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Climate Crisis in the Shadows: Rethinking Our Relationships with Nocturnal Kin

Research output: Contribution to conference - Without ISBN/ISSN Conference paperpeer-review

Publication date27/09/2023
<mark>Original language</mark>English
EventInterdisciplinary Conference TTT in Art & Science - Malta Society of Arts, Valletta, Malta
Duration: 27/09/202329/09/2023


ConferenceInterdisciplinary Conference TTT in Art & Science
Abbreviated titleTTT 2023
Internet address


For many people the impacts of climate change are subject to a high degree of speciesism, with the wider nonhuman suffering remaining largely unseen in public consciousness. This is arguably even more profound when we think about climate change and its impacts after dark (Cox et al. 2020). When we consider our relationships with other species, we typically bring to mind our daytime experiences and, thus, the nonhumans that we might encounter or anticipate being active. However, the vast majority of nonhumans are crepuscular or nocturnal, going about their lives out of sight and out of mind of most people. This paper, therefore, seeks to address this gap in knowledge and understanding by questioning our relationships with nonhuman life after dark. Specifically, we seek to embrace one of the most misunderstood nocturnal creatures, the rat. Rats are taboo, they are mythical creatures that transgress the boundaries of our real world and the imaginary. Of particular concern for us is how quickly they are being impacted by the climate crisis. One way to shift the attention to the nonhuman, such as rats, is to consider what is currently being lost, and to view our ecological state as the sixth mass extinction (Morton 2021). Specifically, in 2016, a rat-like creature Bramble Cay Melomys, was the first mammal recorded to become extinct as a result of anthropogenic climate change (Panagiotarakou 2020). Although rats are often depicted as our near neighbours, they are seldom perceived as kin. Rats are “animals that disgust us” (Jerolmack 2008), and conjure forth notions of danger and disease. What’s worse, there are ways in which rats are not even considered animals, as they are excluded from the Animal Welfare Act and thus lack any legal protection in the US (Smith 2002). Our project suggests that if we can establish kinship with rats, then barriers to wider nocturnal multispecies companionship could be profoundly unlocked.

This emerging practice-based project develops speculative-performative interventions for and with real and imaginary rats. The authors will create scenes of “fictional activism” (Williams Gamaker 2021), drawing from the Medieval legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. The legend is considered a multi-layered and early version of nonhuman displacement engineered by humans, and stigmatizing another species. These site-specific interventions, accompanied by customarily composed science-fiction pipe songs and poems, integrate climate science evidence from the rats’ perspective as predictions of their past, present, and future trouble. The songs are, on the one hand, composed to expand the rats’ intellectual capacities, and hence their chances of survival. Namely, controversial test results suggest improved maze learning after exposing rats to music, also known as the Mozart effect (Rauscher et al. 1998, Steele 2003). On the other hand, the songs and poems aim to decolonize human attention from consumerism (Halifax 2021) and human-centricism, and to rewild our hearts to develop multispecies compassion (Bekoff 2014). The project thus aims to change the perception of rats as a public health hazard and (black) “death”, into creative but endangered species capable of experiencing suffering.