How can scenarios of climate change prepare us for uncertain futures?

30 January 2018


Reported by Kasia Brzezinska, CSaP Policy Intern (Jan - April 2018)

In the second of the 2018 Climate Seminar series, Dr Renata Tyszczuk, a Senior Lecturer in Architecture at the University of Sheffield, took the audience on a voyage through the fascinating history of scenarios, showing how story-telling and the arts and humanities can support climate change research and leave us better prepared for uncertain futures.

Dr Tyszczuk began her presentation by tracing a history of scenarios, from sixteenth-century Italian theatre through Cold-War planning and Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove, to twenty-first century corporate strategy exemplified by the likes of Shell. She argued that how we have thought about scenarios for the future in the past, might help us to rehearse more effectively and help us to prepare better for the years to come.

We are living in a cautionary tale of our making.

Dr Tyszczuk then discussed the concept of the Anthropocene - the proposed epoch of significant human impact on the planet - and its implications. She recalled Jan Zarasiewicz’s chilling scenario of the future which, set 100 million years from now, tells of alien forensic geologists probing the fossilized remains of a long gone human civilisation.

Although climate scenarios have played an important role in climate research policy and communication, Dr Tyszczuk observed that these have tended to be dominated by the scenario technique of natural science and economics.

She highlighted that arts and humanities are an essential component of climate research, and made the case for scenarios as "a mode of story-telling in unsettled times, for uncertain futures". Dr Tyszczuk believes that scenarios as transformative stories could be a rehearsal space for the dramatic transformations that the Anthropocene identifies.

I want to think about scenarios as stories, fundamentally stories of change.

To this end, she presented the work of some of the artists involved in the Culture and Climate Change Scenarios Project as an example of sustained arts and humanities engagement in climate change.

Working in close collaboration with climate researchers, the artists explored the ways in which society might reimagine scenarios of climate change. These included the documentary and film making of Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping; the work of underwater visual artist and commercial diver, Emma Critchley; and a play by theatre director and dramaturg, Zoë Svendsen - We Know Not What We May Be.

Ultimately, Dr Tyszczuk noted that there is no knowing what the future holds. But she argued that scenarios are not about future-proofing, but about being "prepared to respond to what may come, while acting, responding, caring and repairing in the present".

A podcast of the seminar is available below:

Climate Seminar Series 2018

The Centre for Science and Policy is working with Professor Charles Kennel, Director emeritus at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, to deliver the 2018 series of climate change seminars hosted by Christ’s College.

For more details of the climate seminars, please click here.