The environmental humanities span from the fields of human geography – which is the study of people within and as part of their environment through to literary criticism and the arts. It is a broad examination of the human and its place within the world, including the non-human species that we engage with. The environmental humanities within this PhD are forming the bridge between my university training in environmental sciences and geography and my creative practice as storyteller. In my undergraduate and Masters degrees I read about what might be called the meta-narrative of the climate crisis. IPCC reports, papers making global-scale analyses of how the environment and human health were interlinked. These studies are important in shaping policy discourse and top-down actions to restabilise the planetary system.
As I studied, evaluated, and eventually contributed a narrative which follows the scientific method I experienced a total collapse of my mental health. The studies that I was reading became less and less the story that I wanted to tell. The embodied impacts of the climate crisis were simultaneously much smaller in scale – a single case of heatstroke instead of the thousands I was reading about – but for me it was so much more immediate, and therefore larger than anything I was reading about. In the end it eclipsed my ability to read at all.
Johanna Beohnert (2019) identifies three ecologies of systems transitions which serve as a framework of how I will explore what role the environmental humanities may play in my research. The self, the community and the environmental. Within the environmental humanities the mixing of these scales and how they feed into culture(s) can be analysed. I am particularly interested in the nexus of the three scales.
At the cusp of the self and the community exists several theories that I aim to explore during my PhD. Beginning with animal studies and mad studies (as the child of disability studies) I hope to analyse how graphic narratives which explicitly interrogate the anthropocene are depicting the non-human. In terms of climate communication, there is a long history of allegories of animals to represent both ecosystems and ourselves. Drawing upon from my own experience of madness and how it was often described as my “over active animal brain”. I hope to use my own design practice and the work of others to discuss:
Ideas of civilisation, colonisation and environmental justice build out these ideas into the community and environmental. As I will explore in my (future) comics scholarship section, universal hero narratives can neglect the complexity of climate change, and inhibit or limit action that enables a future earth worth inhabiting. Stories that are rooted in memory and place – or stories which blend all three ecologies of systems transitions are the ones I am most interested in analysing and telling. Geography is a good place to start when thinking about what makes a place and how memories, histories and stories exist within them.