Physicist combines art, science to combat climate change
The Crossroads Project, a multidisciplinary performance on climate change, showcased at UCF's Visual Arts Building on Feb. 22. Video by Daniela Marin
In a community of college students, researchers and educators in one of the largest cities of a developed nation, the words “climate change” resonate with distinct familiarity.
So, when physicist Robert Davies stood on stage in the Visual Arts Building on Monday to discuss humanity’s impact on the natural world, the crowd wasn’t necessarily shocked.
Statistics regarding the Earth’s rapidly changing climate have been presented to us since Al Gore’s 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.
But Davies was not attempting to shock audiences. His goal was to provoke a more meaningful reaction from people who already know the dangers we face but have not been able to connect to the issue on a personal level.
“It’s time we accept what we already know,” he said, several times throughout the show. “We can tell ourselves, ‘It’s not me personally, I am not creating this destruction. It’s the systems in which I am embedded.’ But these systems have emerged from us.”
Taken aback by the gap between what science understands about climate change and what the public understands, Davies founded The Crossroads Project, an interdisciplinary performance on climate change that combines spoken word, visual art and a live performance by a four-piece classical ensemble.
Brittany Sellers, a sustainability researcher at UCF who attended the performance, opined that individuals often have difficulty mentally absorbing the heavy climate-related information they receive, effectively processing it and channeling it into direct action and behavior. However, even as someone who works with sustainability research every day, she believes the performance was profoundly moving and intense.
"One central aspect that really made it stand out was their trans-disciplinary approach of science and art, which provided very compelling, stirring facts that engaged our logical minds, while simultaneously tapping deep into our emotions through striking images and heightened musical pieces," Sellers said.
"The Crossroads Project: Rising Tide" was brought to UCF through the combined effort of Claudia Schippert, director of Interdisciplinary Studies at UCF, and Stephen Fiore, director of the Cognitive Sciences Laboratory.
“The serious problems of our current world cannot be solved from just one disciplinary perspective,” Schippert said. “We need collaboration, cooperation and a synthesis of different disciplinary approaches.”
Fiore said it was important to bring the showcase to UCF because humanity needs to face the very real fact that the world is going to be changing in the coming decades, such so that the way we live our lives is going to be drastically altered.
“And perhaps it is this slow rate of change that doesn’t make people feel compelled to action,” he said, before introducing The Crossroads Project as a group of people who have taken it upon themselves to address the issue.
Upon founding the project, Davies expressed that he wanted Crossroads to be something more than just another scientific lecture that boggles the mind, and so he deliberately structured the performance and lecture to reach audiences on an emotional and personal level.
“What we’re after is just to set the stage and let the imagery and music connect to the audience viscerally,” Davies said. “You’re going to get the extra punch that an artistic interpretation and experience can have.”
And the reactions from the audience are always powerful, said Robert Waters, a member of the Fry Street Quartet and a violinist for more than 40 years.
“I am honored to be able to ease a connection to something that is so central to life,” he said, adding that he is equally as thankful for the fact that his own engagement with the issue has risen.
Daniela Marin is a digital producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @dan__marin or email her at DanielaM@CentralFloridaFuture.com.