Analysis of survey

Back in May/June I put out a survey to capture views of museum & cultural professionals on how a Climate Museum could help them, and what kinds of topics you want to explore.

I’ve been delaying analysing and sharing the findings, as I had hoped for more responses, and more from staff working within museums. I’ll keep the survey open, see this link, with the intention of gathering more feedback.

But here for now are the summarised responses of 41 people.

37 of 41 are UK based, most from England.

13 of the 41 work within the museum sector, or within a museum. The rest are freelancers, academics or artists many of whom might work sometimes with museums. In terms of sectors worked in, the biggest category was The Arts at 25%, and the next was Museums at 22%, then Science Engagement at 15% and then Academic 10% and ‘Focus on people’ 10%.

One purpose of the survey was to find out how certain terms are interpreted and what level of interest there is in them. For example, is the term ‘climate change’ a turn-off?

So, I asked: Thinking about what would most motivate you to travel or give time to discuss with others, please rate each of these topics judging by the describing word or phrase.

Screenshot 2018-10-19 09.42.07

Although the responses are fairly close, and more responses would show clearer patterns, we can see that the term Climate Change is least popular, and that Regenerative Cultures is striking out ahead of the pack. This is not a common term, but the respondents are generally well informed about culture and climate action. Regenerative Cultures gives an impression of potential to craft a better future. Although ‘regeneration’ has become associated with profit-seeking property development, the term ‘Regenerative’ is increasingly used to mean ecologically sustainable development that brings thriving and equality. A definitive book on this is Designing Regenerative Cultures by Daniel Christian Wahl.

The next question asks for a rating of confidence in discussing and applying each of these topics in their work. Although the respondents are knowledgeable in the field, most rate their confidence as being very low across the board. This suggests there is room for professional development training and networking.

Screenshot 2018-10-19 09.56.33

Respondents were asked if any term or phrase was missing from the list. I’ve clustered their responses into rough groups:

Outliers and big categories…

  • Human nature
  • The crucial significance of biodiversity
  • Future visioning
  • Regenerative design
  • Population control – or put another way – fertility health


  • Ending Capitalism
  • Material and economic drivers of climate
  • The monetary system and the impact of that on people and the environment
  • New economic models

Global picture…

  • Impacts on global movements
  • The local to global picture of what climate change is and what it will affect.
  • Developing a global movement based on museums and the climate challenge – integrating and mobilizing all the many initiatives.


  • Responsibility
  • Collective responsibility
  • Environmental responsibility
  • Sustainable existence, ownership of the current situation)
  • Practical advice of what everyone can do, such as recycling, reducing plastic use, conservation and activism.

Health and wellbeing…

  • Ecopsychology
  • The effects of these issues on mental health and well-being
  • The role of animal agriculture
  • environmental health and wellbeing
  • Health and food
  • Health-affecting pollution

Methodologies of engagement…

  • Communication
  • Non-verbal public engagement
  • Sustainable materials and approaches to exhibition making
  • The arts and climate change
  • The role of imagination in breaking down fixed modes of thinking (our own and others’), holding open space for creative discussion with others, and developing new thinking and experimentation…this crosses between all of the topics and helps us resist the pull to prioritise some of them at the expense of others… (Also, imagination can foreground what we don’t know and help us embrace uncertainty).
  • Policy & practice tools


The next question was about climate change as a distant issue, and how there is a tendency to associate with faraway places. Rather than making ‘faraway’ the leading theme, I asked ‘When we think of climate change, sometimes we associate it with particular places. If this is the case for you, what particular place comes to mind’. I then asked ‘Thinking of this place impacted by climate change, how near or how far away is it in relation to where you are based? 1 is very close and 100 is very far.’

The responses were fairly qualified or mixed. If this was an activity where respondees were asked to put a single pin on a map for a place that they most associate with climate change, then mark how far away it is from their normal home, it would have been more quantifiable.

Two said ‘wherever I am’ or ‘my immediate environment’. Two others talked about their interest in particular local places while thinking of it as a global issue. Two saw it not as a geographical place, but in terms of psychology or their children. Eleven referred to the polar regions, especially the Arctic, icecaps and melting ice or rising seas in general. Six people made other global references: the Global South, coastal areas/extreme habitats, coral reefs, the Tropics, and rainforest. More particular references were to Amazonian rainforest, Africa, South Asia, Pacific islands, Kiribati/Tuvalu, Australia, and Canadian glaciers/northern Canada. One person listed multiple places: ‘Pacific islands, coral reefs, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, the Poles’. The overall rating of how far away the particular place is 62 out of 100 (where 100 is far).

The next question was: Coming closer to home, perhaps, what is the main challenge facing the community you know best and/or work with?

Issues around public engagement and framing of the issues…

  • The general population’s lack of engagement with the issues.
  • Not taking issue seriously
  • Acceptance of impacts of climate change on daily lives
  • Lack of awareness and reluctance to recycle.
  • The complete lack of concern and denial about the climate challenge – business as usual.
  • Understanding the urgency of climate change and potential scale of impacts.
  • Engagement with the scale of the problem in a way that generates response.
  • Lack of political knowledge
  • Fear of being sufficiently forthright about the reality of anthropogenic climate change as this is seen as being ‘too political’.
  • The question of how to live in an ethical way with regards to sustainability (so that’s about everything from how to reduce waste to how to care for nature and how to educate (and inspire) children about the multi-dimensional problems we face.
  • The political mindset and selfishness needs to dramatically change
  • Engaging school children, primary and secondary

Specifically within the practitioner groups…

  • Challenges around collaborative practice, including the development of skills and attitudes for open, honest and patient dialogue.
  • That of digital/commercial artists “only a fraction are seriously interested in climate change…”
  • Creative practitioners/artists struggle with “how to deal with the facts of climate change of the general indifference / lack of priority in wider society, and what practically arts can achieve in the face of all this”

Direct environmental impacts…

  • Emissions – London Rubbish disposal – London Green spaces – London Housing developments on green spaces
  • Summer heat waves. Flooding due to heavy rainfall.
  • Global warming, overuse of disposables including plastics
  • Impact of development, fragmented ecosystems
  • Development pressures (new homes etc)
  • Air pollution, carbon dependencies, lack of community spaces and green spaces.
  • Air pollution and traffic

Combined and systemic issues…

  • Reconnecting with our environment and each other
  • Personal changes to reduce CO2 emissions
  • Plastic, energy use, moving towards renewables, economic equality
  • Regeneration, respect for the environment.
  • Understanding systems change and interconnectivity and applying resulting thinking to business / initiative development
  • Living sustainably, using resources more effectively, taking ownership for immediate environment.
  • Social justice issues
  • Resources
  • The bottom line. Profit generation.
  • Air pollution, sustainable development which respects natural and cultural landscape uses, flooding, food security and social justice.

And a direct challenge to act: “To rip up the roads, replace them with grass and start growing vegetables on them whilst installing a local zero carbon energy grid”.

The next question is: What do you think is the primary contribution your field of work could make to tackling big challenges such as climate change?

The responses to this are very much in accord, with some slight differences between most that emphasise education or raising awareness, and smaller numbers that emphasise supporting people to organise, or generating imaginative visions and capacities. Some particular suggestions include:

  • Make it possible for children to suggest and implement changes with adults in a fun way
  • Serving as an intelligent and caring storefront for public dialogue, involvement and action.
  • Exhibitions – which can educate and inspire people to meaningfully debate the ‘big questions’ like climate change…

Then, the survey asks about the barriers faced: Still thinking about your field of work, to what extent are you affected by the following barriers to effective action on tackling these big challenges?

The responses show that distraction by other challenges is a very significant barrier, and that lack of funding for such work is a general barrier that affects most.
Screenshot 2018-10-19 13.56.04 Other barriers include:
  • Self-satisfaction; commitment to neutrality; apathy
  • Lack of agency: almost all of the options above are routinely cited by clients as reasons why *they* can’t prioritise work on the big challenges; these clients include senior leaders in education, who frequently point to the need for external permission to act via instruments such as inspection frameworks, curricula, government policy etc.
  • Increasingly relentless pressure of activity allows little time to reflect in a way that leads to change or action. Systemic issue.
  • The long-standing structures and processes by which museums operate sometimes mitigate against change.
  • Lack of opportunity
  • Lack of viable alternatives

Then: If you could do any kind of project to creatively stir a response to the climate emergency (and other/linked issues), what would you do? 

Most of the project ideas are exhibitions, talks and touring plays. Some of the more unusual ideas include:

  • A period of time where we paid everyday citizens not to work/other but spend their time with others talking about what matters in their lives or communities in relation to global climate justice
  • City-wide vehicle-free days
  • Hacking Fox News would be one productive way of approaching this.
  • An attention-grabbing project for all primary schools nationwide to take part in, combining science and the arts.
  • organise all of the current sub-critical initiatives into a global movement of critical mass, capable of influencing public and political opinion. There are 55,000 museums in the world – the largest franchise in contemporary life.

Thank you to everyone who contributed.


Fearless gripping climate art

I’m struggling to write a response to the IPCC climate report published this week, as it’s somewhat overwhelming. I’m pleased to see that it is triggering lots of conversation about climate breakdown. It’s been chosen as the topic of BBC’s Moral Maze this week and commentators that normally steer clear have been touching on it. But, I’m taking time to read the report itself, and to read all the articles about it, and to take an overview of how people are responding.

One particular response was a tweet by John McMahon:

Screenshot 2018-10-11 11.54.23

This is a great provocation, to which I replied: It’s not so much that we need more art/culture like this, but that more people need to feel free to express fears & horrors, without being jumped on for being a ‘doom-monger’. And we need cultural support and infrastructure for communities to work through those fears to be able to adapt, and to find and demand solutions.

Anohni is a brilliant example of a musician prepared to express the darker side of facing climate breakdown. It’s interesting that John picked out the quote “I wanna hear/see…” these horrible scenarios of climate breakdown, from the chilling song ‘4 Degrees’. I take this perspective to be a disassociated character, a cipher for destruction. In yesterday’s Moral Maze programme, Charlotte du Cann was brought on as a witness, as a person who (like me) is actively involved in the Dark Mountain project. Giles Fraser challenged her particularly on one phrase in the manifesto, “We do not believe that everything will be fine. We are not even sure, based on current definitions of progress and improvement, that we want it to be.”  He felt that this was immoral, taking it as a kind of nihilistic wish to bring on the worst. What is at issue, however, is the myth of progress that assumes the possibility and desirability of technological utopia. The truth is that everything will not be fine, and ‘wanting everything to be fine’ will not make it so in this global context, so it is not a helpful starting point or framing for one’s desires.

The kind of work that really shifts the frame to see darker realities and future possibilities, which allows expression of trauma about climate, is fairly rare. Climate art is very varied but amongst its range, there are two strong types especially in the art that reaches mainstream attention:

  • Not really about climate: picking a related issue, or using another disaster as a metaphor for climate – not wanting to be too simplistic.
  • Too obviously about climate: following familiar safe tropes, not wanting to be too arcane, wanting to connect with what people understand.

I suspect there is a body of theatre work on climate change that is more cathartic, fearless and gripping. However, I tend not to go to theatre, (as I spend too much time involved in music, visual art and museums) so it’s hard to tell the impact of theatre if you don’t go.

I decided to start a collection of Climate Art, for Climate Museum UK’s digital museum, to include performance/theatre amongst other categories. Please tell me about fearless and gripping climate art to put in this collection! Here it is:


Greening our work

I’m sharing this from my Learning Planet blog. See at the end some explanation about organisational plans for Climate Museum UK.

Yes, I’ve been active and vocal about the planetary emergency for as long as I can remember. But I’ve never been very strong on environmental management of one’s work and life. I don’t want to say that I’m unconcerned with my own footprint: I do all the things I can. I don’t fly, don’t drive, eat mostly plants, only had one child, and use 100% renewable energy. The only air miles I count are the ones involve in transporting my food. But that said, I’ve always pushed back against the way ‘environment’ is put in a box labelled ‘eco-naggery’: saving energy, smart meters, and light bulbs, and now plastic packaging. I’m just not interested in the detail! I’d rather we spend time campaigning or fundraising to promote an international law against ecocide, to end the influence of fossil fuel companies, to end deforestation, and to encourage a ‘regenerative’ revamp of economy and society. I think that cultural organisations should support and normalise ecological education, activism and enterprise, and that they should be braver at facing the truths of the climate emergency. They should prioritise such work over reducing their own operational footprints, which they should do but only as one of many other activities.

However, I’ve been aware recently how vital it is to show daily leadership in one’s practices. Not because you expect to make a difference to the global temperature dial by turning off your kitchen light, but because your actions can affect how much people care about that temperature dial. It is better to do the right thing than not to do it, when the stakes are so great (and when the steaks are doing so much damage). This awareness has been raised by reading Peter Kalmus ‘Being the Change: Live well and spark a climate revolution‘.

Last week I led a Twitter chat on the #MuseumFreelance hashtag about being a sustainable leader in one’s freelance or sole-trading work in the museums sector. I’m not strictly a freelancer as I run a small company of 2-3 people, plus associates, but I haven’t worked as a staff member in an organisation since early 2006, so have a strong ‘freelance’ identity.

I asked these questions:

  • How can we reduce our impact when we run focus groups or workshops?
  • Freelance work can mean a lot of travel: is digital communication the best alternative?
  • How can we help clients and audiences have more planetary awareness? What if that’s not in your contract?

It was a lively chat and generated a lot of advice and mutual support. Some ideas included:

Christina Lister showed us her kit to minimise dependence on single use plastics:

Screenshot 2018-09-30 15.24.14

Reducing in-person meetings after a set-up meeting, using collaborative and conferencing tools where possible, but taking care and preparing well in advance to ensure they work well. Hilary Jennings shared this guide from the Transition Network on how to work better together online.

Using digital tools like Mindmeister to share and develop ideas with clients rather than using paper, or having to meet in person.

A great tip from Steve Slack:

Screenshot 2018-09-30 15.41.17

For anyone who wanted to go a bit deeper on this, I shared:

Christina Lister summed up her takeaways from the chat: 1) start now 2) share what you’re doing with freelancers & (potential/) clients 3) question things that could be made greener 4) baby steps are better than no steps (e.g. recycled paper) 5) think all aspects of your practice.

My own big takeaway came out of my third question: How to help clients have more planetary awareness, even if it’s not in the contract. One suggestion was to be more overt about sharing one’s own environmental policy, including it in the way you pitch and negotiate contracts. It was interesting how rarely we were ever asked by clients about our environmental policies. I realised that I hadn’t revisited our own company’s one since dashing one off to a boiler plate template perhaps 10 years ago on a single occasion when it was required for a tender.

So, I made a pledge to rewrite one, and will do this with colleagues as part of process of creating a new organisation: Flow Experience. This will be a more charitably-oriented company than Flow Associates, and we will gradually shift all our projects into it. It will also be a platform for Climate Museum UK. I had the realisation that instead of tagging a footprint-reduction policy at the end of a business plan, start with the big purpose of eco-social change. Environment isn’t an ‘issue’, or only about the smallest level of detail. It’s the biggest possible expanse. It’s the world that makes our existence possible, from time immemorial – but only for the time being. In writing this policy, we’ll follow our own  change planning model, where we begin with ‘Discover’ – taking an expanded perspective to discover all drivers for change. Then we’ll zoom in to focus on the impact we are able to have with the assets we have access to. Then we’ll start to Design the organisation in terms of how it uses resources and generates value, thinking in a regenerative and ecocentric way throughout.

I’ve recently written and spoken about the idea of the Possible Museum, or any cultural organisation that is more eco-centric, socially just and future-facing. I outlined an ethical path for such an organisation:

  • It will take a ‘Possitopian’ approach, not being stuck in either wishful Utopian or despairing Dystopian positions about the future, but look imaginatively and openly at the widest cone of possibility.
  • By looking honestly at what is happening in the world, and imagining the future, this organisation will see that the path of relevance is an ethical one.
  • It will proactively work with communities to shift towards more regenerative and circular economies.
  • It will explore ethical and participatory forms of entrepreneurship in order to sustain itself when or where public funding dries up.
  • It will provide safe, inclusive spaces for envisaging possible futures, for learning from past and indigenous cultures and from the capacities of nature, and for helping communities take action for eco-social justice.

These will be the principles to underpin our thinking as we dream up Flow Experience, and build on our 12 years of work to become an organisation that services and supports others to create a Possible Culture.

Tate Modern + Climate

Martin Creed’s ‘Everything is going to be alright’ seen with visitors & Shard

A planned strand of Climate Museum UK is to run tours of museums or open heritage sites, adding (more, or more pertinent) climate and biosphere content to their stories. These tours might be in collaboration with the museum, or more independent and paid for by those on the tour.

I tried out a possible format and approach yesterday, at Tate Modern, coinciding with the Rise for Climate rally outside it. I set up an Eventbrite page with free tickets, limiting it to a small number of 20 people, and it sold out.

The rally was intended as a creative activism event. An art toolkit offered many tips and templates for the 100s of worldwide rallies, around the symbolism of the sun for renewable energy, and an orange cross for an end to fossil fuels.


I identified myself as guide by wearing Olafur Eliasson’s Little Sun solar light, an artwork/social enterprise supported by Tate Modern as a legacy of The Weather Project, which had filled the Turbine Hall with a strange mirrored sun, and turned it into a kind of beach.

The tour was a 90 minute session, exploring the building and its history, the cityscape, the institution and its interpretation, and a series of artworks as stimuli for conversation. It included two symbolic risings, or mindful climbs up the Blavatnik building and the Boiler House, before joining a third rising – the rally outside.

We began in the Turbine Hall, with an overview about Bankside Power Station and its conversion into Tate Modern:

Tate Modern is iconic for its re-generation of a building from a redundant industrial technology to promote the new future-facing economy of creativity and art. However, the oil industry is still in receipt of massive public subsidy and continues to provide the bulk of our energy, despite this industry being fully aware of the facts of climate catastrophe and its contribution to it. Public spending on Culture (and recreation/sport/media) in the UK is the second lowest in the EU, despite being the 5th (now 6th) largest economy in the world.

Public money – donations in the Turbine Hall

Bankside was generating power from 1891 to 1981. At first, it lit street lamps, and then supplied printing presses in Fleet Street. It’s located on the river to use its water for cooling. (We talked about the location of all four Tates right by tidal waters, that the impacts and imminence of rising sea levels were known while all buildings have been expensively revamped. Yet, very few could foresee quite how quickly the permanent Arctic ice is melting. How are museums like Tate making contingency plans for these impacts?)

The power company had often been fined for creating a smoke nuisance, so later they also used Thames water to filter out the pollution. They used 10 million gallons of water an hour (!) and ended up polluting the river. By the 1930s it was considered inefficient and polluting, and in 1948, after a coal shortage and the nationalisation of the electricity industry, the power station was converted to use oil, the first in Britain. It was redeveloped, and the new building was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, known for designing the red telephone box and Battersea Power Station. Oil was shipped by barge from the Shell Haven refinery. The oil tanks held 4000 tons of oil, now ‘The Tanks’, holding art installations.

Tate display: Poster of Beuys event in Scotland.

In 1973, Britain experienced the oil crisis when Arab countries imposed an oil embargo. This triggered a stock market crash, rising inflation and food prices, and unemployment. It also triggered an interest in sustainability and growing your own food, and the Ecology Party (now Green) was born. The Government meanwhile poured money into North Sea oil rather than the new renewables available. Due to oil prices and its location, Bankside became too expensive, so it was disused. In 1994 Tate announced plans to turn it into an art gallery. In 2006, EDF passed the switch house over to Tate and the new Blavatnik building opened in 2016, the same year they announced the ending of the sponsorship arrangement with oil company BP.

Time and clocks was an undercurrent theme for the tour: How much time do we have? What do we do first? What really matters?

As more was understood about the devastating impacts of climate change, its direct link to fossil fuels, and the  impacts at extraction sites, there was growing protest about oil companies, who in turn used sponsorships as a way to seek Social License to Operate. BP sponsored Tate for 26 years, increasingly challenged by the Art not Oil coalition and particularly by the actions of one of its members, Liberate Tate.

It is very interesting then to consider that the new Switch House building is named for its main donor, Blavatnik, the richest man in Britain. His fortune is built on the oil industry, in part through a joint-venture between BP and a Russian oil company. He gave an extraordinary £50 million towards the largest ever cultural fundraising project in the country, at £266 million.

We passed this list of donors and these weather items in the shop, and entered the Blavatnik building.

The Clock is an artwork by Christian Marclay about time, coming soon
Another theme was stairs upwards; aspiration & rising. These go nowhere but show traces of the original working use of the tanks.

We visited Robert Therrien’s giant Untitled (Table and Four Chairs), in one of the oil tanks.

therrien hyperobject

We stood underneath this and shared how we felt: Small, powerless, like Alice in Wonderland, like a Borrower, subversive, not able to have a seat at the table. We discussed climate change as a hyperobject, unthinkably large and complex, and many ideas about scale and power.

We ascended some stairs

To Helio Oiticica’s ‘Tropicalia, Penetrables‘ installation from 1966-67 which is a very early example of participatory installation art by this major Brazilian artist (who died in 1980). Fittingly, his name Helio means sun. This piece enables the visitor to ‘penetrate’ it, to experience real lived objects, albeit out of a lived context in a gallery.

Walking on the sand

There is sand to walk on, colourful shack buildings, living plants, and a video of two parrots (which were alive in his original version). We talked about photosynthesis, the inclusion of plants in a museum that alter the controlled atmosphere, the poetry of the everyday, the deforestation of the Amazon and the museum-isation of the world.

Spectrum of Brick Lane

With David Batchelor’s stacked light piece, we discussed how he sees the world differently from Helio Oiticica, living in a different urban context. He responds to our environment being largely constructed from metal, plastic and artificial bright light. We talked about colour, and how our experience of colour has changed with technology, and the energetic requirements of a lit up world.

Jenny Holzer Artist Rooms

From here, we entered the Artist Rooms display, to consider how Holzer perceives the contemporary environment as constructed from words or information, which frazzles and disconnects our emotional response to it, and also conditions our thoughts. We sat on one of the marble benches, onto which were etched the words ‘My fear grows more powerful with every second. I am powerful like a second of fear. I am the universe’. This was stimulus for a wonderful discussion about the dissonant and shifting perceptions of time, scale and one’s power, when living daily with a climate-changed world. This led to talk about the role of fear in communicating climate change, and how this translates to education and talking with children. We also touched on Holzer’s work about war, e.g. some words ‘The beginning of the war will be secret’, and whether we are already in a hybrid war waged through information manipulation.

Monika Sosnowska, Pavilion

This piece led to discussion about architecture, Communism, people-power, and collapse. It refers to the artist’s experience in Communist Poland, where architects such as Oskar Hansen expounded about Open Form Theory, a position that defines your relationship to reality, and the idea that people would humanise and evolve a simplistic or brutal environment. Although this ideal still informs participatory art and architecture, the artist felt it didn’t work in her reality, and represents the collapse that she experienced in modernist urban environments. We talked about climate-linked collapse, top-down utopianism, Buckminster Fuller and biomimicry.

Tate Exchange current project

We then began our ‘mindful climb’ – being aware of our bodies as energy convertors – up to the viewing floor. (Most chose to take the lift, but some of us passed Tate Exchange, and remarked that this current project about production indicates how the environment is so often erased – as all the banners are about humans and society).

st pauls
St Pauls cathedral from the viewing platform

At this level, we considered the building as an artwork, the symbolism and function of the single tower opposite the dome of St Pauls. We talked about Canary Wharf, the rash of towers enabled by foreign investment, the role of oil and other natural commodities in fuelling the financial industry. We also talked about St Pauls as a symbol of resilience against fire and the Blitz, and its links with justice campaigners.

After making a symbolic descent in lifts to ‘zero’, thinking of zero carbon…

…we then used escalators to rise up a second time, but only as far as the Artist and Society display, as we were running short on…time. We had been intending to pop into the Weimar Germany display to look at a painting of Krupp’s arms factories, for a reminder about links between oil, arms and viscissitudes of the economy.

Toguo, Purification

We had to stop at this marvellous work by Bartelemy Toguo, an artist from Cameroon. It depicts African people tortured, poisoned and in all manner of ways afflicted by abuses of human rights. The writing on the piece is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Toguo wishes to see a regeneration of culture, a more ecological and just revival. Although the label didn’t reference this, the flowing interaction between blood and green/grey colours relates to his interests in the interconnectedness between life forms, both human and more-than-human. This relates to his concern about deforestation and extraction of raw materials in Africa. We talked about the impacts of climate change on people in the global South, and its links to ecocidal extraction and colonialism.

Writing to Tate, next to Beuys’ blackboards

Our final stop was with Joseph Beuys, looking at his blackboards from his Information Action performed in the Tate in 1972. He had become more involved in Green politics, and art as eco-social sculpture, and he founded a group dedicated to direct democracy through referenda. We touched on how the referendum to leave the EU had perhaps not justified Beuys’ utopian thinking on this, partly due to the interferences of interests of those who want to do away with environmental and human rights and protections. The writing on these blackboards seems incomprehensible so we talked about how we communicate complex ideas such as climate change.

During this action, the audience voted on whether it was anti-democratic for him to keep the microphone. We finished by talking about power, voice and institutions. Had I talked too much? I handed out cards provided by Tate inviting our feedback, and suggested they could write anything, perhaps about how Tate might better reflect that we live in a biosphere, at a time of climate breakdown, and the problematic history of the building.

We then went off to have lunch and to join the rally…to try to speak the truths of climate breakdown and the necessary action we must take to those in power.

Here are some more photos from the day.



Collecting climate music

One of the collections of Climate Museum UK is songs and compositions about climate change (and the wider planetary crisis).

It feels important to capture the musical response to the unfolding planetary emergency. The artists gathered in this list might be commissioned for new works. Researchers might use this collection to inform research on music & arts about the environment. These songs can provide solace or inspiration, or be sung in protests or performances.

In creative guide for the #RiseforClimate day of action (8th Sept ’18) Lu Aya of the Peace Poets has shared some ways that music can be used in movements for climate action and justice: Gathering, Grounding, Focus, Energising, De-escalation, Grieving, Bonding, Moving, Transitioning: Escalating, Accompanying, Channeling, Messaging, Transforming, Beauty, Rage, Love, Connectedness, Purpose, Closing.

In total, there are around 623 songs, and growing.

Most of the songs are on the following Spotify links:

The main playlist: Climate Change

Another playlist is Extinction and endangered species – which is also useful for Remembrance Day for Lost Species

Here are some general songs about the environment, ecology and planet Earth

Some songs inspired by the Dark Mountain Project, facing darker futures or collapse.

And in addition, songs about rain, about sun, about forests and trees, and about animals

Other things shared with me, not on Spotify, include:

The above playlist is of music produced by the duo ‘Decades After Paris’ in chronological order of the place each song has in the story. The 2015 album tells a story of our future with climate change, starting at the NYC People’s Climate March in 2014. Subsequent releases contribute to this story, at different parts of the timeline. The latest piece, Apocalypse Sky was a response to forest fires in 2017.

Composer Jonathan Dove, who went on Cape Farewell’s expedition to West-Greenland in 2008, launched a work named Gaia Theory for a symphony orchestra which was premiered during the BBC Proms 2014. Inspired by the work of James Lovelock and continuing Dove’s concern to address environmental issues in his music, Gaia Theory takes as its starting point Lovelock’s idea that the Earth behaves as a self-regulating organism, and his description of all the inter-related processes maintaining the earth in the optimum conditions for life as a kind of dance.

Aslak Grinsted is a climate scientist who makes music when he’s on location in Greenland doing his research.

You can see the Twitter thread where people shared many suggestions here.

Comment on this post or email on if you’d like to add a track to the collection.


Notes on the 1st prototyping workshop

Screenshot 2018-07-29 14.34.37

It’s been over a week since the first prototyping workshop at Toynbee Studios on 20th July. I promised to write a blogpost but the session was so rich with ideas and questions, thanks to the expertise and creativity of the participants, I’ve spent the week cogitating (and working on other projects). Here are a few of the cogitations it stirred:

  • What comes first? Forming an organisation with clear objects, policies and sources of support, and a bigger group of people around me, or a working prototype for a mobile museum that tries out methods as a way of building that support and forming those policies?
  • How to ethically develop and sustain an organisation that focuses on climate justice, in a time when it is clear that the climate is breaking down earlier than expected? In some ways, it is the most direct response one could make to this emergency but it also gives pause, in terms of not wanting to exploit anybody’s experience for potential gains that are not evenly distributed.
  • How to involve more people directly affected by climate injustices and historical inequalities in the prototyping process? Or, whether taking the working prototype on the road, if partners and communications are well chosen, would achieve this?

The workshop was in four parts:

  • Getting to know each other, exploring personal and communal interests in the Climate Museum. Presenting the background and brief
  • Exploring and generating questions that might help people engage with climate change, using clay (made from paper) to make an object to help ‘hold the question’
  • Working in groups to make structures or visual ideas for an installation
  • Reviewing and discussing issues and next steps.


These are the questions that were shared:

  • How do we talk about the future shape of the UK after rising seas
  • Is it inevitable that many species will go extinct, and does it matter? 
  • How could we imagine a future which isn’t stranded by what we want to revive from our past?
  • What does progress look like if you factor in climate change?
  • What is normal?
  • How do we make sure questions and answers aren’t dominated by white privilege?
  • Who is ‘we’?
  • How do we ensure those imagining climate futures intersect with those more directly experiencing climate change in the present?
  • What is the food of the future?
  • What if we see the atmosphere as a peeled off orange skin, partly protecting but partly fractured?
  • How do I know what is the right thing to do? How can I live my best life? 
  • How do you find space in every day life to address climate change?
  • Do we have to go back in time? How do we talk about it without people feeling that things are taken away from them that they enjoy?
  • How do we find the solution inside the problem?
  • How do we measure our footprint fully and easily?
  • How do I live a good life in an ecocidal culture?


The installation ideas

Group one (prompt – ‘past, present and future’)

  • A structure for allowing visitors to frame and reframe the past, present and future
  • An extendable table to allow more content to be revealed from either the past or the into the future
  • Familiar objects: tables, cushions, knitting 
  • Lucy shared a stimulus object she had made  – a 3D fox in a boat (see below)
  • Hilary shared some old board games
  • Who is left behind if we escape to other planets? (Other species and most people)
  • The future is here just not evenly distributed, both in terms of its horrors and its benefits
  • The future is open
  • Layers and different depths for different people 

Group two (prompt – ‘intersectionality’)

  • Structure that enables conversation between different voices, like a web of strings with tin cans, like ‘tin can telephones’
  • Involve more identities in the prototyping stage
  • Encourage dialogue
  • Leave space for it to evolve
  • Don’t ask questions if you aren’t going to answer. What happens to the responses?
  • Not trying to tell stories but to listen
  • Who is listening? The museum is not a person
  • Is the listener another audience member?
  • Questions could be collected from everywhere, so that visitors start to make a map

Group three (prompt – ‘the Kubler-Ross change curve’)

  • Structure: Make it easy for people to find and enter, and then through the experience to emerge with something (peace, clarity, agency)
  • Invite people inwards
  • A mirror reflecting ‘you’ to make it obvious who it is for
  • Playful e.g. tree climbing, sticks, rhythm
  • Intriguing objects, left behind items, curiosity
  • Tactile and thoughtful
  • Dissolving the normal rules of a museum
  • Include a structure with extending bits e.g. pulling signs out of a stand to learn more
  • Crazy mirrors
  • Natural world element materials like grass under your feet or a natural textured wall, materials gathered from each place e.g. Like the clay or soil 
  • Sounds and music
  • Remove your shoes
  • Give and take away. Can take something with you, exchange ideas, and leave objects
  • Connection to natural world

Group four (prompt – ‘an expanded perspective’)

  • Structure inchoate and webby because climate change is a hyper-object
  • Enabling you to make connections between you and the others
  • A safe space for tackling the messy and complex issue
  • Layers of information around a central object, so that visitors can add to it
  • Climate change as a hyper-object (e.g. like London is a hyper-object. You don’t need to know every road to know London)
  • It can be seen as an interconnected map of everyone who has interacted with it


Summing up

  • These four ideas could form a possible brief for the first iteration of a working prototype to try out with some groups this Autumn
  • Key principle: Involve and evolve
  • Consider who is listening to the questions? Mainly conversations between participants? Is the museum listening? How are people’s stories honoured and useful?
  • Frame and re-frame: Make clear there is no single truth, no authoritative story of past, present and future
  • Connections: To you, to place and to world
  • The need to give choices to different audiences: Layers, different ways in, depth, tempo

Next steps

  • Clarity on the structures: The business? The physical manifestation? A development plan?
  • Test, research, and ask people how they feel about climate change. Start small and simple e.g. with a chair
  • Climate cafe e.g. look at Death Cafe ask what brings you here, have climate conversations
  • Produce a small thing to start with and maybe add to it 
  • Think about climate as a hyper-object

Thank you very much to Judith Knight and Mark Godber for hosting us at Toynbee Studios. Thank you to everybody who attended and shared ideas, including those that couldn’t make it but who also shared thoughts. If you think anything is missing or inaccurate from this very rough summary, please let me know.


As the world burns you have a choice

“Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water. Don’t sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet.” Carl Sagan

Sagan was alive at a time when clean air and water were more overtly pressing environmental problems than climate change seemed to be. (He died in 1996.) If he was alive today, he might have said “Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if your world is burning”. Hearing the testimony of a Greek father who had grabbed his family to escape the sudden raging wildfire about to consume his house, he had a choice, to stay indoors or run into the sea. He was still alive to tell the tale, so what do you think he did?

Most of us are not directly in the line of a wildfire, perhaps only breathing the smoke spread from massive fires in Siberia, or simply sweltering in the heatwave, but you also have a choice. You can stay as you are in the house, booking your next flight, lining up the next Netflix series, or you can — metaphorically — run to the sea.

Screenshot from

What does that mean? It means ‘planetising’ whatever cause you care about or whatever frame you see the world through. It means being ecocentric, seeing how we ARE nature and intrinsically entwined with other beings. It means being possitopian, neither dystopian nor utopian, but looking at the full range of possible scenarios and solutions in any situation (even as the negative scenarios expand and the positive options contract). It means zooming outyour perspective to see the whole planet and its operating system, the interactions of ice, ocean, atmosphere, biosphere etc, and looking at how this is severely disrupted. It means putting your head under the water and doing a deep dive into current climate science — not the out-of-date and cautious models that the IPCC and Paris agreement are based on.

And then it means, doing something. Whatever your means allow you to do. Many of the things you can do will also increase your means. If you stop flying, you’ll save money. If you waste less food, eat less meat and grow some of your own food, you’ll save money. If you generate your own energy, you’ll save money. But these things are not enough. Don’t just switch your energy supplier but switch your politics, your conversations, your business, your way of planning for the future.

Be anticipatory of many possible situations, and imagine yourself surviving them. If they frighten you, consider what you can do in advance to make the scenarios more survivable, and not just for your own family but for everyone.

This metaphorical choice between home and the sea is not in the same league as the choices you face as an individual consumer — whether to choose line caught fish or not, whether to refuse a straw.

“Society is not simply an aggregate of millions or billions of individual choices but a complex, recursive dynamic in which choices are made within institutions and ideologies that change over time as these choices feed back into the structures that frame what we consider possible. All the while, those structures are being disrupted and nudged and warped and shaken by countless internal and external drivers, including environmental factors such as global warming, material and social innovation, and the occasional widespread panic. Which is just to say that we are not free to choose how we live any more than we are free to break the laws of physics. We choose from possible options, not ex nihilo.” Roy Scranton, author of ‘We’re doomed, now what? Essays on war and climate change’

It is essential to join forces to make your actions bigger, and then to ask your politicians, your bosses, your media companies, and your local institutions to join forces to make their actions bigger. This means resisting the power of the international alliance pushing for the freedoms of the fossil fuel and ecocidal industries to continue business as usual, who are in charge of negotiations for Brexit, of the Whitehouse, and many more places and aspects of the global order.

Part of this resistance is about exposing wrongs and harms, and calling for justice. Another part is showing alternative ways of living — ways that are more regenerative, that protect and rewild the land and sea, and that are circular ecological by design.

Another part is to care for others— whether they are intimate with us or strangers, whether they are human or other species. We are all in the same boat of this burning world, but some are falling much quicker into the rough seas, losing their homes, being bombed, being forced into constant exile, or are being imprisoned or stigmatised or deported back to unliveable places.

All of these actions feel impossible. Putting your head under the water — your own and your loved ones’ heads — to escape a sweeping fire means putting yourself in a place you can’t breathe. But others came to rescue the people in the sea.

Until there is nobody left to care, and to care for, we have a choice.

Creatively stirring response to the climate emergency