Day Zero and Chips: Communicating the impact of UK droughts

27 May 2020

A new film from a collaboration between NERC and Hay Festival explores how day-to-day life might change when the water runs dry.

What if chips became extinct? That’s the question posed by new film Day Zero and Chips, launching at Hay Festival Digital (18-31 May 2020).

Created by British writer and journalist Patrice Lawrence, the futuristic tale of a London teenager getting ready for a date in a time when taps are turned off from 10am to 3pm, aims to highlight issues around UK droughts and water scarcity.

“Sometimes, we focus on the dramatic side of weather change, but what are the adjustments we make so gradually that we don’t notice? In fifty years’ time, will it be socially taboo to wash your hair every day? Will potatoes be luxuries in the UK?” says Lawrence, whose books for young adults include Orangeboy, Indigo Donut and Rose, Interrupted.

“I wanted to write a story that could start a conversation with young people who aren’t currently engaged in these discussions by thinking about how everyday life will change in the future.”

Communicating the science of water shortage

The film is part of Trans.MISSION II, a global project from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC, a part of UK Research and Innovation) and Hay Festival, which pairs leading environmental researchers with award-winning storytellers to communicate cutting-edge science.

Day Zero and Chips draws on the work of plant physiologist Dr Sarah Ayling and Professor of Environmental Management Lindsey McEwen, both based at the Department of Geography and Environmental Management at University of the West of England, Bristol. Their project, Drought Risk and You (DRY), investigates the impacts that droughts and water shortage can have on the environment, agriculture, infrastructure, society and culture.

The research takes a unique approach, drawing together information from multiple perspectives, including citizen science and narrative storytelling, as well as mathematical modelling of drought risk.

“Science tells stories. I loved the work the DRY Project conducted involving community volunteers, songwriters and storytellers. It made the subject relevant and important, and I drew on them for inspiration,” says Lawrence, explaining that the challenge was to develop a creative piece that didn’t feel like “pure exposition”.

Increasing public understanding

At a time of unprecedented interest in how human actions affect the environment, Trans.MISSION II is a series of collaborations that aim to increase public understanding of these complex issues in a way that both engages and informs.

As well as the UK project, a Peruvian strand culminated at Hay Festival Arequipa (7-10 November 2019) with the launch of Glacier Shallap, a short play from writer and actress Erika Stockholm drawing on the work of Cabot Institute’s Professor Jemma Wadham and her team of glaciology experts in the High Andes.

Espiral, launched at Hay Festival Cartegena in Colombia (30 January–2 February 2020), is a story written by Colombian writer and activist Juan Cárdenas based on the deforestation research deforestation research led Dr Naomi Millner, Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Bristol, and Dr Ted Feldpausch, Associate Professor at the University of Exeter.

The series culminates with an innovative new animation by acclaimed illustrator and author Chris Haughton. Haughton draws on inspiration from all three global projects.

“I’m passionate about science and the natural world – but I often think that some science, especially climate science, is quite intangible. Illustration and animation are great tools to help visualise these things,” says Haughton, who has written and illustrated four books: A Bit Lost, Oh No George!, Shh! We Have a Plan and Goodnight Everyone. “We humans react to stories and art in more powerful ways than we react to statistics and facts; they make the world relatable.

“I hope people find these stories interesting enough to make them think about things in a slightly different way. And, ultimately, I hope they come away with an appreciation of science and the efforts going into broadening our understanding.”

Download a PDF of the story. (PDF, 4.6MB)

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