Tuesday 19 April 2022


Taking Climate Experts out of the Box: Part 3 - The Climate Lab Day 1: 

The Gathering


Image: Marega Palser

 Taking Climate Experts out of the Box Part 1

 Taking Climate Experts out of the Box Part 2

‘Seeing’ and ‘Feeling’ Future Sea-level Rise Through the Eyes of Climate Experts and Artists.

We propose two linked workshops that will take the expert viewpoint of climate scientists and engineers “outside of the box” of the scientific method to explore emotional responses to their research and thus to create shared stories and art in co-creation with artists. In order to focus these visions, these workshops will explore the inevitable impacts of sea-level rise on Wales and beyond building on the newly published NRW “Flood map for planning”, which essentially provides a vision of the future coastline of Wales. We will explore how experts “see” and “feel” about the impacts of climate change they witness through their scientific observations (the “now”) and model predictions (the “future”). The workshops will bring together climate experts from Engineering and Science at Swansea University with three Welsh artists to provide informed and hopeful visions of the future, recasting the ‘resist or retreat’ narrative of sea-level rise.


The Climate Lab brief I was given is outlined above, but the original idea was seeded in a serendipitous meeting between a 12-year-old Japanese schoolboy and one of the commissioning team. The schoolboy simply asked this particular scientist how they felt about the climate research they had been conducting over the years of their career. The question struck deep, struck home, and the scientist wondered why the question had never been asked of climate scientists before, let alone been asked of them personally in relation to their own work. This research project culminating in the Climate Lab was born from that one powerful, timely, inter-generational meeting.


The story of the genesis of this project emphasises the power of the beautiful question asked at the right moment by the right person. We hear it in a way we would never have done before and it has repercussions…


The team approached me asking if I would be interested in facilitating two workshops bringing climate scientists and engineers together with artists, enabling the artists to creatively respond to what they saw and heard. I shared with the team my belief that facilitation itself is a creative process. I respond to each invitation as a bespoke art commission which means that my contribution too is in the form of a ‘creative response’ and hence I would definitely be part of not apart from this creative process. I invited Marega Palser to work with me on the project as co-facilitator/artist and the team engaged two additional guest artists: Emily Hinshelwood and Tanya Syed.


Marega and I together designed a programme in the form of two durational, site-specific, pieces of immersive art for all participants, whether scientist, engineer or artist. We were clear that we would not simply be facilitating discussions between climate scientists and engineers whilst artists observed, standing distinct and outside the process to which they would then be invited to respond. Although easier to distinguish and separate roles from a research point of view, this would be set up a false division between ‘us’ and ‘them’ - one often replicated in projects which invite artists into scientific forums.  This risks the artists becoming instrumental and secondary to the scientists, rather than both learning from each other, shaping the narrative, and creating change together. We wanted to invite all participants to be living subjects involved in, and informing, the research and potential outcomes.


As Marega and I were in the early stages of designing the Climate Lab, it struck me that we needed to bring the Japanese schoolboy or a version of him back into the room…


I asked Mathilda, the 14-year old daughter of a friend, to be that voice and take up that role. Her voice, or at least a recording of it, welcomed our scientists, engineers, and artists to the venue and encouraged them into a receptive state of consciousness from the get-go. Mathilda not only delivered the practical information on house-keeping, fire-exits and the shape of the day but her presence also served to remind everyone of why we were there and who we were serving. She represented a generation of young people who we would wish to become future custodians of a liveable plant. It is my experience that when we are doing work on behalf of future generations, we need them in the room. We also need in the room not just a cross-section of scientists, engineers and artists but the part of each of us that plays, asks questions, improvises, takes risks, is vulnerable, feels emotion and doesn’t have to ‘know’ all the answers - the 12 and 14-year olds we once were…


Over to Mathilda:


Good morning and welcome on board the Climate Lab. This is your captain speaking. Thanks for coming and we’re so glad you chose to fly with us today. Please ensure all hand luggage is safely stowed and that mobile phones are on Airplane Mode or switched off entirely. We’ll be taking off imminently so please fasten your seat belts as you listen to this short information briefing.


Our crew today are Fern and Marega and they will be looking after you for the duration. Estimated journey time is 6 hours and there will be inflight activities throughout.


Emergency exits are located ...Toilets are situated . . .Hand sanitiser dispensers are provided for your personal use as you move throughout the cabin. Teas, coffees and light refreshments will be served mid-morning, followed by lunch at 1.15 and a final afternoon comfort break, before landing at our destination at precisely 16 hundred hours UK time.


On board the Climate Lab today we hope you’ll find the view from your seats stimulating and enlivening. There will be plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs and to get to know your fellow passengers.


We will be cruising at altitude taking a look at the current and future coastline of Wales and beyond. We will map our journey, encounter new information and collect data for future research as we go. Our approach today may be different from what you are used to and possibly to what you are expecting.


There might be times when you find yourself wondering…

What am I doing here?

What is the point of all this?

And how does this fit into anything I can use in future?


Our invitation to you right now is to simply notice the questions. To take a breath… Sit back and relax…Get out of your heads and into your senses… And stay curious and open to this emergent and unfolding process that we have embarked upon together...


As with any journey there are calculated risks and the chance of encountering unpredictable conditions with the potential of some discomfort or turbulence. Should this happen, we shall weather the storms together and adapt accordingly. However, if at any time throughout the journey you begin to feel unwell or have a personal emergency please contact one of the Climate Lab cabin crew.


And finally, on behalf of myself and my generation, the future custodians of this planet and the yet unborn…I wish you all a safe and enjoyable journey.



Crew please prepare cabin for take-off.


Marega and I become ‘cabin crew’, not just co-facilitators for the day, attired in natty navy-blue blazers and silk neck scarves, inviting the group to trust the process, however uncomfortable, and ‘go with the flow’. From the outset, our group are transported and alongside us, also stepping into role themselves.


For the design and delivery of the Climate Lab we are indebted to the writer and eco-philosopher, Joanna Macy, and her lifelong work which she describes in her many books as, ‘The Work that Re-connects’. Her structure involves an invitation to pass through four distinct stages, suggesting a variety of activities and questions to evoke each in turn. The four stages of ‘The Spiral’ are: ‘Expressing Gratitude for the World’; ‘Honouring Grief and Pain’; ‘Seeing with New Eyes’; and ‘Going Forth’. The spiral can take place in an hour, a morning, or an extended period of time involving days. Our plan was to not only invite the group through the four stages within each workshop but to focus on ‘Gratitude’ and ‘Grief’ in Part One of the Climate Lab and ‘Seeing with New Eyes’ and ‘Going Forth’ in Part Two.


‘Part One: The Gathering’ would concentrate on collecting and harvesting ‘data’. ‘Part Two: The Responding’ would involve witnessing and inviting creative responses from the artists and the group as a whole, as well as discussing plans and next steps.


But before we can embark safely upon Macy’s spiral process, we must first ‘create the container.’  We need to build an alchemical vessel strong enough to hold a powerful, potentially explosive, transformative process. Plans written down on paper usually appear neat and tidy, but in the real world of the lab, the field, and the workshop, these same plans can result in unpredictability, uncertainty, and chaos. We need enough heat to get the process going - too little and nothing happens, too much and we have a health and safety hazard. How do we make it possible to ‘get out of our heads’ and into our feelings, especially in an academic or a corporate environment, which expects and rewards a very particular way of being and doing? How do we get out of the box and into the ‘Work That Re-connects’ us with ourselves and one another? We must create the conditions to move beyond the ‘objective’ and ‘itness’ of things in order to encounter the ‘thou’ in ourselves, the world and the other. We must balance building trust and safety, with opportunities for creativity, improvisation and play. Instead of just having a few ‘ice-breakers’, we need a welcoming and playful sensory, psychic, soulful, whole body/mind warm-up. To this end, we ask:


“Who am I? What do I do? Who are those who travel alongside me?”


We invite the group to:


“Introduce yourself by choosing an object from a selection of washed-up flotsam and jetsam.”


A piece of beeswax represents ‘a busy bee’, a piece of rubbish is chosen by another…


“How do I see myself and how do others see me?”


We invite the group to draw one another with their most and least dominant hand, then with both hands. “Don’t look at the paper, just your partner”. We get the chance to look at each other close-up with playfulness and without self-consciousness. We don’t ‘get it right’, we fail gloriously, we succeed in unanticipated and delightful ways. Between us we create a line of faces – frail, precious, comic, monstrous, impossible. Who are these human beings, these ones we walk alongside? We begin the process of unlearning and unpatterning…


We witness the power of language. How might the language we use, the words we speak shape what we see and the world we inhabit? How can we speak differently? How do we change the narrative? We begin by becoming aware of the language we use day to day…


“What 3 words describe me?”

“What 3 words sum up how I feel day to day?”

“What 3 words do I use regularly with my peers, my network, my colleagues?”


Person 1
Anxious engagement enthusiastic perfectionist behaviour change excited worried nuance curious.
Person 2
Explorer impulsive good optimistic expecting accurate data stratigraphy LIG.
Person 3
Fragmented activated regulate process confused squashed worried anxious too busy.
Person 4
Understanding worried anxious engagement perceptions creative anticipation tired relationships outdoorsy.
Person 5
Passionate determined irritable energised focused frustrated complexity analysis structure land use rural change.
Person 6
Chaotic worried hopeful passionate frustrated messy safety impact outcome.
Person 7
Optimistic worried exhausted excitable confused caring systems decarbonisation innovation.
Person 8
Messy late generous anxious unclear tired improvise durational respond.
Person 9
Responsible sad/worried tired quiet attention to detail neat flood risk prediction nature-inspired.
Person 10
Exhausted tall steady careful responsible dutiful exhausted module irrationality future/problem orientated enthusiastic optimistic.
Person 11
Enthusiastic energetic chaoti-organised=chaotically organised error precision rate behaviour change exhausted worried resolute.
Person 12
Overwhelmed powerless numb thoughtful perfectionist over-thinker more-than-human socio-ecological transformation climate crisis.
Person 13
Flighty quick chaotic anxious conflicted overwhelmed ontology socialisation ASEE.
Person 14
Punctual friendly unconventional outsider detached ignorant happy quotes specs orders.

We connect to the Body


We bring in the ghost role of ‘Time’ – especially significant for climate experts. “I have no time.” “We are running out of time.” How do we slow down and enter a timeless universal time – a deep time which enables creativity and supports solutions to complex issues? “I have all the time in the world.” We enter non-linear time, through and by landing in the body. We invite a felt-sense connection, we cannot connect with emotion unless we open to the body. We go through a process of embodied seeing, listening, feeling and knowing through somatic awareness. The ‘bodywork’ and body sensing we include throughout the Climate Lab provides a vital element we need for the journey ahead – it creates trust and connects us to our own and the other ‘bodies’ in the room. How can we have one another’s backs if we cannot feel our own?


We begin the long journey from the human head to the human heart by sharing appreciations. How do we make a practice of Gratitude – of a ‘grateful attitude?’ The entire Macy spiral of change is activated when we connect to Gratitude, not in the abstract but in the very specific and entirely personal:


“Something I love about being alive at the moment is…”

“Someone who supported or brought out the best in me is or was…”

“Something I really appreciate about myself is…”


Pairs sit facing one another, then back to back and end up lying on the floor. Most of the time, unless we are speaking, we are still wearing face-masks (mandatory in Wales due to Covid at the time of the Climate Lab) We still manage to find connection. This is not just about paying lip-service to what we are grateful for, this is an invitation to speak from a deeper place and connect heart to heart.


The exquisite and powerful work of Macy provides us with a necessary structure – the ‘bare bones’. What Marega and I are constantly seeking though our design and delivery is the right order, combination and balance of activities which we use to put ‘flesh’ on these bones. We require a marriage of flesh and bones, structure and chaos, the fixed and the fluid, to bring forth the emergent ‘third thing’, the mystery, the magic, the alchemy which represents deep transformation and change.


Some things are present subliminally, at the edges, at the periphery of consciousness.

 ‘The Sea’ is an ever-present player. The old and new maps of the coastline of Wales and beyond showing sea-level rise are evoked through music and myth. The entire process is infused with water.


We are building to the main event of the morning. Between us, we create a space for all to speak and everyone to be heard. This is a ritual, a ceremony in itself. This is ‘The Way of Council’ and has specific and precise guidelines enabling each to speak what needs to be said and invites everyone to listen from the heart without embellishment or apology.


“Knowing what I know and doing what I do, my greatest fear for the future is…”


Image: Emily Hinshelwood


The Council demonstrates the difference between talking about feelings and actually feeling them. The first might be ‘interesting’ but the second is necessary as well as being scary, unpredictable, and transformative. It requires courage and vulnerability in spades. The question breaks us open and re-assembles us.


And what is the point of feeling, expressing and sharing emotion rather than just talking about it from a comfortable distance? What earthly good does it do to connect to our grief? Ought we not perhaps to have had a ‘trigger warning’ on our workshop invitation? Should we seek permission from ethics committees inside these establishments of learning to allow us to create spaces to connect to emotion and our deep feelings of pain and loss? Towards the end of the Climate Lab, one participant asked - “How do we dare do this?” The same person responded - “How do we dare not do this?” The power of grieving connects us. When we do this, we discover that others feel the same way as we do – even in a university divided by campuses, disciplines and departments. We find that we are not alone. Grief makes us reach out for support. It creates a community, it has the potential to create a village within an institution. This galvanises us and makes us more resilient. It makes us attend to what is important and helps us keep on keeping on.


We close the council. There is silence. There is shock and awe. We are now in liminal time, betwixt and between honouring our pain and seeing with new eyes. We are suspended at a necessary threshold before we can move on. ‘Something’ has happened in the space between us, and the emergent future is waiting in the wings.


We share lunch together. The food is beautiful, provided for us by Judy Roots. It is made with love, resplendent of colour, full of taste, and packed with goodness. We congregate outside in the sunshine. We breathe the air, feel the breeze, and the early Spring warmth on our backs.


We return to the room in silence. The group is invited to lie down on the floor with a blanket and a little jar of water each has brought with them from a special place. They close their eyes, breathe deep and listen.


‘Amser Stori/Story Time’


We play ‘The Bells of Aberdyfi’ a traditional Welsh song about the church bells that continue to ring out beneath the waters of a drowned and sunken kingdom. “Are you lying comfortably? Then we’ll begin.” The story is of Cantre’r Gwaelod the ancient mythical kingdom beneath the waters of Cardigan Bay. The recording of Mathilda’s voice fills the room as she tells the story which all school children in Wales know, though many adults have forgotten. It is a story of Wales’ own ancient city of Atlantis, drowned through negligence and hubris. The story ends. The bells of Aberdyfi are heard once more.


Each receives an envelope with instructions….

Enclosing another envelope with further instructions…


The people leave the room and make their way to the edges of Swansea University’s ‘Bay Campus’ which stands ‘like King Canute’ facing the waters of the Bristol Channel.


The people walk onto the beach in silence. They take off their shoes. It is close to the Spring Equinox. The water’s edge is far-out towards the horizon.


The people take their precious water from home or a loved place.


They return the water to the sea and make a silent wish.


It looks like it might be a performance by Pina Bausch, but this is real life.


The room is silent and empty for a full thirty minutes before they return one by one, each holding another story which they record in silence in a continuous process of unedited and uncensored, automatic writing.


What did I see?

What did I notice?

What did I feel?


Image: Marega Palser

The Tea Ceremony.

We offer an everyday ritual. There is Beauty. There are delicate touches. The people are nurtured and nourished as Marega, Emily, Tanya, and I pour tea into little brown handmade ceramic drinking pots. We serve home-made delicacies from wooden trays. Each is given the choice of ‘Peace’ or ‘Love’ tea. There is the gentle babble of conversation and time for sharing.


We gather in circle one last time. Each is handed another plain brown envelope. It contains a message in the form of a poem written by Mathilda to those present. The tradition of the Welsh Bard that lays great store by language is alive and well in this present moment. All read silently, visibly moved. The words find their home, precious seeds for the tending, to help cultivate a liveable future worth inhabiting.


Dear listeners, 

We’re prisoners.

Who can’t keep a tidy cell.

And that’s not a prediction

That’s a black and white fact.

So when, may I ask, 

Are we going to act?

You’re trying your best

You’re trying to tell us, 

But apparently, it’s your fault.

If they never knew, 

It wouldn’t be true.

You’re shooting the messenger,

But go on- care less!

Then we’ll find ourselves in a 

Right proper mess.

Do they not get the fuss?


I can’t even imagine

How hard it must be

Day after day after day after day

To document details,

Of how we’ll all end

And we’re worrying here

about how much we’ll spend

on the flights

and the lights

and the chocolate 

and meat.

“She’s lost her mind, she needs a hand,

Here, please take a seat.”

No thanks, 

I’ll stand.

I’ll stand by you

Just as others do, too.

You might feel alone,

Like you’re all on your own

Fighting a battle which you’ll never win.


But remember this:


You’ve got a voice within.


You might feel obliged 

To keep your mouth shut.

“They’ll stop thinking I’m smart”, 

You might tell yourself.

But look at the chart.

Tune in to your heart.

They won’t listen to facts,

So why would they start?

All facts need a voice

To deliver them out

And we all have a voice

Behind the self-doubt.

You are changing the earth

You are giving it worth.

Some might not listen

But then…

         …some do.









We are finally ready to ‘Go Forth’. We will be gathering together again very soon. We have some things to do before that time. This is a moment of pause and reflection before departure. This is neither an ending nor a beginning but something in-between. We know we will meet again soon and that we shall have each other’s backs when we do.

Fern Smith  


To Be Continued…

 Part 4 – The Responding – details the second day of theClimate Lab.


Fern is a Ritual Artist and Craniosacral Therapist.






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