Physicist Robert Davies started out his science career working on quantum optics at the University of Oxford in England. His interest in climate change began when he noticed the Environmental Change Institute, right down the road from his lab. Seeing a broad gap between what science knows and what the public hears about climate change, he blamed scientists for miscommunicating climate change and started to make up for it by giving public lectures on the subject and its thorny implications for sustained human life on planet Earth.
“The audiences would understand [my talks], you know, on an intellectual level,” Davies says. “The science is pretty self-explanatory and very compelling. But it was still very difficult to connect with.” Now Davies has moved to the Utah State University Climate Center and conceived a new way to tell the story: The Crossroads Project. Says the project’s webpage:
At the dawn of the 21st century, humanity has arrived at an extraordinary Crossroads—a time and place where scientific ability to identify unprecedented risk intersects a societal inability to respond. Little of humanity’s course, as currently imagined, is sustainable—not our energy, not our economy, not our environment.
The project has captivated audiences around the world during the past two years. “We developed this performance as a means of helping an audience get the information not just intellectually, but viscerally, to really connect with it,” Davies tells National Public Radio (NPR) science correspondent Joe Palca of Joe’s Big Idea, a series about scientists and inventors. Listen to Palca’s complete interview, aired yesterday on NPR, here.
Davies conceived of presenting his thoughts about the society’s unsustainable systems, Earth’s changing climate, and our opportunity for a new direction in a live program combining science and performance arts. Striking multi-screen images by nature photographers, notably Garth Lenz, and nature painter Rebecca Allan, form a kaleidoscopic background. The scientist has choreographed them with his lecture material. The final touch is a live performance by the Fry Street Quartet, professional artists in residence at Utah State’s Caine College of the Arts. The team commissioned composer Laura Kaminsky to write “Rising Tide,” a piece of music exquisitely attuned to the climate science theme. And a powerful performance has resulted.
“It’s not really about convincing people who don’t believe we have these problems,” Davies says. “It’s about convincing people who already believe we have these problems to start behaving like it.” Audiences at these multimedia occasions not only learn and reinforce their existing beliefs; their emotional connection with living science transforms perception into activism.
Last April 11, WorldCanvass at the University of Iowa hosted the Crossroads Project during its Earth Month festivities and produced four videos from the performance:
The Crossroads Project
Science and the arts
Climate, sustainability, and conservation
Iowa’s sustainability future
Upcoming Performances (as of January 2015)
Ecological Society of America, 100th Annual Meeting
- Plenary Event (Open to the public)
- Sunday, August 9th, 2015 5 pm
- Hilton Grand Ballroom
- 401 W. Pratt Street
- Baltimore, Maryland
Doane College, Nebraska
- November 2015
- (Campus TBA)
- (Precise date, time, and venue TBA)
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