This should be of interest to anyone who’s considering applying for UKRI funding (or any funding), or who is already running a project. It’s a slinky little two page guide exploring how we can reframe data management within research projects, to put appropriate emphasis on climate justice. It emphasises what can be done now, within existing frameworks. In an appendix, it also explores how the DMP section might transform in the future.
We expect to iterate fairly rapidly, and welcome all feedback and suggestions, as well as potential deeper collaboration. If you’d like to signal boost on Twitter, here’s James’s tweet launching the guide.
After some wonderfully galvanising encounters in late 2021, Digital Humanities Climate Coalition is now officially a thing. It’s a collaborative and cross-institutional initiative focused on what DH researchers (broadly construed) can do in times of climate crisis and climate transition, especially understanding and improving the environmental impact of DH research. Participants are based at HE institutions and DH Centres across the UK, Ireland, and Northern Europe. There are three working groups doing things over the course of 2022, plus a reading group. If you’d like to find out more or get involved, you can do so here.
To coincide with COP26, the Greening the Digital Humanities workshop was held by the Edinburgh Centre for Data, Culture & Society, the University of Southampton Digital Humanities, the Sussex Humanities Lab, and the Humanities & Data Science Turing interest group. It was a chance for Digital Humanities groups across the UK and Northern Europe to come together to consider what DH communities should do to rise to the urgent challenges of a changing climate and a just climate transition.
It was a summit of unprecedented scope and determination, and probably long overdue. Before the day itself, we had a couple months’ worth of drumroll. So we were able to start by sharing insights from these various scattered dialogues and surveys. Video here and slides here.
Building on this early engagement, four-ish main action themes emerged during the workshop:
Compiling a toolkit for DH researchers to do what we do more sustainably — finding out what’s already out there and signposting it, finding out what isn’t and inventing it.
Improving our knowledge, especially about how to measure our own impacts. This could definitely inform that toolkit, but it came up so much it deserves its own theme.
Nurturing a community of interest around just transitions — climate action is about decolonisation, about feminism, about anti-racism, about diversity and democracy. Many of us felt we wanted to deepen our understandings of climate justice, to share in one another’s research, and to reach out to colleagues and fellow travellers outside of DH.
Lobbying, influencing, and offering support and expertise — especially within our universities, and in our relationships with major funders. There was also some interest in other stakeholder groups (key suppliers, green investor coalitions, people responsible for league tables and excellence frameworks, etc.).
My own breakout rooms focused mostly on that final theme. We spent quite a lot of the conversation on funders (representatives from whom were in attendance). We all acknowledged the need for a collaborative and joined-up approach, feeding our perspectives into the work funders are already doing.
At the same time, there is also a fairly clear short-term ask here: we want prominent assurances that bids are not going to be disadvantaged for devoting some of their precious word counts to environmental impacts, and that budget lines related to mitigating environmental impact are legitimate. Everybody’s hunch is that this is already the case, but it’s good to have it said out loud, while the medium-term processes such as updating funder guidelines grind into gear. There is plenty to figure out. But the next few years are crucial from a climate perspective, and bids going in today or tomorrow are impacting what we might be doing in 2022-2025. To keep them aligned with the 1.5 degrees ambitions, some interim incentives will be handy.
As we flowed from our break-out groups into plenary discussion, another theme that emerged was work. We’re long past the point where managing climatic impacts could be seen as a ‘nice to have’ piece of work bolted onto the side of business-as-usual, if there happens to be some extra time and energy to devote there. But at the same time, we need to be sensitive to the diverse levels of capacity. We need to watch out for replicated or otherwise unnecessary work. Where possible activities should be folded into things that already exist. Progress can be made asynchronously to reflect busy calendars. And where we can, we should tune into the ways this work can be collectively nourishing, fascinating, and energising.
So what are the next steps? Broadly, to sort ourselves into teams to try to action things over the next six months or so, and see how we get on with that. Also to continue to reach out to others. These activities probably need to be organised under an umbrella of some kind. How do you like the ring of a Digital Humanities Climate Coalition?
The workshop winds up. One by one they go back to their lives, till I am alone in the Zoom room. A surreptitious glance over my shoulder, then I gleefully get out my gas-guzzling leaf vidaXL Petrol Backpack Leaf Blower and get the Google Jamboard in my gun sights. Post-its dance like confetti. One flies up that escaped my attention earlier.
“The world is burning. It is already too late without massive systematic top-down changes forced on us that no politician will want to do. Let’s all write nihilistic poetry and embrace the end.”
I feel that too. Of course it goes straight into the spreadsheet: WILLING TO LEAD OR CO-LEAD NIHILISTIC POETRY AND END-EMBRACING WORKING GROUP.
But it also drives home for me one last theme: the importance of mid-scale action. When we focus too much on what the individual can do — buying zippy little electric car, or the Correct Broccoli — it fails to engage with the scale of the challenge. When we focus too much on the big big shifts — system change! Degrowth! An end to extractivist ontologies! — the concepts have all the necessary oomph, but the concrete actions prove elusive.
The middle scale, the often distinctly unpoetic activity of organising with a few others to influence an organisation, a sector, a community of practice, a regulation or practice, is often what goes missing. The small scale and the big scale are still important, of course! And climate actions at many different scales feed and reinforce one another. Nihilistic poetry and end-embracing can even be part of that …
But the reason it felt like a very good workshop was that it was satisfyingly in-the-middle. Hope can be a feeling, but hope isn’t exclusively a feeling. Hope is also what you do. And often it’s things you do with a few other people that most manifestly are hope. Interventions with two or three other collaborators, or a dozen, or twenty, exploring what might be accomplished, and multiplying the tales of the attempts.
If the goal of climate communication is to compel decision-makers to act, then for too long our methods haven’t worked. Many desperately want to tackle the risks posed by climate change, but are confounded by mountains of complex, technical data.
So how can academics present climate risk in ways that are meaningful and effective for this audience? How can they ensure communication is part of their thinking from the outset, not just at the end of a research project? Who exactly are the end-users of climate risk research, and what are their needs?
This online afternoon workshop will be jointly delivered by UCL’s Climate Action Unit and the Analysis under Uncertainty for Decision-Makers network (AU4DM). We will draw on interdisciplinary expertise to equip participants with the critical skills to communicate on climate risk.
Speakers will share insights across three broad topics: why risk communication is difficult, what decision-makers want (and need), and how to present climate risk information. A final, fourth session will invite participants to co-design communication tools for the future.
We need the big stories, the stories that engage and inspire.
At the same time, we also need tools to present more niche information.
And throughout, we also need to be always conscious of the politics of climate chance communication: the ways our communications shape whose voices are heard, and whose decisions count.
Speakers and facilitators:
Martine Barons (Warwick)
Mark Workman (Imperial)
Polina Levontin (Imperial)
Jo Lindsay Walton (Sussex)
Freya Roberts (UCL)
Kris de Meyer (UCL)
Lucy Hubble Rose (UCL)
This is an open workshop that will be especially relevant to climate and environmental scientists, and others whose work involves communicating or relying on scientific knowledge about climate and the environment. It is part of the COP26 Universities Network’s climate risk conference.
To coincide with COP26 in Glasgow this year, SHL is jointly running two special events with the Edinburgh Centre for Data, Culture & Society, the University of Southampton DH, and the Humanities & Data Science Turing interest group. This is just a “save the dates” announcement: more info and registration will be coming soon.
November 3rd, Digital Materialities, Digital Imaginaries
What emerging digital technologies may also play a role in mitigating and adapting to climate change, and where do the perils and pitfalls lie? How might digital technologies even change the way we think about ‘the human’ and our place within the planetary ecology? And what are the biggest questions we should be asking ourselves about digital technologies today?
This event forms part of the Sussex Humanities Lab’s Open Workshop Series and CDCS’s Autumn Seminar Series. It is open to all.
While the first joint event (Nov 3rd) focuses on theories, perspectives, principles, and inspirations, the second event shifts to thinking about practice, collaboration, and community-building. In it we will discuss the issues we have encountered, the problems our community can solve, and assemble actions we will take together.
The core participants will be DH researchers, along with other key stakeholders. Together we will explore: How do we, as individuals and as organisations, address the environmental dimension of the digital technologies we use? Where should we turn to for best practice? Where is research and innovation most urgently needed, and who should be doing it? What are the politics and ethics of greening the digital, and where do the biggest controversies lie? What challenges, risks and trade-offs might we face? As Margaret Atwood has suggested, “climate change” might be better termed “everything change.” How might the transition to a zero carbon economy transform what we do, and how we define our own expertise and responsibilities? In a world where so much is digitally entwined, and ecologically interconnected, how can knowledge and responsibility be justly distributed?
The 10th November workshop is invite only. If you are interested in participating, please contact email@example.com and briefly outline your interest.
This document sets out our current thinking on how SHL stands in relation to the global environmental emergency, and to the demanding and necessary target, set by the current UK government, of achieving net zero carbon by 2050.
It affirms our commitment to explore and mitigate the carbon intensity and ecological impact of our core Digital Humanities work, despite the many uncertainties this entails. Our work can contribute to global heating and ecological destruction, and it can contribute to mitigation and resilience.
It also affirms our commitment to continue to advocate for the wider system change necessary across society, and where relevant, to use our specific expertise to support and to scrutinise, to help ensure that the perspectives of the Digital Humanities are included in these complex transitions.
We believe that these ambitions go hand-in-hand with the small everyday actions that prefigure ecological sustainability. Here’s a snippet from one of the appendices, ‘In Praise of Smaller Actions’:
Smaller actions can demonstrate and cultivate a practical willingness to make changes in our everyday lives. Because the bigger changes of net zero will demand many such changes, it is important that we explore what such changes feel like, and the ripple effects they may have. It is important that we cultivate narratives, skills, and ways of thinking around these changes, so we know what to embrace, what to resist, and what to re-imagine. When done creatively and reflectively, those smaller actions can even be a kind of practice-led research into climate sustainability and climate resilience. They can be ‘cognitive’: they are a way of finding things out, and a form of knowledge in themselves.
Get in touch
This document is a reference point for all Sussex Humanities Lab Members and Associates. But we also hope it will be a way of making connections with the wider world.
The Sussex Humanities Lab includes some STEM expertise, and we frequently collaborate with STEM researchers, including environmental scientists. Our members also include researchers in the environmental humanities. However, we are not the experts on environmental science, policy, or emergency. The SHL Environmental Strategy is a living document which gives current estimation of the situation we are facing. We welcome qualifications, criticisms, and suggested revisions.
We also welcome opportunities to build our own capacity, and to explore future research collaboration with academics and non-academic partners. The Sussex Humanities Lab has an extensive portfolio of externally funded projects, which we continually look to expand. We also host visiting researchers to run seminars and workshops, and welcome enquiries from prospective doctoral students and Visiting Fellows. As set out in more detail in the document, we would be especially interested to hear from those who are working on, or who have an interest in, the following:
Covid-19, digital technology, and the environment
The materiality of the digital, including the perceived ethereality of the digital
Climate futures in culture, policy, and science
The politics and cultures of offsetting
The embodiment of academic research and collaboration
Negative emissions and other climate technology
Agonistic climate action
Here’s one last snippet:
The world has started to burn. There have been some interesting debates about the usefulness about this apocalyptic idiom: does it really help to convert the urgency of our situation into practical action? But setting aside the complex emotional implications of mentioning it, the world has actually started to burn: the effects of global heating are already being felt around the world through heatwaves, wildfires, drought and famine, as well as wildlife extinction, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and extreme weather events such as storms and flooding. Enormous economic damage, human displacement, and deaths attributable to climate change are no longer mere forecasts: they are daily news. These are tragedies, not omens.