TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities) supports interdisciplinary research collaborations, with a number focusing on environmental issues, including climate change. We believe that practices from the arts and humanities can help inform effective communication of our past, current, and future environmental crises.

At the heart of TORCH’s work on climate change is the Environmental Humanities Programme, which supports a broad programme of work, including, most recently, two conferences run by Early Career Researchers. The first of these conferences, The Humanities in Deep Time, considered the world through the lens of ecological time. The second, Uprooting the Anthropocene, was designed to challenge anthropocentrism – the idea of the world as human-centred – and reimagine things from the perspective of trees. This imaginative leap was made using literature, philosophy, colonial studies and more, moving towards a place where trees and other nonhumans are considered active, cognisant, and intentional beings - an awareness that has all too often been lost. By shifting thinking away from an anthropocentric view of the world, the scale of the climate crisis becomes more communicable and emotive.

Taking a non-anthropocentric view also helps us see human actions and their impact in context. The Climate Crisis Thinking in the Humanities and Social Sciences Network recently explored animal perspectives and insights into life on earth through their collaboration with the University of the Arts (UdK) in Berlin, Animal Eyes on the Planet? In a series of podcasts they considered animals’ relationship with the world and what it could teach us about reconstructing our relationship with it in response to the climate crisis.

As we look back at what was, or wasn’t achieved at COP26, there is an opportunity for academic and policy conversations to fuel broader public ones – conversations that the TORCH Art, Biodiversity and Climate Network are furthering through an online exhibition of artworks.

These art pieces have been developed in collaboration with Oxford-based science labs to question the divide between the urban and the wild. The Among the Garbage and the Flowers exhibition, for example, aims to collectively imagine the world as it could be. One frequent difficulty when dealing with the scale of the climate crisis is positively imagining potential futures. Bringing together the imaginative freedoms of art with a scientific grounding provides an opportunity to do this.

One artist involved in the project, Loveday Pride, worked with the ECI Ecosystem Governance Group to create No Silver Bullet, a painting and video piece focusing on our responsibility for the current state of the environment and society, communicating the ways in which we hide behind technological fixes that disconnect humans from each other and from nature. Through this work, Pride hopes to offer the viewer a sense of curiosity and responsibility towards their environment.

The climate crisis is human-made. For this reason, it is vital that we interrogate the human perspective in order to tackle environmental problems, drawing on the insights of the Humanities to inspire change, and using artistic practices to develop and communicate new ways of thinking.

[Image credit: Antonia Jameson, Human/Habitat]