@EarthChurch1 – Final Presentation

After months of research, interviews, discussions, contemplation and self-reflection later, I formulated a final project. Here is an attempt at articulating my entire process in a single post.

PROJECT IN A SINGLE SENTENCE

@EarthChurch1 is an attempt to use art and technology to preach climate change to Christians and try to normalize conversations of the environment in a religious context.

INTRODUCTION

Liberalization and bifurcation of popular media has created a great divide in the United States. People have started aligning themselves with either of two major ideologies, democratic or republican. And an alignment with either is not only a political conformation, but an adherence to everything that is prescribed by the leaders of that one political ideology.

This has triggered a cultural movement of conservatives with republican beliefs who have found the freedom to completely disregard issues of the environment. However, the same people are also outrightly religious and believers of God. And religion has always been closely tied to Earth and fellow human beings, animals and flora. This presents us an opportunity to use the narrative of religion to preach climate action. Reasons being:
1. Pontification over information – People are not very receptive to information. To a lay man, digesting statistics and figure is more difficult than digesting provocations. The recent election only helps testify this claim. They need directions, and not the coordinates.
2. Obligations over options – Religion advocates morality. And morality brings advocation, shame and virtue. Taking advantage of religion, to give people a moral environmental compass to maneuver their daily actions and beliefs. If not done so, there’s guilt of the conscience.
3. Of human empathy – Religion prescribes empathy for fellow beings. And climate justice is not only justice for the environment, but also justice for the poor facing the consequences, the animals that are approaching extinction, and the trees that are being deforested by the hundreds.

TARGET AUDIENCE

Conservative Catholic Christians would be primary population that this project will try to address.

MEDIUM

Twitter – Twitter as a medium, has been witnessed driving a mass number of people to affirm and propagate a certain ideology, political party or even a joke.

Meme – Visual medium is much easier to resonate with compared to lengthy sermons. Also, memes are easily shareable and already have an established presence on the internet.

Language – The language is heavily inspired from the Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change. The language has to be religious, empathetic and sermonized. Mockery is not an option.

The idea is to use empathy to resonate with the pre-established beliefs of the conservative audience. They have already been alienated from many liberal ideas, due to the binary divide of the country’s population. The topic of the environment shouldn’t be something that is intellectual, liberal or urban. To shift people’s thinking, the first step is to normalize conversations around the shift. To normalize climate action using sermons and religion is what this project seeks to achieve first and foremost.

PROJECT DESCRIPTION

The first project prototype is set in the form of a twitter bot ecosystem. For this prototype, I have created three twitter bots that tweet about climate change while resounding religious ideas:

  1. Earth Church (@earthchurch1) – This bot autogenerates memes and tweets them. There are three classes of memes between which it randomizes – though-provocation, empathy for fauna and hope.
  2. Earth Apostle (@earthapostle) – This bot retweets everything that is tweeted by Earth Church. It also simplifies some memes and makes them more blatant and generalized. The memes generated by this bot aim at being easily shareable and to be shareable in more than one context.
  3. Earth Missionary (@earthmssionary) – This bot is meant for intervention. It searches for the word ‘God’ on all public tweets on twitter and responds to the original poster with a religious response about the environment. The idea is to directly reach out to Christians who are tweeting about climate change. This bot also retweets everything that is tweeted by Earth Apostle, thus in turn retweeting everything tweeted by Earth Church.

The bots are similar in persona, and differ in their ways of operation. Earth Church posts sermons, Earth Apostle simplifies and retweets sermons and Earth missionary intervenes everyday conversations. Initial testing has proved the missionary bot to be the most successful thus far.

IMAGES

NEXT STEPS

The next step is to:
1. Host the bots on a public server – Right now, I’m manually running the bots periodically. My intent is to host them on a public server and keep them running for weeks, maybe months.
2. Collect data – See which bot is the most successful. Which bot gets the most retweets. Which bot has the most number of followers.
3. Add content – Keep adding different content so that the bots don’t become overtly repetitive and have many images and texts to switch between. Also add smarter responses, so that the bots can contextualize tweets and respond accordingly.

Presently, ,my strategy is to gain a following on the Missionary bot first, and then popularize memes and the other bots through posting directly for the following.

FEEDBACK

Some of the questions presented after the presentation were :
1. How do I collect data and analyze the performance of the bots?
2. How do I gain better traction?

Some recommendations were to check out the work being done by Sojourners Magazine, On Being Podcast/Blog (suggested by Prof. Nick Hubbard) and Cambridge Analytics (suggested by Prof Katherine Dillon).

 

Beyond Memes

Thoughts around how the final project implementation can be twofold.
Does it have to be restricted to memes? Can it be extended to gifs?
Is a series of memes necessarily an art project? Can it be something that strikes out as shocking or absurd?
What if I combine it with the final project for live image processing and develop an interactive installation?

Talking about Climate Change with a Religious Narrative

Taking my research forward, I started reading Pope Francis’ Encyclical on climate change and looking up the work of Prof. Mary Evelyn Tucker for the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology.

Pope Francis’ Encyclical on Climate Change :

The Pope’s Encyclical is a comprehensive commentary on how a believer should feel about the environment and what are the concerns that she/he should have in their minds. It not only raises an urgent and earnest request to think about the environment, but also provides them to be instruments of action, control and environment-friendly practices.
How it helped me: While I was more or less aware of what the encyclical said, it offered me a language that is Christian, empathetic and preaching.

FORE AND PROF TUCKER :

 

The video above eloquently explains how religion is a great opportunity to inform people about the environment and climate action. The words of Prof. Tucker resonate with the ideas using which I started working on the project. The forum gave me some hope around me not being the only one to be thinking in these terms.

“In probably the most profound way, the religious traditions for millennia have offered to humans a way of sustaining life in the midst of tremendous suffering, of despair, of a sense of tragedy, of facing death.”

Conversation with Experts

Temporary Expert / Conversation with Experts

1. Jennifer Jacquet, professor at the department of Environmental Studies NYU

Jennifer has been working in the space of climate action for a long time. My interest in her work developed due to her study of psychology and climate change. The discussion with her was particularly informative in terms of understanding how shame affects human action, who are the primary propagators of global warming and how corporations are generally indifferent towards the concerns raised by the public. One highlight was to develop a different understanding of the problem of climate change. To view it not as an environmental issue, but as a humanitarian issue. The rich cause climate change and the poor are generally on the front line facing the consequences. Wildlife is not even involved but is facing the worst consequences.

2. Robert and Irene Keim, board of directors Unitarian Universalist Ministry of Earth

Robert and Irene Keim have been working in the space of climate justice and religion for a long time. They were probably the best people to reach out to in order to understand the explore the connection between the environment and religion. Credits to Marina for connecting me with them. Their work is generally community based and philanthropic. But they were very responsive to my ideas around an art project that talks about this theme, and had some great suggestions. They pointed me towards Yale Forum of Religion and Ecology, where Prof Mary Evelyn Tucker has been studying and teaching how to make this distinct connection and how influence people. They also gave me feedback based on their experiences with climate marches and social work. One great point was

“People who are not environmentalists, become immediately dismissive about the issue if the speaker mentions climate change. Stay away from the use of the specific term and try to speak using non-scientific terms.”

I had also reached out to Prof. Wendy Doniger at UChicago but couldn’t have a dialogue with her due to her busy schedule. She mentioned that she is open to a discussion post mid-June if it relates to Hinduism in any way. This might be a possibility if I can use the same themes to work on a project about Hinduism and women empowerment in India.

7 Day Practice

Temporary Expert / Week 6 / Food Soil Water

Religion is complicated. It holds many forms, many texts, many interpretations and a varied range of practitioners. What’s common though is the religious texts which kind of act as the foundation or the justification system for most of the religions that exist in the world. To get started on working towards my problem statement, I figured that I must acquaint myself with religion first, more specifically the religions that are practiced in the United States. In order to construct a language that is religious and uses warning/fear as a mechanism, I started looking up sermons from one of the most notorious churches in America, Westboro Baptist Church. I started modifying the sermons so as to fit my narrative. The results look as follows:

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

Climate Refugees – The New Gods?

Week 2 / Temporary Expert / Systems Thinking and Creative Tools

I’m presently going back and forth on two ideas for the project proposal.

Idea 1 – The New Gods : Some people ‘believe’ in climate change. Some people don’t ‘believe’ in climate change. This whole commentary around believing or not believing in climate change is problematic. Global warming is supported by facts and the scientific community. You can disprove global warming using logical and scientific arguments. However, one cannot choose to believe in it or not. It exists, is backed by numbers, and wouldn’t cease to exist if human race dismisses it as a whole.

But this whole questioning of the existence of the phenomenon of climate change leads me to the following questions:

Is climate change something that needs to be preached to the skeptics? Is it something that can inspire a following, and consequently necessary counter actions? Does it need to be preached just like religion was preached in the dark ages? Are we in the wake of a new dark age?

There is an analogy that can be established between climate change now and religion back in the ages. And consequently, climate refugees can be elevated to be the new Gods. After all, Moses was a refugee. Twice, in fact. Jesus was also a refugee, wasn’t he? My interest lies in exploration of this analogy and creating a false mythology around this subject matter.

Going by the recent developments, human civilization is prone to experiencing the effects of global warming soon (it already is, and is bound to get worse if years continue to pass in ignorance). Forty or fifty years down the line, the circumstances will inspire a new society of nomads or refugees always ready to evacuate, always ready to reestablish themselves, refugees who are on the move always. Inspired by the refugee Gods from our times, this new way of living, the path of enlightenment is bringing people together and making them accept and adapt to the consequences of climate change.

Analogy and false mythology are two creative tools, that I wish to employ for this project proposal.

Idea 2 – LOL is the new SOS : The present Government is obsessed with denying climate change and repudiating its effects. The present Government is also easily triggered when they are made fun of. This idea involves creating a twitter bot that responds to politician tweets with LOL. The project being called ‘LOL is the new SOS’. However one challenge that I’m facing is that this idea is not really associated with climate refugees, but deals with the subject of climate change denial by the authorities. This idea employs mimicry to trigger response from the people and the authorities.

Experts: I’m planning to reach out to two experts at NYU Department of Environmental Studies.
1. Jennifer Jacquet is an assistant professor at the department. Her research deals with climate change and social approval, which are in line with my research subject. She also regularly publishes online articles emphasizing the effects of climate change for various publications ( link ).
2. Sonali McDermid is an assistant professor at the department. Her research is centered around climate change, land-use and agriculture. These topics are probably the most important factors contributing to the increase in climate refugees at this point in time ( link ).
3. Jugal K Patel writes articles concerning the environment for NYTimes.

Climate Refugee – Research / Talking Points

Temporary Expert / Week 1 / Introduction

The relevance of climate change at this point in time is unfortunate, alarming and full of conflicts. Climate change has many catastrophic consequences, environmental refugees being one of them.

Definition first:
“Climate refugees are people who have been forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of a marked environmental disruption (natural and/or triggered by people) that jeopardized their existence and/or seriously affected the quality of their life.”  – El Hinnawi, mid 1980s

Climate refugees or environmental migrants
– can be displaced by an environmental event.
– can be displaced by deteriorating environmental conditions.
– this movement can take place within and across international borders.
– the movement can be short term or long term.
– population movements triggered by environmental forces can be forced or voluntary.

Types:
– Environmental emergency migrants – hurricane, tsunami, earthquake et cetera.
– Environmental forced migrants – deforestation, coastal pollution
– Environmental motivated migrants – declining crop productivity, lack of grazing lands for livestock

Numbers:
Environmental refugees = 6 x political refugees   [ Jodi Jacobson, 1988  ]
Climate refugees = 50 million by 2010, 200 million by 2050   [ Norman Myers, 2005  ]
Norman Myers himself acknowledges that his numbers are not accurate and are based on ‘heroic extrapolation’. However, even if the estimates are off by 50%, environmental migration looks a massive problem that the world will face (is in fact, already facing.)

Examples:
– Climate change has been recognized as one of the contributing factors to the war in Syria. Syria faced the worst drought in the last 900 years during 2005-2008, causing heavy displacement of humans from rural lands to the cities. A failing government couldn’t ensure equal resources or work opportunities to all the people moving in. Consequently, the leadership failed to curb human suffering which amongst other factors resulted in the devastating war that has been going on for over the past five years. (link , link)
– The islands of Tuvalu are drowning, causing people to move out of the island nation. A fifth of the population has already left and found refuge in neighboring islands of Kiribati and Fiji, which can be under the same environmental threat not a long time from now. (link)
– The United States has encountered it’s first incidents of climate refugees in Newtok, Alaska and Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana. (link, link)
– Military General of Bangladesh Munir Muniruzzaman claims that the nation runs under the threat of losing 20% of it’s land if there’s a rise of even 1% in the sea level. This is not really implausible given the rate at which the Himalayan glaciers are melting, and Bangladesh being one of the nations situated at the delta of the Himalayan rivers, Ganges and Brahmaputra. (link)
– The United States Military has acknowledged the threat of climate change as one of the biggest threats to national security in the coming future.

Takeaways:
Given the magnitude and impact of the problem of climate refugees, I have been tackling many ideas and solutions which I will be documenting in the next blog post. Some questions that need to be asked are:
– Why do people deny climate change?
– Does climate change need to be preached just like religion was preached back in the dark ages? Are the climate refugees the new heralds of enlightenment? Are they the new Gods? Weren’t Jesus and Moses refugees?
– Like most media these days, does the topic of climate change need a shock value?
– How can art and research contribute to this reckoning?

Links:
http://www.osce.org/eea/14851
http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-23899195
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/10/25/world/asia/china-climate-change-resettlement.html
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/01/climate-change-trigger-unimaginable-refugee-crisis-senior-military
http://theageofconsequences.com/
Image link
Youtube videos :
Countries already dealing with climate change refugees ,
Why do people deny climate change?