FUTURE SCENARIOS: Anthroposcenery and Memories of the future.

Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping

Our ongoing body of photographic and artist film work Future Scenarios is an exploration of the themes of vulnerability to, and responsibility for Climate Change, and the role that narrative plays in shaping our future.

Through collaboration with leading climate change scientists, researchers and policy makers in the Global South and the United Kingdom we have learnt how the narrative of vulnerability that once surrounded those nations most vulnerable to climate change has developed into a narrative of resilience and adaptation.

The countries once thought of as helpless in the face of climate change are now emerging as leaders in the development of mitigation and adaptation strategies, the use of indigenous resilience and adaptation knowledge, research into loss and damage, knowledge sharing, renewables and are the closest to decarbonizing their economies, even though as a group they have contributed the least to total global carbon emissions. While conversely the developed nations that are principally responsible for climate change and have the greatest technological and financial resources to tackle it seem to be stuck in a state of political apathy and are making little progress towards mitigation or adaptation.

By foregrounding this new narrative of resilience and adaptation, we intend to reveal how this story opens up a dialogue about a still yet-to-be determined future and how it rejects the fatalistic narrative about vulnerability that compounds the victimhood of those most vulnerable to climate change.

Portrait of resilience #1,Namg Nang Luang Namtha Province, Lao PDR, Giclée print from digital medium format, 90x120cm, 2017.

The Akha minority village of Namg Nang in the Nam Ha National Protected Area is situated atop of a ridge line close to the mountainous centre of the protected area. The village, which relies on two trickling springs for its water supply, suffers from severe water stress. Water collection is slow and risky, as high footfall and poor hygiene at the springs often leads to contamination and the spread of gastro-intestinal illnesses. The chore of collecting water in plastic jerry cans and gourds falls on the women of the village who regularly carry up to 100 litres of water a day. In recent years a more erratic monsoon, for which climate change is to blame, has further exacerbated the water stress the village faces by reducing the flow of the springs still further. Climate change is a magnifier of gender inequality. Women are likely to experience worsening (social and economic) inequalities as a result of the impacts of climate change because they are often poorer and commonly dependent on men. Through their socially constructed roles, women will suffer continued violation of their rights and an increasing burden of responsibilities in a warming world. Often perceived as incapable owing to their status, a perception that compounds their victimhood, women throughout the world have been identified as one of the groups most vulnerable to climate change. Though vulnerable, women play a crucial role during times of disaster by leading their families to safety. In the aftermath of a disaster they devise ways to support, nourish and shelter their children and in some cases their husbands. As a result, the role that women play in mitigating and adapting to climate change at a community level has been recognised by researchers as highly significant. As Ina Islam of ICCCAD says, “Women are the glue that hold families and communities together.” In recent years developmental strategies have shifted to focus more on supporting the interventions made by women, their role and their empowerment. Many government agencies, policy makers, NGO’s and researchers found that interventions relating to education, environmental protection, sexual health and disaster preparedness had failed to enact positive change when targeting the male population of a community, whereas supporting women was more successful. When empowered, women could greatly influence their husbands, sons and community leaders, leading to meaningful long-term impacts within the community.

Through our captioned photographic work we present evidentiary documentation of this shifting narrative (toward resilience), the resilience displayed, and knowledge generated by those most vulnerable to climate change. We also examine the historic responsibility for, and lackadaisical progress towards mitigation of Climate Change by the Developed Nations, Slow Violence ‡ and the relationship between colonialism and climate change.

Waste tire, Devon, United Kingdom, Giclée print from digital medium format, 90x120cm, 2017.

If we consider historic responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions, we gain a very different understanding of who is responsible for climate change. When we focus on who is currently emitting the most greenhouse gasses, blame often falls on developing nations that actually have relatively short-lived emission histories and / or smaller carbon footprints per person than that of many developed nations. Our perception of who is responsible for climate change  can dramatically change when we look at emissions in different ways. For example, the United Kingdom has arguably the longest-lived historic responsibility for climate change, being the first nation to industrialise and emit large quantities of greenhouse gases during the industrial revolution. The U.S. long held the title as the world's greatest emitter until 2005 when it was overtaken by China, which is now the world's greatest emitter of all time. But when we look at the carbon footprint per person we find that Luxemburg and the U.S. surpass China as the top-ranking emitters. However, a focus on the political geography of emissions greatly simplifies the narrative of who is responsible. With corporations emitting on a global scale and operating outside the control of any one state, we find that emissions are in fact being outsourced to developing nations by developed nations.  Just because a corporation’s factories release emissions in China doesn't mean that its headquarters are not in London or Washington D.C.  Just 100 fossil fuel companies are now believed to be responsible for 71 percent of emissions since 1988.  This outsourcing of emissions is a form of slow violence that derives from the very same colonial practices that led to the development of some nations over others. Yet instead of being based, as in the past, solely upon resource grabbing, this re-brandingw of colonialism is now also concerned with the redistribution of greenhouse gases and toxins to locations that have lower historical emissions and are less polluted.  The fact that the developed nations are principally responsible for climate change is a key negotiation point in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These negotiations will yhopefully see responsible nations compensate those nations that will be most affected by climate change through the Loss and Damage framework.  However, as the celebrated Bangladeshi climate change researcher Dr. Saleemul Huq states, “It is not important who is responsible for climate change, it is what we do about it that matters”.

Working with scenarios thinking we have documented climate change exacerbated phenomena that offer us glimpses of the future (Naomi Klein) with the intention of suggesting a palpable imagining of difficult and improving climate change future scenarios. In locations that are vulnerable to and historically responsible for climate change we have investigated scenarios of climate induced migration, intensified natural disasters, sea level rise, energy futures, conflict, heat and water stress and food security.

Ration distribution, Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement, Yumbe District, Uganda, Giclée print from digital medium format, 90x120cm, 2017.

Ration distribution, Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement, Yumbe, Uganda, (2017). The country of Uganda currently hosts over 1.1 million refugees from as many as 10 countries with the largest numbers fleeing from: South Sudan, The DRC, Burundi, Rwanda and Somalia. In 2016-7 Uganda accepted more refugees than any other nation and now has one of the largest refugee populations in the world, even though it is itself an LDC with a history of conflict. Uganda’s outstanding emergency response to the crisis in South Sudan is an example for the UK, USA and Europe to aspire to and a lesson on how to treat refugees better. As Titus Jogo the refugee desk officer at Office of the Prime Minister in Adjumani states, “you never know when you too may become a refugee”. In a future where climate change is anticipated to induce more migration as climate change exacerbated conflict, severe weather events, drought and flooding are anticipated to displace increasing numbers of people worldwide.

Through four sets of loosely defined future events that take place somewhere between 2020 and 2100 our three channel, hour long artist film work asks the viewer to imagine what the future may hold as the temperature increases. Working with Shell (Energy Futures) and UNFCCC (RCPs) scenarios that vary from a 1.5°c to 6 °c predicted temperature rise by 2100 we encourage the audience to subjectively interpret how hot a given future is by presenting a coloured dot (2020-2039 yellow, 2040-2059 light orange, 2060-2079 dark orange, and 2080-2100 red) instead of a defined temperature marker.

Film still from Future Scenarios (Possible events 2080-2100), three channels, surround sound, UHD, 60min, 2018.

Working with our footage (and photographs) as Anthroposcenery † from the future we wish to suggest how scenarios can be considered memories of the future. As Shell’s Scenarios Team suggests “thinking about the future uses the same part of the brain as thinking about the past or past memories” (Shell 2017). Knowing that thinking about the future is limited when we use past presidents to imagine, we intend our film to challenge it’s viewers to imagine different scenarios by becoming aware of and understanding different or multiple perspectives.

Film still from Future Scenarios (conflict resolution) , three channels, surround sound, UHD, 60min, 2018.

The use of different lenses, also known as frameworks is common in scientific research, journalism or documentary often shaping the way we view, and therefore how we interact with the world. Though these lenses are not physically represented by a change in focal length, we intend our three screen installation to encourage viewers to think about how we frame the world, be it through an environmental justice lens, a Neo-Malthusian lens, or a technocratic lens and how these frameworks shape the way we imagine our future.

Film still from Future Scenarios (Hyperobject) , three channels, surround sound, UHD, 60min, 2018.

By describing climate change as what Timothy Morton has dubbed a “Hyperobject*” we intend Future scenarios to displace climate change, skew the responsibility vulnerability divide and reveal the pervasive power relationships that are inherent to climate change. In this way we wish to draw attention to how we are all responsible for and all vulnerable to climate change, of course not equally responsible, but nevertheless how we all have a carbon footprint and therefore we all have a role to play in tackling climate change (Dr. Saleemul Huq).

Operating as a collaborative cross disciplinary investigation, Future scenarios considers how we may represent climate change through photography and artist film and how we may decolonize nature (T.J. Demos). Ultimately we believe that to decolonise social and natural environments and begin to envision habitable futures we need to look afresh, and perhaps unlearn old ways of seeing, in order to allow new narratives and scenarios to arise.

Future Scenarios has so far been produced in Lao PDR, Bangladesh, Nepal, The United Kingdom and Uganda in 2017-8 following our participation in the yearlong Culture and Climate Change: Future Scenarios Networked Residency in 2016-7 which was supported by Culture and Climate Change, the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, The University of Sheffield, The Open University, The Ashden Trust. The residency explored the idea of artists working as climate change researchers by connecting us with a network of Climate Change researchers, NGO’s, policy makers and institutions including: The British Antarctic Survey, The Scott Polar Museum, The Tyndall Centre, The International centre for climate change and development in Bangladesh (ICCCAD), The IIED, The UNHCR, Jesuit Refugee Services and The Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN). .

‡ Slow Violence is a term used by Rob Nixon to describe the violence wrought by climate change, toxic drift, deforestation, oil spills, and the environmental aftermath of war. It is a violence that takes place gradually and often invisibly that exacerbates the vulnerability of ecosystems and of people who are poor, disempowered, and often involuntarily displaced, while fueling social conflicts that arise from desperation as life-sustaining conditions erode. (Harvard University Press)

† Anthroposcenery is the backdrop in which the events of the Anthropocene may take place.

* “A Hyperobject is an entity that is so massively distributed in space and time that you can’t point to all of it at once. Even if you use very advanced prosthetic devices like fast supercomputers, it might still be difficult to map one” (T. Morton).