Research & Programming Symposium 2011

Sydney, May 5-6 2011


Climate change is an environmental, cultural and political phenomenon that is reshaping the way we think about ourselves, our societies and humanity’s place on Earth. This symposium presents the research findings of the Australian Research Council international Linkage project, Hot Science, Global Citizens: the agency of the museum sector in climate change interventions along with other leading research to develop new knowledge about what constitutes effective action around climate change, the critical roles that institutions can play, visions for the future of museums and science centres, and innovative programming ideas. Participants can expect to gain new input from humanities and social sciences on how to communicate climate change and generate positive actions, and how to handle controversies and uncertainties around climate change.


Selected presentations are available to download as pdf's below. Podcasts of selected sessions are available in the Podcasts section. You can also download the Symposium Flyer and the Symposium Program.


DAY1, 5th May: ‘Hot Science, Global Citizens’: the agency of the museum sector in climate change interventions


Keynote address

Mike Hulme - School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia:

"Why we disagree about climate change" A problem to be solved or a creative opportunity?


Climate change is not “a problem” waiting for “a solution”.  Complex, or “wicked”, issues such as climate change do not get solved by doing better science or by finding technological fixes.  Rather, climate change becomes an idea and as it travels through our various social worlds it engages with the full parade of human endeavours, conflicts and imaginative creations.  Based on some of the ideas contained in my recent book, Why We Disagree About Climate Change, this lecture dissects this idea of climate change – where it came from, how we study it, what it means to different people in different places and why we disagree about it.  We disagree about the significance of the risks it poses.  We disagree about who is responsible for causing these risks.  And we disagree about what should be done about climate change – and by whom.  There is no single voice that speaks for climate.  The lecture also develops a different way of approaching the idea of climate change and of working with it.  Rather than seeing “stopping climate change” as the universal project around which the world must be mobilised at all costs, the idea of climate change gives us new resources – new insights, new vocabularies, new myths – which can be used creatively in our bewildering diversity of human projects.  We must use the idea of climate change to open up new spaces for dissent, innovation and change, rather than seek to align the world in search of one unattainable utopia.


Session 1.  New interventions and institutional forms in the future present: the potential agency of museums and science centres


Brett Neilson - Centre for Cultural Research, UWS

Changing Institutional Climates: Museums and the Global Governance of Climate Change

In the build-up to the United Nations climate conference held in Copenhagen at the end of 2009, Connie Hedegaard, the chairperson of the event and current European Commissioner for Climate Action, declared that any failure to reach a political agreement at this meeting would be ‘not just about climate’. Such an outcome, she said, would show ‘the whole global democratic system not being able to deliver results in one of the defining challenges of our century’. This paper interrogates the relevance of this statement for the global governance of climate change in the light of the outcomes of the Copenhagen conference. If the institutions that comprise the ‘global democratic system’ are inadequate to meet the challenge of climate change, what are the new institutional forms that must emerge to face this task? Focusing on the role of museums and their relations with publics, social movements and electronic networks, the paper suggests that the emergence of such new institutional forms requires mutual interactions between existing social institutions and decentralized networks committed to practices of social collaboration and political experimentation.


Scott East, Centre for Cultural Research, UWS

Affect as a modality for change

It is common to acknowledge that audiences connect with museums in various ways, but what does this mean for a museum seeking to be socially relevant? Museums often see their role as delivering quality information and education. Drawing on research around contemporary museum exhibitions, the paper explores the multi-sensory experiential spaces of these exhibitions where quality information and logic are only a few of the things at work. Engaging with the risky and fickle-world of responses requires active experimentation and responsiveness rather than a check-list approach of good practice. Provocatively the paper will suggest the space of museums already contains the directions needed for change.


Fiona Cameron - Centre for Cultural Research, UWS

From mitigation to creativity: the agency of museums and science centres and the means to govern climate change

Climate change as a complex, scientific, cultural, ideological, and trans-national issue poses a new set of challenges for museums and science centres as places to inform, and as information sources in debates and decision processes.  In this paper I draw on quantitative and qualitative research from the Australian Research Council funded Linkage project, Hot Science, Global Citizens: the agency of the museum sector in climate change interventions to interrogate the potentialities for institutions to operate meaningfully and in new ways in complex media ecologies and dense mediations of political, social, scientific discourses, and expertise.  In developing the concepts liquid governmentalities and liquid museums, I pose new leverage points for institutions to operate within these pluralistic and complex governmental assemblages from one of the production of science statements to reform behaviour, to systems of open peer review and as places for facilitating complex reflexivity and creative dispositions for the future in the present.


Session 2. Communicating climate change and the media – new models and modalities


David Karoly - Climate Scientist and Public commentato. School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne.

What does "public opinion" really say about climate change?

Newspapers play a key role in communicating information on climate change, as well as influencing public opinion. Newspapers also reflect public opinions and understanding of climate change through the Letters and Opinion pieces that they publish. We have investigated trends over 2006-2009 in public opinions on climate change in Australia through a content analysis of Letters and contributed OpEds published in five major Australian newspapers. The results show a broad spectrum of opinions expressed in items published in each of the newspapers. However, those in broadsheet newspapers generally agreed more with IPCC conclusions on climate change while those in tabloids or The Australian generally disagree. There was little trend in the level of agreement with IPCC conclusions on observed warming and its causes in most newspapers, except for increasing disagreement in OpEds in The Australian and Letters in the tabloids. There was a marked increase in the number of items published in The Australian in 2009 on this topic. There were similar levels of agreement with IPCC conclusions on impacts and future costs in all newspapers, apart from The Australian in 2009. It is likely that Letters to the Editor published in newspapers reflect polarised opinions and may be influenced by the selection policies of Editors. The changes found in 2009 in The Australian suggest a changing editorial influence.


Bob Hodge - Centre for Cultural Research, UWS

Beyond confrontation: the trialogue strategy for mediating climate change

Climate change is a highly complex problem, full of uncertainties and contradictions, yet many concerned citizens and experts feel we must act now. This dilemma pushes many to reduce awareness of complexity and use simple, linear models for public communication. This paper starts from the belief that this stance and model of communication is ineffective and counter-productive, at the same time as it betrays open-minded inquiry as a core value of science and museum intellectual practices. The paper explores trialogues as a solution to this dilemma. Trialogues break with the binary structures of polemic exchanges and set-piece debates to create open, exploratory exchanges. The HSGC team instituted a series of trialogues with its partner institutions. In each trialogue 3 people speaking from three perspectives - science, museums, communication - generated ideas around relevant museum objects. These trialogues became a laboratory for testing problems and solutions for museums thinking about climate change, valuable research data. They have also been edited by Dr Juan Salazar into short videos, each containing perspectives on objects from several museums, a form of virtual trialogue which partner museums may use as resources.


Juan Francisco Salazar - School of Communication Arts & Centre for Cultural Research, UWS

Museums as media: But what kind of media?

In recent years there is growing academic and professional interest in conceptualizing museums as media. This presentation instigates the proposition that museum and science centres function as media themselves as they serve as interpretive spaces for the communication and mediation of climate change science.  If so, the question that emerges then is what form of media? If museums and science centres are one possible answer to the challenge of communicating climate change, then what is the question? While mainstream commercial and public mass media constitute the main source of information and a most determining factor in the degree of awareness, concern and conscientisation by citizens about climate change, a lack of public understanding of climate change continues to be a major obstacle inhibiting action on climate change. By engaging with recent conceptualizations around participatory cultural/media practices, this presentation invites thinking into how museums and science centres can engage the technologies [media] and practices [mediations] through which these institutions can act as change-agents in fostering a new form of public pedagogy on climate change that incorporates differing civic epistemologies around climate change knowledge and action. Undoubtedly the role of digital media within museums, science centres and other cultural institutions has changed significantly in the past few years.  But in relation to the question of engaging publics in climate change action, there is still uncertainty of how social media can play a more fundamental role beyond offering the illusion of participation, access and creative content production.


Session 3.  Institutional cultures and institutional change: a response to the research

Emlyn Koster - President Emeritus, Liberty Science Center

I agree with Professor Hulme in his keynote that climate change obliges society to innovatively deploy new resources. Will the public institutions best equipped to explore the complex nature and multiple consequences of climate change for all stages of learning – i.e. museums of natural history, human history and science – become accountable? Exhibitions and programs delving into contemporary subjects have been slow to develop because, in addition to a collection-based historical focus, attendance remains a main performance measure and as a proxy for usefulness, and many funders have cautious approaches. Relevancy, although a popular term in discourse about museums, is seldom used with the full force of its definition which is about relating to the matters at hand. Given that museums exist to be places for reflection and inspiration, institutions are not justified in using it unless they tackle pressing contemporary subjects. Relevant museum experiences go beyond fostering an intellectual appreciation of content to stimulating new insights and behaviours. Their experiences could distinguish weather and climate, delve into government policy approaches to climate change, and illuminate the natural causes of climate change vis-à-vis the geologically instantaneous increase in anthropogenic causes. While the research community continues debating the details of climate change and geologists inch towards renaming the current epoch as the Anthropocene, there is no ultimately defensible excuse for museums – especially those with public funding – to hesitate.

Elaine Heumann Gurian - International Museum Consultant

Museums are only a small part of their local, national and global community. They can have a role to play that is both more important than they think and less important than they hope. Given the availability of technology to change information and work patterns new communities are constantly aggregating, disaggregating and re-aggregating. First there is currently an emerging organizational atomization that is allowing an organization to operate physically and virtually simultaneously. People are beginning to accept the differentiation between place and service. Secondly, because of the simultaneous delivery of service (virtual and actual), educational systems (using a topic like climate change) need no longer be delivered either by one organization or during any appointed time. The concluding idea is that the public in getting used to this trans-border mixture of services and information, and is beginning to accept complexity and variety as a legitimate amalgam associated with any civic need. Thus the distinction between formal and informal education will become obsolete as avenues for learning (that include multiple disciplines, cultural sensitivities, unexpected sources and points of view) become recognized as a holistic system. 


Session 4. CEO Roundtable

Dawn Casey PSM FAHA, Director, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
Frank Howarth - Director, Australian Museum
Professor Graham Durant -Director, Questacon


Session 5. Public Lecture


Professor Mike Hulme Re-Structuring Climate Policy for a Partisan Era

I suggest that our ultimate goal is not to ‘stop climate change’.  We have mistaken the means for the end.  Our goal is surely to ensure that the basic human needs of the world’s growing population are adequately met; that we move towards a development paradigm where we are living within our techno-ecological means and not beyond them; and that our societies are adequately equipped to withstand the risks and dangers that come from a changing climate - distinguishing whether those risks and dangers are natural or not is hardly the point. It is not more certain scientific predictions that we need; nor a charismatic leader to arise from ‘the east’; nor grand dreams of creating a global thermostat in the sky above.  It is what Sheila Jasanoff has referred to as the ‘technologies of humility’ – ‘disciplined methods to accommodate the partiality of scientific knowledge and to act under irredeemable uncertainty’ - that will offer us the best prospects for taming the risks of climate change.


DAY 2, 6th May: ‘Hot Science, Global Citizens’: the agency of the museum sector in climate change interventions


Session 1. Science, Engagement and Risk


Dr Saffron O’Neill - Department of Resource Management and Geography, University of Melbourne; with Professor Mike Hulme and Professor David Karoly

This panel will provide a provocation and discussion on creative opportunities and risks for museum/science centres programming on climate change, including opportunities across a range of media and some of the associated risks.


Session 2. Creative Agency

Giles Lane - Proboscis Creative Studio [UK]

Oblique Devices

In Proboscis' work we rarely address problems like 'Climate Change' head-on. As artists we feel empowered to raise questions but cannot claim to have definitive answers or solutions. Our practice is to entice, provoke, humour and challenge, not to preach or claim authority. However, change is a constant feature of history and how humans respond to it reflects our social and cultural adaptability, the dynamism and resilience of our cultures and civilisations. By creating projects that provoke dialogue within and across communities we hope to challenge some of the powerful, and often misleading, nostrums of our age; to pause and reflect before we commit ourselves to unequivocal outcomes. What we offer is critical dissent; what we hope is that people are inspired and empowered to shape their own responses, to weave their own patterns within the changes that surround them.


Wayne LaBar Vice-President, Exhibitions and Programs, Liberty Science Center [US]

Embedded Agency

Liberty Science Center, in 2007, underwent a major reinvention and renewal of its exhibition program that created over 5,000 square meters of new experiences. As part of the Hot Science, Global Citizens initiative it was not feasible to create a singular exhibition on the subject of climate change.  Rather than concentrating interpretation on the subject of climate and environment change in one specific exhibition the science center has, and continues to, weave this issue into exhibitions where feasible and where related to the interpretation of the subject.  Seeing as climate change and the impacts humans are making on the environment are a pervasive theme that threads through nearly all aspects of science, technology and society, this allows the institution to make relevant connections to  content and situations that may close to the visitor. Secondly it allows the pervasiveness of the subject to be seen. Accordingly, the subject has been presented in exhibitions: Skyscraper, Achievement and Impact, Our Hudson Home, and Breakthroughs.  As the science center moves forward with major aspects of green energy generation the story of climate change will take a more permanent presence on the floor. Example, challenges and future directions will be presented.


Declan Kuch - Australian Youth Climate Coalition

How campaigning at the UN Climate Talks is like being a kid in a museum

If recent academic work in the humanities is to be believed, there is a crisis of agency: politics is not just a matter of people because 'stuff', materiality and discourse act to structure our political institutions. So whilst meetings like 'Copenhagen' (COP15/CMP5) is often thought of as a social and political event - a meeting of leaders reducible to 'success or failure' - campaigners, lobbyists and negotiators were confronted with a labyrinthine material space designed to facilitate and perform negotiation for over a week. Drawing on my experience as a carbon markets campaigner with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition at COP15, I suggest that effective campaigning requires a certain playfulness with the design elements of the negotiating space. This means thinking beyond the instrumental mentality of 'hacking' the circulation of texts that structure this space (though I draw attention to some ways this facilitates effective campaigning). Rather, I draw attention to the ways climate negotiations (supposedly a place for politics) are structured like more familiar institutions, even museums (supposedly a place for science).


Tara Morelos - d/lux/MediaArts

Developments in digital and interactive technologies are providing us with a vast array of new possibilities for telling stories and communicating with audiences. The streets we walk through everyday are a living archive of urban affairs and human dramas– large and small, political and personal, tragic and comic– a virtual hive of untold stories laying in wait for activation. By combining GPS navigation with a historic map interface, archival photos and augmented reality elements, video reenactments, ambient sound and voiceovers, Museums can take their collections to the streets to create an extraordinary mobile learning environment for all ages. In February this year, d/Lux/MediaArts produced China Heart in partnership with The Powerhouse Museum to explore this potential for ‘excavating the archive’. The project included the development of a mobile app and mobile site, off and onsite exhibition of collection objects and historic images and a schedule of performances. Using China Heart as a starting point, this presentation examines the potential for location based storytelling to create meaningful learning experiences around climate change, where Museums and other learning centres have the potential to engage the community at a much deeper level by exploring issues and imagining possible solutions.

Seb Chan - Head of Digital, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney



Lynda Kelly - Manager Web and Audience Research, Australian Museum

Participants have opportunity to sign up to present – an idea, a program, a thought around climate change programming. Discussion roundtables led by provocateurs each around a number of themes including: institutions & social media; grassroots mobilisation & community networks; science communication; alternative reality gaming; sustainable institutions plus others that emerge from the presentations