Arts, Sciences and Climate Change

Within climate change debates, writers and scholars have called for expanded methods for producing science, for proposing strategies for mitigation and adaptation, and for engaging with publics. Arts–sciences discourses are one area in which increasing numbers of practitioners and researchers are exploring ways in which interdisciplinarity may provide a space for reconsidering the role of cultural and creative responses to environmental change. Yet what new perspectives does the arts–science intersection offer for rethinking climate change? Which historic conjunctions of arts–sciences are most useful to consider in relation to present-day practices, or in what ways do these previous alignments significantly shift in response to climate change?

The uncertainty, contingency, and experimentation necessarily characteristic of climate change may generate emergent forms of practice that require new approaches—not just to arts and sciences, but also at the new thresholds, or ‘meetings and mutations’ that these practices cross. Thresholds—narrated here through the figure of ‘zero degrees’—offer a way to bring together sites of encounter, transformations, uncertainties, future scenarios, material conditions and political practices in relation to climate change. Such shifting thresholds and relations lead not to fundamental re-definitions or demarcations of arts and sciences, arguably, but rather to shared encounters with politics.

Drawing on philosophies of aesthetics and sciences elaborated by Jacques Rancière and Isabelle Stengers, we point to the ways in which political possibility is entangled with aesthetic-material conditions and practices, and how recognition of these interrelations might enable ‘collective experimentation’ within both creative practices and climate sciences.

A Weather Permitting collaboration, published in Science as Culture (published online first, 14 April 2011; in print form, Volume 21,Issue 1, 2012).

An earlier version of this paper was also presented at the ‘Researching Environmental Change‘ workshop, 7 April 2009, hosted by the Arts and Humanities Research Council within the Landscape and Environment, Science and Heritage, and Living with Environmental Change program areas.

Image source: ‘Satellites witness lowest Arctic ice coverage in history’: Envisat ASAR mosaic of the Arctic Ocean for early September 2007. Credit: European Space Agency, ESA (14 September 2007).