*Please note this post has been edited to include new insights. I’ve retained the earlier entry to give a sense of my thought processes and to show the weaknesses in my initial proposal. Scroll down to see the updated version.
I’m not made for concrete decisions. I change my mind on a whim.
So when it comes to assignments, I typically just bide my time until the very last hour where I haphazardly scramble through the stacks of information I’ve collected and sit somewhere in the corner of my room in a state of caffeine-fuelled delirium and tears.
I’ve been having such a jolly time researching, mapping and writing about climate change that I seemed to have wound up in familiar territory. That is; at the pointy end of the project with little sense of what I’m actually going to design. Plenty of ideas but no clear direction.
It’s not for lack of trying. I’ve written extensively on how climate change is an enormous issue and I feel as though I’m just chipping away at the surface. The more I learn about the problem, the less qualified I feel to be making any statement at all.
While week 6 mapping helped iron out some of the wrinkles in my brain, it didn’t really provide me any new insights into climate change. I wrote a vague problem statement and was foolishly hoping for a miracle moment of illumination. When it didn’t arrive, I realised I was going to have to actually work for the answer. Unlucky.
So I set myself up in an empty classroom with a pad of post-its. I wrote whatever came to mind without the unpalatable greyness of the butchers paper sucking out my will to create.*
*only slightly over-dramatised
I found that having each idea in its own little square helped to materialise and separate all of the vague thoughts floating between my ears.
The results are summarised below;
Connection to / detachment from the land
- climate change disproportionately affects those who live in close cahoots with the land
- A connection to the natural world is correlative to feeling a moral imperative to protect the planet
- The modern world is increasingly digitised and urbanised. This facilitates detachment from nature and it recontextualises our interaction with inherited values as they relate to the environment and natural world. There’s a need to revisit systemic values.
- The global dissemination of Western Culture has lead to the reduction of cultural diversity and the adoption of dominant ideologies by minorities, even if aforementioned ideologies do not align with their prevailing cultural/social values.
- This relates back to the shifting of attitudes in relation to the environment. The Western ideal champions economy and profit.
- Still, the cultural and social issues that minor countries face as a result of globalisation are dwarfed by climate change. The annihilation of villages and displacement of entire communities is seen as little more than the natural order of things by those in power because minority communities hold little value in the economic model of Western society.
- Western World values the individual over the community. There’s an emphasis on being self-made and success is measured against economic means.
- Egocentric vantage point leaves little room for selfless action. All events and external phenomena are seen through the lens of the individual not the society.
- Dominant attitudes surrounding climate change are denial, apathy, disinterest, lethargy, despondency and hopelessness. These, while all valid, ignore the greater issue at hand and instead focus on the way it makes the individual ‘feel’.
- Feeling moderates values which influences behaviour. It’s necessary to tap into emotion if you want behavioural change.
Tacit Knowledge and Value Sharing
- We often know things without being able to articulate where/why/how we know them.
- Not all information is learned in a formal setting, in fact, it is unlikely that we use formal information unless we find a way to link it to our lives.
- Media is an enormous source of our cultural value sharing, at least in the Western World. They hold the monopoly on what becomes common knowledge. This is in the midst of being shaken by alternative media sources and online sharing platforms.
- Indigenous Communities uphold the tradition of storytelling as a means to understand their place within the world. This is deeply emotive, based on lived experience and requires the use of imagination – it sits in opposition to cold data.
- Films / pop culture portrayal of environment can affect the way we see and relate to it. Dystopian films have enabled us to imagine a negative future and have provided impetus for us to find ways to mitigate environmental collapse. Utopian films allow us to imagine a better future and inspire us to work towards an ideal. Both have in common the use of abstract thought and give space for imagination – this is crucial when dealing with something that is very complex and ambiguous.
Okay, but that’s still a lot of information.
So yet again I took the path of fleshing out my ideas rather than pulling them in. Classic me. But it’s quite easy to see some key themes and polemics emerge.
- Minority cultures vs. Dominant monoculture
- Media and popular culture
- Emotional landscape and Environmental landscape
- information versus narrative
And suddenly the polemic mapping exercise makes perfect sense. Better late than never, right?
This brings me to the crux of all of my anxieties. Having to choose a single problem statement that is broad enough to allow space for creative venture, while being specific enough that I have some parameters.
But here goes…
Climate change is an urgent global issue that disproportionately affects those in fringe and Indigenous communities. Sadly, these groups of people are least likely to contribute to global warming and have little power to affect change. Those who exist on the margins are being forced to wear the weight of decisions that are made in their absence.
So, where to now?
What is clear is that existing climate change rhetoric suffers from a lack of imagination. The prevailing sense of apathy and continued validation of denialists speaks of an issue that sits somewhere in the too hard or too boring basket.
This is a fairly valid response when viewing climate change from a purely Western perspective. Rising temperatures and an increase in extreme weather are surely an inconvenience, but they’ve proven to be insufficient motivators.
In order to address my problem statement, it’s essential that climate change is framed as a human rights issue. In my own experience, the most effective way to do this is through an appeal to the common aspects of humanity through emotion and experience. This necessitates an empathy-lead design response.
Potential design responses
I’ve established the insufficiency of data in evoking an emotional response and have touched on the Indigenous tradition of storytelling as a means to record and pass down cultural values. This has lead me to see the power of narrative in shaping our personal and cultural values.
In order to challenge our existing cultural norms, I could use narrative devices to reimagine the climate change conversation. Taking an allegorical approach, I could scrape information from social media sources and generatively construct various narratives. the relative absurdity/relevance of which would be entirely dependant on chance.
Playing with language a little further, I can investigate the relationship that groups of people have to the space they inhabit by analysing the type of language they use to talk about it. This would be an attempt to find the mirroring aspects of the emotional and physical landscape and is born from the realisation that we often use the same language to talk about our moods and the environment. In drawing connections like these, I can visualise the similarities between the internal and external environment, in turn fostering a deeper sense of affinity with the land.
Project Title: No idea.
Practice Area: Generative Data + service design
Oscar Wilde called it “the last refuge of the unimaginative”, and if the current climate change debate is anything to go by, his claims of banality are certainly valid. Talking about the weather evokes images of old men recounting the days of their youth and awkward silences filled with idle chit chat. But there is a forgotten depth in the language we use to articulate our environment.
The lexical parameters of weather set up a space to explore the way in which our internal landscape (our emotions), mirrors our external world (the environment). We compare our sadness to drizzling rain or our loneliness to a whistling breeze and in doing so we give our feelings colour, texture and shape.
Our weather-talk is more than a formality, it’s an affirmation of our common human experience. The spaces that we live within inspire our thoughts but they also house them. We do not exist in opposition to the environment or alongside it, we are literally a part of it.
It is this co-existence that is key in re-engaging people in climate change.
In defiance of the current parasitic relationship we have with the environment, I propose an app that uses geo-location to map the landscape based on the words of famous poets and writers who’ve used metaphor/simile to compare humans and the environment.
The idea is to not only show the deep running connection between the two, but to also give the landscape human characteristics. Just like in Indigenous story-telling, significant narratives don’t exist on paper, they are looser, less linear and stamped within the places that they are told.
There will also be an option for the user to read a story at the end of their journey that is compiled of sentences that they’ve collected along the way. It is a more poetic way of tracing their steps and shows the way that the environment is made up of endless tiny stories, just as we are.
post eight (versions 2): Surely I’m not the only one.
Last week I mentioned that I had a moment of illumination. I jumped the gun. I can now report that it was fleeting. Past Me thought Future Me had this one under control. Nope.
For me, this entire degree has been this really weird experience akin to being on the outside of an in joke. Most of the time I feel utterly clueless. Over the years I’ve grown used to the feeling and have learnt to embrace it – until it was magically multiplied over the last 8 weeks.
Apparently there’s only so long you can fake it until you actually have to make it.
Now that I literally have to start designing an outcome, I’ve clearly reached that threshold.
Which puts me in quite the pickle.
So I’ve decided to have another crack at blog post eight. My first attempt was fine, but I felt like it didn’t provide me with the clarity that I needed to start pursuing a final design outcome.
With that in mind, I decided to re-visit the generation of a problem statement, not necessarily to deviate from my previous one, but to give it more substance by taking a more directed approach.
Our fingerprints on the climate system are visible everywhere, yet climate change is still subject to the denialist rhetoric that lives only to holster up the existing socio-economic system.
Evidenced in warming oceans, lower atmosphere, altered rainfall patterns, ocean acidification, and melting icecaps (among others), scientists agree that the climate system is delicate and has tipping points. What isn’t quite so clear is our proximity to these climatic points of no return.
Scientific models are then our only hope of predicting possible outcomes as they relate to our environmental imprint. These data sets enable us to foresee things like the loss of biodiversity, the risk of flora and fauna extinction and the destruction of natural habitat.
But to the delight of denialists and the uninterested alike, absolute certainty on human impacts and predicted affects is unattainable. Traditionally, scientific data is unable to touch the unrefined edges of environmental issues and it also struggles to find any emotional relevance.
This is doubly problematic when you consider the immediate and augmenting threat that climate change poses to human rights. Not only is it considered a driver of weather and therefore an agent in natural disasters, it has forced the displacement of vulnerable people who live on the social fringes, particularly those from Indigenous communities.
In a cruel twist of irony, those who feel the affects most harshly are typically the least likely to have contributed to or be able to mitigate the effects of climate change. Where those of us in the West are able to palm off temperature changes as a mild inconvenience, we fail to act on our moral obligation to protect and serve those that are suffering at the hands of generations of our collective wrongdoing.
We have forgotten our role within the grander scheme of things and relegate issues of salience to the footnotes if they cease to serve economic or political agendas. Climate change requires spirited and committed action.
The problem statement
Anthropogenic climate change is directly threatening habitat, biodiversity and human rights, and yet its an issue that still struggles to find the social traction necessary to incite action. At least part of the problem can be tied to a disconnect between data and emotion, and perhaps more loosely, the increasing detachment of people from the natural world.
- Ultimately, try to reestablish ties between individuals and the natural world to create change on a personal level.
- This will then hopefully spill over into community action, see a change in voting patterns and lead to policy reform. *It’s a chicken v. egg scenario, but emergent areas of design practice are particularly well suited to be personalised for the individual, they are accessible and customisable.
- Take inspiration from Indigenous communities who see their roots within the land. How do they pass on their innate wisdom, how do they continue a legacy that has been ruptured by violence and loss.
- Look at the way we receive/give information in media and popular culture. What avenue is most effective and why? Which one has the most potential to inspire imagination? – This is crucial in tapping into the Western market who are most equipped to lead the cause.
- Use storytelling devices as means of resolving disconnect by changing the narrative. Things like allegory and metaphor are powerfully persuasive tools that can allow things to be seen in new light.
- It’s not as if there’s a lacuna of information – there needs to be new avenues for the dissemination of facts and a thoughtful process of instigating this into the contemporary postmodern narrative (which is obviously no easy task).
One, using humour and allegory to champion biodiversity by advocating for the protection of predators. (service design)
- Why? My research revealed the crucial role of predators in the larger scheme of the food chain. The loss of predators leads to the flourishing of herbivores, impacting the amount and diversity of plant life, having the knock on effect of less carbon sequestrian.
- How? Some kind of satirical take on a dating app, playing on the idea of alpha males and the quest for survival in the current social context. The animals are personified, given names, hobbies and statistics.
Two, Allelopathy (Data poetics)
- Why? Plants have been shown to communicate with each other through allelopathy, where they share organic compounds that enable them to favour similar species and help their survival. It’s like a secret language of plants that is happening all around us but that we’re unable to hear/read.
- How? A generative design or an information visualisation that attempts to show the language through a series of designed symbols or colours. The idea would be to show the channels of communication that exist without our knowing and to give nature a strength that exceeds our current interpretation.
Three, Internal v. external landscape (generative design)
- Why? To show the way that we are connected on a deeper level to our external environment by showcasing the way in which we draw on nature to describe the innate parts of ourselves.
- How? Compare the internal landscape to the external one by creating a new weather app that only gives the weather in haikus. It is far more vague and intuitive than data sets. It can also give you a geographical location to go based on your mood-state.
Four, Making the invisible, visible. (data poetics)
- Why? One of the most common explanations for lukewarm climate change reactions is due to its seeming invisibility. But why are we willing to believe there is wind when we cannot see it? If we could make the effects visible, would we still allow ourselves to be blinded?
- How? Visualise the sound of various weather conditions by giving each a unique instrument. Create a generative musical piece that combines these into a cohesive song through layering. The timing can be paced based on days/years, the note would be based on the relative frequency of the phenomenon, the pitch based on the severity/urgency etc.
Five, Pickling the planet (service design)
- Why? Pickling items references the need to preserve them, while also playing on the hipster obsession of putting everything into jam jars. It encourages people to seek out ephemeral items and be more aware of the spaces they inhabit.
- How? I could create a service where by you order a recycled jam jar and put in a piece of the world you want to preserve. You then anonymously send that jam jar to someone else without giving them any context to the significance of whats in there. They then add something to it, and repeat the process until the jar is full and sent back for exhibition. In the end, each jar is like a microcosm of the things we collectively value and the contents within trace a journey of lived experience.
Six, A field guide to human-watching (service design + generative design)
- Why? To help people discern truth from facts by giving them a way to analyse and deconstruct their information source.
- How? I can create a kind of field guide that helps users classify the type of people that they receive their information from. It can be part photographic, part data driven and highly satirical. There could even be ways for people to add to the collection (generative), and spotting the people in their natural habitat. Classification could be based on things like the language they use, the clubs they belong to, the places they are most commonly seen in the wild etc.
Six, A poetic catalogue of Indigenous proverbs (data poetics)
- Why? To help preserve the wisdom and secrets of sustainable living that are inherent within Indigenous culture across the globe.
- How? Find and compare different sayings/proverbs that are used by various Indigenous cultures across the world. Then perhaps construct a twitterbot that regenerates the values of these into internet jargon / contemporary English.
Ozaslan, M. 2014, Step, Saatchi Art, viewed 22nd September 2016, <https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Collage-Step/719541/2227555/view>