The wealth of information surrounding the climate crisis is a little overwhelming, almost paralysing at times. It’s hard to know how we, as individuals, can actually make a difference and so most of us are content with making sure we take a (suitably trendy) tote bag to the supermarket and that we recycle our empty bottles of Oatly. But the reality is we continue to take part in the activities that are doing the most damage, like eating meat, driving petrol-fuelled cars or travelling halfway across the world in an aeroplane.
In the autumn of 2018, Victor Ginsburg Müller, one member of Swedish design studio Grafik+Program, found his climate-change anxiety peaking. His home country is also the home country of Greta Thunberg and, as a result, Swedish news was awash with terrifying information about the need for action. “The news was constantly talking about it and Instagram accounts were shaming influencers for flying to new destinations each and every week,” Victor tells It’s Nice That. “I found no joy in working for clients who contributed to the climate crisis, so I isolated myself and started to draw typefaces as a form of meditation while watching depressing documentaries about how the world would end.”
It was while working on one specific typeface that Victor got the idea for Shame Plane, a website which allows you to input where you are flying to and from, revealing the direct harm you will cause to the planet, measured in the metres squared of arctic ice that will melt. He produced the site alongside Dennis Mårtensson. The damage can then be offset against lifestyle changes, with going vegetarian, reducing food waste to zero, and living car-free having the biggest impact. “Shame Plane,” Victor explains, “was a way to turn personal anxiety into work anxiety, so we could frame it in processes and methodologies easier to cope with.”
Many of Victor’s projects are inspired by “an activist or artist who is more well-spoken and courageous than me and by doing something small next to them I can feel close to their engagement,” he explains. Shame Plane is a direct result of the work of Greta Thunberg and the shame Victor felt for contributing to “this mess we’re in”.
The actual calculations of the site are based on a report Victor found during the production of the site and all information regarding how the site draws its conclusions can be found in the sources and links section of Shame Plane. While this side of things is undoubtedly interesting, the success of the project lies in the example it sets for designers and creatives everywhere. “Design is all about making sense of something, trying to gather information or function into a frame that users will be able to approach in all the pollution and noise,” Victor says.
And while he claims that “we didn’t care about any of that when we built Shame Plane, we just wanted it to make sense to us”, it’s undeniable that it exemplifies how good design can confront and challenge people. And with the current state of our planet, that’s exactly what we need to do. The time for offering gentle messages is long gone, we need to directly understand the impact of our actions and projects like Shame Plane are one way in which can do so.
Poignantly, Victor concludes: “I read the conversation between Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in The Guardian a few days ago and Ocasio-Cortez said something that I haven’t been able to put into words. ‘Hope is not something that you have. Hope is something that you create, with your actions.’”
This article is part of Response and Responsibility, a new series of stories about the ongoing climate crisis and what the creative industries can do about it.
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