Making art at the end of the world

Kruse is curating this year’s Art & Tech Summit. Here she talks about the inspiration behind the event…

This autumn’s Art & Tech Summit has been inspired by an academic paper written by Jem Bendell, Professor of Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cumbria. His paper, Deep Adaptation; A Map for Navigating ClimateTragedy, was refused for publication in a peer reviewed journal yet, instead of dying a quietly sheepish academic death, it has gone on to viral fame on the internet.

Unlike many scientific papers exploring issues around the climate crisis, Professor Bendell’s paper does not pull its punches. It is hard-hitting in its central theme that climate change is here now and that societal collapse will be the inevitable result of that change.

One criticism that has been levelled at climate scientists is that they took too softly-softly an approach in sounding the alarm about climate change. Early climate science papers did indeed make clear that the forecasting of global warming levels were not absolute, because good science is about sureties and we did not have enough understanding of global meteorological effects to forecast with pin-point accuracy definite numbers for warming levels or time spans. While this way of talking about climate change prediction was excellent scientific practice, it left the field open for invested parties to drive a wedge of doubt into the debate. This cynical seed of doubt meant that governments had a get-out clause to ignore the science, or claim not to need to act on the science until they had rock solid facts presented to them, which is even today an impossibility. Scientists know that the climate is crashing, what they cannot predict with absolute accuracy is when and how badly.

Jem Bendell’s paper does not hedge around the facts. His argument is clearly laid out; we are facing catastrophic climate change and our societies will not survive, in a form we currently recognise, the effects of that change. Global climate warming will have devastating impacts on food production, travel infrastructure, citizen health and business. When Hurricane Katrina hit the southern states of the US a national emergency was declared. Government agencies responded with less vigour than the disaster warranted and over 1,200 people lost their lives. Many more lost homes, businesses and faced several weeks and months of appalling living conditions. As global climate change increases extreme weather events, countries won’t just be facing one disaster like Katrina, they will be facing multiple, simultaneous emergencies. The argument set out in the Deep Adaptation paper is that this will cause our current way of living to be irrevocably altered and the society that we currently live in to change beyond anything we have ever known.

This is shocking news. And in the face of such concepts it can be hard to know how to respond. For many people it’s taking to the streets and protesting with urgency that the government act. For others it is leaving the life they know and running to the hills. For many it is too overwhelming to even think about and a feeling of helpless dread might prevail.

I believe that there could be another way. We live in remarkable times. Here in the West we have been privileged to live like kings and queens compared to our ancestors. Even those of us who are poor still have access to extraordinary healthcare and infrastructures our grandparents could only have dreamed of. While I acknowledge that there is still much more work to be done, we have made enormous strides in accepting each other and recognising the diversity of human experience. I believe that instead of running for the hills, we could band together, working in community to support each other through this crisis. This bonding is being played out already, across the world, as students, the elderly and men and women from all walks of life take to the streets to demand action on climate change.

This global movement for the planet has been made possible by the technology of the internet, building online communities that act together IRL. Through video and social media the whole world is both watching and participating. I believe that technology will be the key to activating a slowdown in climate warming through it’s ability to bring us together across nationalistic boundaries as world citizens.

Closer to home, I think technology will help us form active, caring communities that can support each other and build resilience to face whatever will come. This is the theme that drives the Art and Tech summit; what technology is out there and what can we learn to do with it? How are people using solar energy at a personal level? How can we use technology to monitor the soil, to connect us more deeply to nature, or to visualise the changes happening to our atmosphere so that we can understand and respond to those changes? How can we form community bonds, who is doing what work already? What easy-to-use, DIY technologies can you make use of to support you, your family and your wider community?

The Art and Tech summit is just one day, but we hope to show you exciting, extraordinary creative responses to the world that we live in now and to inspire you to explore new technologies that will help us all learn to survive and thrive in the new world before us.