Climate Change and the Museum sector Ten Reflections from the Hot Science, Global Citizens symposium
2011.05.18 00:47:21

[Article by Bob Hodge]

These ten points are intended to bring together many individual points made by various participants, organised to promote and integrate thought and action. Each point begins with a proposition, which is expanded into a brief discussion, followed by ideas for and about museums and science centres as sites for action. The reflections draw on Symposium contributions from Fiona Cameron, Dawn Casey, Graham Durrant, Seb Chan, Elaine Heumann Gurian, myself, Frank Howarth, David Karoly, Lynda Kelly, Emlyn Koster, Declan Kuch, Wayne LaBar, Giles Lane, Tara Morelos, Brett Neilson, Saffron O'Neill, and Juan Salazar, with special thanks to Mike Hulme.

  1. Climate change is too important to deny, too complex to reduce to a single analysis or problem.
    Climate change is a vast, complex, heterogenous set of phenomena. It presents challenges and invites solutions over many scales of time and space, from personal to global, from the Earth's past to humanity's future. It involves many components and aspects, impingeing on biological and social life, economics, politics, and culture, stretching all disciplines beyond current limits. Those who reject its scale and importance are living in denial, but advocates of a single analysis and solution also fail to recognise the scope of the challenge.
    Museums should not aim at one definitive exhibition, to be repeated for the rest of the century. Different analyses of 'Climate change' may generate a continuous series of different exhibitions, creative responses to emerging senses of 'Climate Change' and what can be done.
  2. The museum sector needs to draw on its heterogeneity to respond to the challenges of Climate Change.
    All museums and science centres have their own histories, traditions, resources and connections, differences as well as links, which are part of what they bring to the task.
    'Classical' forms co-exist with 'new' ('second'/ 'third generation'), added or grafted on to allow new complex strategies. Museums old(er) and new(er) can be 'safe places for unsafe ideas'. Museums need to integrate old and new in strategies to excite, engage and inform citizens.
  3. Climate change is multi-scalar in space and time, and needs a multi-scalar response.
    Climate change and responses to it are aspects of a linked phenomenon, yet local sites and personal spheres of action have their own features. Geological time is hard to see or represent as an experience. The future does not yet exist, and is even harder to represent or experience. To be moved to act on Climate Change, citizens and scientists alike must 'see' across all these scales, able to put past, present and future together, personal circumstances and neighbourhoods, the fate of their country and the planet. A strict definition of 'climate', contrasted with 'weather', is a problem in practice for many citizens, who feel they understand weather but not 'climate'.
    If visitors respond to 'weather' but not 'climate', then 'weather' in all its changes over many scales of time and space, including extreme events, can make climate change threats and responses more vivid and comprehensible. Museums operate in many different spaces, which can act in systematic ways on and in multi-scalar space.
  4. Climate change responses should be polycentric, using networks.
    Faced with the complex, dynamic challenges of climate change as interlocking environmental, social and political forces, institutions and agents of change need to be able to adapt rapidly across different scales, to identify new allies and resources to cope with new or old problems. Networks allow relations across the vast social and physical distances that need to be recognised and incorporated into cohesive responses.
    Museums are already network organizations, but this capability will grow more diverse and extensive, able to include many who are currently excluded.
  5. Climate change responses need porous boundaries, 'liquid' organizations and 'clumsy' solutions.
    Conceptual walls and barriers as well as physical walls and barriers need to allow and negotiate flows and exchanges in dynamic systems. Solutions need to be provisional, right for problems as they present. Distinctions between inside and outside museums, visitors and other citizens, local and overseas, younger and older, more or less well-educated, from different cultures and backgrounds, need to be better recognised and managed.
    Most boundaries that museums recognise will still exist in some form, but all can be negotiated to better serve the role of museums as agents of change. In order to respond like this, museums and the sector will need to rethink many assumptions and forms of organization.
  6. Engaging citizens needs 'thick' communication, interaction, dialogue, trialogue, not monologues from the powerful.
    The authority that science and museums once relied on can be counter-productive if the task is to empower new generations. It can alienate, rather than generate trust. New media alongside old can enrich the range of means of communication, but only if the form and intent of the communication is democratic and respectful. Dialogic models lead to mutual change over time. Trialogic models expand the awareness of social complexity at every level. Scientists can be consciously aware of and learn about museum perspectives and the needs of publics, and publics given insights into the distinct perspectives of science and museums.
    Exhibitions can have a clear focus but not a single message. Planning, designing and changing exhibitions and displays should be informed by many voices organised as trialogues. Kinds of media, collections, written texts and electronic media should interact with each other. On-site, off-site and on-line sites should be in a trialogic relationship.
  7. A dirty war has been declared, but it should be resisted not fought.
    Vested interests with access to huge political, organisational and media resources have perverted the debate about climate change and the role of museums and science, on a scale that shocks scientists and museum staff who believe in the power of reason and respect for truth. Spokespeople are threatened, specious arguments are presented as truths, and lack of logic proclaimed as superior reason. Yet in spite of the temptation, adopting the same standards or ignoring 'sceptics' is counter-productive. It gives them a free hit.
    Incorporating these voices in the space of museum is a risk that needs to be taken. Good scientists are the true sceptics. This complex point must be made, in publicity and exhibitions.
  8. Give art a go.
    Art can be ten years ahead of the curve, engaging with new media as well as old. Its oblique communication gets highly complex messages across. Feelings, emotions and affects play a complex role in the dynamics of human action, in science and museums as in other spheres. They can be mobilized though art and other strategies to connect with imagination and creativity.
    Museums need to offer less information, richer experiences. The emotions they aim at should have range and balance, including joy, wonder and delight, not just pressing the buttons of fear and guilt. The artists who produce such valuable experiences should be used more, and paid better. Arts organizations and museums can be partners in a climate change strategy.
  9. Build new relations to new publics.
    Climate change is everybody's business. Science and the museum sector need to address the exclusions that have been part of their history and identity, which still continue in spite of many efforts. This is a task for new media, including the social media, plus concerted efforts to go beyond the walls of museums. It requires a broader idea of citizenship, including marginalised citizens and indigenous people in Australia and elsewhere.
    The current museum sector is better positioned to respond to this challenge than it has ever been, but there is still much to do.
  10. Real change, deep and sustainable, is still the agenda.
    Recognising the complexity and multi-scalar nature of Climate Change is not giving up on climate change action, but a way to build more effective responses, understood and endorsed by many more people and groups. Achieving real change needs real pressure, exerted on those with effective power. The status and authority of science and scientific institutions as of the museum sector have influence, but so far have not translated into policy action. Science is important, but not 'scientism' (exclusive reliance on the authority of science), nor 'economism' or 'technologism' (similar exclusive reliance on economic or technological fixes). The museum sector is not autonomous. It has to heed the views of funding bodies. Governments listen, but only to matters within a limited range. Big business exercises power through many means, including ownership and influence of media, lobbying and dirty tricks. Effective strategies may have to rely on 'stealth advocacy' to some extent, but safety and influence come from mobilizing networks and alliances across many groups, in a movement too broad, diverse and strong to be denied.
    Sustained change requires museums and others to build coalitions and diversify forms of action, addressing and changing deep frames, shifting tectonic plates of public opinion rather than winning a particular debate or mounting one successful exhibition.

Tags: #hotscience | climate change | hot science global citizens | reflections | Bob Hodge

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Public Lecture: Restructuring climate policy for a partisan era
2011.05.04 06:31:39

Professor Mike Hulme, Restructuring climate policy for a partisan era

Thursday 5th May

Turner Hall, TAFE, Maryann Street, Ultimo

5.30pm Drinks, 6pm Lecture


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.

Tags: #hotscience | climate change | Mike Hulme | hot science global citizens

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Affect as a modality for change
2011.05.04 06:05:00

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.

Tags: #hotscience | climate change | hot science global citizens

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Museums and the Global Governance of Climate Change
2011.05.03 21:24:34

Associate Professor 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.

Tags: #hotscience | climate change | hot science global citizens

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Why we disagree about climate change
2011.05.03 21:21:25

Our Symposium Keynote speaker, Professor Mike Hulme, University of East Anglia

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.

Tags: #hotscience | climate change | Mike Hulme | hot science global citizens

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What is an unconference?
2011.02.17 05:10:05

Wikipedia says that an unconference is “... a conference where the content of the sessions is created and managed by the participants, generally day-by-day during the course of the event, rather than by one or more organisers in advance of the event.” From what I’ve been given (thanks to tweets from @russmaxdesign, @NancyProctor and @Timh01) they appear to happen at webby-type events within  a set structure. Dave Briggs’ presentation about how to run a unconference, says that: "Unconferences are what conferences are like when you view then through the filter of the web. They’re open, social and collaborative. The best bits of traditional conferences are always the coffee breaks. Unconferences make the whole event a coffee break. Unconferences are usually


without an agenda


organised by someone who’s enthusiastic ...”


I’m planning to run the second day of the Symposium as a modified version of an unconference. My initial thoughts are:


  • Build discussion leading up to the event (via this blog and Twitter)
  • Offer participants a two minute opportunity to present any thoughts, ideas, experiences around climate change and museum programming (they sign up for this)
  • Presentations
  • Choose some themes that capture our imagination and that arise from the discussions and Day 1
  • Have series of roundtables where these themes are discussed (plus any others from the presentations)
  • Each table has a leader who takes notes and keeps discussion moving
  • Report back
  • Do it all again!



By the end of the session we could have a series of projects that we could move ahead with – some may be collaborative, others become funding proposals, etc etc.

We do need to keep in mind that the day is experimental, not directed and not stress about that.

Be keen to hear your thoughts…


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