🌍️ In Conversation With : Design
Photo credit: Alice Schoolcroft
Adapt is a self proclaimed “Climate Club” which aims to combat climate change through art and design. Run by its two founding members Josie and Rich, the club that began as a frank chat about climate worries between friends has since evolved into an established platform that has galvanised young people. From their appearance on NTS Radio to their self-made ‘Party Guides’, Adapt are bridging the gap between music, art, and design in an attempt to collectively tackle and raise questions about the impending climate crisis…
Photo credit: by Will Bindley
First of all, can you tell us a bit about Adapt and how it started?
Josie: I started it when I was just coming out of my Masters degree in 2016. So when Trump had come into power and Brexit was happening and all this information about climate change was coming out. I was doing my own work on my masters and feeling like it wasn’t important, and that climate change wasn’t getting the same amount of attention. Adapt started as a meeting with other people. We got together, got drunk and just talked about climate change. We brainstormed some ideas about what to do and then we started our first campaign about switching to renewable energy and it sort of snowballed from there.
What’s the purpose of Adapt?
Josie: There’s lots of different angles. We take things on a case-by-case basis, or whatever the topic of the moment is. Our main aim is to get people to act by introducing people to methods of action that they wouldn’t necessarily think about. There’s a lot going on with UKSCN [UK Student Climate Network] and Extinction Rebellion but there’s still so many people that just can’t see themselves taking that leap to act because it seems so scary from the outside. And while XR are trying to do something about their image, a lot of people still wouldn’t attend and Extinction Rebellion protest. So we either say ‘come with us, we’ll show you it’s not scary’ or we’ll say ‘here’s another thing you can do if this isn’t for you’.
Rich: We always give the facts and messages but then we try and end it with an action that people can take. Then people feel empowered and want to do more, and hopefully they’ll keep coming back. We call ourselves a ‘Climate Club’ and try to create a community - in our party guides we’ve done recently, there was a section on mental health and we’ve created a hotline where people can call up and leave their worries. It’s about making everyone feel like they’re not alone and getting rid of the anxiety.
What are some of the ways you have changed your design process since making climate change a priority?
Josie: We both individually used to be quite gung-ho about making physical work but we’ve definitely taken a much more digital route now, and our whole exhibition is printed on paper made from recycled coffee cups, which is obviously a really small thing but means less feelings of guilt.
Rich: When we do installations, we build everything in a way so it’s built to last. Everything is built to be reused to minimise waste. There’s ways to be more sustainable with website hosting and stuff, so we’re still working on that side of things.
Photo credit: Robin Friend
Do you think it’s easy for fellow designers to access information about how to be more sustainable?
Josie: That’s a really good point actually. There are certain designers that are really interested and will find their own way in being innovative in creating their own processes, but there’s no guidebook or simple way to get information on what you can do to reduce waste or energy usage as a designer.
Rich: When you’re at school or uni you’re told to print everything and it’s hard to break out of that habit, but you have to try and be as waste-less as possible. Using small production runs is ideal. We only did 2,000 prints of the party guide, and speaking to other people who do magazines, they’re trying to limit their production runs too. It’s the same with our T-shirts - we don’t really push them because we don’t want to be known for having a shop that sells loads of T-shirts but they kind of fund what we do, so we get runs of 25-30 at a time and we won’t do more until they sell out.
Josie: When you’re trying to push a message there’s a balance to be made, because traditionally ‘getting the message out’ means producing, producing, producing.
You’ve hosted a party with Brainchild Festival and made guest appearances on NTS Radio.
How do you think the visual art and music worlds overlap when it comes to tackling climate change and what are the ways people from different fields are working together?
Josie: Events, live music, and even just parties bridge the gap. Those social spaces where people are relaxed and with their friends are often the best times to approach difficult topics, as people don’t feel attacked or on-edge, making them way more open and receptive to receiving information.
Rich: It’s about making use of different platforms. Like when Zakia had us on her radio show on NTS, she chose to do a section on climate change which is really great because she brought the music side into it and used that to facilitate the conversation. We had loads of fun picking the music and then that sets you up for having a good debate, and because it’s live people were ringing in with questions.
That doubles up with the ‘Planet Party’ we did with Brainchild Festival. While everyone was there having fun, there were action points, games, performances and the whole room was designed in a climate change theme. So people ended up having general conversations in those spaces where there’s no pressure.
Satire heavily features in your work. Why is this and what’s its importance in conveying messages for climate action?
Josie: Satire in particular is important because we always say the best way to defeat your enemy is to laugh at them. All the news we were seeing about climate change was just doom-and-gloom, really terrifying and fear-mongering. And so we wanted to approach it in a totally different way - make it colourful and bright, and not like any other communication about climate change.
Rich: When Josie was doing her masters, she was looking into humour and design as an important tool and found a study that said memory retention is about 50% higher when humour is used.
Josie: I think with climate change there’s a lot of messages about personal responsibility that are completely irrelevant, and it makes people switch off. Whereas if we’re satirising the people in power, or companies that are causing damage it makes them less scary and takes away some of their power. If you can get people to laugh it makes the battle seem more accessible.
Some people argue that worrying about climate change is a privilege for the middle class - how does your work combat that idea?
Josie: Yeah, we completely agree with that. A lot of the protest movements that are prominent at the moment have had quite a serious problem with lack of representation from different communities. We always try to provide alternative actions if people don’t feel comfortable going to those protests. We’ll pre-write a letter they can send to their MP, and that’s one way you can communicate something and give someone power.
Rich: We’ve had a lot of discussion about the no-fly movement, where it’s been brought up in conversation that it’s not an inclusive movement because some people have to fly to see their families. Whenever we talk about things like that, we try to make it clear that when you’re in a privileged position where you’re flying for holiday, that’s when you can make a personal choice. Rather than saying to everyone, “You can’t fly”.
How can people take direct action from your work when it comes to tackling problems of climate change?
Josie: We’ve got free downloadable resources that people can print at home and use as placards or posters. We also try and give people ways to communicate that’s not combative or angry, so that they can have a conversation with family members that might be really stuck in their ways, because changing minds is a really important way to take action.
Read the full party guide here
Rich: We’ve done a ‘We’ve got mail’ campaign, which is where we had the pre-written letters to MPs. And with the bushfires in Australia, we were listing different ways people can act and the charities that they can support.
New artists rely on commissions and sponsorship to project their work in the right places, for example Adapt was recently sponsored by Oatly. What can people do to make sure they’re working for companies whose principles align with theirs?
Rich: It’s important to do research into them. With companies like Oatly, they’re growing but they publish their carbon footprint and financial reports every year, and if they’re releasing more [carbon] then they’ll explain why. It’s about being transparent. There’s loads of different grants out there - LUSH is another company we’ve received money from, and they’re also super transparent about their financials. You’re always going to have to take jobs which pay the bills, that’s just the way it is. But you can try and phase it out by working with companies who are transparent and aren’t just completely green-washing it.
What are some of the grants people should look out for?
Josie: LUSH’s one is ongoing and called ‘The Charity Pot’. All the profits they make on certain products go towards funding grass-roots organisations.
Rich: Sadiq Khan has one called ‘Culture Seeds’ that helps people starting community projects in London. You can always ask for sponsorship too - we approached Ecosia (the search engine) for an exhibition we did and they got on board with us. There’s also Kickstarter, which helped us cover the costs of the venue.
As the conversation around climate change grows, it has become a lucrative business model for companies to promote themselves as ethical. Do you think there’s such a thing as ethical capitalism?Rich: We don’t think capitalism is going to go away, but there can be changes in the system. Socialism, which is basically what the Labour party were pushing, still existed within the capitalist system. You have to fund your business, but I think as long as you’re always trying to move in the right direction and reduce your carbon footprint, it can be as ethical as possible.
Josie: A lot of the conversation goes towards dismantling capitalism, but within the tiny time-frame that we have it’s just unrealistic. For example, Fashion is going to take a really long time to become something that’s ethical and sustainable, so we need to come up with changes instead of trying to just totally wipe it out.
What’s coming up for Adapt in 2020?
Rich: In May we’re going to do a big event called ‘Climate Action Blowout’ where we’re going to try and galvanise different areas of culture such as music, arts, and theatre performance and challenge these industries to put on events and programmes with the aim of donating some of their revenue to a selection of climate change charities or organisations.
Josie: We’ve also got an exhibition in February in Dublin at Hens Teeth Studio, and we’re going to use Peckham Copeland Gallery again for another exhibition.