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The Rough Guide to Zero-Carbon Skåne: worldbuilding, placemaking and prototyping decarbonised lifestyles

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - RoughGuide (The Rough Guide to Zero-Carbon Skåne: worldbuilding, placemaking and prototyping decarbonised lifestyles)

Reporting period: 2020-10-01 to 2022-09-30

The overarching goal of this action has been the development of a methodological framework for creative, situated and co-productive futuring ("creative futuring") with a focus on climate change adaptation, to be achieved through practical experimentation. The result of that experimentation manifests as the production of a "narrative prototype": a fictional "tourist guide" which describes human lifeways and practices in Skåne, the southernmost county of Sweden, circa the year 2050.

Creative futuring meets a profound societal need which cannot be met through the dominant approaches to climate change adaptation policy development. It is not at all that there is a shortage of “visions” of a decarbonised future; rather, it is that these plentiful “visions” are frequently produced by and for academics, policymakers and business leaders, and as a result tend to deal in abstractions. To be clear, this is in some respects necessary: abstraction allows for the rapid and efficient communication of ideas between experts trained to this sort of thinking. However, it is alienating for those without the privilege of such training, which is the majority of people.

Laypeople simply do not recognise the world(s) portrayed in such speculative futures, nor see themselves and their concerns reflected in them. Survey data strongly suggests that a majority of people both recognise the reality of climate change and the necessity for human lifeways to change, for the purposes of both mitigation and adaptation. What is lacking, as exemplified by discourses such as the push to “keep below 1.5ºC of warming”, are concrete and situated depictions of what a decarbonised life might look like at “street level”, using language and situations familiar to those lacking the abstract expertise of academia, policy and commerce.

This action’s aim has been to develop and codify a methodology through which visions of decarbonised (or otherwise socially and/or technologically reconfigured) futurity might be concretised, situated and democratised. To concretise is to make the abstract particular; to situate is to engage with the placedness of people and their practices; to democratise is to popularise.

The last of these principles is the most challenging, but also the most pressing: the role of policy in addressing the structural issues which “lock in” environmentally destructive practices is inescapable, but in order for any such policy to have any chance of success, it must be backed by a popular mandate. This in turn requires that the question "how should we live?" is made legible, and a plurality of possible answers solicited; one way to do this involces the co-production future visions in which those communities can see themselves and their concerns fairly reflected. This is an attempt to open up a space for discussion and debate in which expertise takes no precedence over the situated knowledges and practices of those who will be obliged to live under whatever policies might be ultimately be established.

In pursuit of this aim, the formal scientific objectives of the action were threefold:

1) To gather, synthesise and localise data which might inform the factual background of a situated vision of decarbonised living
2) To design and deliver a series of workshops in which participants imagine and narrate new lifeways in a fossil-free society
3) To produce and disseminate a narrative prototype which would take the form of a speculative “travel guide” to post-fossil Skåne circa 2050
To meet Objective 1, a significant base of data was gathered and synthesised from various sources, including academic publications, government reports and policy documents, and interviews and discussions with researchers and experts, as well as interviews and participant observation with communities of place and practice in Skåne; this work spanned the full period of this report, and continues beyond it.

To meet Objective 2, a run of eight two-hour workshops were designed and delivered in May and June 2021. Nearly seventy participants were recruited, with an eye to achieving the maximum diversity possible under the circumstances, and the workshop design was iterated ahead of each session in order to increase the volume of usable material gathered. This series of workshops resulted in dozens of useable characters, situations and narratives. It also resulted in the production of an extra prototype (a fictional "2041" jubilee edition of a university staff magazine), in excess of the outputs promised.

To meet Objective 3, a website was developed to house the "tourist guide", which was then populated with characters, narratives, situations and stories developed and written up from the materials gathered in the earlier stages of the project.

As a result of this work, the action has produced the "tourist guide" website which is the heart of the third objective (and the ultimate output of the action as a whole), as well as an extra narrative prototype as a byproduct of the second objective. The "tourist guide" website contains significantly more material than was originally planned for; furthermore, sufficient material was gathered during the earlier phases of the project that perhaps not even half of it has yet been developed and placed into the "guide". As such, the project has not only produced a highly exploitable output which may be used as the basis of numerous forms of non-academic outreach, but also an open-ended one which may expanded with further work.

In addition to standing alone as works of creative climate futuring, the outputs will also serve as a promotional vehicle for the methodology which produced them. Numerous public sector and non-profit actors have already expressed an interest, and at time of writing, the Fellow (and others) are in discussion with various third-sector actors in Sweden regarding the use of the outputs and/or the methodology as a vehicle for public engagement around climate change adaptation.
The narrative prototypes generated in the course of this project, as well as the methodology through which they were produced, represent a contribution to the state of the art across a number of fields, including environmental science, sustainability studies, and critical/social futures studies. The methodological advances of this action represent significant progress, particularly with regard to situated practice (i.e. performing futuring in ways that pay particularly close attention to the local context) and co-productive work in the context of climate change.

By depicting multiple social, political and technological strategies for climate change adaptation and mitigation, the project’s final output addresses an acute social need by creating a discursive space in which such possibilities can be depicted and discussed by non-experts. More broadly, the methodological framework developed through the creation of the project output offers a set of tools and techniques which might be used by others—whether in academia, the public sector, or the non-profit sector—to do similar sorts of work in other locations. It is hoped that the theoretical implications of the methodology, as manifest in the tools and the outputs alike, might further serve to influence the discourse around climate change and sociotechnical reconfiguration, and indeed around futurity more generally.
A coastal scene in Skåne