Green Up Newsletter 7: Jelly Fish Marching to the Sound of a Drum
Cop 25 and Action
The Opening Mantra
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Designing for Climate Change
I am reading Paul Edwards’ wonderful book on the role of computer models in the creation of climate science. There are many many things to say about the book. If I have the time, I might review the book in detail one day, but for now, let me stick to the main insight I gleaned from reading the tome: all the structures of modern climate science are products of the computer era. That insight is obviously true for the data collected in observatories and sensors across the world and the computer models that crunch that data, but less obviously so for the international organizations created to make sense of that data and the political controversies surrounding the impact of global warming.
The White Space of Truth
Click on the link to the IPCC report, check out the summary for policy makers and if you’re feeling really masochistic, download the PDF and read it. And then step back and ask yourself: how come I am able to access years of work by a network of scientists across the world with a click of a button? Do you think any of this would have been possible without the internet? Design has also changed our perception of reliability and truthfulness. This is what the IPCC website used to look like:
IPCC website October 2018
I am not talking about 1995. This is what the website looked like in October 2018 when the IPCC released the blockbuster 1.5° C report. It’s as if the scientists intoned to themselves: “we are in the business of producing the truth and we don’t care how it looks.” When I first downloaded the 1.5° C report, the document was clearly a PDFed word document. Yes, the future of the planet depends on the design sensibilities of Bill Gates. Here’s how the website looks like today:
IPCC website September 2020
They must have hired a UX consultant: clean layout, lot’s of white space, readable fonts. The new design sensibility is reflected in the report as well; it’ no longer a PDFed word document. Bill Gates has morphed into Steve Jobs. The IPCC report is an artifact of the computer era: its manufacture and distribution follows the patterns of knowledge production in the 21st century.
Truth needs the facts, but it also needs feeling: in the age of alternative facts, any vehicle of the truth should feel trustworthy and accessible. White space and clean lines promote trustworthiness and accessibility. The shift in design sensibilities reflects a new awareness of the terrain the report inhabits: that it’s inherently a political document and therefore must seduce its readers as much as it conveys the facts.
Cop 25: Jelly Fish Marching to the Sound of a Drum
Imagine yourself outside the large climate meeting (COP25) in Madrid, in December 2019. Thousands of people, discussions on climate change, art and music. Now that it’s the pandemic, we bring you a reflection on the experience of a protest, because we can’t go outside - AND because a march with 500,000 people is one of the least likely things to happen in the next few years.
Here is to the people, the music, the lights, the energy of thousands coming together for a cause. No matter what the future, I would like you to feel as inspired by this moment of collective action as everyone who was present - because they believed in a different future and that’s what we at Green Up are working towards.
COP25 and Action
Drummers, placards, and even dogs wearing placards, the 6th of December 2019 saw a number of people gather in Madrid, Spain, and witness the vastness of a social movement. The protesters were marching in opposition to the negotiations at COP25. The 500,000 marchers included feminists, climate justice groups, environmental NGOs, indigenous people, artists, activists, and more.
Five hundred thousand strong, the march continued safely through the streets of Spain. It was 8:30pm and I stepped into a drum circle, watching people sing and dance as I found my way to a table with punk art symbolizing a bleak future of mask-wearing zombies. As the ‘Climate Justice’ section of the rally passed by, there was some pushing and shoving and I wondered if the rally would turn into a stampede. People acted, and the marchers finally headed peacefully towards the stage set up for presenters from across the globe. It would be a lie if I didn’t explain that I was in this spot because it had the largest crowd and I was hoping to see the great Greta. Her presence is being marked by the media in large numbers.
Greta Thunberg has set the international mood for this event. Her words, ‘How dare you?’ echo through the marches, there is a call to action that resonates with climate activists across the world. While Greta’s predecessors and contemporaries have persevered for this over a long time, her presence and symbolic action have made it seem as though some kind of change is close, she brings some sort of hope. But what is this hope? How do the peoples’ movements realise this energy in action and what do they present to a planet that seeks diminishing emission rates- what comes after the marches?
Limitations to Climate Action
Negotiations in the form of market mechanisms such as trading carbon credits instead of reducing emissions, read more here. A dialogue on the transfer of funds from developed to developing nations has dominated the conversation within and outside the climate movement as it appears to the layperson.
Is it the moment for groups to present a peoples’ agenda that demands industrial compliance and does not seek to incentivize businesses to comply via market mechanisms? Can businesses begin to imagine themselves not as sustainable, but instead- as a whole structure that cannot be allowed to pollute? Why is pollution acceptable?
If carbon credits exist as an incentive to industries seeking a trade-off for their emissions, why do industries need an incentive to reduce their emissions? The cost of emission is the cost of healthcare, the environment, and the quality of life, obvious and logical conclusions that appear in the imagination of everyone who cares to survive and thrive on this planet. Data does not need to prove the need for clean air and water.
As we watch the environment minister in India comment that air pollution is not leading to health-related problems for the Indian populace, hope is lost. Even if direct linkages in data don’t exist, the daily discomfort, redness in eyes, itching, and what the minister calls fear, are dominating Delhi. Perhaps the common adage that weather changes bring health issues is a matter of frogs in the pond who have accepted airless breathing as a reality.
Whether it is fear that dominates our thinking or reality, the ministers and those in power need to recognize that environmental actions are needed, possible, simple, and not always a matter of incentives, negotiations, or stalling. Action can be now, and it can be effective, and perhaps it took a white girl from the Global North to say it, but she did and here we are.
It is possible to act, and act now.