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Climate Chaos | Climate Rising Advisory Committee


Earlier this winter Northern sent each committee member a questionnaire focusing on themes and features of Northern Spark 2016. Here’s what they had to say.


Howard Silverman
Partner, Pattern Lab

Howard Silverman teaches applied systems thinking in the Collaborative Design program at Pacific Northwest College of Art and in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU. From 1999 to 2012, he was with Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit Ecotrust, working on food, fisheries, forestry, urban ecosystem services, and other initiatives. He is a partner in Pattern Labs, writes at Solving for Pattern, and serves on the boards of Mercy Corps Northwest and Recode.


 Q1. What are your thoughts on this year’s theme, Climate Chaos | Climate Rising

 Q2. Of the topics: move, nourish, interconnect, perceive, act, which engage you? With which does your practice align, reflect or agitate, and how?

 Q3. What are two important ideas or questions related to the subthemes you identify with, that the public should know or ask?

Q4. From the perspective of your field in general, what are two of the most pressing concerns about the effects of climate change that the public should know?

 Q5. What is missing from that conversation about climate change? Whose voice is missing?

 Q6. What has been your experience of how and why people’s behaviors change in relation to climate change?

 Q7. In your view, how does or could art add to the climate change conversation?

We shape the world and the world shapes us. Organism and environment, species and environment evolve in a dance of feedbacks, surviving and thriving amidst constraints and enablements. Engaged in this dance, a creative species, full of creative individuals, willfully shapes our own enablements: our cultures, arts, technologies, educations, economies, institutions, and infrastructures (Q2).

“The major problems in the world,” as described by Gregory Bateson (1904-1980), “are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.” In Bateson’s terms, today’s dominant developmental pathway represents an “evolutionary cul-de-sac,” and the way out of this impasse is through closer affinity with a broader “ecology of mind” (Q4).

In this situation, and in reading the Climate Chaos | Climate Rising questions, these are thoughts that humble, enchant, and haunt me.

Climate conversations are not easy conversations; climate contemplations are not easy contemplations (Q5). Artistic and other practices can be used to open up spaces for introspection and interconnection, for critiques of contingent failures, and for harbingers of renewal (Q2, Q7).

Vulnerabilities are far from equitably distributed, among peoples and across generations, including those yet unborn. Some varieties of vulnerability, such as rising sea levels and drought stricken landscapes, are biophysically model-able, empirically reviewable, and therefore rationally discussable in mainstream media. Other vulnerabilities – more emotional, more speculative, more contentious – remain less explored: the loneliness of species extinctions, the risks of a technologically dependent post-humanity, and the deficiencies of current systems of social, political, and economic organization (Q2, Q3, Q4, Q5, Q7).

Realization hits hard, and change comes even harder. When yesteryear’s life patterns are realized to be inadequate, unethical, or counterproductive, we experience a kind of cognitive and physical dissonance. What then must be done? Against the inertias of business-as-usual systems, viable alternatives are to be imagined and transitions nurtured. Social agency is individual and collective: I shift behaviors; universities and pension funds divest their fossil fuel holdings. Social practices are familiar and formal: new norms emerge, often before associated regulations or codes are established. Social change is slow and fast: transformative patterns are unperceived or unacknowledged and, at some point, inevitable (Q6).

“Climate Chaos | Climate Rising”? If the handle fits… (Q1)