We’re delighted to announce the winning entries in our College-wide competition inviting students to submit a creative response to climate change and related issues of sustainability.
We asked students to consider climate change and the impact that it is having and will have, both in terms of the global context and at a more local level. They were encouraged to respond to the 2021 IPCC report, which was unequivocal in placing responsibility for climate change with human action. We suggested reflecting on how the COP26 global conference in Glasgow, which has been described as a “pivotal moment” for change, could also be seen as a point from which to reflect on our agency as individuals, our relationships, and responsibilities to the broader communities, including that of the university, to which we belong.
Entries took many forms: creative writing, visual arts, film, digital projects and essays. The judges were delighted and surprised by the entries from across the College, and each winner will receive a £100 cash prize from their school.
Many congratulations to all of the winners who are listed below and thank you to everyone who entered.
The winning entries
Thomas explains: ‘This soundscape work looks to explore climate change by studying the sounds of the world around us. The piece is composed of four main segments, each concerned with a different issue: transport, conflict, wildfire, and the loss of habitats. The whole work is composed of real-world sound clips captured and collected from across the world and arranged together in order to create a complex sound-world. A recurring theme of the work is the sound of an indicator marking the points of change within the work as well as suggesting the need for a change in direction more broadly.’
School of Performing and Digital Arts judge Nick Lee said: ‘An accomplished piece of work that, by the nature of the discipline, is evocative rather than explicit in the way that it addresses the issues.’
‘I am a first-year MPhil/PhD student studying music composition with Dr Nina Whiteman. I have worked as a professional composer and producer for several years working on films and other media for the likes of Universal, APM, the BBC, and various independent groups. With a background encompassing classical, jazz, and contemporary music, my main research interests currently explore how modern electronic production techniques can be integrated into contemporary music composition.’
Read Oliver's short story here.
Oliver explains: ‘This short story arose from thinking about the increasing droughts that some areas of the planet are seeing as a result of climate change. I wondered what this could look like in a future where droughts become even worse, and water becomes one of the most precious resources around. I was interested in how this might play out for a small community struggling to get by on meagre government assistance, living outside of the elite cities that have access to more advanced water capture technology.’
School of Engineering, Physical and Mathematical Sciences judge James McKee said: ‘A bleak and disturbing story, contemplating our future on a destroyed planet. Not a comfort read, but a well-told short story. Water has become the Blue Gold.’
‘I’m a third-year PhD student in the Cyber Security CDT programme. My interest is in exploring autonomous mobility futures, and in particular alternative futures that challenge the status quo. I’m therefore focused on the role that various types of security can play in securing and desecuring futures – in contesting current thinking – and in the role of story and narrative in this contestation. A central theme underlying this interest is the role of power in controlling these securing processes.’
Read Gemma's essay here.
Gemma explains: ‘People are becoming more conscious about their own carbon footprint and what personal changes they can make in order to cut carbon emissions. There are many areas where a person can make a significant impact, but there are equally as many that require company and government intervention. I consider the topics of heating, electricity, travel and diet and consider where the limitations lie and what future, carbon neutral solutions would look like.’
School of Engineering, Physical and Mathematical Sciences judge James McKee said: ‘What can we do as individuals in the battle to cut carbon emissions? Yes, governments must take action, but we must also consider our personal place in the fight. The essay draws on a range of sources to articulate this point, and the limits of what we can do as individuals.’
‘I am in Year 4 of an MSci in Physics. After my third-year course on Energy and Climate science I started to get more interested in the net zero by 2050 goal. From this interest I completed an internal placement on the changes needed for a specific street to become carbon neutral by 2050. One thing that I noticed was that personal changes alone, although impactful in reducing emissions, are not sufficient to reach net zero.’
Julie explains: ‘My response features a triptych of watercolour landscapes, each one symbolic of topographies we are witnessing today. One is lush, verdant, green and healthy. The next is cold, icy and inhospitable but with hints of rising temperatures. The third is scorched, parched and oppressive. They signify the changing landscapes we are currently witnessing, from melting ice caps to dangerous wildfires. However, this is also a story of hope and commitment to a better future. Luscious landscapes still exist and with work to tackle climate change they can be both preserved and rebuilt. I consciously used handmade cotton rag khadi paper to paint these scenes. This paper is pulped in India by local craftspeople who make it using recycled materials and a sustainable water supply. This adds another layer to my work, the importance of not only supporting independents in a world of fast, unsustainable and abusive consumerism, something that is contributing to climatic changes, but also making conscious environmental choices in the things we buy and use.’
School of Humanities judge Vicky Greenaway said: ‘A simple and impactful statement. The use of materials indicates alternate possible eco-futures in subtle ways: art that not only demonstrates the problem, but demonstrates a possible constructive solution through adopting a conscious set of personal and policy behaviours around sustainability.’
‘I am a first-year PhD student specialising in Holocaust studies’ intersection with the transdisciplinary approach of food history. Whilst global warming and an anthropocentric perspective are not features of my current projects, my interest in transnational histories has meant that I have often considered the impact of geography and ecology on migrant populations. In addition, food economies, a central facet to my research, are frequently in conflict with climate change. Topographical shifts, rising temperatures, rainfall fluctuations and wildfires are all contributory factors to changes in food supplies. Therefore, climate change is often on my mind as I read historical case studies. My greatest hobby is to paint and I gravitate towards the subject matter of landscapes as a result of both subconscious and conscious thoughts about the world I see around me and read about in the news. I believe art is an excellent medium to express grand and important narratives, artists have been doing this for centuries.’
Read Jessie's essay here.
Jessie explains: ‘I feel that in the English department, we have a unique relationship with paper – but the looming shadow of the impact we have on the environment has always sat uncomfortably with me. How do we marry the love of books with the inherent violence wreaked upon our planet for access to them? In this I take a sympathetic view of where this sentiment comes from, but I also confront the cold truth of the matter, and how we may go about fixing it – or at least picking up a volume without feeling a pinch of guilt for doing so.’
School of Humanities judge Vicky Greenaway said: ‘This was a really well-considered piece that demonstrates full awareness of the subject approached and focalises on the tensions generated in the use of one material, paper. The complex politics (personal and global) involved in exploring our use of natural resources are well mapped. Unrelenting in its truthfulness about the emotional and affective conflicts at hand, the work captures and articulates a contemporary dilemma around behavioural change.’
‘I hail from the English department, studying English BA as a third-year undergrad. I'm originally from Surrey, so right on Royal Holloway's doorstep! I am an avid animal-lover with a dog of my own, and a happy hunter and devourer of books. My tip: always pack a book everywhere you go, just in case! As part of the climate change generation I feel strongly about the environment; I grew up watching documentaries wide-eyed with wonder and we must preserve the amazing natural spaces we are lucky enough to have.’
Ashling explains: ‘My piece was inspired by the idea of students moving around the campus in a sort of tidal manner going to and from lectures and seminars, hence the name ‘Tide Walkway’. I also liked the idea that students could shelter under a green canopy and be surrounded by nature even when it is raining and find comfort in a green environment. I combined the ideas of using walkways that harness the kinetic energy from people walking on them, with the green moss roof to create an all-encompassing environmentally conscious space.’
School of Life Sciences and the Environment judge Ian Candy said: ‘A nice example of how a local initiative could be implemented on campus to effect change, addressing the issue of carbon emissions. In comparison to other entries this is a very specific and focused idea, but because of that is very successful in presenting a workable scheme.’
‘I’m a second-year Geography student at Royal Holloway and I’m from Bath. I have a real interest in sustainability measurers and conservation work. I am currently the team leader for the Love Your Campus volunteering group, which has allowed me to help maintain and learn about the natural environment on the campus. I am very interested in the UN and in the spring next year will be deputy director for the London International Model UN on the UNEP Committee. I am passionate about making the campus more sustainable and implementing green measures which benefit all.’
Rebecca explains: ‘This is an environmental take on Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory” In Dali’s nightmarish style, I show the agency ascribed to time in the discussion of climate change by political actors. The face is covered by a clock to signify a blindness to the flooded background of Dali’s landscape. The agency that has been ascribed to time has blinded the face from recognising its own power in the encroaching situation. The digital clocks are counting down and the forlorn landscape foreshadows the worst impacts of climate change. While we watch clocks tick, we allow our habitat to “melt” before us.’
School of Engineering, Physical and Mathematical Sciences judge James McKee said: ‘A homage to Dali, this is a powerful image, with clocks now digital, a blinded face replacing Dali’s monster, and everything melting in the heat. How could we be so blind? We knew the clock was ticking.’
‘I am a first-year PhD student in Information Security with the CDT. I have a background in politics and an interest in geopolitics. My feelings on climate change are dominated by fear, as I’m sure it is for most people. I think the topic of agency is particularly important in climate change as we grapple with our own sacrifices to be “greener” while we watch state actors and large corporations at events such as COP26 with our futures in their hands. Unfortunately, this has usually been with very little faith in the outcome. Of course, time remaining is the major theme in this COP26, and I wanted to convey this.’
Read Elisha's poem here.
Elisha explains: ‘Traversing the gamut from an innate fear of oblivion to deep-seated existentialism, my piece confronts not only this “new world order” and the concurring conventionalities of a world maladjusted to its own reckoning but also the personal worries and sentimentality stemming from growing up along East Yorkshire’s Holderness coast, the fastest eroding coastline in Europe. As a society, we are positioned on a knife-edge, our planet somehow simultaneously caught between life and death, and entirely at the mercy of the self-righteousness and despotism of today’s world “leaders”. We are approaching the end of all we know. This is really happening.’
School of Life Sciences and the Environment judge Ian Candy said: ‘A very powerful piece of creative writing which shows great depth of thought regarding the climate crisis. I enjoyed reading this very much and found the imagery very affecting.’
‘I am a first-year Biological Sciences student. With a strong portfolio in writing poetry extending over a decade and a legacy in politics that came to fruition in my eleventh year of life, the current state of affairs has crafted a hybrid sense of nihilism and grief which has permeated my recent exploration of the form. A true child of East Yorkshire’s pseudo-postmodernism, I was carved from the womb with an all-consuming awareness of injustice and the fleeting nature of everything – people, situations, possessions. This, intertwined with a timeless desire for the natural world and married together alongside an exploration of the confessional genre, is a reflection of all the fragments of my soul.’
Lucy explains: ‘As a Director and Youth Council member at Reserva: The Youth Land Trust, I’ve been empowered to protect threatened species and habitat, mitigate climate change, and inspire other young people to do the same. Through its creative, solutions-based approach, the innovative work that Reserva and its incredible youth volunteers are doing never fails to fill me with hope. I saw this competition as an opportunity to share that hope and illustrate my belief that with enough passion, creativity, and collaboration, every one of us – regardless of age and background – has the power to drive real, positive change.
School of Life Sciences and the Environment judge Ian Candy said: ‘An excellent video which gives ideas about addressing key issues relating to the climate crisis through real world examples. The video is very engaging and shows a really nice example of what can be done to effect change at a local level.’
Lucy Houliston is a National Geographic Young Explorer, digital content producer, and speaker with a passion for weird wildlife. She is proud to serve as a member of Reserva: The Youth Land Trust’s Board of Directors. Lucy has delivered school talks internationally; presented at a host of virtual conferences and festivals; and produced, directed, and hosted digital series and events for the likes of The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB England, and Reserva. Her conservation work has taken her everywhere from wild Scottish islands to Panamanian sloth sanctuaries and a rugged and remote corner of the Ecuadorian cloud forest.
Read Cherry's essay here.
Cherry explains: ‘I am frustrated by the inertia of carbon-heavy companies, nation states and individuals regarding climate change. COP26 is seemingly for the few, and the question focuses on what “we” can do and places “our” community before others, without unpacking what “we” constitutes and the problems with focusing on “ourselves,” located in the “Global North”. There is also clear reluctance amongst certain countries and corporations to instigate change, and this too needs unpacking. We already know the solutions regarding climate change, and what will happen if we fail to act. So why another summit in a northern country?’
School of Engineering, Physical and Mathematical Sciences judge James McKee said: ‘This is a thoughtful discussion of the futility of COP26. It gives a gloomy take, reflecting that those most affected by climate change are least represented, and questioning the point of the summit. The arguments are well made, and challenge us to action.’
‘For my undergraduate degree I read Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Oxford, completing a Master’s degree at UCL in Material and Visual Culture. I have a long-standing interest in environmental issues – a passion I inherited from my father – and indigenous rights, especially relating to indigenous groups in the Arctic regions. I am currently undertaking a PhD in Information Security where I hope to approach the topic of security practices from a more holistic and anthropological perspective.’
Read Boglarka's data analysis and presentation here.
Boglarka explains: ‘The thinking behind this piece was leaving a positive impact through bringing attention to certain correlations in survey data to do with climate change and the environment. As an Economics student I used RStudio during my studies last year, so I was hoping to enhance this knowledge and put it to good use for a cause that I am passionate about!’
School of Law and Social Sciences judge Dan Whistler said: ‘Big data calls for new forms of creativity and when it comes to the climate emergency, these new forms of creativity are urgent. Boglarka Kurucz’s entry presented an original encounter with the mass of data accumulating around climate change – data that can both serve the cause of sustainability but also can sometimes act as a disorienting fog. The codes for sifting through, sorting and making sense of this data that Boglarka has written help reorient us.’
‘I am a third-year Economics with Music student. I am originally from Hungary, but I grew up in Dubai and have always had an interest in the environment and climate change. It is such a current issue that we need to act upon in our daily lives and draw awareness to because most people underestimate its significance.’
Read Susanne's poem series here.
Susanne explains: ‘My creative work deals with denial of loss and disruption to creativity through repeated self-destructive tendencies. It is about finding a solid structure by incorporating fragments of thoughts and feelings in order to rebuild. The future is uncertain, the past is uncertain, and the tone of the poetry reflects the sense of finding oneself at the point of no return again and again. I think that this speaks to the fact that societies around the world have delayed dealing with the climate emergency because of, at least in part, a denial of the consequences of doing nothing to prevent future destruction, allowing us all to sleepwalk towards a disaster that has been “known” about for decades. It also suggests that sometimes we have to be led by children to understand the previous generations’ suffering, cruelty and blind spots. The idea of no return, forced immigration, and the difficulty of having a safe home are also very prominent themes in my work.’
School of Humanities judge Vicky Greenaway said: ‘Powerful and affecting. Linking the traumatic legacy of climate change to the forced psychological and emotional dislocations of childhood through the child’s point of view affords a new, troubling and thought-provoking approach to the subject. Art that lingers in the mind.’
Susanne Lansmann is a practice-based PhD student at Royal Holloway researching how trauma is enacted in poetry and works in the field of mental health in London. Her poetry has appeared in The Rialto, The Interpreters house, The Bedford Square Review and is forthcoming in Poetry Salzburg Review. Her work was long-listed for the Juritz Prize in 2019 and her pamphlet was long-listed for the 2018/2019 Rialto Pamphlet Competition.
Elena's storymap can be found here.
Elena explains: ‘I’m a third-year Geography student. My submission to the COP26 Forum student competition is a StoryMap highlighting four changes that Royal Holloway could make in response to climate change. It focuses on how consumer behaviours (such as the foods we eat or the packaging on things we buy) have an impact on the environment. The StoryMap argues that we should all work together to make more eco-friendly choices in order to reduce Royal Holloway’s carbon footprint.’
School of Life Sciences and the Environment judge Ian Candy said: ‘This is visually a very powerful piece of work. There is excellent use of graphics and images throughout and it does a very good job of identifying some of the main ways that Royal Holloway could look at its carbon footprint and address these issues at a local scale.’
Read Magdalena's poem here.
Magdalena explains: ‘I am studying Modern Languages and Classical Studies in my third year at Royal Holloway. Climate change is a serious topic that concerns the whole of humanity. I, myself, am not an expert on this topic, however, I understand the importance of preserving our planet, which we are failing to do thus far. My contribution to this project I present as a poem or a dialogue with the Earth.’
School of Humanities judge Vicky Greenaway said: ‘This was an evocative paean to its subject with a clear sense of human failure to support its debt and obligations to the natural world. Affecting and salutory in its message.’