Steve Waters joins Pivotal on the 8th December at Cambridge Junction with his monologue, In a Vulnerable Place, and in conversation with Dr David Sneath. Here Steve explains how that monologue came about and about the "wicked problem" of climate change -
Six years ago I wrote a duo of plays about climate change called ‘The Contingency Plan’ which debuted in the year the world met in Copenhagen to – as it turned out – fail to reach substantial agreement on reining in global carbon dioxide emissions. Now as COP 21 is convened in Paris to address that unfinished task, I’ve too returned to re-examine these questions in my show ‘In a vulnerable place’.
In the intervening time there’s been a raft of plays ‘about climate change’. I don’t especially like that phrase as it feels ludicrous, a bit like saying ‘this play is about capitalism’ or that play is ‘about life’. Climate change, however we talk about it, is far too complex and multifarious to be spoken about as if it were an issue. Perhaps that’s why it interests me; it’s what the philosophers call a ‘wicked problem’, defying definition and simple solution. It can’t be voted away or solved by decree. It is happening whoever sits in Westminster. It can be made a hell of a lot worse, of course – and George Osborne leads in that respect if in none other.
That’s one reason I’ve returned to it in this monologue. I realised my capacity to think about this new reality was waning. Playwrights are in some ways condemned to superficiality on the questions they engage with; nobody wants to be a one-trick pony banging on again and again about their pet concern. And yet I started to wonder whether there could be a more precise way of thinking about it which might merge activism and writing; whether it was time to look again at where we can detect this elusive reality in the lives and landscapes around us.
The new urgency comes from my sense of the rapidly worsening state of the natural world, a feeling compounded by a joint report by all the major UK wildlife charities, ‘State of Nature’, two years ago, which suggested even these sceptred isles are losing species at a terrifying rate. Then I met some anthropologists, such as David Sneath who were working on the experience of environmental change in this country and in madly exotic sounding locales: Alaska, Tibet, Mongolia. And I got embroiled in a controversy in one of our less well known national parks, the Broads in Norfolk. I found myself within a story, a story this time I didn’t feel required the veil of fiction – a story I wanted to talk to audiences about, in my own person.
I’m well aware a one-man show in Cambridge or anywhere else is hardly likely to make a dent on what takes place in Paris. Yet, as the Pivotal festival suggests, a network of artists and activists can create a kind of public space away from the heavily policed conference chambers where we can stare down this future that’s heading towards us and forge our own way forwards. In 2009 this felt like a lonely task – now there’s many more of us and whatever the politicians achieve, for me that’s a result.
Steve Waters, 2015