Beginning tomorrow (25th January) at London’s National Theatre is a new play, ‘Greenland’, that explores the issues around climate change. According to the website blurb, the production “draws together several separate but connected stories into a fast-paced and provocative new play.” The play was co-written by Moira Buffini, Matt Charman, Penelope Skinner and Jack Thorne, who spent six months researching the topic in the worlds of science, politics, business and philosophy. A series of events have also been organised in tandem with the production.
Recently, climate change-related art and media projects have been cropping up all over the place – the Nordic RETHINK and British Cape Farewell initiatives are two examples. ‘Climate change theatre’, however, has seemed slow to get going. I guess it can’t be easy to create dramatic tension when the subject of the play is essentially a statistical trend that evolves on (at least) decadal timescales. Nevertheless, this article highlighted a recent spate of green plays that received a good critical response, so maybe it won’t be too long before we see a certain Lloyd Webber soundtracking the collapse of Larsen B.
Projects such as ‘Greenland’ open up new audiences to the big climate debate, and that can only be a good thing. Climate change is probably the area of science that stirs up the most controversy in the public domain. Ironically, it is also one of the topics that scientists most agree on…a study by Anderegg et al. (2010) found that “97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC (Anthropogenic Climate Change) outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”
This gap between scientific agreement and societal bewilderment is complex (maybe a question for psychologists?). However, scientists are increasingly being encouraged to come down from their ivory towers and communicate their results. After all, the general public’s understanding of climate change is formed by the media, not by specialist studies in scientific journals. Climate controversies such as the ‘Climategate‘ hullabaloo at the University of East Anglia demonstrate how the media can influence the public perception of scientists (and their work).
So hopefully this new play at the National Theatre will get people excited, help switch focus back to the important issues, and ignite some interesting debates. And hopefully the real life climate change drama won’t end up as a tragedy. Performances of ‘Greenland’ run from January 25th – April 2nd 2011.