Climate and Religion – Project Proposal

Research is an ongoing process. The amount of research that I have conducted until this point based on lengthy readings, articles, news, discussions, religious texts, youtube videos and wikipedia pages has been extremely insightful. However, there are still many things that I need to understand and articulate. The research process has been overwhelming (also depressing to some extent), and I’ve attempted to articulate my process underneath:

PROJECT PROPOSAL

The question of ‘belief’. Do you believe in climate change? This is a resounding question that is found in abundance across the many social platforms and daily discussions. And I think using this terminology of belief is problematic. Climate change is not Santa Claus. If the entire human race stops believing in it, it won’t cease to exist. It would continue and only get worse if the humans don’t hold themselves responsible and do something about it.

This question of belief is also something closely related to God. And this is where it gets interesting. Religion wasn’t propagated through scientific facts and data. People are not very perceptive to such arguments. Consider the recent elections for instance. Religion was preached back in the dark ages when the times were barbaric and the human race needed a rulebook of moral obligations and good humane behavior. The central idea of my project is :

To draw parallels between religion and climate change. To change the narrative using the moral sense of obligation that religion attributes, perhaps climate change can be preached to the people. Making them believe that to work for the climate is to offer service to the Lord might have interesting implications that might not have been explored thus far.

INTRODUCTION – CLIMATE REFUGEE

My topic of concentration is climate refugees. I have discussed some basic definitions, numbers and significant cases of environmental migration in a previous blog post. Climate migration can be a consequence of many factors, broadly classified into three classes. Emergency migration, forced migration and motivated migration as elaborated in the aforementioned link. Regardless of the factors contributing to migration, it’s also necessary to consider the consequences of displacing large numbers of people from one geographical location. Systems thinking helped me consolidate all the contributing factors and consequences of climate migration into one page, as illustrated below:

The systems diagram is a very useful strategy to collect information in one place, look at the interrelated connections and act as a form of reference whenever in doubt or in search of ideas.

RELIGION

In my effort to draw analogies between religion and climate change, I have been studying the history associated with the popular religions in the United States, such as Judaism and Christianity. My earlier exposure to these religions and their mythologies was minimal. The mythologies are rich with stories about oppression of the poor, migration of people from one place to the other and development of a sense of morality around a set of rules. These are some things that can be resonated in the narrative surrounding climate change and climate refugees. Also, alternate narrative is something that interests me a lot and to view climate change through the lens of religion seems like something intriguing.

Two stories that have struck a chord with me are the Ten Plagues of Egypt, wherein Moses led the Israelites to move out of the domination exercised by the Egyptian pharaohs. Another interesting story is the Flight Into Egypt, in which Joseph was forced to migrate his homeland under the threat of losing his child to King Herod’s atrocities. I have attempted to use these stories as a basis for designing an advertisement for my project.

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The ideas used behind these images is:
1. Melancholy: To use melancholy as an indicator of the adversity of the current situation. To set some context in the viewer’s mind.
2. Sermon: To frame the language so as to sound like a sermon, rather than a promotion.
3. Meme: To use the meme format so that the image is ready for propagation on social media and to reach out more viewers.

OKAY, SO WHAT’S THE PROJECT GOING TO BE EXACTLY?

I don’t know yet, to be honest. But I’ll list down what I know:

1. Concept – The idea of the project is to develop an alternative narrative that uses analogies from existing religious stories. This narrative is centered around acting towards climate change as a moral obligation (well, most things religious do sound obligatory when preached).

2. Why can this narrative work? – When it comes to climate change, people are not very receptive to scientific facts and arguments. They question it’s existence, they demand proof and they try to evade a responsibility. In religion, they do none of the above. Religion is generally blindly consumed by the masses without question or doubt, and is held as a moral compass to define their day to day actions.

3. Implementation – I would prefer the implementation to be visual. Since, it’s capable of drawing attention and motivate the viewer for further exploration. I’m also planning to accompany the visual presentation with a manifesto or a rule system. Through drawing connections with mythologies and religious stories, these stories ought to bring out a religious instigation of some kind. An example is the advertisements above. ( I would ideally like to incorporate my own art however, my art has had a very cartoon based style thus far which I think might not work in this context )

4. Propagation – I’m considering using the social media as an avenue to spread these images and gain people’s reaction. Twitter has been a verified mechanism to propagate balderdash, anyway. So why not use it to spread something that can motivate people to act towards climate change!

5. Target Audience – This is the most befuddling decision for me. I have been having many discussions around it, and couldn’t reach a conclusion. I will be talking about this in detail below.

I’m quite definite about the conceptualization and motivation behind the project. The implementation and propagation is still open to discussion and subject to change.

TARGET AUDIENCE

A dialogue with Jennifer Jacquet from the Department of Environmental Studies gave me many things to rethink, reconsider and conduct further research on. Initially, I was poised to go for the religious conservatives as my target audience. Although, the discussion made me realize the problems that might occur if I select this target audience. It also opened me to other options that can be targeted.

Conservatives – Although conservatives being generally religious, are more receptive to religious arguments, they are also studied to be very individualistic. Do I want to motivate them to act against climate change? Do I want to motivate them to simply step out of the way of people who are already trying to act? How much of a change can they actually bring given that the main players of this game are the government, lobbyists and the producers.

Corporates – Of course, targeting the big players directly isn’t an option. They have been ignoring the issues of climate change for a long time, and shall continue to do so. The question is do I need to motivate people to act against these corporations? Or do I simply want to raise a general awareness and responsibility towards climate change and make them realize it’s adversity?

Rich or poor – It has been observed that the people who are directly under the threat of being impacted by climate change are the poor. They are already facing it and are trying to cope with it. And it is unfair. Because their carbon footprint on the planet is minimal. The people who are actually causing it, are also capable of fleeing the circumstances or adapting to a new world. The question is, through religion, can this issue be modulated to an issue of human rights instead of being an issue of the environment?

MORE QUESTIONS

1. Do I hypermotivate people who are already motivated? Or do I motivate people who are not motivated to step out of the way? Given the narrative that I’m using, I’m inclined on the second approach.
2. What kind of messages are motivating in the direction of climate change while not being too deterministic? Determinism has been observed to have strange effects. There have been deterministic statements made around how humans are a destructive force, and are not evolved enough to tackle climate change. This form of determinism might make the people accept the fate of the race as a whole, and rid them of a sense of responsibility to counter climate change and act towards minimizing it. They have to realize that the damage has been an ongoing process, but there is still time to exercise damage control.
3. The people suffering are not in a position of change. Can that be changed? Do we have a sense of fairness or a sense of social justice? Can the narrative be used to generate empathy for the poor who are directly under the threat of sea level rise, the refugees fleeing deserted lands and polluted coasts?

Link to the presentation : Drive

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