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Climate Imagination Fellows make room for a science-minded world

ASU's Center for Science and the Imagination utilizes artistry to envision and promote more climate positive futures

170202 art vs stem

ASU's Center for Science and the Imagination takes a creative approach to imagining climate positive futures. Illustration originally published on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017.

Despite being scattered around the world, ASU's Center for Science and the Imagination's Climate Imagination Fellows are working to uncover the future of positive storytelling for the climate crisis in the development of the Center's upcoming "Climate Action Almanac."

The 2021 Climate Imagination Fellows consist of four decorated female authors: Libia Brenda, Xia Jia, Hannah Onoguwe, and Vandana Singh. As the 2022 publication date of the Almanac approaches, some of the fellows came together in a first-of-its-kind event, hosting a virtual seminar to discuss a myriad of topics regarding the importance of storytelling for future thinking and the divide of science fiction as a genre. 

Three of the fellows — Brenda, Onoguwe and Singh — attended the Sept. 22 event, "The Days After Tomorrow: Climate Fiction for the Future," which was hosted by the British Library. At the event, the fellows discussed the media's current repetition of impending climatic change and the fellowship's mission to promote more optimistic and inspiring visions of the future. 

This conversation, among essays, interviews, art and other literary works from the fellows, will be collected to contribute to the Almanac. 

The goal of the Almanac is to inspire readers to "imagine their own climate futures — to feel both agency and responsibility for defining a future that spurs us to take action today," according to the program's website

The fellowship, while lacking a band of hobbits and a cursed ring, is partnered with the United Nations High-Level Climate Champions, TED Countdown, the British Library and more. 

The fellows currently write in the realm of speculative fiction, which acts as an "umbrella word that includes science fiction, fantasy (and) magical realism," Singh said during the webinar.

A key feature in the works of the fellows is the emphasis on illustrating more positive visions of a future transformed by climate change, rather than traditional fearful headlines and statistics. 

Those entrenched in climate science "often struggle to articulate a positive vision of the future we are working towards," said Ed Finn, director of the Center for Science and the Imagination, at the event.

Both Singh and Onoguwe come from colonized countries and highlighted the important dichotomy between positive climate futures and popular dystopian fiction that romanticizes class struggles.

Fictional environments invite readers into alternate worlds which can foster the helpful idea that "the default reality is a construction and we can construct something better," Singh said.

"We're not going to come through this without any pain or hardship; we're also not completely doomed to extinction," said Joey Eschrich, the program manager for the Center for Science and the Imagination, in an interview. Instead, he believes there is a middle ground to be met and it should not go unrecognized.

According to Eschrich, responding to the climate crisis will require operating on multiple scales, including an intersection between science and art. Climate change was once thought to be a scientific issue, reserved for the science section of newspapers. Now, "it's on the front page," he said.

This project works to "build imaginary bridges to grapple with this question in a more profound way," Finn said. "People need hope — now how do we tell these stories to inspire change today?"

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