Part I: Reflections on Artistic Collaboration, Interactive Citizenship and Indigenous Cosmologies
Uncertainty about what the future might hold, hasn't stopped decision-makers, economists, corporations and artists – often for various and often opposing reasons – from trying to catch glimpses of the future. Since 2016, Polish and British duo Lena Dobrowolska and Teo Ormond-Skeaping have been making creative attempts to imagine climate changed futures with speculative documentary film and photography, in their multimedia project called Future Scenarios.
Their practice not only looks at local and global responsibilities and vulnerabilities related to climate change and justice, but it also attempts to reveal the pervasive power structures and dynamics within the discourses that shape the way we imagine the future, as well as those in their own artist film and photographic work.
In their two-part-contribution for Trigger, Dobrowolska and Ormond-Skeaping look back on the making of the project. They examine how it evolved in dialogue with interdisciplinary researchers focused on climate change. They reflect on how it dealt with conceptual problems and clarifications while trying to avoid the mechanics of othering. Most of all, they discuss how they learnt from people dealing with climate change in the Global South, including Indigenous communities, community leaders and local and national governments in Bangladesh, Nepal, Lao PDR, The USA and Uganda. Over the course of their analysis, it eventually becomes clear that only decolonized scenarios offer a just and habitable future.
Part I of their conversation is dedicated to ‘scenario thinking’ and how the methodology came about. They first discuss its origins and how it was used and abused by corporations such as Royal Dutch Shell and organisations like the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change. They then peer into alternative scenarios by recounting their own experiences with socio-economic -ecological models they’ve come across in the Global South including Indigenous cosmologies.
Part II, which will be published on Friday March 12 2021, is an auto-reflexive conversation regarding documentary practice, interactive citizenship, image ecologies and their own positioning within Future Scenarios.
Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping
What If, What If, What If…?
Teo: If we knew exactly what the future had in store for us – let’s say for argument’s sake that the Earth was going to be instantly annihilated by a colossal asteroid at exactly 11:32 and three seconds on Wednesday, 4 June 2038 – many of us might consider getting out of bed in the morning to be completely pointless.We’ve intentionally adopted the positions of interviewer and interviewee as a pedagogical device to help us understand our own responses, help us question them, and give the reader an entry point into our thinking process.
Luckily, we don’t know what the future will be, which makes getting out of bed easier and, for better or worse, necessary, if nothing else just to run the daily gauntlet of bouts of optimism and pessimism about the uncertainty surrounding what the future may hold in store for us.
Lena: While, if you’re a creative practitioner or critical thinker, uncertainty could be considered a useful tool you can use to integrate or deconstruct assumptions. For the scientist, policymaker, economist and politician, uncertainty is something that needs to be managed.
Scenario thinking therefore, is one such methodology that helps us speculate on what the future may hold, and for the last four years, we’ve been working with the methodology to create a multidisciplinary project that explores a multitude of climate-changed futures and is called Future Scenarios. But how did we become aware of this methodology?
Teo: We became aware of and have been using the scenario thinking methodology since we were introduced to it by Professor Renata Tyszczuk, an an academic and artist whose work explores the relationship between global environmental change and provisionality in architectural thinking and practice, who, alongside geographer Joe Smith, mentored us throughout the Culture and Climate Change scenarios residency from June 2016 to May 2017.More on Culture and Climate Change Scenario Residency: http://www.cultureandclimatechange.co.uk/projects/
When introducing the concept, Professor Tyszczuk explained to us how ‘scenarios can be seen as rehearsal spaces for collective modes of acting on and thinking about uncertain futures’.‘How can scenarios of climate change prepare us for uncertain future?’, University of Cambridge, Centre for Science and Policy, 30 January 2018, http://www.csap.cam.ac.uk/news/article-how-can-scenarios-climate-change-and-story-telling/ Scenario thinkers, she explained, use ‘what if’ questions – such as ‘what if average global temperature rose by 3°C?’ – to stimulate thinking around the plurality of possible outcomes that may happen along multiple scenario pathways to the future.
Lena: Okay, so, for example, if the climate warms by 3°C in 2100, we may lose the Maldives because of the rise in sea levels, be plagued by malaria-carrying mosquitos in Europe and face food shortages and the extinction of polar bears. There might be colonies on Mars for a chosen few, and we would likely see mass migration across the Mediterranean as the expansion of the Sahara displaces an increasing number of people from Africa and conflict over water between China and India in Asia.
Teo: Yes, exactly, and this is where the collaborative bit comes in. You see, I’m now inspired to build on and expand your scenarios by thinking about how we might experience a rise in support for xenophobic right wing groups as a result of that future European migration crisis.
To put it simply, scenario thinking is about making things palpable. It’s not just about what could happen but what living in a given future might feel like, what actions or decisions we might be compelled to make and how our daily lives might manifest.
Besides identifying problems, scenario thinking is also about becoming aware of the need to do things differently so that we may avoid, mitigate or adapt to the difficulties revealed by speculating about ‘what if’ questions.
Lena: So, the ‘what if’ becomes a ‘how to’. Specifically, it’s a question of how to become aware of the potential side effects that might result from the strategies we may implement to deal with climate change, like geoengineering, how to include or exclude certain technologies, practices or policies to ensure the Earth remains habitable for future generations and how to minimise the impact of changes like a rise in sea levels.
Therefore, it sounds like the ‘what if’ questions and any resulting ‘how to’ thoughts are in many ways more important than the actual narrative outcomes of the scenario thinking exercise. I suppose this is because when we’re scenario thinking, we’re just speculating about a possible future, and as a result, we’re far less conservative about both what might happen and what might constitute a possible solution when thinking about a problem like climate change.
Teo: Totally, and this is very important for decision-makers, because unlike artists, they struggle to move beyond the constraint of things like budgets, political willpower and technological limitations.
A Brief History
Lena: But where does the idea and the term come from?
Teo: According to Tyszczuk, the term comes from a sixteenth-century form of collaborative Italian street theatre called commedia dell'arte in which troupes of actors were challenged to improvise performances based on sketches or scenarios.Renata Tyszczuk, ‘How can scenarios of climate change prepare us for uncertain future?’, University of Cambridge, Centre for Science and Policy, 30 January 2018, http://www.csap.cam.ac.uk/news...
Later, the term ‘scenario’ was used in Hollywood to describe the plots that screenwriters devised for films, which we now refer to as screenplays. And in the 1950s, during the Cold War, it was seized upon by Herman Khan, a futurist working for the Rand corporation as a military strategist concerned with thermonuclear warfare.
Khan, who was one of the real-life inspirations for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, pioneered a technique he called ‘future-now’ thinking. It combined detailed analyses with fictional stories with the intention of producing reports as if written by a future scientist, policymaker or mayor. Khan and his team of writers based their reports on difficult ‘what if’ questions, such as ‘if the Soviets strike New York City with a thermonuclear weapon, how could the city be evacuated safely on short notice?’
Khan intended his scenarios to provide the context and stimulate the thought processes that leaders might experience during a nuclear attack, which data and facts alone couldn’t. The term ‘scenario’ was suggested to Khan by his friend, Hollywood screenwriter Leo Rosten, as a way to ‘de-glamorise’ the concept, which Khan thought was important for two reasons. First, it allowed scenario writers to think freely about the future without having to worry about the moral, economic or scientific constraints of the present. Second, an adequate term was needed to frame the stories for military leaders so they wouldn’t discount them as science fiction or take them as definitive outcomes.
Scenario thinking has since been employed by a wide range of scientific disciplines and industries as a way of planning for a number of possible futures and managing uncertainties.
For example, since the early 1970s, corporations like fossil fuel giant Royal Dutch Shell have used scenario thinking for strategic decision-making.
When Pierre Wack, who was head of corporate planning at Shell, discovered that the oil industry was running on two very volatile assumptions: that oil would remain abundant and that prices would remain low. He presented Shell’s senior management with several scenarios that were intended to make them aware that the company needed to plan for different possible futures.
In one scenario, an accident in Saudi Arabia destroyed an oil pipeline thereby decreasing oil production and supply, which in turn raised oil prices, allowing nations for the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to deliver less oil to companies like Shell, but make more money.
As a result Shell’s senior managers decided to change the way they planned for the future and began to re-think those initial assumptions about oil. So when the 1973 OPEC oil crisis struck Shell was prepared and reacted quickly to minimise it’s financial losses which meant that it moved from being the eighth biggest oil company in the world to the secondin less than two years.Scenario Planning: A guide to using this strategic planning tool for making flexible,long-term plans, 5 February 2008 ttps://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/scenario-planning/evolution
From the 1960s to the present day, scenario thinking has also been central to climate change research and policymaking. Climate scientists and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change developed scenarios from data-driven models, drawing on hundreds of experts and powerful computers, to help us become aware of how we could mitigate and adapt to climate change. For example, the Paris Agreement’s Relative Concentration Pathway scenarios include six depictions of the probable impacts of a global average temperature rise between 0.3˚C and 4.8°C by the year 2100 while further indicating what emission reductions need to take place to stay on a given pathway.
Notably, scenario thinking in the field of interdisciplinary academic research also led to the Club of Rome’s 1972 Limits to Growth report, which presented a computer-aided simulation of several scenarios of exponential economic and population growth. The ground-breaking report concluded that unless humanity moves away from a business-as-usual scenario, the constant pursuit of growth would cause a relatively sudden and uncontrollable collapse of the economy, Earth’s ecosystems and human populations within a century.
Lena: The scary thing is that our knowledge of the non-viability of the growth-based economy and the resultant ‘climate mutation’Bruno Latour, ‘The Parliament of Things’, Radboud Reflects, 25 November 2020, video, 1:28:50, YouTube it’s caused haven’t changed dramatically since the 1970s, since which time political impotence, pro-corporate deregulation and campaigns of misinformation funded by the fossil fuel sector have hindered any form of meaningful progress on climate change.
Teo: You can lead a group of representatives to a UN forum, but you can’t make them sign and abide by a multilateral agreement to avert an apocalypse…
Lena: In what way has scenario thinking been used lately, then?
Teo: Most recently, scenario thinking has been used to map projected losses of life caused by Covid-19 at global and national levels. For example, governments and their scientific advisers have been asking ‘what if’ questions to determine which pathways we should take to get through the pandemic. They asked some of the following questions: should we impose a lockdown or not? Should we enforce stricter social distancing measures or not? If the R is 1 or less, will it stay that way if we lift the lockdown? And most importantly: under what conditions will a nation’s healthcare system become overwhelmed?
Flattening the curve became the ultimate objective once containment and elimination failed everywhere but places like New Zealand and Vanuatu. Decision-makers must now choose between doing nothing and different scenarios in which varying degrees of social distancing measures quickly or slowly send cases on a downward trajectory. Doing nothing which would send case numbers soaring, which would quickly overwhelm healthcare systems.
Lena: Okay, so like what’s happening right now in the United Kingdom.
Teo: Sadly, yes.
Lena: Although scenario thinking is intended to anticipate obstacles and forks in the road so we can avoid their potential dangers and make informed decisions about which direction to take, it sounds like such thinking may also be used to manufacture obstacles and delay or influence decision-making by those with foresight who wish to benefit economically for as long as possible before or during a transition or a crisis.
Teo: Arguably, yes. This is exactly what the likes of Shell are doing. They’re not asking ‘what if’ questions so they can save the world but instead so they can profit in new and unimaginable ways in the future.
Lena: You’re talking about how ‘it matters what ideas you think other ideas with’ and the way they influence scenarios.Marilyn Strathern in Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2016), 12.
Teo: Yes, exactly. The ideas, intentions and assumptions that you start with when scenarios thinking ultimately determine the scope, inclusivity and progressiveness of the scenarios you create. And in many ways, the scenarios we create reveal more about the outlook and intentions of the scenario thinker in the present than the future.
Another more complicated aspect of scenario thinking is that decision-makers have come to lean more heavily on dehumanising scenarios derived from data-driven computer-generated models instead of collaboratively generated compassionate scenarios that account for what people are learning on the ground, a shift that’s largely due to decision-makers believing one or both of the following: that they’ll generate more support from those whose interests they serve based on the perceived technical superiority of such models and/or that such scenarios are more objective because they’re based on data rather than experience, which they see as inferior to machine learning.
Lena: That means that companies like Shell could be perceived as using scenario thinking to gain some sort of purchase over the future by promoting their future scenarios and the technologies that feature within them as the only viable solutions to the climate crisis.This is something T.J. Demos pointed out to us when we briefly met in Santa Cruz in the summer of 2019. At the time, he was working on a large project called Beyond the End of the World: Approaches in Contemporary Art at his Center for Creative Ecologies, and in it, he spent some time exploring scenarios and their misuse. https://creativeecologies.ucsc...
Teo: Yes, worryingly so. Leaders with technocratic leanings increasingly promote scenarios as privileged knowledge of the future to assure their supporters, shareholders or constituents of success and dominance instead of taking them for what they really are: subjective assessments of the future.
With scenarios no longer considered as Khan intended – as aids to prepare us for an uncertain future – we’re increasingly finding that they’re thought of as sets of deterministic pathways from which we must choose the least worst option.
Lena: That’s like being asked how you would like to be oppressed in the future and giving you the illusion that you have a choice.
Teo: Arguably, yes, and it’s in this way that scenario thinking may in fact be misused to colonise the future and further suppress the voices of already marginalised Indigenous and minority communities and ecosystems as well as the voices of those advocating for a just transition from fossil fuel extraction to a carbon-negative economy.
For example, although Shell’s scenario team does point out in their 2017 YouTube video Navigating an Uncertain Future that ‘one way of challenging ourselves to imagine different scenarios is by becoming aware of, and understanding different and multiple perspectives’, the perspectives that Shell is talking about are limited to ecomodernist-typeEcomodernism is an environmental outlook centred around technological utopianism and geoengineering that postulates that humans should keep modernising in order to advert the climate crisis, protect nature and improve human well-being. Ecomodernism decouples human development from environmental impact. The Ecomodernist Manifesto can be read here http://www.ecomodernism.org/. For a powerful critique of ecomodernism, see T.J. Demos, Against the Anthropocene (Sterberg Press, 2017) 44–46. futures full of geoengineering and technocratic fixes, like carbon capture storage, that risk the moral hazard of assuming that negative emissions will be possible.Geraldine Wessing, ‘Navigating the Uncertain Future’, Shell, 10 December 2017, video, 4:31, YouTube Shell’s scenario’s team justifies its focus on ecomodernist-type futures by explaining (in the same video) how ‘scenarios can be considered memories of the future because thinking about the future uses the same part of the brain as thinking about the past or past memories’.Wessing, ‘Navigating’. As a result, Shell therefore believes that ‘thinking about the future is limited when we use past precedent to imagine it’.Wessing, ‘Navigating’.
Lena: Hold on before you get critical. This is correct in many ways. We’re experiencing unprecedented events like the climate-intensified super-cyclone Amphan. Therefore, looking at how we dealt with cyclones in the past might not be all that relevant because the climate-intensified hurricanes that we’re experiencing now have never happened before.
Teo: Agreed. But this aversion to past precedents is very problematic when we look at how we generate energy and run our economies. By discounting the past completely, Shell’s not only attempting to wash its hands of any responsibility for its contribution to the climate emergency, it’s also dismissing the idea that anything can be learnt from mistakes made during the extraction and consumption of its products. Arguably what’s most worrying is that Shell dismisses the role played by past knowledge and concepts of value that respect planetary boundaries, such as those found in indigenous cultures, which can help shape a habitable future. Check out Shell’s latest scenario Sky to see what I mean; it focuses on using risky new technology to meet rising energy needs while trying to restrict warming to 1.5°C rather than changing the way we consume things.
But perhaps what’s most alarming is that the states and corporations that favour the ecomodernist worldview place themselves at the centre of future governance or supply chains to ensure that they’ll be an essential part of any transition, while doing very little to protect the communities, species, ecosystems and geological bodies that will perform the labour and provide the resources in their version of the future.
Lena: So it sounds like, ultimately, we have to consider that these ecomodernist-type ‘memories of the future’Navigating an Uncertain Future, 11 December,2017, video, YouTube are being deployed not only to colonise the future but also to ensure the continuation of the derangement in which our current social and economic systems thrive.
Teo: Arguably so, and that derangement, otherwise known as ‘business as usual’ or ‘free market fundamentalism’, is something we wanted to allude to by coining and working with the term the ‘Capitaloscenary’ in reponse to term Capitalocene.
Film Still from Future Scenarios (2016-2020)
Future Scenarios, Exhibition documentation, Kunst Haus Wien Museum Hundertwasser, Vienna, Austria, 2019.
Lena: What’s Capitaloscenary? We need to start by discussing the Anthropocene thesis and how we came to use ‘Capitalocene’ instead. A lot has changed with regards to the critical thinking surrounding the Anthropocene thesis since we started working with it in 2015.
Teo: Yes, when we started working on Future Scenarios, we were using the improvised term ‘Anthroposcenery’, which was suggested to us by Tyszczuk, to describe the conditions of the human-induced geological epoch in which we now find ourselves.
But since working on the project, we've come to adopt the term ‘Capitaloscenery’ in response to work around the concept by T.J. Demos, Donna Haraway, Jason Moore and Andreas Malm.
We did so because, while the newly proposed geological epoch may officially be referred to as ‘the Anthropocene’, we feel that the term ‘Capitalocene’ is ‘a politically enabling geological descriptor’ that more aptly describes how the new epoch has come about through corporate globalisation or, more specifically, the extractive practices of corporations in pursuit of capital rather than through the actions of all humanity, which the word ‘anthropos’ (Greek for ‘man’) wrongly implies.T.J Demos, Against the Anthropocene. ( Sternberg Press, 2017)
Perhaps this can best be understood by looking at how the common ‘we’ of the Anthropocene inappropriately suggests that Indigenous peoples, impoverished communities and the vast majority of the inhabitants of the least developed nations are equally responsible for defining features of the epoch, like the climate crisis, when these communities are guilty of little to none of the extraction, subsidising and consumption of the fossil fuels that are required to run ‘Capitalocene enterprises’.T.J Demos, Against the Anthropocene. ( Sternberg Press, 2017)
By switching from ‘Anthroposcenery’ to ‘Capitaloscenery’, we’re directly referring to scenes that describe the circumstances typical of the condition and extractive practices of capitalism, which is responsible for Earth’s entry into our current geological epoch, the Capitalocene.
Lena: Okay, so how does the term ‘Capitaloscenery’ help us draw attention to and more readily discuss things like ecocide, slow violence, environmental racism and the climate apartheid?
Teo: Well, when we use the term ‘Capitaloscenery’, we inscribe the condition of inequality into our geohistorical outlook. In so doing, we can more easily acknowledge that we’re not all equally responsible for causing the combined climate and ecological crises and that some communities and nations are already experiencing loss and damageLoss and damage is a policy term defined in The Paris Agreement, which reaffirmed the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, Article 8 of the Paris Agreement, as the main vehicle under the UNFCCC process to avert, minimize and address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts, including extreme weather events and slow onset events. that is disproportionate to their contribution to total global carbon emissions. The term also helps us see that people who’ve been marginalised by the extractive practices of colonialism, capitalism and now neoliberal capitalism, such as Indigenous groups whose lands were stolen by colonial invaders, Black and ethnic minority communities who live in close proximity to hazardous industrial activity and nations like the Democratic Republic of Congo, in which a caustic colonial legacy has led to intra-ethnic conflict, will be most severely impacted by things like climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, economic downturns and ecocide, and that there is therefore a need for restorative justice to feature prominently in the scenarios that we allow to shape our future.
Indigenous Memories of the Future
Lena: However, there was something that we found interesting about Shell’s idea of scenarios being framed as memories of the future.
Teo: Yes, we took the idea of memories of the future, put it into the queer ecologyTimothy Morton, Queer Ecology, Cambridge University Pres, 2010, journal https://www.jstor.org/stable/2... blender and used it to refer to climate justice and Indigenous cosmology-based futures in which the limits of Earth’s ecosystems and its planetary boundaries will be respected. The result was the idea of Indigenous memories of the future.
Lena: Right, we were particularly looking at how Indigenous communities and those oppressed by the violence of colonialism, climate change, inequality and ecocide reflected on lived experiences to suggest ways of overcoming the ecological, psychological, bodily and geological stresses caused by the - violence as usual that defines the Capitalocene. So, what do these habitable future scenarios look like?
Teo: Indigenous memories of the future are indigenous cosmology-based future scenarios that provide us with an intelligent and compassionate rejection or critique of the values traditionally linked to progress throughout the later parts of the Holocene and at this moment in the Capitalocene.
Such futures do not necessarily require humanity to turn towards a form of ‘neo-primitivism, technological-primitivism or logical-primitivism’, as is often wrongly assumed, but instead suggest ways of moving towards economies and technologies that are sustainable by drawing upon pre-extractivist ideas like animism.Gene Ray, ‘Writing the Ecocide-Genocide Knot: Indigenous Knowledge and Critical Theory in the Endgame’, (2017) , published as part of Documenta14: https://www.documenta14.de/en/... Two such examples of socio-economic orders based on Indigenous cosmologies that could help shape habitable future scenarios are the Eco-Svaraj (Radical Ecological Democracy) practice of India and the Sumak Kawsay (Good Life) practice of Ecuador. Both of these examples are closely aligned with the principles of social justice, which they predate, and both suggest an alternative approach to extractivismOriginally, extractivism described a process in a natural habitat, and the word evolved from the Latin ‘extrahere’, meaning ‘to pull out’. It was previously used to describe the process of harvesting a tropical plant but has now come to describe a way of running the economy in resource-exporting countries, this because of the way researchers and economists in Latin American countries use it. ‘In general the term extractivism can be divided into the so-called “traditional extractivism” and into a new form called “neo-extractivism”; or in Spanish “neo-extractivismo progresivo” (see Svampa 2011). While “traditional extractivism” deals with a well-known way of getting hold of natural resources such as oil, gas or precious metals, being experienced for centuries in the whole region, the new form implies a social and political aspect in the entire process, which before was noticed nor discussed.’ Sebastian Matthes and Zeljko Crncic, ‘Extractivism. InterAmerican Wiki: Terms - Concepts - Critical Perspectives’, Universitat Bielefeld, Center for InterAmerican Studies, (2012), www.uni-bielefeld.de/cias/wiki/e_Extractivism.html. We use ‘extractivism’ in this new form to refer to the totality of the extractivist logic that guards every aspect of the organisation of capitalist economies and their societies. that respects the limits of the Earth and the rights of other species and nature, all of which are key components of sustainable development models like the doughnut of social and planetary boundaries in Doughnut Economics.The doughnut is an economic model for sustainable development developed by Kate Raworth. It combines the concepts of planetary boundaries (defined as ecological ceilings devised by Earth system scientists led by John Rockstrom and Will Steffen) and social boundaries (formulated in the UN Sustainable Developmental Goals). Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist, (New York: Random House, 2017).
Lena: What you’re saying is that when economists like Kate Raworth, Mariana Mazzucato and Esther Duflo propose ways of changing the neoliberal capitalist economy through sustainable development models like doughnut economics, they’re in fact referring to and drawing on the values that are at the heart of Indigenous cosmologies like Sumak Kawsay.
Teo: Yes, and there’s more. Nations like Ecuador, which have less developed infrastructure, can leapfrog the fossil fuel-intensive economic model and go straight to renewables. And in some cases, like that of Bangladesh, they’re already living within planetary boundaries. However, as Kate Raworth noted, the challenge for nations like Bangladesh is how to meet the needs of their people, which include things like healthcare, education and gender equality, without surpassing planetary boundaries. Take Norway, for example; it adequately cares for its citizens but exceeds planetary boundaries manifold times by contributing to things like global heating and biodiversity loss.
As Raworth highlighted, in our current ‘outdated; developmental ranking, nations like Bangladesh are normally referred to as ‘developing’ or ‘least developed’, but when we consider the passing of planetary boundaries as a failure, every single nation on Earth should be reconsidered a developing nation, as none have yet met the needs of their people without surpassing planetary boundaries. As a result, nations like Norway and the United Kingdom now face the challenge of continuing to meet the needs of their people while reducing their planetary footprint, while nations like China and Poland face the greatest challenge of simultaneously improving quality of life and reducing their planetary footprints.Kate Raworth, January 2021, talk given during an online conference, Gobeshona Global Conference, http://conference.gobeshona.ne...
Lena: So it’s not a noble savage-type embodiment of Indigeneity that suggests that Indigenous peoples have not been corrupted by civilization and instead display some form of innate human goodness?
Teo: No. If anything, it’s about Indigeneity saving the world from the White man and the White man from himself via economics and sustainable development.
Unlearning 'Dry Facts'
Lena: So how does all this relate to our work, and how did we work with these two different paradigms, the ecomodernist-type future and the Indigenous cosmology-based future? To put it bluntly, how do our scenarios differ from Shell’s?
Teo: Well, unlike Shell, we worked with the collaborative practices at the root of scenario thinking. They were originally employed by the commedia dell’arte actors and Herman Khan, as mentioned previously, to create palpable imaginings of both difficult and improving future scenarios in dialogue with researchers and communities working and living at ground zero of the climate crisis.
Through the creation of speculative documentary film, photographs and documents, we worked to identify glimpses of the future in the lived experiences of people most vulnerable to climate change, and in so doing, we hoped to reveal several important things, including14:
1. that the future is already here, though it’s not evenly distributed, as for many the climate crisis isn’t a future scenario but a disaster unfolding right now;
2. that the slow violence of the climate crisis will widen social and economic inequalities if climate justice does not prevail;
3. that Indigenous and nature-based solutions to the crisis are being sabotaged and suppressed by states and corporations that favour ecomodernist futures in which they continue to be dominant; and
4. that much can be learnt about adaptation and resilience from people in the Global South and that the people already dealing with climate change on the ground are emerging as leaders at.
Lena: For example, when we worked in Uganda, we weren’t just exploring how the conflict that caused the refugee outflow from South Sudan to Uganda had been intensified by climate change in the present but also how climate-intensified migration is likely to displace anywhere between 140 million to 300 million people by 2050. In this way, we intend our indexical documentary images to give a palpable glimpse of a climate-changed future in which a much larger scale of migration takes place away from a rapidly expanding Sahara Desert, for example through the North African arc of tension towards the Mediterranean and to Europe or south towards nations like Uganda and Kenya.
Teo: Yes, but not only that. We also learnt how Uganda and other developing nations, like Lebanon, are generous and liberal refugee hosts that shelter the lion’s share of the world’s displaced population. For example, Uganda accepted more refugees than Europe did at the height of the European Migration Crisis in 2016, even though Uganda is itself classified as a least developed country with a history of conflict. We framed Uganda’s generosity as something for the United States, Europe and the United Kingdom should aspire to instead of fortifying their borders, politicising the act of migration, reinforcing national and sovereignty-based identity constructs and denying the personhood and political rights of displaced people.
Lena: Whereas in Laos PDR, while we explored future scenarios of climate-intensified water stress and food insecurity, we learnt how nature-based solutions, like flood and drought resistant rice stains, could be derived from Indigenous rice cultivation practices and how these strains could be transferred to other regions suffering from drought or flooding.
Teo: Yes, and in Bangladesh, while we explored future scenarios of rising sea levels and climate-intensified cyclones, we learnt about things like floating houses and gardens, aquaculture, salt-resistant rice strains, community-based disaster preparedness and low-cost solutions to coastal erosion and circular migration, among other things.
Lena: Of course, it would be problematic to simply say that we found these locations ‘inspiring’ out of deference to their respective crises, but what we did find was new and radical forms of reimagining that helped us to better understand and interrogate our climate-changed present, a multitude of possible futures and, therefore the past. And in terms of our own documentary practice, we learnt through the practice of speculative documentary making that ultimately ‘the recording of dry facts itself is a fiction’.T.J. Demos, The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary during Global Crisis, (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2013).