The first issue of EcoMag, Future Scenarios, is in boxes in my hallway. Our intention with EcoMag was to create a magazine that would help bring some discussions, ideas and information common amoungst environmentalists to wider audiences; and specifically those in the design and cultural industries in London. Unfortunately, although over the magazine pdf has been downloaded over 17,000 times on-line and the artwork is excellent (thanks to eight brilliant artists), the magazine itself did not make it financially viable to produce another issue. Our second issue was going to use the same technique of using artwork to map complex information visually. The theme of the second issue was going to create information design on the theme of ecological economics.
What went wrong with EcoMag? Well, EcoMag intended to reach unengaged audiences in the cultural sector. Could images convince them to become involved with the struggles to stop some of the threats depicted in the magazine? It is hard to analyze the impact of a series images. But in a culture that only values financially lucrative projects, EcoMag was an oddity and failed to find the support it needed. Yesterday a prominent designer interested in ‘sustainability’ explained to me that designers are now getting involved with ecological issues because they now see how it can be profitable. I think this man has seriously miscalculated both the severity of the problems we face in terms of climate change, resource depletion, soil erosion, bio-diversity loss, water scarcity, fish depletion, etc. etc. and the capacity of the present system to pay people to fix these problems. More honestly, there is now a deeper recognizition of the crises, and the system had made some money avaliable for those who will make it appear like these problems are being addressed, as long as they do not question the deeper roots of the problems (thereby legitimizing the status quo).
EcoMag did have somewhat more attention from environmentalists and worked quite well with those engaged with movements such as Transition Towns. At Climate Camp, EcoMag was more problematic; the steady state graphic was seen as statist, reformist and liberal. Steady state was intended to function as a bit of a conceptual and imaginative exercise in designing a system that functioned within ecological limits. I am not convinced that it will be possible to make something like a steady state happen, but the model is a useful means for exploring how to an economy similar to ours could exist within the planet’s ecological carrying capacity. I think that de-growth is going to happen whether we like it or not, due to the financial mess we are in (thanks to the bailout and deeper structural problems in the economic system) and the fact that we are experiencing peak oil (so energy descent will happen). We desparetely need to be having more conversations and stronger public discourses on the way in which our financial system interacts with the ecological system, to develop an understanding the forces that are driving change.