Climate Futures, Climate Grief and the Climate Game: Eric Holthaus Joins PPEH for Series of Residencies

November 16, 2018

Meteorologist, journalist, aspiring game developer Eric Holthaus, will join PPEH as our first Writer-in-Residence for three short stays in 2018-19 beginning with a visit in early December 2018. A seasoned communicator about the complex science of global climate change, Holthaus has recently begun writing more frequently about the affective side of climate crisis, including questions of grief, loss, and hope.

Holthaus is a proven collaborator--he was key to drawing attention to the vulnerability of federal climate and environmental data following the 2016 U.S. elections and played a crucial role in launching the collaborative Data Refuge project in December 2016. So he is just the right fit for this new experimental short-term residency program that PPEH is piloting as a way to expand our work with artists. We hope that this program will offer new, flexible opportunities for faculty and students at Penn to collaborate with artists working at the intersections of science and art.

eric holthaus

Holthaus’s time with us will be divided into three short-term stays:

Dec 3-5, 2018: Climate Futures, Climate Grief and The Climate Game

On December 3, 12-3pm, in the Wolf Humanities Conference Rm. (Williams Hall 623), Holthaus will workshop portions of his choose-your-own-adventure style book in progress, with a series of interactive small-group activities. A buffet lunch will be provided and participants are encouraged to come and go as needed during the three hour period.

Later that evening, at 5pm, in the English Department faculty lounge (Fisher-Bennet Hall, Rm 135), Holthaus will speak on the topic of grief, one he’s also been exploring regularly on his twitter feed

Eric Holthaus tweet

and in the pages of Grist, where he is columnist (for instance here and here), and other publications (for instance here).

On December 4, Holthaus will visit PPEH Faculty Director Bethany Wiggin’s Liquid Histories and Floating Archives seminar whose students this semester have been regularly discussing their emotions, particularly after the release of the IPCC special report in October.


March 13-14, 2019: Data at Risk: Losing Future Stories

On March 13, at noon at the Annenberg School of Communication, Rm 500, Holthaus will return to Penn as the fourth lecturer in the Data at Risk Lecture Series, a collaboration between PPEH and the Center for Media at Risk at the Annenberg School of Communication. He’ll speak on story loss as a form of climate data at risk:

Part of the data at risk from climate change are the stories of possible futures that are being systematically erased by those currently in power. In coordination with games designers from the University of Washington and Boston University, I'll lead an experimental talk/gathering/imagination exercise that will allow us to jointly experience the stories of today's youth and humanity of the near future. This talk will support my emerging journalistic philosophy that the most important thing that any of us can do to stop climate change is to talk about it.


November 21-23, 2019: “Flourish”: Environmental Storytelling in Virtual Reality

In November of 2019, Holthaus will return to Penn for the third visit to participate in a virtual reality festival focused on environmental storytelling. In collaboration with other guest artists and researchers working in fields including vr and gaming, public health, disaster response and recovery, and climate change, Holthaus plans to prototype a new video game titled "Flourish," what he’s calling “the next phase” of his journalism and climate storytelling project. “Flourish” is envisioned as a way to help people process and explore alternate futures and motivate them to think seriously about the stakes and potential of this current moment in history. (A  5-min mini documentary on the early stages of the project is available here.) At Penn, Holthaus will convene collaborative imagination and game-playing exercises with the goal of building up communities of people whose futures are erased by current climate forecasts.


We are thrilled to welcome Eric Holthaus back to Philadelphia for these three visits and excited to see what new conversations grow out of his interactions with Penn faculty, students and PPEH’s friends and collaborators in the Philadelphia region. All events are free and open to the public. Please r.s.v.p. using the links on the event pages so we can be sure to provide you refreshment!