“We arranged for the heat wave to help our project,” jokes Jay Dodge, artistic producer of Vancouver-based Boca Del Lupo theatre company. The centerpiece of the theatre's new interactive installation, called Net Zero, is the Climate Change Penance Project: part art piece, part theatre, part fitness, part power generation.
The Climate Change Penance Project allows participants to work off their “climate guilt” on an exercise bike rigged to fill up a Portable Electric battery, which in turn provides power to the Boca Del Lupo studio.
It’s pretty serendipitous timing with our heat wave (which, by the way, was radically exacerbated by climate change, in case you’ve been living under a rock—though it’s probably nice and cool under there). But that doesn’t mean the creators feel good about it. “You feel positive that the project is resonant to the moment, but obviously it’s not a positive thing that climate change is happening,” says Dodge. “It’s a mixed bag.”
Dodge quotes something his partner, Boca Del Lupo’s artistic director Sherry Yoon, often says: “It’s the scientists that provide the data, and the politicians that create the policy, but it’s the artists that will speak to the heart of the people.” The Climate Change Penance project doesn’t claim to be solving environmental issues on a global scale—in fact, the entire installation is riddled with a kind of sass and whimsy that’s not often included in conversations around climate.
There’s the name of the project itself: “Penance,” as if we’re atoning to energy sins (which we should). There’s the “Climate Guilt Coaches”—members of the Boca del Lupo team who help assign your “Climate Guilt Units,” which are calculated using things like how long you showered for that day and how many planes you take in an average (non-pandemic) year. Then, you work off your Climate Guilt Units on the exercise bike. “Guilt is not really measurable, so it’s a bit tongue in cheek,” says Dodge. The entire installation symbolizes an unfortunate truth: many of us only make sustainable choices out of guilt, not because we have a genuine drive to save the planet. It’s a very physical way to reckon with your own motivation.
But the most interesting part of the installation is the “Martyrdom Knob,” the dial that ups the resistance on the exercise bike. You can turn the knob to make cycling harder, but it doesn’t actually generate any more power. “Just because something feels harder doesn’t necessarily mean that it's creating a bigger effect,” says Dodge. Cranking up the resistance might make you feel better about yourself, but it doesn’t have an actual impact on the power being generated.
Which is kind of a bummer. Most projects that centre around climate change are. But it’s not about devastating you, it’s about making you feel more accountable for your choices—and hopefully, changing them. You get some exercise, a local theatre company gets some clean energy, and when you’re extra sore the next day you might think twice about that 20-minute shower.
“Perhaps we shift our relationship from feeling guilty about the things that we can and can’t do, and instead start asking ourselves what can we do differently,” says Dodge. “Being the catalyst for transformative change in our daily lives is where we see ourselves in the mix of this global issue.”
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