A large wall of projected graphics greets you as you enter the London-based Science Museum’s new exhibition, Atmosphere: Exploring Climate Science. Disembodied voices read the words that appear across the monolith: ‘Science can show us that greenhouse gasses are increasing… Science can show us that the carbon cycle is being disrupted… Science can show us what’s already changing…’ But for all the talk of science, it was eco-propaganda on display.
Across print and online media, and throughout London’s transport infrastructure and beyond, an advertising campaign invites visitors to the exhibition, promising ‘a fresh and exciting way to make sense of the climate’. The truth is rather more disappointing: the exhibition has not really been designed to introduce minds to a new avenue of discovery; its purpose is to get them to be obedient to environmental diktats.
The first exhibit is a multi-user game called FLOOD ALERT, the objective of which is to maintain London’s flood defences from rising sea levels. Yawn. It had been abandoned by its previous players, whose score card was still on the screen: ‘Climate change turned out worse than you planned for. Bad planning can cost homes and lives.’ Science, nil; alarmism, one. The second exhibit is another interactive installation, which asks me to wave my arms around in front of the screen, in an effort to ‘move’ energy from the sun to the Earth. Meanwhile, simple facts about the transport of heat throughout the atmosphere appear. Next, interactive panels throughout the gallery offer to serve up facts about the climate, and information about a number of artefacts from climate science arranged between interactive exhibits; a slice of a tree, an ice core sample, a flask for taking gas samples. Riveting. I press a few buttons, and I am taken to a page which aims to answer the question, ‘what’s the difference between weather and climate?’.
I notice a trend developing. It seems that hi-tech, expensive, interactive exhibits are designed to hold the player’s attention, while climate-change factoids are delivered on the sly. This trend is borne out by the remainder of the exhibition. Another game invites me to first fire warmth from the sun through the gaps in clouds, and then to move particles of CO2 in the path of heat energy escaping out to space. Thus I get a lesson in atmospheric science in return for playing a rather dull game.
At the other end of the gallery, yet another interactive touch-screen display offers to serve up information about a large ‘house of cards’ mural painted on the wall. I press the button promising the answer, ‘why did the artist make this artwork?’: ‘House of Cards highlights the fragility of the interconnected system we live within. David says “My artwork is a scaled-up drawing of a house of cards. The metaphor I have used is quite a straightforward one: our atmosphere and environment are in a very delicate balance; a balance that it could be disastrous for us to upset.”’