect upon earth’s ecosystem? It explores how the naming of the world’s first anthropogenic geological epoch “The Anthropocene” wrongly implies that every human is equally responsible for Climate Change. (B. Latour)

Imperfectly retaining the footsteps of the camera operator the stabilised camera acts as the point of view of an unknown persona. A multiple personality who traverses time and space to visit sublime landscapes and spend time with people engaged in resilience, adaptation and consumption activities that are related to migration, food, water, shelter, leisure and work as climate change affects their daily lives. Eventually the journey reveals how each of those portrayed have different degrees of agency, and a larger or smaller carbon footprint. These features unify us in shared responsibility for climate change to a degree. Hence each one of us plays a role in our climatic future.

The embodied camera is complicit, a cool and distant observer that plays the role of someone who is responsible: responsible for climate change and responsible for the mitigation of climate change. The camera is present to disrupt and present to learn from those most vulnerable and yet most resilient. The camera is there to draw attention to itself and how it others, how it reveals power relationships, how it inspires performances and how its presence leads to the generation of narratives and scenarios. At times the camera is welcomed and at others it is regarded as an intruder, eventually the camera also learns that it is also vulnerable.

The foregrounding of the camera’s presence is intended to emphasise how the use of different lenses (frameworks) in research, journalism or documentary shapes the way we view and therefore how we interact with the world. Though not physically represented by a change in focal length, the persona reveals how we frame the world through an environmental justice lens, a neo-malthusian lens, and a technocratic lens.

The presence of the camera’s persona will be enhanced through voiceover and text overlay. The voice over will be created from a combination of real stories that we have collected, reactions to the situations the camera encounters and questions that arise if the lens through which we view the world changes. The text overlay will proposition the viewer with questions relating to their own role in climate change and as a viewer of the film.

We intend the film to offer an experiential form of climate change knowledge. It allows the viewer to make a journey from within the confines of the (for example) European gallery space to some of those most vulnerable nations and learn from those who are resilient. It enables them to revisit their own society and ask how we can apply this knowledge and why we are not doing more about it.

What Now?

Amongst other plans to disseminate our work we hope to create an exhibition experience that supports the necessary inquiry we all must make into our individual and collective futures. Through an expanded presentation of research, interactive documentary, photographic works and our artist’s film installation we would like to empower the viewer with the knowledge that by learning about climate change you are taking the first step toward doing something about it. It suggests we all have the capability of becoming climate change experts. Climate change is a problem that demands collective action. Only by working together, not against each other, sharing our experiences and our knowledge do we stand a chance of adapting to what our climatic futures will bring and of mitigating the risks.

Closing statement: Artist as Researchers

We are deeply honoured to have been able to participate in the Culture and Climate Change: Future Scenarios Networked Residency. The experience has led us to make significant developments in our practices that will inform our work for years to come. But perhaps most significantly the residency has fostered our connection with a network of climate change researchers and artists. It is because of the conversations that we have had with researchers like Dr Poshendra Satyal, Dr Saleemul Huq, Professor Joe Smith and Dr Renata Tyszczuk that we now consider ourselves artists who are climate change researchers and we see that we have an important role to play in generating knowledge around how to represent and how to communicate climate change whilst continuing to reveal its consequences and how we may combat it.

We will be continuing to develop our Future Scenarios body of work over the next year, please visit the Future Scenarios research page or our website for regular updates.

Thank you to all of you that have made this residency possible and contributed to our deeper understanding of climate change and most importantly for the precious time to continue to develop as artists.


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.


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.