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A Crisis Discipline:

Broadening Understanding of Environmental Communication Through Theory and Practice

DOI: | Issue 2 | September 2019

Sara Penrhyn Jones

Bath Spa University


In times of unprecedented environmental crisis, which disrupt traditional ways of conducting research and force us to rethink our purpose in the humanities, creative practitioners have the imperative and skillset to make an essential contribution. This article is a multi-perspectival exploration of environmental communication, which draws from concepts in many fields including media communication and the environmental humanities, but is grounded in creative practice as research. It offers insights and examples gained through the author’s direct participation in several types of environmental communication over ten years in different settings: from embedded production in alternative media to environmentally focused research projects that utilise creative and participatory action research methods. Environmental communication can include, but must also go beyond, ‘messaging’; there is a need to recognise the intrinsic value of processes such as creativity, dialogue and participation, and to work for more intangible successes such as enhanced networks and civic participation. This article also counteracts the frustrating tendency in academic culture to generalise art and media forms as part of the same vague entity, either in service of impact and engagement or as too ‘mysterious’ to deconstruct’. This can reveal a limiting disconnect with creative processes, and lead to weak design – and poor understanding – of research projects with creative components. Furthermore, paying attention to the specific processes and characteristics of various art and media forms is an essential part of a general vigilance in foregrounding issues of power, voice, and language in practice. This is not an argument that all research should be practice-based. Ideally, environmental communication could be practiced in a mutually enriching intellectual circuit with more traditional research, but to achieve this we need better acts of translation between theory and practice.

Environmental Communication: A Crisis Discipline

‘We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN’ (Watts, 2018).

‘Nothing comes through the letterbox on climate change’ (Author interview, August 31, 2015).

In October 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report stating that there is only a twelve-year window for global action to limit average global warming to 1.5°C (IPCC, 2018) [1]. This report confirmed the inadequacy of the more politically palatable notion that 2°C warming is safe. For those with a limited grasp of climate science, these numbers and their differential might sound insignificant. However, what is striking about the future that is mapped for each scenario is the tremendous corresponding increase in the scale of change and irreversible loss that entire ecosytems face at the higher end of this small spectrum, where for example effectively all of the world’s coral reef would be at risk, and up to 457 million more people would be exposed to climate risks and be vulnerable to poverty (IPCC, 2018). However, one blood-chilling prediction is that we are not currently on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, or even 2 degrees (the odds are only 1% and 5% respectively); instead the likely increase is 3.2°C (Raftery et al., 2017; Spratt and Dunlop, 2017 [2018]). One of the chairs of the IPCC report states that we are ‘living in the most important years in history’ (IPCC, 2018) and hopes the report’s findings will ‘dent the mood of complacency’ surrounding the issue of climate change action (Watts, 2018). If our dangerous predicament has not yet penetrated individual and collective consciousness, then this is partly a failure of communication processes, which both reflect and produce society’s norms.

Whereas climate change is often the headline issue, there are many subjects which fall under the remit of the environment, and which have changed in prominence since the environment was formalised in the politics of government in the 1970s, through ministers for the environment, and international conferences (Hamilton, et al., 2015: 10-11).

However, as John Dryzek argues in his book, The Politics of the Earth, many apparent single-issues are inevitably interconnected, and therefore it makes most sense to talk about environmental discourses. Furthermore, ‘environmental problems by definition are found at the intersection of ecosystems and human social systems, thus doubly complex’ (2013: 9). What every IPCC report might impress upon us is that ‘the environment’ penetrates every aspect of life. Using arguments about saving ‘nature’ as something that exists apart from ourselves might be counterproductive, as it reinforces the idea that we are not also part of nature. ‘Ecology has nothing to do with taking account of nature, its own interests or goals’, the philosopher, and anthropologist Bruno Latour writes, but ‘is rather another way of considering everything’. He rationalises that if we ‘ecologise’ rather than modernise, this means more than simply saying that everything is connected; we need ‘to put in place other procedures for politico-scientific research and experimentation’ (1998: 234).

If we accept the concept of the Anthropocene, originated by the atmospheric chemist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen in 2000, it would be hard to imagine a more high-stakes context for the environmental communicator to practice within [2]. The Anthropocene, in which human-induced climate change has triggered a new geological era, is a powerful cultural idea as much as a scientific proposition. This concept has profound consequences for how we think about democracy, government, the role of scientists, citizenship, freedom, technology, time, ‘nature’ and ‘the environment’; in short, everything. It would be worrying if our research culture was not also changing in response to the scale and speed of environmental change.

In the 1980s, the conservation biologist Michael Soulé argued that there are inherent duties and obligations for those in his field of specialisation, whereby unprecedented, environmental degradation demanded unprecedented action (1980; 1985). Over twenty years later the communication scholar Robert Cox (2007) posited that the field of environmental communication has similar inherent ethical duties as a crisis discipline. More recently, the historian Michael Egan (2017) has developed an umbrella concept of ‘survival science’ to historicise the politically engaged praxis of science that has emerged through environmental crisis and social need since the 1970s. When ecologists declared in 2017 that the sixth mass extinction event is already underway, they did not shy away from framing this as ‘biological annihilation’ (Carrington, 2017). With extinctions happening at a heartbreaking rate, a hundred times faster than ‘the normal rate’ in geological time, they said that it would be unethical to avoid strong language (Ehrlich and Dirzo, 2017; Ceballos and Ehrlich, 2018). Post-normal times demand upfront subjectivities, action, and direct involvement where possible, and this chimes with what practice-based research can offer. ‘In crisis disciplines’, as Soulé argued, ‘one must act before knowing all the facts; crisis disciplines are thus a mixture of science and art, and their pursuit requires intuition as well as information’ (1985: 733). In the end, what might connect us across disciplines is a powerful sense of purpose, underscored by enlivened debates about ethics.

So what does this mean for environmental communication?

Practicing Environmental Communication

Anyone committed to social change is inevitably invested in communicative processes. Communication, as the sociologist Manuell Castells argues, ‘decisively mediates the way in which power relationships are constructed and challenged in every domain of social... [and] political practice’ (2009: 4). More specifically, what is environmental communication? According to Robert Cox, ‘Environmental Communication describes the many ways and the many forums in which citizens, corporations, public officials, journalists, and environmental groups raise concerns and attempt to influence the important decisions that affect our planet’ (2013:11).

More recently, Phaedra C. Pezullo and Cox offered a more holistic definition as ‘the pragmatic and constitutive modes of expression – the naming, shaping, orienting, and negotiating – of our ecological relationships in the world, including those with non-human systems, elements, and species’ (2017: 13). The same authors distinguish between ‘pragmatic’ forms of communication, which are about attempting to transmit messages in an explicit, purposeful way, such as an information campaign, and ‘constitutive’ communication, which may be verbal or non-verbal, and ‘fosters particular ways of relating to others, and thus creates palpable feelings that may move us’ (ibid.). In particular, it is this framing of constitutive communication that helps us construe environmental communication as a more imaginative, multi-modal engagement, potentially working through the more visceral process of affect. Importantly, Pezullo and Cox see it as a form of communication that citizens can participate in. I would go further, and suggest that people may even become citizens through their engagement with environmental issues. This is because it involves going beyond (though not necessarily against) narrow self-interest, and working towards a long-established idea in citizenship theory, which is that of ‘the common good’ (ibid.).

My own practice of environmental communication has taken many shapes, including alternative media production, information videos for NGOs, crowd-funded videos for climate scientists, interdisciplinary research through documentary film, participatory video projects, multi-media arts collaborations and more. I am interested in ‘broadening our conception of the ways in which we come to know’ (Barone and Eisner, 2011: 4) and how we express that knowledge. In my mind, the university’s walls are porous, and knowledge is not contained exclusively within the institution’s physical or intellectual structures. As a naturally interdisciplinary and collaborative mode of operation, creative practice as research lends itself to the organic emergence of ideas, offering ways to connect people to issues in emotional ways, whilst decentring expertise (Leavy, 2015; 2017). Visual arts scholars Peter Mörtenböck and Helge Mooshammer explain the changing research context in which practice can be pivotal:

Practice has moved centre stage as an experimental mode of knowledge production, one that is linked to an emerging research culture characterized by notions of collectivity, collaboration and intervention. Especially in recent years, these dynamics have brought to the fore a range of political and educational initiatives, transversal knowledge platforms, and activist networks that have begun to spearhead the debate about forms of critical engagement in processes of globalisation (2011: 11).

According to Mörtenböck and Mooshammer, it is the same trend towards practice that also calls for an ‘in-depth reflection on acts of translation between the theoretical and practical, artistic and pragmatic’ (ibid.). I feel emboldened to say that it is precisely in this area that I pitch my contribution - or, if you like, plant my green flag.

As I move towards a discussion that is more explicitly about my own practice, it feels natural to communicate in a much more personal voice. It can be challenging to map the development of one’s perspectives and ideas when answering the misleadingly simple question: how did I end up here? Global events and developments in politics, culture and even the weather are entangled with events in one’s own personal and professional life to produce a ‘messy’ reality (Heddon and Mackey, 2012). Yet it may also be possible to create loose connections between the revelations that come from key encounters and experiences, and suggest interrelated directions in one’s own practice. For me, it matters greatly that I participated directly in, rather than merely observed, the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, 2009. This was a highly charged political event where I was literally operating at street level, sitting on the pavement to edit video clips at one point. Attending further UN climate change conferences, I filmed dozens of people, mostly from the global south, experiencing under-reported climate vulnerability ‘ahead’ of the global north. This made me a technological conduit for the globally disadvantaged and also a medium of sorts, transmitting voices from the collective future. As an ‘empathetic resonator’ (Varela et al., 1993 cited in Nelson, 2013: 67) with so many international perspectives, and as a witness to climate-changed landscapes, I now embody these concerns. They were not just captured on camera, but got under my skin.

Editing at street-level. Copenhagen 2009. Picture credit: SpannerFilms

Most of the Stupid Show Team. Copenhagen 2009. Picture credit: SpannerFilms

Daniel Vockins interviewing an activist in a 'survivor ball'. Copenhagen 2009. Picture credit: SpannerFilms

As a consequence of spending time camping with glaciologists and microbiologists in a remote location on the Greenland ice sheet several years ago, I have a range of sensory associations with that landscape. These go beyond understanding Greenland’s environmental significance as the second largest body of ice in the world. I can imagine again the crunching sound as I walked on the moon-like surface, the hypnotic sight of small bubbles rising in the ice-surfaced cryoconite holes, and the unsqueamish curiosity of one scientist as he examined a piece of my just broken tooth. I also remember lying in a sleeping bag in the tent, reading Jonathan Franzen’s collection of essays How to Be Alone while the midnight sun skirted the horizon before rising again.

Sun not-quite setting. Greenand 2014. Picture Credit: Sara Penrhyn Jones

Greenand 2014. Picture Credit: Sara Penrhyn Jones

Abstract: Ice and Cryoconite. Greenand 2014. Picture Credit: Sara Penrhyn Jones

In extreme contrast, I also recall a place where I was never alone, and where the heat made me grateful for the restorative power of coconut water. This was in Kirabati, a low-lying island nation in the Central Pacific Ocean that is vulnerable to rising sea levels. I had travelled there several years after hearing a woman from Kiribati share her existential fear of a displaced future. I found myself filming children whirring blades of grass and singing a special song as they caught dragonflies, in a scene so mystical I wonder whether I dreamt it. In Kiribati I felt hyper-connected to everything, and in this location too, my response was related to where I slept. However, the idea of embodied knowledge is more than ‘focused intensity’ as Nigel Thrift argues, but includes all kinds of mistakes and vulnerability, including ‘even simple hunger’; this forms part of the research in important ways that can be challenging to fully understand or evoke (2007: 10). If ‘events are attached to human bodies’ (Heddon and Mackey, 2012: 165), then my own body has frozen and burnt on this journey, and feels as old as the hills.

Sleeping on the ice sheet. Greenland 2014. Picture Credit: Sara Penrhyn Jones

When we create narratives, even though they are inevitably selective, we make the research process – and, most importantly, our own lives – coherent. In so doing we enact the view of the environmental campaigner and author George Marshall that ‘we do not merely respond to stories – we compulsively create them around everything and anything’ (2014: 96).

Children chasing dragonflies in North Tarawa, Kiribati, 2018. Video Screenshot, credit: Sara Penrhyn Jones

Accepting this aspect of human psychology is profoundly useful in thinking about effective environmental communication. Marshall’s words serve as a reminder that it is possible to present stories, to make sense of, and try to affect the world, whilst realising at the same time that there are always other truths and possible stories that exist outside the frame. This insight is fundamental to appreciating the role of film in research, where meaning making is a constant and never-ending process.

Boy with dragonfly. Kiribati 2018. Video Screenshot, credit: Sara Penrhyn Jones

Alternative Media as a Platform for Dialogue and Mobilisation

‘What do we want? Climate Justice! When do we want it? NOW!....[drumbeats]’

‘Stop whining Bangladesh! We believe in market solutions, you should too!....’ [3]

This was the soundscape one freezing morning in Copenhagen, on December 16th, 2009, as I moved along slowly with a throng of activists of all ages wearing woolly hats and imaginative costumes and flanked by armed police, bulky in black (Watts et al., 2009). Unlike most of the others, I was walking backwards and slightly to the side of the crowd, connected almost umbilically to the light-footed and endlessly energetic campaigner Daniel Vockins through the cable linking his microphone to my camera. The wind picked up, and my ungloved hands were almost too numb to manage the controls on the Sony PMW EX3 video camera, which was rammed into my shoulder for stability. That day I chose to be outside the main conference hall with the ‘ordinary’ activists who wanted to create a ‘people's assembly’ rather than make use of the press pass that gave me access to the Bella Centre where 110 heads of state, and 47,000 people, representing government, civil society, and the media were converging.

I had volunteered my filming and editing skills to Spanner Films, makers of the environmental documentary Age of Stupid, to help them produce their alternative online media coverage of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen 2009. Their website stated: ‘Our mission: to make the most important meeting in human history comprehensible for ordinary people’. During this particular day, I was filming Vockins talking eloquently about the history of non-violent action and providing a running commentary of what was happening outside. He was laughing as the crowd somehow produced an inflatable raft, as if from nowhere, to try to cross the moat between the road and the conference centre, whilst others attempted to distract the police dogs with sausages. I spoke off-camera with many of the activists as we walked along to get a sense of who was there and why.

On the same day, the BBC Wales environment correspondent interviewed me, as both a filmmaker and environmental protestor. A telegenic man, wearing a long woollen coat, he stood out – and apart from – the activists. It did not take long for him to express doubt about the worth of dissent with his question: ‘There aren’t many people on this protest today, are there?’ Embedded in the protest, I had no access to the Internet, or a bird’s-eye view of how many people were dispersed on several interrelated actions that day, and finding out how many other people were protesting (to ‘validate’ our activity) across the city was not my priority [4]. Through poor questions like this, and almost aggressive body language, I picked up on a barely contained contempt that was not conducive to a meaningful interview. Typically, gaining the attention of mainstream media is seen as a key goal of social and environmental activism, but the platform that you are offered in such circumstances is usually entirely on someone else’s terms, and the onus is on you to justify in minutes, or even seconds, why you are protesting, and certainly never on those who are not there to explain why they have chosen not to participate. You have to do this brightly, in an environment where you might feel vulnerable, knowing that you cannot counteract all the meanings that already exist for the words ‘environmental protestor’; in fact, those meanings can drown you out before even opening your mouth. In researching the impact of climate visuals, the communication experts Climate Outreach have discovered that the image of a protestor is the one that their focus group responded least well to (Corner et al., 2015). The BBC reporter moved away quickly after our encounter to a warmer and more comfortable location where he organised the content for online or satellite transfer. I still wonder if he had seen what I saw: several women pepper-sprayed in the face, who were then supported by other activists trying to rinse their eyes with bottles of water, or the young man, having crossed the moat on the improbable raft, receive a fierce beating by police with batons (van der Zee, 2009).

It is very challenging to develop a radical argument in a news soundbite, simply because more time is required to articulate complex counter-narratives. Analysing mainstream media coverage of the Copenhagen conference, or offering a critique of the BBC is beyond the scope of this article. However, the BBC has been frustratingly slow to address its much-maligned false balance in debates, in which people without scientific credentials and representing vested interests in climate change denial have been given equal (and therefore disproportionate) airtime in radio and television discussions (Carrington, 2018). This has fueled misinformation and taken invaluable air-time away from debating societal responses to the science, which is one reason that the former leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas, and many others have declared that they are no longer prepared to debate on air whether climate change is happening or not (Porritt et al., 2018). The effects of poor radio and television reporting are evident in research interviews I have conducted. One respondent in my project on a climate-vulnerable coastal community in Wales told me: ‘there is so much conflicting information coming at you all the time … I do treat it all with a huge pinch of salt to be honest’ (Author interview, August 23, 2015). This comment was an important reminder that no communicator operates in a cultural vacuum. My most significant insight, however, is that alternative media offers participants something that mainstream news cannot, and appreciating this reality helps us to understand and evaluate environmental communication in more sophisticated ways.

My appreciation of alternative media grew as I worked with the non-profit climate news organisation, OneClimate, at two further UN conferences in 2010 and 2011. I can trace almost all aspects of my current academic research and critical practice to the insights and encounters facilitated through participating in these events. OneClimate streamed content and uploaded hundreds of filmed interviews with diverse participants through the course of each climate change conference. The organisation also directly engaged with the public through Twitter and detailed political analysis in its live blog. Interviewees, be they prominent political figures or grassroots activists, were afforded enough time to explore their views in a non-oppositional way, which is an important principle in alternative media [5]. OneClimate provided an alternative to conventional broadcast media through a lively, multivocal and multiperspectival conversation across platforms. In an article comparing alternative media (including OneClimate) with regular broadcast and print media at the 2011 UN Climate Change Conference, the scholar Adrienne Russell argues: ‘The news flows from activist and social media outlets were so much more robust and dynamic than legacy journalism coverage that even the New York Times referred its readers to Twitter for 'the best way to track the finale and afterthoughts’ (2013: 917).

In these settings I experienced first-hand how activist media, environmental groups and NGOs can work together to create and disseminate resources. I also learned how this communication process enabled these groups to internationalise their perspectives and build networks that developed environmental citizenship. In short, such acts produce civil society, which is central to social change (Cox, 2007; Habermas, 1996). Alternative media organisations did not merely report the climate change conferences, but became part of the live interactions that formulated the very meaning of the conferences. OneClimate offered opportunities for activists to operate transnationally, and as examples of ‘rooted cosmopolitans’ (Tarrow and della Porta, 2005: 238). Leah Lievrouw, building on Chris Atton's work, writes that the nature of such practice can be (re)read ‘as actions in their own right, rather than communication about other “real” actions’ (2014: 18). By learning to recognise the more intrinsic value of communication processes, it is possible to recognise when the media operation becomes the ‘transversal knowledge platform and activist network’ that Mörtenböck and Mooshammer advocate for (2001: 11).

There is plenty of media communication theory to support the idea that what happens between the audience and a media text is always interactive. For example, Ursula Plesner, who grounds her argument in the field of audience reception studies, bemoans the persistent misunderstanding that mass media is ‘a site for one-way communication’, rather than a ‘complex, dialogical and multidirectional’ process (2012: 23). The only reason that I muddy the rhetorical waters here is to avoid the trap of implying that engagement always means direct, visible or immediate participation in the crudest and most obvious sense. Having made this slightly diversional point, however, there are highly significant differences in how some media operations and forms may invite more direct participation and interactivity, and better include – or even be grounded in – marginalised, therefore possibly more radical, perspectives. It is not simply a matter of analysing what is present in environmental communication, but also what – or whom – is missing. How can an audience make meaning from something that is absent? Or as sociologist Manuel Castells argues: ‘what does not exist in the media does not exist in the public mind’ (2007: 241). The decision about where to point the camera does not only affect the meaning of the image but can change the composition of knowledge. This can happen through the inclusion of unexpected or marginalised voices and presences within the frame.

There is a need to be aware of technological developments in digital communication, and their cultural implications. It would be odd for anyone to talk about environmental communication today, or design community-based research and engagement, as if the Internet does not exist. I agree with Mark Poster’s view that: ‘The age of the public sphere as face-to-face talk is clearly over: the question of democracy must henceforth take into account new forms of electronically mediated discourse’ (1997: 209). Many of the examples of environmental communication offered throughout this article suggest the liberating potential of the internet as a means of dissemination without formal gatekeepers. However, the important issue of the digital divide – where access to such technologies is by no means equal – cannot be swept under the carpet. Even if it easier than ever before to create and upload videos online, this should not be an unthinking gesture. A decision to utilise the internet for communication and research should also be challenged with a series of critical questions, including: what is the purpose or limitation of operating online? How is multi-lingualism negotiated and what are the barriers to participation? The questions that Poster asks are essential for anyone who is interested in forms of participation and communication today: ‘What are the conditions of democratic speech in the mode of information? What kind of “subject” speaks or writes or communicates in these conditions? What is its relation to machines? What complexes of subjects, bodies and machines are required for democratic exchange and emancipatory action?’ (ibid.).

Glaciologist Jason Box outside our 'media hub'. Greenland 2013. Picture credit: Sara Penrhyn Jones

Portrait of Joseph Cook. This kind of image can be a useful resource for scientists who are highly active communicators. Greenland 2014. Photo credit: Sara Penrhyn Jones

When ecological crises disrupt traditional scientific epistomologies, the emerging ‘adisciplinary’ approach begins, fascinatingly, to resemble creative practice as research [6]. For crowd-funded environmental communication, the Internet as a mode of dissemination is key. I spent the summers of 2013 and 2014 in Greenland, working with the Dark Snow scientist collective, which epitomises a 'post-normal' science praxis (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1991) [7]. The collective’s purpose is explicitly issue and value driven, connecting earth science to the social and political. Most importantly, Dark Snow does not present science as a fait accompli but rather as a process of inquiry that the public can and should feel involved in, even before investigators can be certain of their findings due to the huge amount of casual elements interacting in the climatic system. Dark Snow consists of a shifting team that includes experts in glaciology and microbiology, seasoned climate bloggers and media producers, as well as creative artists. The collective employs online platforms to publicise its work and attract crowdfunding for present and future research initiatives. The team engages the public directly by uploading its own content to the Internet, and indirectly by sharing audio-visual resources with mainstream media outlets. Working in this way enables more immediate engagement of the public during a period in which it would be imprudent to allow delays in communication and action. Jason Box, the glaciologist and founder of the Dark Snow, explains the rationale of the project in an interview I conducted with him:

I realise that a lot of the science has been gathering virtual dust. The number of people who actually get access to that stuff is so limited. This is a story that needs to get out to the public. The crowd funding certainly isn't just about financing our work, it’s about connecting people with the science (Author interview, June 27, 2013).

It was exciting and empowering to work as part of the Dark Snow team, and I relished being able to edit and disseminate stories about the research almost instantaneously, without media gatekeepers. I grew more confident about producing science-oriented stories with so many experts in immediate proximity for a quick fact-check. Filming and editing became much easier when inspiring landscapes and relevant ‘science’ visuals existed just outside the tent. However, it is difficult to create rich or socially oriented stories 'there and then' from an embedded position with scientists alone. As with other low-budget alternative media work, the fast turnaround production process does not facilitate a process of layered, thoughtful storytelling, and it is necessary to work within the limits of the information video form, with a danger of tipping into ‘promotional video’ modes. There is also a sense that you can become a technical conduit within an operation like this, with a lack of control over where and how the material – now a project resource – is used. This can lead to a loss of authorship and voice. For example, when I passed on raw footage of the scientists working on the ice sheet for use in a television news item in Wales, about the IPCC report in 2014, I found the journalism inadequate. Ironically enough, after all my hard work, I was back in a ‘shouting at the telly’ mode, even though I was watching the broadcast of my own video imagery. On balance, though, the positives outweigh the negatives when working in projects like Dark Snow. While working in Greenland, I appreciated how scientists and communicators can understand each other much better through a process of active co-working, and in subtle and significant ways become more similar to each other. This was epitiomised in a comical moment when, armed with a pipette, I helped to collect samples from the ice-sheet, as a thank you to the microbiologists who had earlier operated my boom-microphone [8]. Interdisciplinary collaboration encourages shared understanding and, in turn, the development of a much broader community of enlightened environmental citizens.

Sara Penrhyn Jones taking samples for the microbiologists. Greenland 2014. Photo credit: Arwyn Edwards.

Acts of Translation Between Theory and Practice in Creative Research

‘Feminism is a way of being in the world that intimately connects theory and practice in everyday life’ (Maguire, 1987: xv).

Across diverse social fields, arts and humanities disciplines, and in the art world there has been a trend towards co-production of knowledge, accompanied by a dizzying amount of turns. Academic authors refer to the ‘dialogic turn’ (Phillips et al., 2012), the ‘participatory democracy turn’ (Bherer et al., 2016), the ‘participatory turn’ (Fuller and Kitchin, 2004), the ‘practical turn’ (Mörtenböck, P. and Mooshammer, 2011), and the ‘social turn’ (Bishop, 2006). Collectively this terminology suggests a trend towards ‘doing’, with potential for more equitable power dynamics in research. Within environmental and social science, participatory and action research is becoming a leading paradigm (Kindon et al., 2007: 1). Each of the six environmentally focused projects that I have led or participated in between 2014 and 2019 have been driven by, or included, creative practice as research. Most of these projects have at the same time utilised participatory action methods. There are strong similarities between these two approaches in their advocacy for an explicitly situated researcher, who is highly responsive and reflexive. Consequently, there is inherent flexibility in both methods, which comes from the need to experiment or adapt to the live situation in a constant process of reflection and action (Bergold and Thomas, 2012). Although participatory action research foregrounds action, rather than creativity per se, and creative practice as research is not necessarily oriented towards social change, both modes carry these possibilities. These methods can be combined in a single project, whilst also engaging with other theories, such as those found within feminist or postcolonial discourses (Kindon et al., 2007: 13).

Most importantly, the implication of this orientation is that the creative researcher can hardly treat a community as a group of people to act upon with, for example, pre-given environmental messages and rigid agendas, or as subjects for an environmental story that participants do not feel involved in or benefit from. The creative practitioner must be responsive to what emerges in this space by acting in non-extractive ways; these are intimate acts of attunement. As the feminist critic Patricia Maguire aptly puts it: ‘Participatory action research is like a dance. You must listen to the music to feel the beat and get the rhythm, to sway and move with your partners’ (1987: xvii).

Sara Penrhyn Jones dancing in a village gathering, Abaiang, Kiribati, 2015. Video Screenshot. Hard-to-capture processes, like socialising and dancing, have formed an essential part of the research.

Troubled Waters and Enduring Connections in Kiribati

‘We will drown in waste before we drown in water’ (Author interview with Claire Anterea, January 15, 2015).

I first encountered Claire Anterea at the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico in 2010, where we were both in our activist modes. She was representing KiriCAN, a grassroots environmental organisation based in Kiribati, a Central Pacific island nation that faces the prospect of wholesale displacement this century. I was profoundly moved when she spoke emotionally on camera about the potential loss of land, language and culture: ‘The way that I see it, the future for my people is ... disappear’ [9]. Claire’s words resonated with me in several ways, but especially because as a native Welsh speaker I have always carried the idea that cultural and linguistic survival is a personal responsibility, and that there is a 'me' that is absent in and through the English language. I began to see how the cultural predicament within the global discourse of climate change might resonate with the Welsh-speaking public at home, and that engaging the capacity of this constituency for empathy could be a way to motivate action on climate change as a form of moral responsibility. In Cancun there was little I could achieve creatively in one online video featuring Claire. However, the strangeness of filming her in the huge hall of the conference centre, a place that is simutaneously everywhere and nowhere in particular, motivated me to explore the idea of attachment to place in the relevant context: Kirabati.

This encounter became the taproot for various research ideas. I developed the funded research project ‘Troubled Waters’, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), with colleagues from the heritage field (Bryony Onciul and Anna Woodham) and the environmental humanities (Kate Rigby). Our goals were to advance a deeper understanding of the concept of ‘heritage loss’ and to consider challenges and strategies for dealing with heritage, place and community in times of accelerated change [10]. We focused on two sites in the UK (Porthdinllaen in north Wales and Durgan in Cornwall) as well as Kiribati. The research through creative practice was integral to this project, as we explored the representational framing of disrupted heritage through film in Kiribati. We sought to create and disseminate ‘new’ narratives that might create empathetic connections between communities in impactful ways across geographical borders.

The resulting film, Troubled Waters, was re-edited and re-packaged in multiple ways for different purposes [11]. For example, it screened in shorter form at two UN climate change conferences, and it was also incorporated into an event, ‘Water, Water Everywhere’, as a video projection on houses in a coastal village in Wales, by the artist Esther Tew [12]. The research project disrupted the idea of a film as a final, contained end product. The film continues to be a work-in-progress as it metamorphoses into different forms and is featured on various platforms. The capacity of film to engage new audiences helps to consolidate existing partnerships, for example, with the Museum of World Culture, in Gothenburg, through a public screening and question and answer session [13]. The film also played a part in attracting new partners, such as the International National Trusts Organisation, who found it an useful resource in their advocacy on cultural heritage and climate change.

Boys jumping on cars, Kiribati 2015. This photograph has appealed to a range of people and organisations, and has been the most widely used photograph from this project. Photo Credit: Sara Penrhyn Jones

Claire Anterea, with daughter. North Tarawa, 2015. Photo credit: Sara Penrhyn Jones

However, I was conscious that although Troubled Waters escaped the disempowering ‘drowning nation’ narrative, the film was still mostly focused on the threat of rising seas and did not quite celebrate Kirbait’s diverse indigenous culture in the rich ways that might be possible. I realised this had something to do with the film featuring prominent voices in Kiribati through the medium of English. It was also to do with not allowing sufficient time to build new personal relationships or for developing more interesting creative strategies to reflect new insights. The film was not imaginative or experimental enough for my taste, and I was also questioning the extent to which any of it was really ‘my story to tell’ and whether we could go further in decolonising our engagement [14]. There was so much to learn, such as grasping and evoking the duality of the sea in Kiribati, and appreciating how oral stories would need to be negotiated sensitively, as they are a form of social capital in Kiribati. Onciul, Woodham and I developed a follow-on research project, ‘Enduring Connections’, that utilised participatory action and appropriate creative methods to benefit the local community in more direct and locally specific ways (Woodham et al., 2018). We partnered with KiriCAN, so that over 18-months, starting in 2016, the grassroots environmental organisation could be flexibly resourced to address locally identified priorities, which three local wards identified as waste. Based on his extensive knowledge of Kiribati culture, a local cultural heritage expert and artist encountered in ‘Troubled Waters’, Natan Itonga, was commissioned as a collaborating artist. The next film, which is currently in production, is far more collaborative in design, conveying indigenous perspectives and knowledge in richer ways, and Natan’s voice is particularly prominent within it. The role of the sound recordist and artist, Richard Gott, also became increasingly significant in the film production, as a more radical and holistic approach towards understanding and representing a place and culture through sound.

Richard Gott with collaborator Natan Itonga, and a local woman in Ribono, Kiribati, 2017. Photo Credit: Sara Penrhyn Jones

Reflexive environmental communication practice or analysis, especially when counterdominant perspectives are engaged with, entails deconstructing or counteracting that which may be invisible. This includes implicit assumptions, language, frames, values, myths, rhetoric, narratives, authority and voice. This is all part of thinking about representation, naturally charged with questions of power. Through praxis, I have become increasingly aware that such matters are integral to, rather than separate from, equity struggles. This is important for environmental communication too, because even acting with good intentions can entangle us in problematic, unsustainable, and even counterproductive creative strategies.

Moving towards approaches that develop a community’s own ecological storytelling capacity, and enhance local capacity to identify and address environmental problems, has reframed my own thinking about environmental communication. The growing literature on eco-citizenship provides a valuable conceptual framework for practitioners who want to position their work and objectives within a broader, politically informed vision of how society functions. In a powerfully argued article published in 2010, Robert J. Brulle argues for a move away from what he terms ‘elite-directed social change and public disempowerment’ (2010: 89). Although he is critiquing a specific example of a messaging campaign in the US, his argument serves as a general warning: ‘In place of sustained dialog and interaction between citizens and their leadership, we are offered a one-way communication in which individual citizens are treated as objects of manipulation and control’. Brulle also rejects the idea of 'mobilizing supporters as if they were isolated consumers of ideas rather than citizens [which] inhibits the development of a collective consciousness and mobilization’ (ibid.)

Participating in village festivities with Natan Itonga, in Ribono, Kiribati, 2017. Photo credit: Sara Penrhyn Jones

Eco and Hydro-citizenship

The research project ‘Towards Hydocitizenship’, for which I was a co-investigator and co-manager of the local case study site in Wales between 2013-17, could be seen as a radical rejection of top-down, or even anthropocentric communication and research practice [15]. The project explored water’s various interconnections with self, community and ecosystems in a site-specific way through engaging with local partners in four distinct case studies located in various parts of the UK. In my own case study and locale – the villages of Borth and Talybont in mid-Wales – we created distinct roles for two local community partners who were given crucial decision-making powers. Through being made much more than local ‘administrators’ for the academic team, and being resourced accordingly, an important principle in participatory action research was addressed. Secondly, we advertised for artists who wanted to engage with the project, and were prepared to act as mediators with the local community. The precarity of one of the villages, Borth, described as ‘audacious’ by a local, with the village situated between the bog and the sea, meant that houses and rent were more affordable, and so this may be one reason why there was no shortage of artists living there, alongside surfers, seasonal holiday makers, and others [16]. This immediately challenged the easy assumption that a place can only suffer because of watery ‘intrusion’. Furthermore, the spectacle of the sea-defence project which drew crowds to the beach, the necessity of understanding the tides and seasonal rythms in order to live there, the bronze-age walkway and yet more petrified trees exposed by recent storms, all seemed to create a particularly intense local relationship with/in ‘nature’ and time.

Borth Artist Collective engage tourists and locals, to recreate their village in sand. Borth 2016. Photo Credit: Sara Penrhyn Jones

The tide washes away the village built from sand. Photo Credit: Sara Penrhyn Jones

A range of artistic projects were commissioned to deliberately engage a diversity of people, including the agricultural community, surfers, Welsh-speakers, school children, gardeners, the ‘general public’, a youth-group, tourists and so on. The range of artistic practices extended from participatory filmmaking, poetry workshops, music and performance, street-projections, relational walking-art, murals, cartoons, sand-castle building, animation and puppetry, story-walks, building a sustainable ‘water shed’ from recyclable materials, photography and more [17]. Taken together, the artistic activities situated ‘art as a process of communicative exchanges’, to borrow Grant Kester’s words (in Finklpearl, 2013: 47). Each artist brought energy, knowledge and social networks to their role. And partly because the local community was so directly involved, events were well attended. A screening of the participatory film Y Gors (about the bog), alongside my own film TIMELINE, in a local pub in Borth could not accommodate all the people who turned up [18].

The Borth artist collective are commissioned by the project to build a sustainable water shed in their community gardens, to conserve water and provide a communal space. Photo Credit: Sara Penrhyn Jones

There is not much scope for depth here, but some of the ideas informing our team’s approach originate with critical ideas about art and pedagogy that emerged through key artists and intellectuals since the late 1950s onwards such as Guy Debord, Joseph Beuys, and Paulo Freire. A particularly relevant and useful concept is Rancière's easily grasped ‘ignorant schoolmaster’, which conveys the way that we learnt together, in a reciprocal and open- rather than hierarchical process of communication (1991). Working through a ‘model of engaged interaction’, as Tom Finkelpearl writes, requires ‘not personal modesty or a modesty of aspiration, but the modesty of power relations that comes from shared control’ (2013: 348). Much more than a theoretically driven approach alone, the substance of the project was everyday creativity and conversation. There was an effort throughout to capture community views and responses to the work in ways that turned out be more revealing than I had expected. Projects like this are by their very nature difficult to measure in terms of tangible results. I agree with Grant Kester, who is resistant to the idea of evaluating the kind of more relational art projects that he most valued in terms of ‘social utility’, arguing: ‘Pragmatic effects, concrete changes in social policies, the transformation of consciousness or perception, subtle changes in cultural discourse, all of these things get mixed up together in really complex work’ (in Finklpearl, 2013: 121).

The local artist and academic, Ffion Jones, part of the farming community, was ideally placed to engage with the Welsh-speaking agricultural community in Tal-y-bont, through a special and intimate film. Photo Credit: Sara Penrhyn Jones

Hitting Home

The geographer Andrew Dobson, a key figure in the development of the concept of environmental citizenship, has built on the idea of the new politics of obligation. Such obligations are ‘owed primarily to strangers, distant in both space and time’, and ‘involve the virtues of care and compassion, practiced in both the private and the public sphere’ (Dobson, 2000: 59-60). The idea of encouraging the public to be concerned with ‘strangers’ sounds very challenging, but perhaps what research through film can offer is a personalisation of such strangers. I would strongly refute a generally pervasive notion that working with and through local attachments is parochial; this approach can offer empathetic points of connection to the similarly specific experience of ‘strangers’ through a subtle environmental communication practice. Thinking through local events and attachments may help people grasp that something larger is taking place. More so than, for example, people in Wales knowing that 17.5 million people are at risk of flooding in in the future in Shanghai; such ‘strangers’ may be doubly-distant across space and time (Holder et al., 2018). One of my key strategies in environmental communication has been to work with and through people's existing values and attachments, which is a method that emphasies listening, rather than 'talking at' people and place.

As the poet T. S. Eliot writes, ‘[h]ome is where we start from’ (1969: 182), and in ‘Hydrocitizenship’ I was pleased to be working in my own locale for many reasons. As Patricia Maguire argues:

Those working in international development assistance, community development, organizational development, or education sometimes feel compelled to change, transform, empower, or liberate those people, over there, in that place. Basic as it may seem, the challenge is to change the near environment. This means the organizations, institutions, and relationships in which we live and work on a daily basis (1987: xv).

I had also found it very helpful to frame the earlier project ‘Troubled Waters’ as a comparative project; the idea of being connected to research in Kiribati had seemed to really interest and fascinate our participants in the UK, whilst it also legitimised the research in Kiribati. It had been helpful to be able to tell communities in Kiribati that we were also trying to understand and mitigate coastal vulnerability in the UK.

The capacity of the arts to ‘connect the local and global’ within environmental communication is often lauded. However, we should be alive to the constructedness of our metaphors for how we imagine place at – and through – different scales; some places are represented as simultaneously local and global, others never escape the local frame (Herod and Wright, 2008). If we ecologise such metaphors, then the idea of the world’s discreetly bounded layers and spheres is disrupted in any case; Latour imagines our world’s networks as ‘fibrous, thread-like, wiry, stringy, ropy, capilary...’ (Latour, 1996: 370 cited in Herod and Wright, 2008: 8).This has implications for how we think about, frame and communicate our treatment of place and space in environmental communication. I have found it most useful to emphasise the idea of forging connections, which is a way of thinking that has been present even in the title of the research (such as ‘Enduring Connections’) and for me, this gets to the heart of an ecological worldview. On the ‘Enduring Connections’ website, I use the idea of connection in this way: ‘This project works through ideas of loss, but focuses on connections; specifically, finding enduring connections to potentially lost objects to carry us into the future, caring for our current connections to land, water and non-human life, and accepting moral connections between the most polluting- and vulnerable - countries’ [19].

TIMELINE: Climate Change

During an informal conversation with Adam Markham, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, I was profoundly unsettled by something he told me [20]. Apparently, 1976 – the year of my birth – was the last year in which the global-average temperature was below the 20th century average (Rood, 2015). This fact jolted me, but also offered the 'right' starting point for my own personal exploration of climate change through film, because of course this was a story that preceded my own birth.

I have learnt from experience how difficult it is to gain a commission to make a documentary film about climate change for mainstream television. I understand both the reluctance of television commissioners for a ratings-toxic subject and why narrating climate change is so challenging (Moser, 2010; Smith, 2017). In my case, I simply bypassed the obstacle by making a film anyway. The writer and communication expert George Marshall argues: ‘It is this suppressed story, this “climate silence”, that has become the most powerful and ubiquitous climate narrative of all’ (2014: 97). The problem is, to draw on the cultural theorist Stuart Hall, that the climate change ‘must become a “story” before it can become a communicative event’ (Hall, 2005: 118, emphasis added). For the general public the IPCC report itself is more like raw data than a story, despite – or perhaps because of – its rigour and substance. My own ‘problem’ was that I could not visualise climate change on camera in the UK a decade ago. This was most likely the public’s struggle to imagine, or act in response to, something they could not knowingly see or feel either. It is perhaps ironic that was a series of extreme weather events, concentrated around the winter storms of 2013 and 2014 that finally made it more feasible to engage a receptive public about climate change in the UK, especially in the more vulnerable coastal areas that I was interested in.

‘One doesn’t arrive, in words or in art’, as the artist Ann Hamilton writes eloquently, ‘by necessarily knowing where one is going’ (2009: 68). Before creating my 30-minute film TIMELINE, I had for a long time wanted to bring together various elements from the body of work that I had created for various climate-related projects over the preceding six years. I did not feel that I had yet expressed my own thoughts about climate change in a way that was not inhibited by the platform (where the work was being shared), the form (the conventions of genre, length of film) or an external agenda (the priorities of other parties that were financing or placing my work). TIMELINE was essentially a creative experiment which might convey new possibilities for how we communicate the environment in the Anthropocene.

I have described TIMELINE in this way: ‘By bringing the environmental documentary into dialogue with more meandering, self-reflexive, elusive and playful forms, I attempt to create a new kind of language for eco-feminist filmmaking’ (Penrhyn Jones, 2017). I found that by blending different genres such as an essay film, ethnographic film and traditional documentary, I was able to explore my concerns in my own voice, whilst rejecting absolute authority. This felt like an empowering, eco-feminist mode of resistance (ibid.). Drawing together a range of community voices, poetry, activists, glaciologists, and microbiologists, that I had encountered over time, I could cross disciplinary borders, connect ‘strangers’, and through various post-production techniques, play with time, ironically enough, like a ‘techno-optimist’ (Plumwood, 2005: 6) [21]. For me, an eco-feminist filmmaking practice offers possibilities for engaging with, and evoking people as part of their environment. It offers scope for a richer, less didactic ‘environmental’ language, which may include non-textual, verbal, non-verbal and aural elements. It is difficult to define or practice environmental communications in ways which that avoid reinforcing the idea that we act to save a planet or an environment that is separate to ourselves. The ‘environment frame’, the notion that the environment is ‘separate from, and around us’ is bemoaned by George Lakoff, who calls it a ‘terrible false frame’ so deeply embedded in our conceptual system, that it ‘will not go away’ (2010: 77). This problem helps to suggest why more creative and suggestive approaches – for example, film – might help to resist this notion. For example, I have worked to place myself in the landscapes that I am filming, deliberately avoiding using cameras on drones; these are landscapes traversed, heard, smelt, enjoyed, endured and ‘breathed in’.

I used the tripod to set up an image of myself, looking through the 'frame' of the whalebone. This was to situate myself in the film, as the person 'looking' and narrating, also revealing that I was pregnant, as I turned around. Video-still from TIMELINE. Credit: Sara Penrhyn Jones

Again I used an 'unmanned' tripod to depict ice-melt in a more visceral, thoughtful way. Less 'disaster movie' mode than most climate change documentaries. Video-still from TIMELINE. Credit: Sara Penrhyn Jones

Richard Gott and I made a conscious effort to film 'behind the scenes' and B-roll material in Kiribati 2017. I wanted the fact that I was travelling with my son to be part of the story. Video-still credit: Richard Gott

During and since this process I have contemplated the question of what it means to be ‘authentic’ in environmental communication. I sometimes tire of expectations that we need to offer the audience ‘viable ways to act’ within our communication efforts (Pidgeon and Fischhoff, 2011: 38). Surely there also needs to be space to express and work through what we – and our audience – might see as stages of grief, in our response to climate change, and claim the essential ‘social permission to share our concerns’ that Marshall describes as so important (2014: 96-97). In ways that I find hard to articulate, I made TIMELINE for its own sake, to connect with my innermost feelings, even if it is not fashionable to talk about creative practice as catharsis (Runco, 2014: 15). I became very interested in the ways in which certain symbols and visualisation of themes were present – as unsettling hauntings – in my footage spanning ten years. I wondered to what extent I had intuitively tuned in – before I ‘knew’ it – to urgent and philosophical questions about climate change. As Mark Runco argues, ‘the unconscious is very actively involved in many expressions of creativity, including those involving intuition or insight’ (ibid.: 28).

Why did I film such a long sequence of rocks flying through the air – part of the construction of the Borth sea defence project – without ‘knowing’, until I played the footage back very slowly (and why did I do this?) that as stones collided, sparks electrified the night? Why were there constant images and references to time, for example why did I film a clock in Greenland, minutes before noon (or midnight)? None of these ‘scenes’ were part of any planned storyboard but were unlocked by a creative response beyond my own comprehension, perhaps invoked by Haraway in her advice on ‘learning to be truly present’ (2016: 1).

rose like ghosts, and sparks flew. TIMELINE Video-Still. Credit: Sara Penrhyn Jones

Conclusion: Valuing Creativity, and Making Friends with Strangers

The general trends in research methods rely heavily on creativity. Democratic notions of creativity elevate common, everyday practices, and acknowledge that ‘creativity is about making identities, relationships, and communities’ (Banet-Weiser et al., 2014: 1078). There are integral characteristics to creativity, which help explain its natural place in the current research culture, such as the fact that all creative acts involve collaboration of some kind, and lend themselves well to multi-platform and/or new modes of hybrid cultural production [22]. Creativity is also needed to conceive of, hold together, and deliver transdisciplinary, collaborative and co-produced research; such approaches can take unexpected paths and it takes continuous acts of imagination to respond empathetically, and find the connections and narratives to bring everything together as a coherent project. Interestingly, reading across unfamiliar disciplines has been posited as a form of enlivement through struggle, to stimulate creative thought [23]. This is what needs to be done when conceptualising and delivering multidisciplinary research: to find the points of connections and contention, and for intuiting the ‘stories’ within the ‘raw data’ (i.e. the world) and bringing them into being. All of this demands enormous amounts of creativity, which is a cognitive process that can express, reflect, and develop transformational capacity, also needed for social change [24].

However, the ‘art’ of the creative researcher – at least as formal, completed works – produced within such projects may be diminished because of the creative energy and time invested in the project as a whole; indeed the artist or creative researcher may be working to facilitate the creativity of others for their personal and/or social transformation; this might merit a reassessment of where the creativity lies in projects like these, and how to value it [25]. This is very important for recognising where and how the (perhaps invisible) creative process is driving research and impact, so that those who manage such processes are supported to work in this crucial area.

We know that to limit global warming to 1.5°C, ‘there is no historical precedent for the scale of the necessary transitions’ (IPCC, 2018: 392, emphasis added). The IPCC report also states that the speed and scale of the issue would require ‘people's support’, as well as other types of interventions and co-operation (ibid.). Environmental communication, which surely demands something more profound than just increased coverage, must play a part in garnering public support for the radical transition needed (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2015: 11). Within the totalising concept of the Anthropocene, or ‘environmental grand narrative’, there is a very serious risk of depoliticisation and demotivation. It is crucial to remember that there is always work to be done. The effects of the Anthropocene will be experienced unevenly, exacerbating current inequality, and there is no doubt that the most vulnerable people – in locations such as Bangladesh, who have contributed the least to the problem – will be most affected. This includes indigenous people, coastal communities, women, and those dependent on agriculture or who face existing water scarcity and food insecurity (IPCC, 2018). Bearing in mind also the fact that warming rates will happen unevenly across the world, this is the very definition of social injustice, and our ethical responsibilities to each other, the beyond-human and future generations should underscore responses to climate change (Barker et al., 2009).

Practicing inherently impactful research in collaborative and creative ways – focused on forging connections and relationships – seems a constructive strategy, as well as a psychologically necessary one for the researcher who might need it for ‘staying with the trouble’- to use Haraway's term and book title – for the long game (Haraway, 2016). Environmental communication is about more than getting the message right, but drawing others into the conversation, and enabling creativity and intuition to play a part in a facts-dominated discourse. This is about how we want to live, as well as how we conduct research, and I think it calls for making friends with strangers. I have found myself increasingly, perhaps even subconsciously, operating on the notion that specificity matters: that within such an overwhelming story – which spans deep-time and the whole world – we need a practice of communication that means listening to, rather than talking at, people, as well as the beyond-human. Perhaps there is need to anchor ourselves to something (a new ethics?) for orientation within frightening temporalities (Bird Rose et al., 2012). This also means developing a sense of when to speed up – or perversely, to slow down – when it feels that we are out of time [26].

Sound artist, Richard Gott, listening. Kiribati 2017. Photo credit: Sara Penrhyn Jones


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[1] For accessible information on this report, see ‘In-Depth Q & A: The IPCC’s Special Report on Climate Change at 1.5C’, Carbon Brief, October 8, 2018 - (accessed January 1, 2019).

[2] Crutzen, atmospheric chemist and Nobel Prize winner, first employed the term ‘Anthropocene’ in 2000. A brief summary of the concept appears in Cruzten and Stoemer (2000). For a more fully developed explanation of the concept, see Steffen et al. (2007).

[3] For an example of protest footage, view the first 4.30 mins of Sara Penrhyn Jones’ film TIMELINE (30 mins, 2017) -

[4] The Guardian newspaper reported a figure of 4,000 people, with more demonstrations occurring inside the centre - Other protest earlier in the week had involved 40,000 participants, according to The Guardian -

[5] For example, Patrick Bond, then Director of the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and now Professor of Political Economy at the University of the Witwatersrand Wits School of Governance, spoke for 15:30 minutes in his interview.

[6] The term 'adisciplinary', as used by biologist Barry Commoner in 1966, is favoured over 'multidisciplinary' by Michael Egan (2017: 29).

[7] See also Dark Snow website: (accessed December 18, 2018)

[8] An image of myself collecting cryoconite samples appears in a very recent BBC Science feature (Shukman, 2019).

[9] Also see interview with Claire Anterea filmed by Sara Penrhyn Jones at UN Climate Change Conference (UNCC), Cancun, 2010:

[10] For the 'Troubled Waters' research project website:; See follow-on research project website: (accessed January 15, 2019)

[11] Full version, Sara Penrhyn Jones' film Troubled Waters, 2015: A shorter version that was custom-made for the International National Trusts Organisation and was screened at several events at both the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, 2016 and Bonn, 2017, can be viewed online at

[12] Further information and images for Esther Tew's project are available online: (accessed January 15, 2019).

[13] The poster for a public screening of 'Troubled Waters' and the accompanying Q&A session at the Museum of World Culture, Gothenburg, December 6th, 2017 can be viewed at

[14] This sentiment was shared within the team. One of the project co-investigators, Bryony Onciul, provides an extensive discussion of these issues in her book Museums, Heritage and Indigenous Voice Decolonizing Engagement. (2015).

[15] The project's Principal Investigator is Owain Jones, see general project website: (accessed January 15, 2019).

[16] Borth is described as 'audacious' (translated by the author, the original term in Welsh is 'haerllug') by John Hefin, a Borth resident, in the author’s film TIMELINE: 20.40-20.52 -

[17] The local case study in Wales was called 'Cymerau', with artistic outputs documented at (accessed January 18, 2018)

[18] See Anne Marie Carty, Nick Jones and Dafydd Sills-Jones, Y Gors, 17.45 mins, Screenworks (June 2018):

[19] See project website: (accessed January 23, 2019).

[20] This event was (accessed January 27, 2019).

[21] Defining techno-optimism, Val Plumwood writes: ‘[r]eason in the form of scientific or technical fix […] plays the hero in some alternative rationalistic and techno-optimist scenarios. Science will save us, provided we do not lose our nerve or our faith in techno-reason and our will to continue along our current path, however precarious it may seem' (2005: 6).

[22] Brad Haseman's criteria for creative practice in the contemporary creative industry are highlighted in de Jong et al. (2012: 24-26).

[23] For a discussion of the benefit of reading outside your discipline, see Runco (2014: 27-28).

[24] For further discussion of creativity and ‘transformational capacity’, see Runco (2014: 14-15).

[25] For discussion of how art may be reconfigured as ‘projects’, see Bishop (2012: 205-206).

[26] For discussion of ‘slow scholarship’ and the wellbeing of women in academia, see Revelles-Benavente and Gonzalez Ramos (2017) and Bird Rose (2013).

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