Dark Green Dreams
A Design Research Project
It is very likely that our future will be defined in no small way by climate change, resource scarcity, and other hard ecological limits. In order to face such a future in a coherent manner, we will need to broaden the ways in which we can function in the world.
Dark Green Dreams was an attempt to use design research methods to explore different ways that we might cope with and thrive in such a world. Me and a partner did extensive research into how our city was most likely to be affected by climate change. Based on that research, we ran several workshops utilizing many different techniques, both qualitative and quantitative - journey mapping, empathy mapping, interviewing, and word association were all involved to some degree.
Essentially, this project was a cross-cultural piece of design work. Our aim was to find out whether we could do cross cultural work when the cultures concerned were separated by years rather than by miles.
I began by doing research about the spectrum that environmentalists fall into. When we ask questions about the future we generally get fed a somewhat Light Green/Bright Green narrative. We are often trained to expect a capital-G Good future as being characterized by a lifestyle closer Light Green/Bright Green experience rather than a Deep Green or Dark Green one.
This is problematic because any future that we get is necessarily going to be a blend of all four characterizations, and personally I think that it's going to lean somewhat closer to Dark Green than many of us may be comfortable with. We may end up living with a good deal less energy, less stuff, and less stimulation (at least of the variety we're used to). In a Dark Green future it is contraction, not growth, which is the predominant experience.
This scenario deserves more attention than it gets, and Dark Green Dreams was an attempt to do just that - an attempt to figure out how we can thrive in such a future, how we might react to it, and how we might take advantage of the unique opportunities it presents.
Preliminary Research - Environmentalist Spectrum
One of the most important parts of our research project was an understanding of the effects of climate change on our city. We utilized several sources to reach this understanding, including:
- Municipal and Provincial studies on the effects of climate change in our city and surrounding areas
- Investigations into where our city gets most of its electricity (at the moment, mostly from hydro fed by glaciers)
- Understanding where our city gets much of its food (a lot is shipped in from California) and how those areas will be affected by climate change
- How Greece and Argentina reacted to prolonged economic crises
- The British Victory Gardens that were used to feed the country during the World Wars
And so on.
Preliminary Research - Effects of Climate Change
We synthesized the results of this research into a short presentation, which we showed to our participants before engaging them in our project.
For the qualitative research portion of the project we worked primarily with interviews and empathy mapping. We gained several insights from this - for example, the number of stray animals would likely increase, which was a detail we hadn't thought of. Another one was that people would spend more time swimming during the summer if it got warmer and air conditioning became increasingly expensive.
During the interviews, we combined straight-up questions about how people would react to living with less with questions that were more oblique - for example, one that we asked was "If you were baking a cake and ran out of sugar, what would you do?". We figured that by asking our participants about familiar present-day situations rather than about a hypothetical future situation we would get answers that are more in line with how they might deal with regular, everyday scarcity.
Co-Creation Sessions - Qualitative Research
Using a Lickert Scale, we asked 35 people how important certain things (often taken for granted today, but likely to change in the future) were to their quality of life.
There were some interesting results. For example, lots of culinary choice is important to people, but storing lots of that food at home in a fridge is not considered to be important at all. Heating and air conditioning is not considered to be very important. The most important things were considered to be a healthy work/life balance, convenient transport, and knowing that there’s a social safety net to catch you if you need it.
Strangely, taking part in the political process, which allows people to achieve these things, is only considered to be of middling importance.
We think that design opportunities abound here.Most of our participants were younger, so we were surprised to learn that 24/7 access to the internet was not a higher priority - from a Dark Green perspective this is good, considering the huge amount of energy the internet uses.