What could be more important than sustaining habitable living conditions on Earth? Climate change, biodiversity loss and other environmental problems demand changes on an order of magnitude well beyond the trajectory of business-as-usual. And yet, despite accumulative social and technological innovation, environmental problems are accelerating far more quickly than sustainable solutions.
The design industry is one of many industries mobilising to address environmental imperatives. While sustainability-oriented designers are working towards change from many angles, addressing climate change and other environmental problems on this scale demands much more dramatic transformations in economic ideas, structures and systems that enable – or disable – sustainable design.
Put simply, designers cannot design sustainable future ways of living on scale without a shift in economic priorities. Human impacts on planetary processes in the Anthropocene require new types of ecologically engaged design and economics if the necessary technological, social and political transitions are to take place.
World making design
Design is crucial to this debate because it is key to the creation of future ways of living. Designers make new ideas, products, services and spaces desirable to future users. With the shape of a font, a brand, the styling of a product, the look and feel of a service, the touch of a garment, the sensation of being in a particular building, designers serve the interests of customers (generally, those with disposal income). They do so according the logic and modes of governance generated by what is valued by economic structures. Design is the practice that makes capitalism so appealing. Continue reading →
Enabling Difficult Confrontations for Intergeneration Solidarity and Survival
Presentation at the “Critical Pedagogies in the Neoliberal University: Expanding the Feminist Theme in the 21st century Art [and Design] School” session, #AAH2019 –Brighton, April 2019
I will use this paper to reflect on tensions between generations of feminists with a focus on strategies of denial and their toll on the goals of feminist movements. Feminists movements have historically worked (with varying degrees of success) to end the normalisation of denial of social injustices and symbolic, structural and/or actual violence. Feminist pedagogy must intensify challenges to various manifestations of denial responsible for reproducing patriarchy, oppressive social relations and ecocide.
This paper will address denial in the face of divisive issues such as the ‘me too’ movement; the precarity faced by younger generations; and the intersections of patriarchy and ecological crises. It is based on my personal experience as a daughter of a feminist academic in Canada, as a student at art school and my current role as lecturer in design education oriented towards social and environmental justice. Solidarity and even survival depends on our ability to make confrontations with disturbing information a catalyst for change. The lessons learned from feminist struggles inform the work of confronting oppressions, including those on issues of environment justice.
My experiences have led me to the conclusion that many, if not most, oppressive behaviours and attitudes are rooted in various types of denial and unconscious bias. Both are deep seated forces that prevent many of us (and especially those with more privilege) from seeing things that disturb our self-image. Feminist strategies such as transformative learning help us negotiate these difficult confrontations. These are needed now more than ever in higher education and beyond. Unfortunately, neoliberal modes of governance all but destroy opportunities for transformative learning.
The Mapping Climate Communication project offers an overview of how climate change is communicated in the public realm by visualizing actors, events, strategies, media coverage and discourses influencing public opinion. Two large-scale maps and one Poster Summary Report were published on-line October 2014. The project uses two visualization methods: a timeline and a network visualization. The Climate Timeline (CT) visualizes the historical processes and events that have lead to the growth of various ways of communicating climate change. The Network of Actors (NoA) illustrates relationships between institutions, organizations and individuals participating in climate communication in Canada, United States and the United Kingdom. Together these two visualizations contextualize events and actors within five discourses: climate science, climate justice, ecological modernization, neoliberalism and climate contrarianism. Since communication happens at the level of rhetoric as well as the level of action, discourses in this project include explicit messages and also messages that are implicit within political, corporate and organizational activities and policy. This approach reveals tensions and contradictions in climate communication.
This Saturday 4pm workshop at The 2015 Conference on Communication and Environment in Boulder ‘Bridging Divides: Spaces of Scholarship and Practice in Environmental Communication’will start with an illustrated theoretical introduction that will display and describe specific visual strategies to communicate environmental information. The session will be followed by an design critique. The design crit is a foundational practice in design education for developing creativity, visual literacy, communication expertise and design skills. It will provide a setting for evaluating and refining individual samples of visual communication design in response to the objectives of each particular piece of work. It will give participants an opportunity to discuss specific examples of visual communication on the environment. The examples for discussion can be submitted by email by anyone interested in participating in this workshop.
Image-makers have the unique ability to make invisible ecological processes and relationships visible, tangible and accessible. Within the context of an increasingly visual culture, images have potential to nurture the development of new perceptual capabilities and encourage relational perception. Graphic design is well suited to facilitate environmental learning since it can draw on a wide variety of visual strategies to display specific geographic spaces, ecological processes, abstract concepts and future scenarios. With design strategies, image-makers can reveal relationships, patterns and dynamics in complex systems. For these reasons, graphic design has exceptional potential to support relational perceptual practices and ecological literacy.
Mapping Climate Communication offers an overview of how climate change is communicated in the public realm by visualizing and contextualizing actors, events, actions and discourses influencing public opinion. Since communication happens at the level of rhetoric as well as the level of action, discourses in this project include explicit messages and also messages that are implicit within political, corporate and organizational activities and policy. This approach reveals tensions and contradictions in climate communication. The public is told that climate change is a serious threat but the same institutional actors continue to support carbon intensive development. The discursive confusion that results from contradictory communication on climate is theorized as central to the ongoing deadlock in climate policy. Explicit and implicit communication is at odds in the neoliberal discourse. This discourse often uses the language of the environmental movement to gain and maintain legitimacy and public trust. The danger here is that the climate movement’s work in creating awareness and policy opinions responding to climate change is simply used as convenient rhetoric and public relations messaging for continued and indeed exacerbated carbon intensive development.
Since the ecological modernization discourse is open to the use of market mechanisms to regulate climate change, this discourse often unwittingly erodes capacity for regulation as responsibility for a responding to climate change is captured by corporate interests and thus possibilities for climate regulation become even more remote. Despite green intentions of actors in the ecological modernization discourse, when this discourse fails to challenge neoliberalism, it is easily appropriated. It then serves to facilitate neoliberal processes, which in turn enables contrarian discourses, since neoliberalism transfers power from the public to the corporate sphere, where contrarian power is most concentrated. The historical appropriation and political neutralization of green movements is a dynamic that needs to be considered when theorizing climate communication.Continue reading →
Abstract: The green economy is an emergent approach to sustainable development launched at Rio+20. Herein environmental decision-making is increasingly achieved through economistic processes and logic. The natural commons are quantified and managed as natural capital. This paper summarizes the trajectory of the project and its ideological framework. It examines various conceptualizations of economic approaches to the environment and considers philosophical, methodological, and political problems associated with the green economy project. In the face of very different definitions of what constitutes a green economy, environmental communicators face a situation characterized by discursive confusion as the complexity of natural capital accounting processes conceal new political configurations. Counter movements argue that the green economy program is performing ideological work that uses language of environmentalism to obscure an intensified agenda of neoliberal governance and capital accumulation. The concept now has contradictory meanings. Environmental communicators have an important role to play in exposing the contested nature of the project and in helping to define the emerging green economy. Published March 13 in Environmental Communication. 50 free downloads here (until they are used up – please do not use if you have institutional login)
The Mapping Climate Communication Project illustrates key events, participants and strategies in climate communication.
1) Climate Timeline visualizes the historical processes and events that have lead to various ways of communicating climate change. Key scientific, political and cultural events are plotted on a timeline that contextualizes this information within five climate discourses. These reveal very different ideological, political and scientific assumptions on climate change. A clearer version of the timeline is available here.
2) Network of Actors displays relationships between 237 individuals, organizations and institutions participating in climate communication in Canada, United States and the United Kingdom. A clearer version of this graphic is available here.
Details about this project can be found in the Mapping Climate Communication: PosterSummary Report. This report can be downloaded here.
The maps reveal how specific details in climate communication are contextualized within complex debates. For example:
How does a climate march impact the volume of media coverage of climate change?
How does the work of the climate denial industry potentially impact climate policy?
Do popular movies and books on climate result in activity in the climate movement?
What are the relationships between organizations active in climate communication?
By illustrating key events and actors over time and within five discourses this work makes links between disparate factors and reveals dynamics that contribute to public understanding of climate change. The project also explores politicised issues in climate communication by using a discourse approach to analyse the various strategies and ideologies held by those organizations, institutions and individuals participating in climate communication in the public realm. This report describes the impact of neoliberal dogma and modes of governance on climate communication as one of the central problems preventing a global response to climate change. Theorizing the impact of neoliberalism on climate change communication and policy is key to an understanding of why emissions continue to rise despite the significant work by the climate science community and the environmental movement over the past four decades.
This series of three posters maps climate communication by means of a timeline, a network visualization and a strategy map. The work illustrates
relationships between climate discourses, prominent actors and major organizations participating in climate communication including science institutions, academic institutions, media organizations, think tanks and government agencies – along with the interests and funders linked to these organizations. Various discourses are mapped including climate science; counter-movements (contrarianism); ecological modernization, neoliberalism and corporate capture; and social movements (climate justice). The timeline visualizes the historical processes that have lead to the growth of various ways of communicating climate change. The network visualization illustrates relationships between actors and prominent discourses. The strategy map displays methods used within four discursive realms.
The posters are still work in process. They will be presented at the ‘Changing Climate Communication’ conference in July 2014. Feedback from this presentation will inform a final stage of the visualizations, to be completed in September 2014.
No.2 Network of Actors, USA and UK Based Organizations and Individuals. Version 1. July 2014
The poster illustrates relationships between prominent actors and major organizations participating in climate communication. These include: science institutions, media organizations, think tanks, government departments, non-governmental organization (NGOs) and individuals – along with some of the more significant funders. Actors are situated within four discursive realms: climate science; counter-movements (contrarianism); ecological modernization (often neoliberalism); and social movements (climate justice). These four discourses are mapped on a framework wherein actors are colour-coded according to where they are situated. In this first version the colour, the size of the circles and their positions are all speculative. Subsequent versions will use different methods for plotting the actors and linking the nodes.
This talk will introduce the many ways that images work to communicate environment issues. With the rise of data visualization, new mapping strategies, network visualizations and other types of information design, images are increasingly being mobilized to support environmental learning. Images can be powerful tools capable of supporting public understanding of the environment while also potentially influencing behavior and social norms. Images can work to make complex information accessible in ways that are especially well suited for environmental communication since they have the unique ability to reveal relationships, patterns, dynamics and causality in complex socio-ecological systems. On the other hand, within the politically and ideologically loaded terrain of environmental communication, images are also capable of concealing tensions, complexities and interests behind environment problems. Images are regularly used to reproduce the perspectives of powerful interests, often in ways that obscure environmental circumstances and the consequences of various types of industrial development and consumption patterns. Visual representation of the environment embodies political and philosophical assumptions about the capacity of the natural world to sustain continued abuse along with other associated notions of human-nature relations. This talk will examine how images are used to both reveal and conceal environmental circumstances with examples of particularly effective, politicized and/or disingenuous visualizations of the environment.
The World Forum on Natural Capital meet today and tomorrow in Edinburgh. Here NGOs, governments, business and the financial industry will consider ways of valuing nature using the concept of natural capital. This project emerges out of programmes launched at Rio+20 such as the UNEP’s Green Economy Report and financial institutions’ Natural Capital Declaration. The forum will undoubtedly raise awareness on environmental threats, but the strategy of using “natural capital” to respond threatens to take environmental decision-making out of the political sphere and into the marketplace. Not only does this move erode democratic decision-making on the environment – but it will give more control over nature to the very financial institutions and corporations responsible for unsustainable development. The real threat is that the natural commons, the ecological space we all share, will be subject to a new wave of privatization under the pretense that corporations and financial institutions will suddenly become responsible environmental guardians – once natural capital is part of their balance books.
This radical new policy approach to environmental decision making is being pushed by the UNEP, the UK government and a variety of environmental organisations eager to help business understand the environmental consequences of their activities. While well intentioned, the project lacks a critical view on corporate power and the ways in which neoliberal institutions work to appropriate the rhetoric of social and environmental movements to serve their own agenda. In this case, the project establishes conditions for resource and land grabs while also creating fantastic greenwashing opportunities for corporations. On the first day of the conference it has already been made apparent how the concept of natural capital accounting provides an effective means for corporations like sponsor Royal Bank of Scotland and presenter Rio Tinto to greenwash their disastrous environmental activities (RBC in Canadian Tar Sands and Rio Tinto in Indonesia and around the world).
Using Financial Logic to “Value” Nature
While we desperately need to develop more effective means to value nature, using financial calculations is an ill-conceived and dangerous approach for reasons that I describe at length in my recent paper ‘Re-imaging the commons as “the green economy”’. Take the example of Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond’s claim that nature is worth between £21.5 to £23 billion per year to the Scottish economy. As always when we attempt to fix a financial figure to something that is priceless, the figure itself reveals gross errors in logic. If ‘nature’ in Scotland were to become radically de-stabilized and regional ecosystems were to collapse (say to due to run away climate change – or become heavily polluted due to severe radioactive contamination or groundwater contamination from fracking) than human habitation would become extraordinarily difficult, exposing residents to extreme hazards. Thus the idea that nature is only worth 10% of annual Scottish GDP is absurd – Scotland’s economy is 100% dependent on the relative stability and provisioning services provided by the natural world. This undervaluation of natural capital is only one of many flaws I describe at length in my paper.
Social Movements Respond
A counter-conference is taking place in Edinburgh called ‘Nature is Not for Sale: Forum on the Natural Commons’. This event exposes the political drivers and the interests being served by the World Forum on Natural Capital and highlights alternative means of managing the ecological commons. As World Development Movement director Nick Dearden tweeted today, there are many alternative approaches: ‘It’s happening: food sovereignty, community energy, remunicipalise water. Less finance, more regulation’. Organized by World Development Movement, Counter Balance, Re:Common and Carbon Trade Watch the ‘Nature for Sale’ conference asserts that the United Nations, governments and global financial institutions are planning ‘how to put a price on nature so it can be bought and sold as a commodity’. The ‘No to Biodiversity Offsetting’ declaration will be launched tonight. Natural capital accounting is radical the way that neo-liberalism is radical – radical in giving new powers to corporations and financial institutions while weakening democracy and government’s capacity to regulate corporate pollutors.
Can the experience of a natural disaster such as the recent Colorado flood help individuals to confront the risks associated with climate change? Can dramatic experiences initiate a major learning experience or even a life transition? Based on the literature of sustainable education, levels of learning and transformative learning, a powerful disorienting experience can be (and often is necessary as) a catalyst for deep, transformative learning. For these reasons, natural disasters are an excellent opportunity to reflect on the risks we are taking as a civilization – and consider what we can do about about these risks.
On Sunday night University of Colorado’s Inside the Greenhouse group hosted an ‘Climate Wise Women’ event. Constance Okollet and Ngozi Onuzo (from Uganda and Nigeria) talked about the impact of climate change in their lives. Constance Okollet described a flood that washed most of her village away, a drought that followed and the ongoing difficulties with Continue reading →
As some of the readers of this blog will know I recently moved from London to Nederland, Colorado (a small town outside of Boulder – where I work). I arrived just in time for the Colorado flood last week. My tiny home up at 8500ft elevation was undamaged, but the water ran down the canyon ripping up both roads and houses down stream in Boulder and beyond.
Water from the mountains flowed down Boulder Creek at up to 25 times its normal intensity. The canyon road from Nederland into Boulder was badly damaged not only by mud and rockslides but by the erosion of its foundations as the earth dissolved into the river. Early this week I attended the town of Nederland post-flood recovery meeting where I witnessed the community coming to terms with the fact that the road we all depend on to get to Boulder has been partially washed away. Still we reminded ourselves that Nederland was lucky relative to many of our neighbours.
This is a blog about strong emotions and how these impact our actions. I was inspired to write it by my encounter with ecopsychologist, Buddhist scholar and activist Joanna Macy – a woman who has pioneered working with despair since the 1970s. Despair in this blog will refer to a combination of feelings including grief, anger, powerlessness and fear. Continue reading →