Desert of the Real

First, I’ll explore the notion that we are living in a ‘desert of the real’. Second, I’ll look at what the desert of the real has meant for environmental communications. And thirdly, to conclude, I will explore alternative ways of knowing and being in the world – and ask what these might mean for design.

Notre-Dame-des-Landes and the risks of activism

Even if it is hardly a priority, I suspect that a significant minority of my readers have heard about the Notre-Dame-des-Landes question. For those who haven’t, I will summarize it. Notre-Dame-des-Landes (Our Lady of the Moors in English) is a rather unremarkable village in the southern Breton countryside, which happens to have been chosen as the location of a future airport. Locals have predictably been upset about that choice and saying that the project has met with some resistance is the mother of all understatements. Things have turned even more messy when Jean-Marc Ayrault, mayor of nearby Nantes, has been appointed as Prime Minister of France with clashes between protesters and the anti-riot police making the headlines of the national papers.

It’s not the economy, it’s the stupid paradigm

Americans’ level of concern for the environment waxes and wanes, depending on how the economy is faring, as illustrated in the 2011 Gallup chart below. The chart shows responses to the question whether the economy or the environment should be given preference asked from 1985 through 2011. Note the trending decline in concern for the environment starting in 2001 with a precipitous drop in 2008 when the economy hit the skids. It’s a truism that our environmental behaviors and our understanding of causes of environmental degradation always lag behind the level of our environmental concern. Why?

The Beehive Collective creates a buzz about the true costs of coal

“This is a tool for shifting the story,” Emily says, taking a step back. Fluttering before us, the banner is the visual manifestation of The True Cost of Coal: Mountaintop Removal and the Fight for our Future, a collaboration that began in 2008 between the Beehive Collective and Appalachian community organizers, activists and residents whose lives have been impacted by mountaintop removal coal mining. “Our job as activists,” she explains, “is not just to give facts, but to make the big, zoomed-out stories in our lives more visible—like the one that says it’s okay to displace Indigenous people and trash the planet in the name of “progress.”