Is this a rehearsal?


Mars Perseverance Rover, image 22 February 2021, NASA

On 2 March 2021, I gave a talk at the Lancaster Institute for Social Futures:

Is this a rehearsal?

The talk will introduce the Collective Scenarios project, which places scenarios of climate change in their historical, institutional and cultural contexts. It will discuss research into the scenario mode, at the root of the Anthropocene discourse, in climate science and contingency planning. Scenarios are reconsidered in their potential as ‘rehearsal spaces’ for speculative, improvised and collaborative modes of acting on and thinking about uncertain climate futures.

Across 2020 and 2021, many climate commentators and researchers have wondered if the time of the Covid-19 pandemic is a rehearsal for the greater challenges, not only of impending climate catastrophe, but also the far-reaching disruptions accompanying system transformation. Indeed, this time has been about reflecting on responses and responsibilities and, indeed, on how to cope with emergency. The pandemic has revealed how interrelated, interdependent and also how social we are as a species; it has exposed inequalities and vulnerabilities – those ‘without refuge’ – as well as the fragility of our systems and services; the lack of preparedness and action in spite of warnings; how the issues we face are multi-scalar and transboundary – what is missing and what matters. And perhaps it has given us a glimpse of what could be possible with concerted state and market responses – [some] governments and nations are capable of profound change – at pace and at scale.

But are we in any way ready for the interlocking, cascading crises of climate change? Deploying a crisis/emergency frame can help to attract attention, promote altruism, concentrate resources and provide public legitimacy – but it can also serve to obscure the hidden and inertial causes of climate crisis and produce ‘states of exception’. A response to climate crisis would need to recognise the inherent unsustainability of the underlying conditions – things can and should never be the same again.

The question remains – is this a rehearsal? – Is the latest crisis – wildfires, extinctions, migrations, drought, flooding, and now Covid-19 – but a harbinger of anthropocenic disasters to come or yet another warning about the need for rapid, transformational changes in society?

This time of climate and ecological disruption could nevertheless open up possibilities for collective experience of climate futures but where the outcomes are not predetermined. In other words, rehearsal invites a sense of the ongoing testing and experimentation that will be required for future ways of inhabiting the Earth.