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What Can a Technologist Do About Climate Change?

It was 12 years ago I woke up to climate change. I gave up my car. 12 years of committed cycling later, I do not pretend to have balanced even my own air miles, let alone made a dent in global emissions.

Since then, significant events, such as the momentous COP21 climate summit last December have caused not only us, but the world, to rethink what our future might look like. A single number, 2 degrees, signals irreversible change for the lives of future generations.

Technology has been part of the problem. Human actions in the industrial era have shaped a new geological age and brought the world to a point of crisis. In the data age we need technology to be a part of the solution too.

I thought, I have some clever designer friends, maybe we can at least do something to help us live with the consequences of climate change.

In 2006, we started with a carbon audit of FutureEverything festival and conference, which showed that over 90% of the carbon emissions are a result of air travel by participants. So we set out to design a new kind of globally networked event with venues spread around the globe, GloNet, to see if we could deliver a comparable experience without the air miles. Then we used art installations to shift perceptions, and to generate new datasets on climate that could be useful to science.

Our first collaboration with climate scientists Climate Bubbles was an experiment in which people across the city played the bubble chase and bubble race to capture wind data, to shine a new light on the 'urban heat island' effect. Presented at our festival in Manchester, Carlo Buontempo, a climate scientist from the Met Office, had a credit as artist, and I, an artist and festival director, had a credit as weather forecaster. This was one playful way in which creative technologists set out to contribute to understanding of climate.


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