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We Can Change The Weather - 100 cases of changeability

We Can Change The Weather - 100 Cases of Changeability

by Marleen Wynants
CROSSTALKS Vub Press, Brussels, 2010
224 pp. Type N/A, € 29,95
ISBN: 978-90-5487-692-2.

Reviewed by Edith Doove
Transtechnology Research, University of Plymouth


This is the fourth CROSSTALKS book coming out of the academic and corporate networking talks launched by Vrije Universiteit Brussel in 2003. Projects tackled so far have been Smart Logistics, Energy Efficiency, Sustainability and Changeability, Prosperity without Growth?, Bridges over Troubled Water, Cleantech and Transparency in Healthcare, resulting in the publications How Open is the Future? (2005), Brave New Interfaces (2007), In Sickness and in Health (2009), and this We Can Change the Weather.

We Can Change The Weather offers, as Operational Director Marleen Wynants puts it in her introduction, tangible initiatives instead of "more political talk, more reports on climate change and unstable financial markets, more reports on resource depletion and pollution." As the title suggests, the book is a collection of 100 cases of change or changeability taking as its premise that we have changed the weather and how it is changing us. The explicit "holistic" approach is expressed in the fact that the cases originate from scientific researchers, architects, artists, political thinkers and entrepreneurs, true to the idea of sharing knowledge and stimulating creativity in search of sustainability that is behind all the CROSSTALKS projects The result is thus a mixture of both quite hands-on solutions and more philosophical visions, differing in terms of scale and approach.

In taking for its headline a quote from literature, namely one by Marcel Proust ("A change in the weather is sufficient to recreate the world and ourselves"), the original scope of the book is clearly set. Every case has been assigned two pages, not unlike the Pecha Kucha format that the CROSSTALKS introduced in 2007. Trying to state a case in such a confined format has obviously its pros and cons. Sometimes the cases are mainly a thought-provoking suggestive (visual) statement; at other times the contributors succeed in making a clear point. The order in which the cases are presented seems to be somewhat arbitrary: they do not follow an alphabetical order or one according to discipline. As a consequence, the temptation is to flip to and fro through the book, getting lost in a world of possible solutions some of which have actually been tested and others that are just speculative proposals or are in various stages of development. Overall the word 'holistic' returns regularly in the contributions, as in a take on Ecotherapy and Ecopsychology - "A holistic, human ecological, psychological and philosophical approach to a society and planet in crisis". Other suggestions in this same vein are those urging the choice for macrobiotic or vegetarian food. But this does not mean that the book solely opts for what in this context is more obvious alternative way of life. It opens, for instance, quite surprisingly with the case of JDS Architects who have been asked to develop a part of a city in Shenzhen, China. This is an unusually large development of some 2,5 million square meters and, following the principles of Feng Shui, opts for designs that are preferably 666, 888 or 1111 meters tall. The discussion of this project raises the question for the architects why urban growth should require the erasure of public space and nature.

On a relatively smaller scale François Jegou, director of the Brussels-based design research company Strategic Design Scenarios, questions whether it is possible to design products that influence users towards new and more sustainable behaviours, for example by introducing particular switches. Simon Dewulf of CREAX that aims at energy sufficiency in R&D gives recycling a new meaning when it is not only applied to recycling cars in a take on Industrial Ecology at Delft University of Technology, but also to recycling knowledge across domains. Other contributions deal with aspects such as creative ecologies (as practiced by Culture Lab at Newcastle University) or the use of renewable energy in the Dutch theatre production Eager To Know. The project 'Laptops Unite!' seeks to raise awareness by creating a super computer for climate simulation by, tapping into their potentially huge computing power when laptops worldwide are connected. In a similarly informed response Takashi Ikegami, both a physicist and 'a maker of artworks', is developing a Mind Time Machine that needs to run all day in a public space and as a consequence asks for a new kind of sustainability.

Sustainability in We Can Change The Weather is researched in a wide variety of domains ranging from architecture, design, food, industry, R&D and art, the results of which in the end all feed back into each other. In this respect the book definitely offers a wide range of thought provoking cases although, unfortunately, it is not a practical book - an index of keywords would have been helpful - but, that said it is important book in that it demonstrates how the most diverse researchers try to find new transdisciplinary ways of dealing with our planet in peril. What would be especially interesting is to see how these ideas will hold or develop over a period of five, ten years and to give the book thus the dynamic status it asks for.

Last Updated 1 December 2010

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