Currently, two teams of climate activists hike through big parts of Europe for the “Climate Walk” project, a combined research, education and media project. The reason to start the project was the picture of the polar bear, which often symbolises the effects of climate change. The storytelling around climate change often focuses on few locations and events, like the tropical islands drowning, polar caps melting, or the rainforest burning. This supports the impression that it takes place elsewhere, but not in Europe right now. The climate change discourses are often very abstract and the work of the IPCCC important, but not concrete for many. This is the problem which we want to address.
At the core of the project is a hike through Europe. It started this year in two teams, one in June from Nordkapp (Norway) in June and one in September from the Cabo da Roca (Portugal). The goal for both teams is to meet in April 2023 in Vienna. On their way, they are crossing various landscapes and project-specific locations. We walk as a team like a relay, means that always at least one team member is walking until the next one can take over. The rest of the team is helping to coordinate from the distance. However, the project is more than just the hike and it does not end when we arrive in Vienna.
In total, there are three project pillars: The educational project (“We Talk”) includes workshops with actors along the way, giving lectures and creating different types of publications to make our gathered knowledge accessible to everyone. In the media art project (“We Create”), we use visual and audio media (for example a photo exhibition or a documentary series) to share our experiences and make local voices more accessible to a wider audience.
The project is research-driven with the third pillar (“We Listen”). Its analytical focus are experiences, with the main research question being: How do people experience Climate Change and changing ClimateS throughout Europe? This wordplay means to look at the interplay of biophysical climate change and the changing socio-political, socio-cultural and socio-economic climates. We search for the local manifestations and experiences of the global phenomenon “climate change”. We understand experiences as perceptions, stories, emotions and practices, which we assume are forming form in interplay with the changing climate(s).
The main method for our data collection we call “footwork”, since our entry point to people’s lifeworld’s is the walk itself. Walking brings us through different landscapes and places, it connects embodiment and materiality with abstract experiences and memories. We use participant observation and engage with people in conversations and interviews along the way as well as reflecting on our experiences to collect our data. By talking to those we meet literally on the road, in their everyday environment, we get to hear voices that are not often represented. While hiking through Denmark, I talked to a farmer who was checking the fences, a man fishing in a stream, teachers and students on their class trip, people on their weekend walk at the beach, a man bringing his horse to the paddock, a woman who brought her daughter to training… Walking as slow form of transportation gives the opportunity to fully experience the change of the landscapes and encountering people in their daily activities. The walking help sus to better learn about people’s perceptions, problems and everyday practices regarding climate change and how they deal with the changes, that go along with it.
With the “footwork” we make the same experiences as other ethnographers during their fieldwork. Constantly paying attention, keep an eye out for relevant information, talking to people, write down notes at the end of the day. However, it is taking place in an unusual setting— not at the desk but on the tablet or as voice message in the phone in the evening in the sleeping bag. The hike is not some holiday or an adventure only, but there is always the research work to keep in mind. It exhausts twice but it also provides a way of getting to know the country better than we would on a “normal” hike.
This ethnographic data is supported by a survey, which we distribute throughout our journey and send out to the municipalities on our way. It includes general questions about the role of climate change in people’s life, to bring a broader view and an aspect of comparability to our research.
What is the contribution of this project to the increasingly extensive research about climate science? By focusing on the local, the “ordinary” and the individual, on people’s thoughts and emotions, we are not fixed on exploring the physical climate change and an “objective truth”. Rather, we want to know what it means to people, how their social and natural environments are changing. We aim to contribute through increasing the visibility of local knowledge and agency by collecting the less heard stories and experiences of people’s everyday lives, how they are affected by climate change and what responses they have developed. These new narratives and images can help people to connect to climate change on a more personal level and help them to see the necessity and the options for action.
Furthermore, science for us is very much linked to activism. Therefore, we also have the dimension of “We connAct”). With all the partners we are having and meeting on our way, we understand us as offering a space in which different local and global stakeholders can exchange ideas. With our own educationally diverse team, we also give an example of transdisciplinary work around issues, that are of concern beyond the natural science—social science divide.
To summarise, the Climate Walk is about walking across Europe to understand regional experiences of climate change. It is about listening to local perspectives and connecting these stories together to construct a holistic and people-centric understanding of these complex phenomena. It is also about bringing people together to form bonds of cooperation and solidarity. With our own limited resources, we will not cross all of Europe with this walk. However, we like to share our methods with others in the hope, that more Climate Walks like this will take place in the future, for people to experience their environments which are to be saved.
Author: Nina Kolarzik (Master Student at TAPRI, representative of the team)
Contributions: material and content from the Climate Walk team
To learn more about the project:
Visit the website climatewalk.eu