Wednesday, April 22, 2020

U.S. Earth Force

Introducing the sixth branch of the American military, founded in 2029.

What happens when the world's richest and most powerful country puts its full weight behind efforts to address climate disruption?

Earth Force is neither a prediction nor a preference, but a possibility, a way of asking how climate action might look if addressed seriously at a federal level.

A belated response to the crisis, when it comes, could be all the more pronounced; making up for lost time.

To date the United States has waged war on various things including poverty, drugs, and terror. A range of responses and a mix of feelings may arise about the idea of adding global warming to the list.

Making space to sort through these responses, and their implications, is a reason to consider such possibilities in advance.

Grand as some of our collective challenges and actions might be, they will also play out in the most ordinary of contexts.

If this really happened, it would show up in all sorts of encounters in everyday life: at airports, sporting events, shopping malls, and school campuses. It would leave visible and tangible traces across all media, from cinemas to recruitment stations, news reports, and social feeds.

The medium of billboard advertising may be mundane, but the kinds of questions it can pose are momentous.

With well over half a trillion dollars spent each year on American military capability, what is the possible scope and impact of climate action at such a scale?

How might the militarisation of governance proceed once systemic issues like this start to be approached seriously on a whole-of-society basis?

When and in what ways will military culture adapt to engage with an unprecedentedly diverse and globally-minded wave of younger citizens, the “March for Our Lives” values of Generation Z?

I took all these photos of billboard sites within minutes by foot or bicycle of our house in Pittsburgh.

The idea was to explore some potential macro-changes of historic significance by crafting a number of local, micro-glimpses of what that reality might entail on the ground.

I also wanted to look at some of the tensions between national-scale and planetary-scale affinities, logics, and symbols.

The project speaks to the notion of duty in at least two different registers.

Our duty to the future is to rectify the catastrophic, systematic errors that we have known for some time are causing global warming.

Our duty to ourselves is to widen the horizons of imagination, debate, and action today.


A word of background: this experiential scenario was supported by Institute for the Future (IFTF) and the World Bank's Climate Investment Funds (CIF), as part of a project also involving a number of other commissioned artists working in various media, called Artists Imagining the Future of Climate Action. At IFTF's invitation, I pitched the concept in April 02018.
This story is about activating and amplifying the latent and hugely significant potential of a wildly well-resourced aspect of American governance and infrastructure. In our scenario, the U.S. Earth Force is established in the mid 2020s (alongside the existing Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard), with a view to gradually reducing and supplanting the need for conflict-based military forces by prioritizing global climate security. In terms of the RFP, this experiential scenario tells a ‘White Mirror’ story. It is a story about owning up to the most inconvenient of truths, and starting to turn the ship around.
As my research and thought process went along, the specific media, future artifacts and communications strategy for extruding the scenario morphed a bit, and the diegetic timeline pushed out to after the 02028 election. The central concept stayed the same. (Incidentally, a couple of months after getting the green light from IFTF, I began hearing about President Trump's plan to create a Space Force. Not that it matters particularly, but this project was not conceived or intended as a response to that idea.)

The resulting set of billboard images of the U.S. Earth Force recruitment campaign was completed in September 02018. A few weeks later, the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C was released, decisively shifting the public conversation and ushering in over the following year a new phase of the climate movement that made Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion household names. More recently, the covid-19 pandemic has of course altered the footing for climate action yet again.

This project was initially under wraps, to give its sponsors a chance to share the commissioned artworks first.

As the world marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, I'm sharing U.S. Earth Force with some hope that it may help in a modest way to enrich our collective capacity to imagine and initiate vital climate action in this decade.


Many thanks to branding consultant Devika Khowala and compositing consultant Matthew McGehee. For help with field visits and early design explorations, thanks to research assistants Helen Hu and Cathryn Ploehn from CMU Situation Lab. Special thanks for scenario and research advice to Michael DilaRosemarie ForsytheNils Gilman, Karen Grattan and Alex Steffen. Finally, gratitude to all at IFTF and World Bank CIF for vital support in the creation of this project.

This post was also published on Medium.

> Foresight is a right
> Ghosts of futures past
> A climate of regret
> Politicians discussing global warming
> Participatory cli-fi
> Mapping c-change
> Critical activism

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