Future Everything 2016: Bringing Scientists, Artists and Designers Together To Drive Environmental Change

Manchester, the 2016 European City of Science was the dynamic setting for Future Everything; a far from typical science festival inventively combining art and tech with science and design. With its roots in ‘rave culture’ its founder, Drew Hemment, explained that the festival-cum-science conference grew organically, if almost unbelievably, from his love of electronic dance music in the early 90s. Future Everything grew from what Hemment proclaims were ‘entirely selfish’ motives; an excuse to gather like-minded people fascinated in digital culture.

The result? A unique three-day experience that investigates some of the biggest questions facing our society through the mediums of art, design, science and tech. This seamless collaboration between disciplines offers a fresh approach to the problems which modern society faces.

Project Ukko, - a visualisation of the World's wind patterns, premiered at FE2016

Project Ukko, - a visualisation of the World's wind patterns, premiered at FE2016

Earth - Three talks on climate change followed by a panel discussion

Carlo Buontempo, the Met Office’s Senior Climate Scientist, kicked off with a message that sounds obvious, but is often overlooked - when creating a climate model, involve those affected by that climate in the planning stages of the simulation. EUPORIAS, the European Provision Of Regional Impacts Assessments on Seasonal and Decadal Timescales, launched in November 2012 does just this. Buontempo is Scientific Coordinator on the four year project, which is aimed at predicting climate events and their effect on local communities. The project comprises several models, one of which predicts and quantifies the effect of adverse weather on UK transport. Bouts of cold weather correlate significantly with road accidents and travel delays, EUPORIAS’ accurate predictions of these weather conditions, using past and current measurements, enable preparation to mitigate the negative effects. Other models include assessments of food security in Ethiopia and the resilience of renewable energy production.

Next up: raise the public’s awareness of how much energy they are using and get them involved and excited about renewable alternatives. Alice Bell, Head of Campaigns at 10:10, enthusiastic advocate of community energy projects,  explained the importance of engaging the public. She talked of solar schools, 80 of which have sprung up in the past five years, and solar panel co-operatives, the likes of which in Hackney enable local residents to gain installation licenses. These uplifting stories show that a community can be shaped by these mini solar power stations, which promote personal and social growth, education and enthusiasm.

Kirsty Lewis, leader of the Climate Security Team at the Met Office Hadley Centre, gave an all-embracing view of the future of food insecurity. The models, from the Met Office and the World Food Programme’s Food Insecurity and Climate Change project take into account flooding, drought, plant water requirement, sea level and rainfall to predict food availability across Asia, Africa and South America in 2050 and 2080. Different projections of world hunger are produced by modelling hypothetical levels of emissions and adaptation in farming methods and consumption over the next 65 years. These models show that by both adapting and reducing emissions, food insecurity can be reduced by 2080, while any other approach that doesn’t combine these two methods results in the reduction of food security over the coming decades.  

The panel discussion that followed highlighted the differences and similarities between the speakers in a collaboratively creative debate, with Bell reminding the others to ’answer as humans as well as scientists’. The overall message was one of optimism, ‘don’t be disheartened by what we’ve lost, there’s still so much to save’; a consilient approach combining the hard modelling from Buontempo and Lewis with Bell’s culturally aware local projects will be necessary in bringing this message to life.

Project Ukko -  A visualisation of the world’s wind pattern data

Following the eerie music that resonated through the town hall, I stepped into a black curtained tunnel to discover Project Ukko - the result of two years of collaboration between Future Everything, the Met Office and Barcelona Supercomputing Centre. Project Ukko displays wind condition predictions over the coming months - an awkward time range that is avoided  by both long range climate models and short term weather forecasts. It was displayed here as an art form, a pixelated screen showing a three-minute reel of the world and its ever changing wind patterns as they played across its surface.

Designed to enable wind farm operators and wind energy traders to make maintenance and construction decisions, the project is viewable via an online interactive map. By clicking on a specific region, the user can view 30 years of wind speed observations as well as all the possible predictions based on this data, along with their individual confidence intervals. While the science behind Project Ukko is necessary for its precision and insight, the art and design aspects are crucial in effectively conveying its overall message. The exhibit was beautiful, and encapsulated everything Hemment’s festival stands for.