Bodily learning

Menselijke piramides voor klimaatactie
Het nut van het lichamelijk ervaren van balans en disbalans
Hoe komt het dat de wetenschappelijke kennis over klimaatverandering de afgelopen decennia exponentieel is toegenomen maar we niet exponentieel meer actie ondernemen om deze klimaatverandering tegen te gaan? We weten erg veel over klimaatverandering, maar de kennis hierover is vooral cognitief. De praktijk wijst uit dat deze cognitieve kennis onvoldoende aanzet tot klimaat mitigerende maatregelen. Verschillende benaderingen van kennisoverdracht versterken elkaar, zo zijn beeldende en expressieve benaderingen een aanvulling op cognitieve kennis. Ik ga in mijn scriptie onderzoeken hoe we tot lichamelijke kennis over balans en disbalans in ecosystemen kunnen komen en in welke mate dit leidt tot meer klimaatpositief gedrag. Ik ga dit doen aan de hand van een actieve focusgroep waarin ik met de participanten menselijke piramides ga bouwen. Ik ga de participanten leren hoe ze samen een piramide kunnen bouwen. In deze piramide ervaren ze balans en disbalans. Hier komen vele vragen bij kijken: durf je de ander te vertrouwen? Accepteer je jouw afhankelijkheid van de ander? Kan je je overgeven aan de gezamenlijke balans en voel je de kracht daarvan? Als de piramide eenmaal staat: wat gebeurt er als er iemand uit een staande piramide wordt gehaald? Als er iemand valt? Als er aan je getrokken wordt? Wat doet dat met jou en met het geheel van de piramide? Ben jij nog een los individu, of ben je vooral onderdeel van het geheel? Wat gebeurt er als jij je losmaakt van het geheel? Als het fout gaat, wat is het moment waarop de piramide instort? Hoe stabiel is het geheel? Hieronder leg ik in mijn paper nog meer uit over Bodily learning.

Bodily learning: Is this the science we need to encourage climate positive behaviour?

Last summer, it was 54,4 °C in California, the hottest temperature ever measured on earth (Masters 2021), while in Western Europe over 200 people have died in floods (Schmidt et al. 2021). To quote Panmao Zhai, co-chair of workgroup I of the IPCC: “Climate change is already affecting every region on Earth, in multiple ways.” (IPCC 2021). As we speak, the COP26 is taking place in Glasgow. In this summit, the gathered parties look back on their commitments made 6 years ago in Paris. The goal, to limit global warming to 1,5 °C, is far from met (United Nations 2021, 9). We already know about global warming for decades, we knew enough about the consequences to know it was important to act. Why didn’t we? Why don’t we act now, like we áre in a crisis, like we respond to Covid19? Or to quote Rowland “What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?” (climate communication, 2012). This is what is happening: while the scientific understanding of climate change has accelerated in recent decades, the growing evidence didn’t lead to an equivalent amount of action (Baker et al. 2020; Cameron, Manhood and Pomfrett 2011; Knutti 2019; Parth et al. 2020; Roche et al. 2021). What do we need to manage the climate crisis? What role is there for science? What kind of science do we need? As Knutti states, climate change is a wicked problem, where:

everything is connected to almost everything else and where personal short-term interest and long-held habits often appear to us as being more important than the well-being of the planet, it is difficult for facts alone to change individual or collective behaviors (Knutti 2019, 22).

There are multiple interesting things about this statement, but let’s first focus on what a “wicked problem” is. A problem is wicked when it has innumerable causes, when it is hard to describe, and when it does not have one right answer. Many stakeholders have different values and priorities, the roots of the problem are complex and tangled, the problem is difficult to grasp and changes while addressing it, and the problem has no precedent. Both the social complexity and the technical difficulties make it a huge challenge (Camillus 2008, 98-100). A wicked problem distinguishes from an ordinary or tame problem in the following: there is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem; wicked problems have no stopping rule; solutions to wicked problems are neither true nor false; there is no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem, because of the many unexpected consequences; every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot” operation, because there is no opportunity to learn by trial and error; there are unlimited solutions; every wicked problem is unique; it is intertwined with other problems; the stakeholders do not all tell the same story; and the planner cannot be wrong, too many risks are at stake (Rittel and Webber 1973,156-167). 

Many solutions have been mentioned to bridge the knowledge-action gap for climate positive behaviour: Cameron, Manhood and Pomfrett (2011, 493) see better informing; reaching the underlying values of people by engaging them; providing an infrastructure and a support system that helps people to change their behaviour; use people’s desire for personal and collective well-being. Knutti (2019, 22-23) calls upon more local information; interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches from scientists; putting a price on impacts, measures and policies; quantify uncertainties in science; and engaging physical science with social science and humanities. Roche et al. (2021) see open research as the solution to close the knowledge-action gap. Parth et al. (2020) show that empowering students is helpful in overcoming the gap. However, as Cameron, Manhood and Pomfrett (2011, 493) say, it is harder than we thought to incite climate positive behaviour by providing scientific proof. 

According to Rittel and Webber (1973, 155) this is because science has developed to deal with tame problems, not with wicked problems. Science looks for the most optimal solution for a problem, but for wicked problems, there is no optimal solution because of a qualification lack (Rittel and Webber 1973, 155). According to Hulme (2014, preface) the role of science is therefore “not to fix climate change through planetary scale engineering, but to serve human inspired goals of dignity, freedom and creativity.” He (ibid., preface) argues that climate engineering cannot give us the solution for climate change, because that would mean regulating the global temperature, which is not the same as controlling local climate and weather and therefore an undesirable solution. Also it would be ungovernable, because it would mean that we would have to decide together what the world temperature is going to be. Lastly, it would be unreliable because of the law of unintended consequences, with a wicked problem like climate change it is impossible to oversee all the possible consequences. Hulme (ibid., preface) argues that the threat to human wellbeing is not climate change, it is rather a lack of virtue.  

Behind the knowledge-action gap: the human-nonhuman dualism

Returning to the quote of Knutti (2019, 22), here used as a metaphor for the overall challenge in the knowledge-action gap, he states that personal interest of humans is more important than the well-being of the planet. This clearly shows a disconnection between humans and their environment: the well-being of the planet is not connected to the well-being of the person. In here, lies the assumption that humans have agency and that everything else is just a mute object without agency (Cameron, Manhood and Pomfrett 2011, 494). This assumes that humans can shape their life against an unchanging background. This dualistic thinking is strongly embedded in western thinking (ibid., 494). As a consequence of this thinking, humanity has been taking her space on earth. Since the industrial revolution, humans have marked the global surface of earth in such a way that a new geological era has been announced: the Anthropocene, where humans leave their footprint on earth by global land use, forestry, mining, farming, by polluting and overexploiting (Hastrup 2013, 5). Climate change, however, shows us that the earth is not a static, inexhaustible background on which we can live our lives. We are connected with the earth, we are simultaneously shaped by it and shaping it. By acknowledging this, and therefore accepting that both humans and nonhumans have agency, we break through the dualism stated above. Climate change shows us that “we can no longer behave as isolated and masterful human individuals, nations or species, but need to act in accordance with those earth others enabling our existence” (Roelvink 2015, 57). 

Humans have endless companion species (Hastrup 2013, 15), examples are the human-microbe entanglement (Flachs and Orkin 2019, 36), the fact that dogs have become significant others to us (Haraway, 2003), and in the knowledge that mushrooms can create socialities too (Tsing 2010, 191). Nature is an integral part of our lifes (Hastrup, 2013). This, for the western world, innovative thinking, is common knowledge for many indigenous communities. Being put away as traditional for a long time, now the western world starts to call their way of living and thinking as innovative rather than traditional (Berkes, Colding and Folke 2000, 1251). Since the climate change is a consequence of the dualist thinking of the west (Cameron, Manhood and Pomfrett 2011, 495; Roelvink 2015, 57), there is a lot to say to learn from the indigenous communities instead. 

How bodily learning can encourage climate positive behaviour

Let’s return to the quote of Knutti again (2019, 22), still as a metaphor for the overall challenge of the knowledge action gap. In the last part of the sentence he states that it is difficult for facts alone to change individual or collective behaviour. Much of the policies and strategies to manage climate change are developed and executed through words in forms of scientific papers, legislation, policy briefs, green and white papers and others (Cosgrave and Kelman 2017, 214). All forms of communication have their advantages and limitations, therefore it is important to use multiple approaches (ibid., 214). Performative practice can be a valuable addition to written papers, because artistic expression can reach deeper than descriptive logic and therefore help where language falls short (ibid., 214). Since our bodies are our interface with the world, we can be moved by registering differences around us. Through this bodily learning we can learn to experience climate change (Cameron, Manhood and Pomfrett 2011, 495). 

One example of how bodily learning can encourage climate positive behaviour is the research of Cameron, Manhood and Pomfrett (2011) in community gardens. To see what the members of the community gardens could learn from each other and if and how they could stir each other up in climate positive behaviour, they drove a group of gardeners from different gardens, in a minibus, to each of the joining community gardens. In all gardens they got a tour from the gardeners of that garden. The participants did not just talk with each other about their methods and ideas, they got to see each all of the gardens, feel the atmosphere, taste the plants. The participants indicated that this full body experience gave a lot more information than just talking would have made possible (ibid., 501). Because of the project a strong network of gardeners developed. 

Cosgrave and Kelman (2017) did research on the performative practices of dance and theatre in reducing disaster risk, including climate change adaptation. They found out that “by leveraging the power of performing arts for accessing embodied knowledge and connection, action for climate change adaptation can be encouraged” (Cosgrave and Kelman 2017, 214). Bodily learning through dance and theatre can help people deal with traumas and can also make them more resilient for future disruptions. This is the case for individuals, as well as for community challenges (ibid, 215). 

By appreciating the role of the body in how it shapes the world, we can go beyond the human-nonhuman dualism (ibid., 494). Latour (2014, 207) calls this “learning to be affected”. He explains that you can train your body to be more sensitive to the world around you, with the example of a smelling training to experience more different fragrances in perfumes. This training makes both you and your surroundings more sensitive. By becoming more aware of your surroundings, or more “articulate” as Latour would say, the world becomes richer to you (Latour 2014, 207). Learning to be affected disrupts the human-nonhuman dualism in western thinking, by acknowledging the role of the body in experiencing the world around us (Cameron, Manhood and Pomfrett 2011, 495). The distressing realities of climate change create a fine line between motivating and demotivating for interventions, it is an obstacle as well as an incitement (Siperstein, Hall and LeMenager 2016, 5). Bodily learning can help to understand the wicked problem of climate change in a deeper way, it can make the problem more relatable and therefore make the distressing reality of climate change more of an incitement than an obstacle for climate positive behaviour.

The science that helps us act

Climate change shows us that our actions are not just actions on itself, they “are deeply embedded in the wider environment, and in the habits and culture and social norms of those around us. If we are to change, we will do so together” (Hale 2010, 261-262). We will have to work together, not just as humanity, but as all humans and nonhumans together. Here we meet the proverb, “if you want to travel fast go alone, if you want to go far, go together”. If we want to go far, we will have to manage climate change. By acknowledging the role of our bodies in acquiring information on the world around us, of our changing climate, by therefore acknowledging the interaction between our bodies and our surroundings, we can start to overcome the human-nonhuman dualism by accepting the agency of our surroundings. Through bodily learning we can make information ours and create a foundation needed for action and therefore it can play a role in overcoming the dualism between human and nonhuman, between mind and body. I therefore agree with Cameron, Manhood and Pomfrett (2011, 505), that bodily learning can make openings for a reality to shift, it’s laying the foundation for a shift, but not forcing a shift. Adding bodily learning to our already gathered (scientific) information on climate change might just be what is necessary to close the knowledge-action gap in encouraging climate positive behaviour. Literature 

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