Climate change and water scarcity are issues that we all need to keep talking about. But I recognise that perhaps we need to talk about them in more interesting ways than just lecturing.
You could say that the reality of climate change and water scarcity hasn’t hit home with the general public because the effects aren’t immediate and felt on their doorstep. The data, facts and figures are there but the urgency of action isn’t.
As a chemical engineer, I can talk about the issues, I can lecture, I can discuss at length with my peers and even the media, but it is easy for my voice and others to get drowned out.
One interesting way to engage the public about such issues is through immersive theatre.
You might think that engineering and theatre couldn’t be further apart, but a theatre production called New Atlantis by LAStheatre, held in London, UK, has provided an entertaining way to bring key messages and solutions of the future to a willing audience.
The production is set in 2050 and global warming has taken full effect with London gripped by drought and Miami abandoned due to rising sea levels. Cases of historic climate abuse are also being tried in the courts.
So where does New Atlantis fit into this scenario? The United Nations (UN) had collapsed long before 2050 due to mismanagement and was replaced by New Atlantis.
Under strong leadership, New Atlantis restored some calm and order. The leader of New Atlantis is relinquishing their post early and it is up to the audience to decide on who the next leader will be.
The choice is between the heads of various departments of New Atlantis: industry; defence; or reform. The audience members are then encouraged to visit each department, interact with their engineers, scientists and policy-makers in order to make an informed decision.
Notably, chemical and biochemical engineers from the department of industry presented their research into algae.
By 2050, a development process of producing a flu vaccine from algae will also produce waste that can be recycled and used to manufacture greener biofuels.
Scientists and engineers from the departments of defence and reform also explained their policies and research.
The department of defence explains that with declining resources, there is a need for military support for fair distribution of the limited resources. The department of reform would address the need for civilisation to change, whether that be reducing consumption of meat or limiting water usage.
These engineers, scientists and policy-makers were not actors, but experts from institutions such as University College London (UCL), UK.
It is up to the audience member to ask questions, dig a little deeper and discover what solution would be best for the future of our planet.
During the course of the week’s performances, over one thousand members of the public participated in the immersive outreach experience. They were presented with the stark reality of the future in a present and live situation.
Hopefully, it brought home the necessity of action required for our society as a whole now, and not 35 years in the future.
Educating the public on important issues is our job as engineers and scientists. And perhaps one way to approach this is to become more creative at spreading our message. Immersive theatre is just one of many mediums in which we can get our voice heard.