Field Notes on Design Activism

Climate awareness is not a clear and predictable endpoint, but a dynamic process of definition and response involving complex power relations, varied histories, variable risks, and diverse constituencies. Local communities have profound opportunities for mitigation of and adaptation to climate-related threats. Yet it is often difficult to comprehend and realize these capacities — especially in light of news coverage of impending catastrophes that include ceaseless images of droughts, floods, and fires splashed across newspapers and social media feeds. Furthermore, jargon-laden scientific metrics are often paralyzing, and in many people’s minds can seem irrelevant.

It is time to advance a version of climate awareness that enhances residents’ abilities to adapt at a neighborhood level. Activist designers in this context could contribute interactive visual tools centering marginalized knowledge, lived experience, and overlooked histories. Such tools can help communities protect themselves by communicating to the general public the socio-ecological value of existing local resources. With the support of climate scientists and community experts, we can demonstrate multi-performative design for the public realm as a situated form of empowerment and action.

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