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The Exchange: Kelly Lee Owens and Dr. Scott Collis talk climate change responsibility and creativity in isolation.

The Arts and Sciences used to share much of the same intellectual space. Only recently have they diverged to the degree that they seem diametrically opposed. The Exchange is our attempt to rekindle some of the dialogue that occurred between the two fields.

In this installment, we’ve brought together Kelly Lee Owens and Dr. Scott Collis.

Before starting work on the self-produced album, Kelly Lee Owens, a 28-year old Londoner, turned her keen ear towards dance music after working with techno producer Daniel Avery in a London record store. Her voice and contributions can be heard on Avery’s Drone Logic.

Since then, she self-released two white label 12”s, with the Oleic EP to follow. Her debut solo album is first and foremost Owens’ vision, a record that exudes a startling level of intimacy even in its largest-sounding moments – such as Arthur, a percolating mixture of looped vocals and rustling rhythms that rides on a perpetual near-crescendo. The song is a tribute to the late iconoclastic musician and kindred spirit Arthur Russell.

“He wrote music and stayed true to his vision up until the day he died, ” Owens explains. “He didn’t compromise as an artist, and those are the kind of people I look up to – people who know what they want.”

On S/T Owens translates that self-assertiveness into a record that explores a variety of moods – sadness, anxiety, darkly shaded ecstasy – with a trippy-eyed clarity and confidence that only bodes well for the future.

Scott Collis is an atmospheric scientist and head of the Geospatial Computing, Innovations, and Sensing (GCIS) department in the Environmental Science Division at Argonne National Laboratory and a Senior Fellow at the Northwestern Argonne Institute of Science and Engineering (NAISE). Scott’s research is at the intersection of data informatics, atmospheric science, and radar meteorology. He uses and develops open-source tools to extract geophysical insight from remotely sensed data at scale, which enables a deeper understanding of atmospheric phenomena essential for the development of next-generation climate models.

Dr. Collis is the inventor of the Python-ARM Radar Toolkit (Py-ART), which is an open-source community-based architecture for interacting with weather radar data. Py-ART has hundreds of users and has achieved downloads in the tens of thousands around the globe.

In 2013, Morris was nominated by his peers and later named one of Popular Science magazine’s ​“Brilliant 10” specifically for his work in open-source software, as part of the magazine’s 13th annual awards list. He was also recently recognized as the 2019 NAISE Fellow of the Year.

Kelly Lee Owens. (CREDIT: Kim Hiorthøy)

Kelly Lee Owens: I think a lot of people are tired of the onus being put on the individual in regards to climate change, and although important to consider our impact in this way/ try our best to do our bit, people do feel this rhetoric has potentially deflected responsibility and negligence from giant corporations and governments in taking action to switch to cleaner energy output globally.

As a climate scientist what are your thoughts on this and what are the ideal scenarios that you would like to see play out short-term and long-term related to climate change action.

Scott Collis: Your question is excellent! In the USA, according to the Environmental Protection Agency [1] 28% of Carbon Dioxide emissions came from transportation, 22% electricity production, 22% from industry and 10% from agriculture.

With that said, both addressing your question and statement, here is what I would like to see play out.  First, a recognition that a changing climate will have many impacts on our way of life as we know it. Not just the obvious bit (higher temperatures globally) but the more complex things we study such as the impact on sea ice which can actually lead to crazy cold weather in some places. Or the way climate change is fueling weather extremes, drought, floods and fires.  Second, once this is established, through science outreach in clear and approachable language (something I believe Climate Scientists need to do better) there needs to be a “playbook” on what we all can do. Yes, it can feel frustrating when poor decisions by some businesses can offset the good and hard work of 100’s of people, but businesses need us and ultimately our biggest power is choice.

Looking at the Environmental Protection Agency numbers I posted above there are actions we as individuals can take. A recent Pew Research [2] study found 2/3 of American’s think we should do more about Climate Some ideas include the following by traveling more by cycling (which I love doing), walking, taking public transport and telecommuting (ironic during COVID-19) we can hit the biggest emitter, transportation.  A great way to reduce our carbon footprint from transportation: Eat locally! Lower those food miles. And support for scientific research is critical.  Argonne and other national laboratories are leading the way in developing more powerful and cost-effective batteries that will enable more efficient electric cars, trucks, and even airplanes.

For electricity, technology is our friend here. An article from CNN [3] reported that, last year, wind started outpacing coal in Texas! Add solar, hydroelectric power, bioenergy, wave power geothermal and the consumer has a lot of choice. And a real enabling technology here is storage. As mentioned before, next generation batteries will store energy from sunny days to be used at night and wind power energy to be used when the wind does not blow.

For industry we need to be clever consumers. Going back to your question “What would I like to see play out?” I would love for more information to be made available so we can make good choices. Like nutritional information on food having some info about carbon footprint (including offsets, usually done by planting trees etc.) so I can make good choices. Argonne does research on something we call “The Circular Economy” where we are understanding the full impact of the choices we make including when it comes to plastics.

Finally, agriculture. The University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems [4] report that over 50% of our diet related emissions comes from meat. Again, our personal choices can play a huge role here.

So, actually answering your question in a succinct manner, I would like to see, in the short term, society accept that humans have an impact on the climate of our planet which in turn is causing our weather to depart from conditions that we are used to (and our buildings, farms, shorelines etc. are engineered to withstand). I would like to see science backed information used in helping society make better choices.  And better choices in the form of where we spend our money, will force the long term change we need in the behavior of corporations and policies of Nations.





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Scott M. Collis. (CREDIT: Scott M. Collis)

Scott Collis: How has the isolation caused by COVID-19 impacted your creative process? Do you find the separation from crowds and travel has helped your thinking or has being cut off from society created new challenges in imagination? How do you think COVID-19 has affected the arts in general where you live in the UK?”

Kelly Lee Owens: I feel the isolation has given me the time and space to reflect on my life a lot more deeply, which has always been a huge part of my creative process, though normally I have to be much more intentional in forcing/carving out time and space to just “be,” but during this time, all of us are collectively taking a much-needed pause, that perhaps we might have been craving – getting off that capitalistic pedal-boat/hamster wheel scenario for a moment. Not to romanticise this time too much of course, but just to note some important silver linings in all of this, which are not to be overlooked.  

In terms of separation from crowds and travel, I think artists ironically are very good at being cut off from people, though we sometimes play to big crowds and are surrounded by people whilst moving around, that’s only usually a bi-product of having been locked away in a room either by yourself or with one other person for months on end. So, weirdly we are quite good at being with ourselves. In some other ways it’s been interesting to see a lot of artists being comparatively more open to collaboration of all kinds these days – people seem more open – perhaps craving to find ways of expressing our new found perspectives, whilst simultaneously finding our community along the way. I’ve personally been collaborating and creating music I either wouldn’t have been brave enough to make usually or have had time to make – so that’s been beautiful. 

Of course it’s been very difficult in other ways, mainly financially and also energetically. At first I didn’t feel the need to create or do anything, and I still have a lot of those days, which I feel is important to state. I don’t always feel inspired, but being compassionate and accepting of myself in all moments has been crucial to my mental and emotional wellbeing. 

The epidemic has undoubtedly devastated the arts in terms of in-person shows not happening and the knock on effect that has for all involved in the music industry and arts in general – from tour managers to venue staff and the venues themselves. It is crucial we have these places to come back to and the people to run them. It’s also highlighted a lot of problems in the music industry that are needing to be addressed, for example music streaming royalties. For a while now artists have been cornered into playing live shows continuously to earn a living from the music they make as there is no other viable way.

This plus having a UK government who does not value or support the music industry (even though it’s worth 5.8 billion pounds a year!) has been devastating. Yet, and after all is said and done, the thing that’s kept us all sane during these times is ART! Artists! From music, to movies, books to the artwork on our walls. Take those away and we are left empty, our mental and emotional lives less fulfilled. Artists help remind us that our experiences and pain is often collective, not individual, and, that most importantly – we are not alone.

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