On 14th November I flew from Amsterdam to Valencia to join La Marina de Valencia seminar. I was really looking forward to going but so far things were not turning out well. Accepting the invitation meant that I was missing an important ceremony at work and this had put some noses out of joint, so I was leaving under a cloud of disapproval. Just before departure, a trusted colleague who was to come with me fell badly ill and had to cancel. To add insult to injury I contracted food poisoning just before flying and spent much of the flight either in, or judging how quickly I could get to, the tiny airplane toilet. I arrived at Valencia, a city I did not know, feeling disoriented, vulnerable and rather sorry for myself.
Then it began to rain. This was not ordinary rain, it was furious, mad, apocalyptic rain. It rained in my shoes on the way to and from La Marina, it rained through the enlightening talks and generous meals, it rained on our boat trip and it began to rain in the art exhibition next to us and collect in puddles on the floor, whilst anxious caretakers looked aloft to see the trickles descending down the walls towards the paintings.
Then the rain began to trickle into our conversations about creating an inclusive design process for La Marina. If, we argued, we wanted to involve the voices of all the stakeholders then where were the voices of the trees, the water, the fish, the air and the future generations? These thoughts took flight and soon we agreed that we needed to look holistically at La Marina as a complex eco-system and to build this awareness into our basic design values.
Meanwhile, although I was no longer actually ill, I still felt unusually fragile. Then I started to read the news; there were demonstrations all over London as a reaction to the recent UN Special Report on Global Warming, with its stark message that we had a maximum of 12 years to prevent complete climate breakdown. Then my aunt, who was travelling to visit family in California in the wake of the Paradise bushfires, started to share her stories of devastation. Whilst in the back of my mind lingered still the images of recent fierce storms which had swept Sicily, where my beloved niece lives, and killed 27 people.
Then finally, after a long sleep, I woke up.
Since my visit to Valencia, climate breakdown has become a visceral reality and is fast becoming the lens through which I view my work. It affects everything. I am both mourning the damage and looking for ways to understand where we are now, why we appear paralysed and how on earth to frame this story. Some say that it’s already too late but the Dutch biologist Matthijs Schouten puts it more simply: that it’s time to ‘give nature her own voice.’ I’ll start there.