A hostile climate?

| 20th December 2018
An engineer in the solar powered village of Tinginapu, East India
An engineer in the solar powered village of Tinginapu, East India ©Abbie Trayler-Smith / Panos Pictures / Department for International Development
Alternative viewpoints and marginalised voices are essential in the exploration and communication of climate change impacts.

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Conference timetable and programme available here; tickets available here

The impacts of climate change are felt more keenly by women, minorities and people living in poverty. But the majority of climate change research and negotiation is undertaken by men - the voices of those most at risk are the least audible. 

This is mirrored in climate change and eco-dystopian fiction, in which women often suffer the worst effects, but the heroic solution is driven by Western scientists. This narrative is also reinforced by climate change communication, which focuses on the technological and political changes driving the ‘fight’ against climate change. 

Indigenous and Third World actors are often cast as passive victims, or in some cases as the perpetrators of environmental degradation in their own lands.

Under Her Eye

Representing indigenous, non-western or oppressed groups and societies as either passive victims or environmentally naïve perpetrators is damaging and Western-centric.  It ignores the entrenched power structures and socio-political injustices that control human-environment interactions and allows these groups no agency either in their current situation, or in the design of their future under climate change.

Under Her Eye: Women and Climate Change was an international arts-science conference and festival run by Invisible Dust, an organisation that works with artists and scientists to explore different ways of communicating and responding to climate change. 

Under Her Eye was unique in that it featured only women speakers who were working to communicate, research or address climate change. Speakers included Caroline Lucas MP, Co-Leader UK Green Party; Hakima El Haité, Moroccan Minister for the Environment and COP22 Host; Laura Tenebaum, former Senior Science Editor, NASA Jet Propulsion Lab; Kate Raworth, author of Doughnut Economicsand Renegade Economist; Christina Figueres, former Executive Secretary if the UNFCCC; and Margaret Atwood, author and inspiration for the conference title. 

The aim of Under Her Eye was to give the platform of communicating and discussing climate change to those who are so often underrepresented in these discussions, namely women, activists, artists, and researchers working in the arts and humanities. 

The conference allowed topics such as carbon trading, seas and oceans, and health and wellbeing, to be addressed from drastically different viewpoints even when the topics covered were very similar. This highlighted that diverse people, disciplines and sectors all have important roles to play in the climate change conversation.

Hostile climates

Alongside the Under Her Eye conference, Invisible Dust ran a fellowship for fifteen young female artists, activists and researchers working with issues related to climate change or the environment. 

Theses women received training and the opportunity to be involved in the conference and associated artist workshops. 

Inspired by the passionate and enlightening discussion in the Under Her Eye conference, a few of the fellows decided to organise a second conference focussing on the exploration of marginalised voices and alternative perspectives on climate change in an academic context, focusing on the contributions of postgraduate and early career researchers.

This conference, titled A Hostile Climate? Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Climate Change, aims to interrogate and respond to the meaning of ‘hostile climates’ in diverse and receptive ways, hearing from scholars across the humanities, sciences and beyond as they contribute to engaging discussion on the topic. 

Like Under Her Eye, we will explore the many different facets of climate change and related environmental catastrophes through the lens of different academic and artistic disciplines. The floor will be given to PhD students, early-career researchers and artists who are producing new and innovative work on the topic. 

Keynote speakers

We welcome contributions from all genders, and aim to keep the focus on a diversity of backgrounds, ethnicities and disciplines, in order to allow the voices of a range of demographics to be heard more strongly than they currently are in climate change discourse and debate.

The keynote speakers chosen for the conference are Professor Julie Doyle and Dr David Higgins. Professor Julie Doyle is based in the School of Media at the University of Brighton. Her work examines the role of media, communication and culture in shaping understandings of, and responses to, climate change. 

Professor Doyle’s work focuses on visual communications, and examines the limitations and successes of visual communications in helping make climate change a relevant issue and inspiring engaged and effective action. Professor Doyle is the author of the book Mediating Climate Change, and has been a key figure in establishing the genre of environmental communication.

We (the conference organisers) first met Julie Doyle during the Under Her Eye fellowship, when she ran a seminar inspired by her research and recent. This seminar became one of the core inspirations for the organisation of A Hostile Climate, and it is very fitting that Julie Doyle will be one of the keynote speakers. 

Mediating change

Dr David Higgins is an Associate Professor based in the School of English at the University of Leeds. Coming from a background in Romantic literature and ecology, within recent years Dr Higgins’ work has included the book British Romanticism, Climate Change, and the Anthropocene (Palgrave, 2017), which considers the monumental eruption of Mt Tambora in 1815 and the global crisis that followed. 

This book was part of a broader AHRC-funded project, which culminating in the international conference Mediating Climate Change at the University of Leeds, which brought together scholars from across the humanities to discuss the problems of communication, representation and comprehension that we encounter when considering climate change. 

Dr Higgins also currently works on the AHRC-funded project Land Lines: British Nature Writing, alongside colleagues from St Andrews and Sussex University. In 2018 Dr Higgins won the ASLE-UKI/Orkney Science Festival lecture prize for his lecture ‘Frankenstein on a Changing Planet’, which discussed the failure of Victor Frankenstein to take responsibility for his creation in relation to contemporary debates about anthropogenic impact on our planet. 

Dr Higgins’ work is increasingly focused on engaging wider audiences with environmental issues, and he is currently developing new public collaborations around culture and climate. 

Conference themes

The themes covered in A Hostile Climate include (but are not limited to):

•           The risks of climate change for those living on the margins of society, and how these may be apprehended or mitigated
•           How communities across the globe experience climate change, in a radically different way to those on mainland Europe and the US
•           How technology, entrepreneurship and science could provide benefits for humanity in a climate-changed world OR the possible negative ramifications of reliance on technology in attempting to solve these issues 
•           Non-Western, Indigenous and grassroots approaches to (and understandings of) climate change and related environmental issues
•           Understanding and responding to climate-changed environments through music, art and performance  
•           Climate change and migration: the risks and realities of hostility towards migrants in a climate-changing world, or alternative responses to possible climate change-induced migration

In addition to the conference presentations, we will be holding a small art exhibition instead of the more common academic poster exhibition. This exhibition will display works by young artists relating to climate change, environmental issues, and the inequities and inequalities that cause and arise from such issues. 

Embracing connections 

By including both artists and researchers in the sciences and humanities, we are encouraging attendees to view their research from a perspective beyond their normal purview, and to examine the social and scientific connections between their work and the work of others. 

As Under Her Eye fellow and conference organiser Claire Cooper stated: “One of the greatest difficulties that climate researchers often face is how troublesome it is to disentangle the science from the social impacts. 

“Perhaps the solution is not to further the separation between a work of research and its consequences, but to embrace the connections between the theoretical, the empirical, and the artistic exploration of the questions we ask”.

These Authors

Isabel Cook, Lucy Rowland, Rosamund Portus and Claire Cooper are doctoral researchers exploring climate change and environmental catastrophes from varying perspectives such as archaeology, environmental humanities, and geology. They are Under Her Eye fellows and the organisers of A Hostile Climate conference. More information on the conference can be found on the conference website.

Conference timetable and programme available here; tickets available here

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