Republic of Learning 4: Imagining Climate Futures
The first of our Winter 2020 series of Republic of Learning sessions took place on Friday 24th January at MAKE@StoryGarden in Somers Town. The focus of this series is 'Imagining Climate Futures' : using art, crafts and model making as a way to share ideas about how we can respond to climate impacts.
It is clear that, whilst almost all humans are contributing in some way to the emissions caused by mass consumption and the increasing industrial extraction of natural resources, the effects are felt asymmetrically across the globe. The cumulative effect of increased carbon in the atmosphere (amongst other factors) is itself distributed globally, but the effects and impacts which this causes are local and particular to specific environments and ecologies. We are seeing very different impacts – from the unprecedented bush fires in Australia, to flooding in Indonesia, severe storms across Southern USA and, of course, Storm Ciara which has only just hit the UK with tremendous force.
In our workshop, Erin, Rachel & Giles facilitated a creative and convivial space – primarily working with felt – in which the participants were asked to collectively create a series of ‘climate emblems’. The emblems are built up collectively over five stages. Each participant starts with a blank circle of felt and adds elements in response to a series of questions. At the end of each making stage, they describe what they have done, and pass their emblem to the next person. Then, receiving one from the person next to them, they continue with the next stage, before describing what they have added or changed and passing it on again.
The workshop has a specific workflow of intense making activities punctuated by animated discussions – everyone takes turns to speak, and there is space for conversations to flow between participants. Not only that, but there is a high degree of collaboration and sharing of skills as people assist each other with practical tasks of cutting and making. We also see people being stimulated by other participants' creativity to challenge themselves and expand their own repertoires of making and expressing themselves through materials. At each stage the participants add to, or adapt something the person to their left has made, and this builds up into a complex, shared visual and tactile expression of ideas. The resulting emblems are assemblages of highly personal responses, yet collective too.
What has been intensely interesting are the transitions that happen during the workshop as people arrive with ideas and feelings that, through the process, can shift or change. We have seen people arrive with feelings of despair and despondency caused by the climate crisis or emergency (sometimes referred to as "eco-" or "climate-anxiety"), engaging in the creative expression and sharing of ideas to find themselves feeling positive and inspired at the end. Others have come and experienced a growing awareness of connections and interdependencies that they had been unaware of before. Almost everyone who has taken part (either in last week’s session or the previous one Rachel & Giles ran at Camden Think & Do in November) spoke of how the process enabled them to gain wider perspectives on the range of issues and possibilities that climate change represents – not just interns of its effects, but how and what we might choose to become involved in to make our own contributions to change.
A key to this discussion is our use of Mike Hulme's "climate myths" from Why We Disagree About Climate Change, counterposed with the framework suggested by George Marshall in Carbon Detox. As a framework they offer participants recognisable tropes and types to work with, as well as indicating where gaps and places or spaces in between might exist:
As the workshop progresses and conversations unfold, we are using a worksheet – in the shape of clouds – to document key questions, feelings and ideas that emerge:
These are clustered across four regions – represented on the worksheet as individual clouds. As a guiding framework we have been using the quartet of “Known knowns; Known unknowns; Unknown knowns; and Unknown unknowns”. These also relate to the four quadrants of the Johari window, a psychology tool used in helping explore and define relationships between the individual and others. Our rationale for using this framework is similarly to map and explore the relationships between the things we are certain of (known knowns); things we are uncertain of, but where we can perceive gaps to be (known unknowns); the tacit knowledges, skills and experiences which we have but do not always acknowledge as such (unknown knowns); and finally, those things about which we have no knowledge or experience at all and which are beyond our horizon of perception (unknown unknowns).
In addition to the visual and tactile elegance, playfulness and sheer creativity of the climate emblems, the “Clouds of Knowing and Unknowing” worksheet helps situate and share some of the key conversational elements that flowed throughout the workshop. As an unfolding map of feelings and ideas it helps participants and facilitators to visualise the emerging gaps to be bridged and to identify emerging themes and commonalities.
Over the next two sessions we will continue to explore what kinds of responses we can make that could close the distance between our situation here in London – in Kings Cross and Somers Town – and those of others elsewhere in the world. We will build on the climate emblems by devising models for imaginary climate futures in which humans can not only survive, but thrive and cope with the complex spectrum of changes that lie ahead of us. We plan to show the material outcomes in a pop-up exhibition during the summer.
Everyone is welcome. Come to any or all of the sessions.
Erin Dickson, Rachel Jacobs & Giles Lane