Johan Rockströms performance lecture: a review

THREAD FROM TWITTER: Johan Rockström’s Performance lecture at the Swedish National Theatre (in Swedish, English Subtitles) and what it tells activists and Scientists alike. Watch it now or read my review 1/n

Performance Lecture: Om vår stund på jorden – Performance Lecture: Our brief moment on earthWhat will our children’s and grandchildren’s world look like? Is there something we can do today to avoid the worst catastrophes, and is there a light at the end of the tunnel, leading us to a sustain…

In the performance, Johan Rockström sits at the bottom of the bed of a young family and explains our climate predicament. In words, no graphs. The young mother listens and gets engaged in a dialogue with him. There is a lot to like about the performance … 2/n 

Dramatic to see two worlds collide – one who has been studying the workings of the planet for 20 years and the other who has been concentrating on her acting career and having a child. (The husband is too tired to listen “I’ve got a rehearsal in the morning let me sleep) ..3/n 

Many will recognise themselves in this: the scene Rockström paints is beyond scary. Met with “eh what?” by the young mother. We can’t take in new knowledge if we have nothing to hang it onto. She asks him to explain it to her as if she were a three-year old …

4/n He has difficulty NOT talking like a scientist. Tries to explain tipping points with cups and a marble. Finally, the mother understands it is a bit like Russian Roulette. Yes! We have to take the bullet out of the chamber says Rockström. But wait..5/

“How many bullets are in the chamber now?” She asks, it looks like you are telling me the chamber is full. “It is”, says Rockström. “But if we stop fossil fuel burning we can have 95% chance of NOT making the planet uninhabitable” 6/n 

He laughs at the irony of the situation, but she gets angry that he takes it so lightly. “So it is hopeless,” she says. “Scientifically speaking” he replies “there are solutions to it all. We can all actually live better.” 7/n 

“What can I do I am just a struggling actress?” Rockström gives two avenues. 1) learn about it and push for political change 2) Change life-style. Now to my reflections 

8/n I love how the play demonstrates the difficulty of “we” who have science as a background, have been talking since the 70s about this stuff to a whole other world who can’t seem to take it in. What is more, 

9/n We are comfortable talking like scientists but explaining it like an adult is way out of our area and to children…. how do you explain it without scaring kids. I can just hear @GretaThunberg and @ExtinctionR saying “Just tell the truth I am not stupid” 10/n 

We ( I put on my ex science teacher hat) have shied away from communicating in a normative way. (i.e. If you want to keep X then you need to do Y) because we are afraid that talking about values (you want) is beyond our remit. The play shows how the opposite is true. 11/n 

It is incumbent on all who see it to call it. And we have to make an effort, with cups and marbles and analogies. And specifically with science based targets connected to values. We can use “if” to keep our rational stance. And I have to admit… 12/n 

I don’t have the skill to formulate these targets as they have to be hard. And they have to be pivotal. We are not talking about shaving off a few percent a year. We are talking about capping and drawing down. And we have to offer something better. It IS difficult 13/n 

It is hard enough to explain the predicament. To give hard targets without sounding like a environmental fascist or communist dictator is harder still. Indeed a friend of mine saw the performance on TV and phoned complaining Rockström is scaring people. Seriously 14/n 

What the TV performance shows us is:

We don’t know how to do this stuff. How to explain the problem, and give hard targets. We know how to present solutions that if only someone could make money on them would be introduced…

In fact, we so badly cannot do this stuff that 15/n 

The ONLY solution to handling this predicament is to hand it over to the people. Citizens assemblies, referendum, crisis handling, and to create new government departments. The present order is not going to hack it. We as humanity, we as scientists, we as good citizens 16/n 

Chasing the good job is just not going to do it. We as a collective need to formulate then chase hard targets together and we need to chase a better life for each other at the same time 17/17 


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