Highlights: Water Futures – Asia Pacific Knowledge Exchange & Transdisciplinary Laboratory, Melbourne Australia

The Water Futures conference in Melbourne Feb. 23-25, brought together artists and scientists to inspire the growth of new ideas and actions.  It opened with a “Welcome to Country” from Aunty Carolyn Briggs, speaking on behalf of the First Peoples on whose territory the conference was taking place.  Water is constantly moving yet it is intimately connected to the land it passes over, and under.  Viewing land and water as one thing can is a little trick that can help us see into our water futures… Aunty Carolyn’s full talk can be viewed here.

[Note:  All the keynote presentations were recorded in excellent quality video, available here. ]

Next we heard from Angharad Wynne-Jones, Artistic Director of Arts House Melbourne and lead organizer of the conference.   Angharad’s artistic direction was evident in the selection of participants.  Artists outnumbered scientists by about 2:1. Why so many artists?  Because their inputs are needed…urgently!   How can we change the way we relate to our planet and to each other?  What are the levers that can be effective?  This is the role of arts and artists, helping us connect with ancient traditions; agitators, and dreamers.  Networked together through powerful shared experiences, the activity of art can awaken our aesthetic responses so we can feel…  Angharad’s instructions to the group:  Find an artist, talk to them!  Connect and collaborate and grow our collective “soft power”.  View Angharad’s talk here.

Anik Bhaduri, Executive Director of Sustainable Water Future Program, spoke about ethics related to water:  Our reliance on intensive engineering encourages continued degradation of natural ecosystems, which actually increased long-term risk.  In this conference about Water Futures, we are representing the future and we have an ethical obligation to create a sustainable future.  We need to overcome our “cognitive bias” and learn to apply ethical reflection to our engineering decisions and economic and environmental policies. You can view Anik’s full presentation here.

Other speakers of note included Latai Taumoepeau, a body-centered performance artists from Tonga, who uses her creativity to fight for climate justice.  See her inspirational talk here.

Author Tony Birch called for philosophical and ethical discussions about what we’re doing (e.g., opening new coal mines as the oceans rise).  His talk is here.

Stuart Bunn, Director of Australian Rivers Institute at Griffith University, pointed to the good news that Australian law recognises the environment as a legitimate user of water with legal rights.  [It sounds obvious enough, but many countries, such as my own (USA) do not have such legal provisions].  Stuart’s talk can be viewed here.

One of my favourite presenters was David Finnegan talking about his new one-man theatrical show still under development, called “Kill Climate Deniers.”

Toby Kent, Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Melbourne, encouraged us to focus on what we want to achieve (e.g., resilience, liveability) rather than what we want to stop (e.g., pollution).

A full day of keynote presentations gave way to two days (24 and 25 February) of small group discussions punctuated by “lightening talks” to inject some fresh ideas.  Lee Shang Lun, an artist and game designer, gave a lightening talk about his design process.  It starts with fully mapping out the problem and then designing around that.

Brad Moggridge, a hydrologist and PhD candidate, gave another lightening talk about traditional water knowledge and Western cultural obstacles to acknowledging the validity of that knowledge.

In a similar vein, Anne Poelina, traditional custodian of Mardoowarra River (aka Fitzroy River) spoke of her river’s right to life.  We don’t have video of her talk, but here’s a 1-minute video of Anne talking about this river in 2014, and a longer video about the ongoing struggle to protect the Fitzroy river.

My personal take-aways from the three-day conference?   We will all benefit from closer dialogue among Native leaders, artists of all kinds, and water policy-makers and scientists.  We share a common water future and we need to charter that future together!

News Item Courtesy Of:
David Groenfeldt
Chair, Water Ethics Working Group
Sustainable Water Future Programme

Photo courtesy of: Loren Kronemyer and Zoe Scoglio