Climate change as a topic for an interactive exhibition

By: Katarzyna Tamborska

Museums and science centers have joined in the public discussion of environmental challenges. As an important nexus of scientific communication, these institutions show that stopping negative trends in the natural environment is not a task for scientists and politicians only. Regardless of professional background and interests, individuals can engage in a social debate on climate protection, treating the Earth first and foremost as a living space. This is the main theme of a new interactive exhibition titled “Mission: Earth”, which has opened a few months ago at one of Europe’s largest science centers, the Copernicus Science Center in Warsaw (Poland). It is the second of three modules that are part of the project called “The Future is Today” which is focused on humanity’s current challenges. The other parts are titled: “The Digital Brain,” and “Human 2.0” (the last one is yet to open).

The part “Mission: Earth” tackles the not-so-easy, emotionally and politically charged topic of climate change. This is particularly interesting if we take into account that science centers are generally reluctant to discuss controversial topics, usually focusing their main exhibition activities around established, undisputed scientific facts and avoiding discrepancies between experts. One of the recent attempts to discuss selected examples of exhibitions whose subject can be considered controversial is made by Erminia Pedretti and Ana Maria Navas Iannini in their recent book “Controversy in Science Museums Re-imagining Exhibition Spaces and Practice“. The Warsaw case is intriguing because it presents different solutions to a problem faced by humanity, whereas science still remains a consistent guidepost. The exhibition, however, allows discussion around different strategies, leaves room for doubt, and shows areas where science is trying to seek stability in the midst of various uncertainties.

It seems that climate issues may become a field where we can practice a broad social debate around controversial topics in public spaces. Climate protection is a topic that is broad enough to attract the interest of a wide variety of social groups. At the same time, the multifaceted nature of the ongoing climate protection makes it a matter that affects individuals in a different way, according to social and geographic factors. Among others, problems arising from environmental degradation are increasing social inequalities, such as exposure to heat in cities. On the other hand, constantly emerging suggestions to restrict or ration certain consumer goods and behaviours are provoking vigorous reactions, like in the case of meat consumption, or travel. Therefore, the creation of an exhibition that reports the political-scientific debate on climate change seems to be a socially significant undertaking.

Figure 1. A population counter indicating the continued growth of the Earth’s population. Author’s own photograph.

The exhibition is intended to build attitudes that are sensitive to environmental problems. It focuses on topics related to environmental degradation due to human activity, such as global warming, pollution, and biodiversity loss. Visitors have the opportunity to view various models depicting the current presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or look at data forecasting an increase in the presence of greenhouse gases in the future. It is possible to follow models on possible changes in carbon dioxide emissions if certain strategies are chosen on a global human scale. Emphasis is placed on marking the critical moment for taking decisive action to curb unfavorable trends that we are currently in. The visitor, aware that not all decisions depend directly on the individual, such as national strategies to diversify energy sources, has the opportunity to realize which factors determine that the creation of an energy mix is a multidimensional and complex task, like in the game.

Figure 2. The game of diversifying energy sources to create a stable and efficient system for consumers. Author’s own photograph.

Artistic installations encourage reflection on the connection between the development of civilization and the destruction of the natural environment, where the most meaningful aspect seems to be finding connections between human activity and the functioning of various plant or animal species. In addition, they show the complexity of ecosystems and, at the same time, the simplicity of the laws of nature, on the basis of which all the richness of life is created and the individual elements are relevant to broader part of the system. An example of such an exhibit object is the “Game of Life“depicting the operation of a cellular automaton based on the principles described by John Conway (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Children observing a grid of squares on which new cellular configurations are formed based on the principles of mutual interaction. Author’s own photograph.

The artistic, non-trivial way of presentation catches the eye without giving simple, paternalistic answers, but leaves room for independent exploration and individual choices that determine ecological attitudes, which can also lay the groundwork for broad, political decisions.

This is an example of an exhibition discussing new challenges for science, showing science as an unfinished work in which we are entangled. The multidimensionality of solutions taken at the individual, as well as collective society-wide level is pointed out. These two perspectives interpenetrate each other and indicate the space for personal involvement.

Katarzyna Tamborska is a PhD candidate in social sciences at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, Poland. She studies issues connected with science and society relations. This includes challenges, opportunities, and limitations in different forms of science communication.


Comentar / Leave a Reply

Preencha os seus detalhes abaixo ou clique num ícone para iniciar sessão:

Logótipo da

Está a comentar usando a sua conta Terminar Sessão /  Alterar )

Facebook photo

Está a comentar usando a sua conta Facebook Terminar Sessão /  Alterar )

Connecting to %s