Thoughts on a “time capsule” climate change IDN

So I proposed this to the British Council’s Cultural Relations and Climate Change call, but apparently it wasn’t clear enough on cultural relations. Fine. I might do it anyway…?

What I would like to create is something that can be showcased, shared, experienced, and discussed. A window into our world, with regard to climate change, in 2021. More than that, a window whose channel can be flipped, a story whose events can be navigated.

I propose a multimedia narrative built upon the foundations of relevant research literature in international cultural studies and climate change education. This narrative presents itself as a digital historical archive, a time capsule from 2021, that critical pivot point in human civilization when we either acted decisively on climate change and saved our future, or we failed. Looking back from hundreds of years in the future, what will our descendants see, based on our cultural artefacts, our topics of conversation, our publications, and our actions?

Climate change is a many-headed monster. The science of climate change is not in question, nor that it is human-caused, nor that we have ample solutions. The true problem of climate change education is that knowledge—science—is not enough. What we struggle with—HAVE struggled with for decades—is persuading the majority of the public to not only believe that we are experiencing catastrophic climate change, but to act to alter its trajectory. This requires a fundamental shift in culture on many levels. Not only that, but different cultures (from national, to religious, to socioeconomic, to familial) require different messages to achieve this aim. The problem of climate change communication is simply stated; the solution is infinitely complex.

In this multimedia and multilinear essay I would like to address the cultural barriers not only to public acceptance of climate change as a catastrophic phenomenon pertinent to our daily lives, but also to public adherence to strategies to combat climate change. The evidence supporting this examination will be drawn from relevant literature reviews across multiple disciplines, including education, climate change education, psychology, economics, political studies, communication studies, cultural studies, and media studies. I will also draw from empirical research on the You and CO2 project, wherein we have found preliminary indicators that students’ socioeconomic and familial culture affects their acceptance of education-based messaging about climate change.

As a counterpoint to defining barriers to successful climate change education, I intend to showcase historical precedents in which science communication efforts successfully overcame cultural barriers, particularly in large-scale efforts. This includes world-wide vaccination efforts in the twentieth century, safety campaigns (such as the wearing of seat-belts, particularly in the United States), and ecological movements (such as Save the Whales). These communications strategies, and their relevant research literature, will offer insights and lessons learned to apply to our current global challenge.

Where possible, this multimedia essay will draw on various media methods, including video, audio, and reader interactivity. It will catalogue and link to relevant cultural artefacts addressing and discussing climate change, including ecofiction in the form of novels, films, games, and other media, as well as discourse occurring in nonfictional spaces such as social media and online journalism, from cultures all over the world. It will take readers on a tour of the state of our cultural world with regard to climate change, and the directions we can go from here with what we know, exploring multiple possibilities in narrative form.

The goal of this essay is first and foremost to interest the public in a story. By exploring the story and its multiple possibilities, I aim to offer them an accurate picture of the current state of the world regarding climate change, as well as an understanding of the relevant science. Given that this is a frightening scenario, I also want to build in avenues of hope: an indication that the trend can be mitigated, as long as we take action together.

This interactive essay will also be open to additions and new artefacts, particularly those from other cultures and experiences. The more adaptability it has with stories and choices from around the world, from different communities and perspectives, the more people it will be able to reach with its core message.

This is an ambitious essay, but then, climate change is a formidable foe. If this essay can drive home the message that we need multiple narratives on multiple channels, and inspire others to create these stories, then it will have done its job.

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