Climate Imaginations Network

Alisa served as the Creative Director of the Climate Imaginations Network under renowned Climate Scientist, Dr. Kate Marvel. Columbia Climate Imaginations Network (CCIN) is one of Columbia Climate School's twelve Earth Networks - communities supporting interdisciplinary collaboration and promoting fresh approaches to research, education and impact on themes related to climate, sustainability and the future of planet Earth.

During my time as the Creative Director I brought in Tao Leigh Goffe, an interdisciplinary artist, professor and DJ to be an artist-in-residence for her project coralline frequencies, a climate coda which is still ongoing.

Below is a curatorial statement I published with the intentions of the network:

It was a perfect summer day, except for the fact that it was mid-October. The sun looked me dead in the eye. The jazz musicians played, like they always did, in Washington Square Park. A monarch butterfly floated overhead. I closed my eyes, sure it was a mirage. But when I opened them, the monarch had landed on me. It rested on my skin. The park was full of people, but nobody seemed concerned that it was 86 degrees. Not a single leaf had fallen. And the monarch was nowhere near Mexico.

When I lived in Los Angeles, the plainness of seasons was a certainty. I never thought I’d find the same in Manhattan. I wondered whether they were gone for good. As if to rub salt in the wound, the jazz trumpets started playing Vernon Duke’s “Autumn in New York,” I looked down one last time, and the mirage was gone.

- Alisa Petrosova, “Come Rain or Come Shine, 2021”

In the Spring of 2022, the Climate Imaginations Network will launch its first series of events: Cycles of Uncertainty. We propose to explore different ways that our everyday experiences might help us tell new and better climate stories. Stories where climate is no longer something we can take for granted: no longer just a background. Using the everyday as our framework, we will explore different futures and different endings. We can’t say with certainty what comes next. But by embracing uncertainty, in our lives and in our stories, we hope to make some space to ask new questions.

Mainstream climate discourse is crowded out by narratives that seduce us with false certainty. They tell us that the future is already locked in. Whether they tell stories of certain disaster (apocalypses, dystopias), or stories of certain triumph (propaganda, techno-utopias), these overdetermined futures anaesthetize us. They rob us of our own imaginations and our sense that we can make a difference.

The pessimism of apocalyptic narratives paralyzes us with fear, and makes us spectators to destruction. The optimism of utopian narratives assures us that someone else is already innovating the way to an apolitical solution, and makes us feel like we can continue to ignore the limits of the physical world. According to both these stories, climate change is already taken care of. The future is certain, and nothing we do will create change.

These stories have it exactly wrong. They deny us the chance we need to understand our experiences, and connect with one another, and take action. They cheat us of the most important capacity we have: our ability to create the future. We must do this together, in creative and sustainable ways. The key to thinking about climate change is to understand that our reality is anything but certain. The only thing that should determine our collective future is our collective imagination.

What does it mean to start not from false certainties, but from the uncertainties of everyday life? How do we use storytelling to make meaning from these uncertainties? It’s clear that we need new stories. Better stories. Collaborative stories. Stories for the crowd and for the long run.

The coming decades will be a slow burn: we will have to find ways to grapple with the entanglements of climate and capitalism; climate and colonialism; climate and sexism and racism. We must do this in a way that connects these issues to our everyday practices of hoping, creating, and caring. We must use stories and imagination to bring them back to human scales: to imagine - together - diverse, resilient, and creative climate futures.