Telling stories about transitions

Johannes Stripple, The Times of a Just Transition
Project status

Fundamental transitions are required in order reach a zero-carbon society. Grappling with this challenge requires not only action in the present but also that we consider the future in new ways. This sub-project rest on the assumption that activation of collective imagination of alternative futures plays a crucial role in sparking social change. New stories can emerge that reframe the realm of the possible.

Transitions to post-fossil futures are currently imagined through a range of different means, such as emission trajectories, energy scenarios, industry roadmaps, and long-term climate policy strategies. These have, however, largely failed to outline transitions in which people can imagine themselves as agents. Transitions thus become intangible, abstract, and out of reach for citizens and organisations. In order to make climate futures close, concrete and graspable there is a need for nuanced, place- specific stories about how our lives will change in the transition. There are repeated calls for encouraging the personal reflections and emotional encounters needed to foster climate action (Bulkeley et al., 2016; Callison, 2014; Head, 2016). This requires other kinds of work than assessments of the effectiveness of particular technological options, or the kinds of incentives that are needed to address short-term targets and timetables. What is required are compelling and engaging stories about just transitions and, above all, imagination of the possibilities of a meaningful life in a fossil-free future.

During the last years of work in the collaborative initiative ‘Narrating Climate Futures’ at Lund University, we have come to realise the importance of artistic methods and practices which provide speculative spaces that allow questions regarding transitions to be explored and articulated. A key initiative has been Carbon Ruins – An exhibition of the fossil era (1850 – 2050). Staged as a historic museum from the future, Carbon Ruins invites its visitors to imagine the transition to a post- fossil world. Through a range of objects, narratives, performances, and images, Carbon Ruins evidences how humanity finally responded to intensifying climate disruption and transformed society to liberate us from our dependency on fossil carbon.

The museum of Carbon Ruins premiered in April 2019 and toured as an exhibition in Lund for the rest of the year. Since its inception, the concept of Carbon Ruins has proliferated into new varieties. It currently exists as a physical mobile museum housed in a trunk, and as an audio guide in a downloadable digital app. It features as part of the exhibition Human Nature at the Museum of World Culture in Stockholm, and has been staged as a participatory theatrical performance in Oslo and turned into Carbon Ruins Scotland at the UNFCCC climate negotiations in Glasgow 2021. It has been used in teaching students at bachelor, masters and postgraduate levels, and been developed into a learning material for elementary and secondary school in collaboration with a large Swedish environmental NGO). A Carbon Ruins pilot process will open at Manchester Museum in the fall of 2022, and in the coming years many schools in Manchester will contribute with new objects and new stories to a large participatory exhibition at the museum. We are also open to facilitate a Carbon Ruins Museum in the Global South, knowing that the objects and stories that would emerge from such a context would be vastly different from the ones told in Sweden and the UK. The many different sites and varieties of Carbon Ruins provide ample material for studying and engaging with imaginative and narrative dimensions of transitions to sustainability. Carbon Ruins can be framed as public pedagogy that facilitates our temporal imagination.

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