Climate change is the defining crisis of our time, with the changes happening labelled both as an ecological catastrophe and international crisis. In the past few years, we’ve seen mounting awareness for the severity of the crisis from policy makers, media outlets and corporations across the globe. In 2018, Greta Thunberg’s #FridaysForFutures initiative inspired an international movement resulting in global strike which gathered more than one million strikers protesting in 125 countries. And in 2020, David Attenborough’s documentary film, 'A Life on Our Planet’ served as a ‘witness statement’ through which he shared his explicit concern for the changes afoot – as well as hopes for the future.
Endless economic growth is no longer the primary goal, and as a result, theories of degrowth are gaining increasing traction. Economists like Kate Raworth emphasise the need to create economic models which balance essential human needs with our planetary boundaries – starting with a reduction in consumption. Mainstream narratives of sustainability have so far been focused on moderation, with the idea that there’s a limit to the good time we can have.
Focusing on what people should stop doing to become more sustainable, strengthens the belief that we must suffer in order to achieve something better. As we are pleasure-seeking humans by default, this idea makes engaging in sustainable initiatives essentially undesirable – in turn creating a reinforcing cycle of avoidance. But what if we followed a different approach, where sustainability, joy and humor can co-exist in the same space and be aligned towards the same goal?
Coined by renowned architect Bjarke Ingels, hedonistic sustainability is a version of sustainability which improves the quality of life and human enjoyment. Ingels and the work of BIG are looking to recontextualize our understanding of sustainability and remove the sense of fear from its current meaning. Where governments have largely focussed on what people should stop doing to become more sustainable, they might instead design in response to environments and create stimulating social effects.
Inspiration can also be taken from Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Ice Watch’ exhibition, which saw large blocks of glacier ice placed around Copenhagen’s city centre. As the ice slowly melted, citizens could interact with the pieces through sight, touch and sound. With the hope of changing the narrative of climate from our brains and emotionalising it into our bodies, Eliasson’s is looking to inspire and advocate for a rapid public response.
Humor as an agent of change
Adapt is a climate club run by Josie Tucker and Richard Ashton which uses design and humour to encourage environmental change in an accessible and collective manner. From placards to newspapers, their designs reinvent climate activism for the 'social media age', with a focus on view interaction to prompting joyful engagement with their brand of people-powered activism. Turning terrifying information into memes and playful sites (fossilfool.world), they claim the power of the visual to promote climate awareness and activism.
Towards a more hopeful climate future
The climate crisis is an irrefutable reality that we and future generations will have to grapple with for many years to come. But whilst this may naturally inspire fear and anxiety for most, perhaps we can more effectively deal with this new reality if we leverage the most powerful and precious resource available to us: hope.
Insights based on original research conducted by Borbala Kun and Sophie Blumentrath.