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Tackling Climate Change During A Global Health Crisis

Every year in the summer, Holition opens up its offices to a small group of undergraduate and postgraduate students for the Summer Internship Programme. Our team likes to use the internship program as a way to explore fresh ideas and perspectives by posing a challenge to the team of interns. The 8-week program engages the students and relevant Holition partners in an innovative project that tackles a highly relevant topic. We also see this project as an opportunity to further our understanding of the human experience by bringing in fresh perspectives from unexpected disciplines. This year, in the midst of the battle against a global pandemic, Holition turned its gaze towards climate action.


Thinkers and shapers from all industries, including the WEF, have drawn parallels between the current pandemic and the adaptation that would be required of humans to survive on a heated planet. Many politicians and economists have come out in support of a green recovery, confirming what many subconsciously understand to be true: swift, significant climate action is needed to minimise the impact of a crisis potentially far greater than the current coronavirus pandemic. A vaccine for the virus is emerging from research labs, but the vaccine for climate change is entangled in the daily actions of everyday citizens. 


We consider it necessary to apply the lessons learnt from the global pandemic to the current climate emergency for the following three reasons: 


The pandemic has revealed how connected we are, across the globe.

The far-reaching impact of the coronavirus outbreak has revealed how tied we are to one another, and it is anticipated that the impacts of global warming will similarly show up in unexpected, and ill-prepared parts of the world. Neither the current pandemic nor the climate emergency pays much regard to border restrictions and admission fees to museums, galleries or stadiums. 


It is therefore important that the output of this Summer Internship Project explores the connectedness of human actions, and can be accessed across the globe without the constraints of walls and borders. 


Climate change will burden our healthcare systems.

On current greenhouse gas emission trajectories, the World Health Organization estimates that an additional 250 000 deaths will occur annually between 2030 and 2050. Studies also suggest that climate change is increasing the transmission seasons of vector-borne diseases. Health systems worldwide would increasingly take strain under the increased burden, and would, as a result, be unable to respond meaningfully if another global pandemic such as COVID-19 were to break out - a scenario which scientists expect to see repeated. 


As such, the climate change issue is also a global health issue. If we take climate action now, we will limit history repeating itself, having seen the damage done to livelihoods and economies when governments are unable to meet the basic needs of their citizens.


Building back green will require collective action.

Effective management of the pandemic requires both systemic and individual action. The pandemic has caused severe damage to economies, the extent of which is still being determined. Much has been said about a ‘green recovery’; an opportunity to rebuild systems to be resilient towards such global shocks and more climate-conscious. For the proposed strategies of ‘building back better’, buy-in from all parts of society is required because the nature of a green economy requires reform at the systemic and individual level. New behaviours and new dependencies will need to be formed. 



The Summer Internship Project this year is an opportunity to explore how we can take individual action to untangle ourselves from fossil fuel reliance and intertwine our futures with a greener economic system. 


As a leader in humanised, emerging technologies and data visualisation, the team at Holition proposed an exploration of how data can be used to shift the conversation around climate change. We’d like to move away from focusing solely on the detrimental aspects of man-made systems which seem unconquerable, and instead sparking conversations that can make room for more hopeful and aspirational versions of the story as well. 


Ultimately, we’re aiming to create an experience that highlights the power and agency that each individual can have in helping - or hindering - the creation of an alternate version of the future of climate change. 


By looking at each individual choice that is made on a daily basis, and projecting it into different timelines in the future, we allow for an examination of the crisis from a micro to a macro level, helping us understand the repercussions of our current actions, which are often felt as insignificant. We propose to look at choices not only around our personal actions, such as what we buy, how we travel and what we eat, but also how we think and speak about climate change, and the tools that are currently at our disposal that can shift the narrative.  


Having the work dig into such stories at a granular level allows this experience to become a form of ‘listening tool’ giving audiences insight into the personal and individual details that can affect change in the planetary picture. By contextualising the data points according to industries and their impact, the experience should allow for the construction of a polyphonic narrative that is both comprehensive and powerful.


We intend to open up the process of creation of this tool to bring in professionals from different disciplines to view and question the work, and to contribute their points of view in order for the end result to be more collaborative. The intention is to exhibit the piece in an environment that can allow for it to be experienced by varied audiences, each of whom will begin to contemplate, appreciate and ultimately learn from its interaction.


Our aim is to create a piece that has longevity beyond the point of the physical exhibition, possibly to live on virtually and continue to gather data and transform as people’s behaviours and conversations around the world do, responding to the ‘now’ as the ‘now’ takes place. 


The final output will be shared in Part II of the Summer Internship Programme 2020 series.