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Author: Joe Smith

A rare exchange between science and the arts

Updated Thursday, 25th September 2008

Joe Smith sets the scene at the Science Museum before joining the Arctic climate change expedition

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Later today I’ll travel with a group of musicians and other artists and a team of scientists to the west coast of Greenland. The Cape Farewell project has been taking creative people to the Arctic since 2004, and this trip has a particular emphasis on musicians (the crew list reads like a CD collection). The charge of ‘climate tourism’ is never far away, but at the launch event at the Science Museum KT Tunstall did a tidy job of explaining why she felt it was important to get to grips with the science, to see some of the evidence first hand, and to see what being holed up for ten days with 40 creative people would do to inspire her own work.

KT Tunstall and David Buckland at launch KT Tunstall and David Buckland

Some people have seen this project as a simple channelling of science information to the public via the arts. That misses the point. ‘Art as communication’ generally produces bad art and poor communications. No, this rare exchange between science and the arts comes at a time when humanity is trying to radically revise its sense of its place in the world. The work produced by the dozens of creative people in the wake of these trips must represent the richest body of cultural work responding to climate change that exists.

It’s a huge task, and one that is going to need everything that human creativity can throw at it.

This cultural work around climate change is essential if we are to make sense of the issue and be equipped to cope with it. ‘Coping’ means both reducing emissions of carbon dioxide (mitigation) and learning to adapt to the environmental changes that past emissions have already locked us all into. It means bringing the future and the non-human natural world into our politics and ethics. It’s a huge task, and one that is going to need everything that human creativity can throw at it.

That’s enough about the biggest challenge facing humanity – what about ME? My own mission on the trip is to make a bundle of multimedia resources for a new Open University environment course (launching in 2009). We’re just finishing a textbook about different ways of knowing about environmental change that is set in the Arctic. The co-authors are earth scientist Mark Brandon and cultural geographer Matthew Kurtz. Thankfully they know 100 times more about the Arctic than me. They’ve promised to answer questions and throw in their own comments on the blog over the next two weeks.

There are plenty of things to be anxious about: seasickness, cold and wet; will the video and recording kit perform? Will someone make me sing in front of strangers for the first time in three decades? And of course there is the news headline from yesterday running: Green idealists most likely to take long haul flights says study. We’ll all have to work our (several pairs of) socks off to make the substantial fossil fuel burn worth it.


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