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Graphic novel presents vision of Yorkshire 2150 at Leeds comic art festival

Centre news
Press release

It is the year 2150 and Yorkshire has become “Elmet”, a regenerative anti-fragile society made up of a polyopolis of hub towns across the southern bioregion of the United North, stretching around the “Bay of York” and developed out of the old counties covering the river catchments of the Swale, Ure and Nidd, among others. . .

Possible – or far fetched? It’s up to readers of A Dream of a Low Carbon Future to decide. Described as a “thought experiment”, “Dream” is a collaborative graphic art book that presents a sketch of how the future could unfold, based on scientific projections, existing technologies, historical events and a good dose of sci-fi invention.

Launched at Leeds Thought Bubble Comics Festival on Saturday 5 November 2016, the colourful book, which is aimed at teenage readers, presents a positive vision of a changed Yorkshire landscape, albeit based on a global warming scenario of between 2C and 3C.

While rooted firmly in established science – many University of Leeds academics and researchers contributed their expertise to it – the book acknowledges its vision is both imaginative and provocative and opens with a “health warning” that many aspects of the future society portrayed are controversial.

The introduction, by renewables guru Jeremy Leggett (author of The Winning of the Carbon War) encourages readers to use it as a starting point to think about the issue, commending the book’s aim of influencing through optimism rather than dystopia.

With the Paris Climate Change Agreement coming into force today (4 November), which aims to limit temperature rise to ‘well below’ 2C (and preferably 1.5C), the book brings the implications of the graphs of IPPC reports vividly to life, offering an interpretation of how severe climate impacts could play out in our region.

York and the Humber have become an inland lagoon; storms, droughts and frequent ‘heat calls’ dominate the weather and climate migration has caused damaging conflicts, yet despite this, the overall picture is encouraging, with a co-operative society working together and finding ways to adapt.

The book, by University of Leeds energy research administrator James McKay and Bristol-based illustrator Benjamin Dickson, is the sequel to a 2014 project with school children that was shortlisted for a national Public Engagement in Science award.

The new book continues the theme, using graphic art style narrative to tell the story of central character Maia, a 14 year-old girl living in Knaresborough, who is conducting a school project describing the history of what happened pre-2150 and describing her lifestyle.


The “Bay of York”

Mr McKay said: “We can’t afford to continue pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels as we have done for decades. This novel presents a new way for young people to think through the issues at a local level and understand how they can make a difference.

“Everyone knows a picture tells a thousand words, so we’ve deliberately set out to explain the issues and how Leeds and the surrounding area can adapt in a much more understandable way.”

Mr McKay, who coordinates PhD and Masters programmes for Centres for Doctoral Training in Low Carbon Technologies and in Bioenergy, is also a member of the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds. The centre is named after the Leeds-born natural scientist and philosopher who discovered oxygen and whose studies of carbon dioxide won him Royal Society recognition.

Today, Priestley’s statue stands in Leeds City Square; in the book, it has been rebuilt, Statue of Liberty size, and dominates the cityscape, signifying the importance that climate change science has acquired.

Professor Piers Forster, Director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate, which has supported the project, said: “How climate change might affect  our day to day lives is hard to imagine. Fortunately this book comes to the rescue  – taking results from dry academic texts from us researchers and turning  them into thought provoking powerful illustrations.”

Around 1,000 copies of the book will be sent to schools across the city and West Yorkshire and Mr McKay will be running a workshop for schoolchildren as part of the Being Human humanities festival at the University of Leeds on 18 November (fully booked).

Notes for Editors

Web links:

Dreams of a Low Carbon Future project (includes links to the pdf of the new book, A Dream of a Low CarbonFuture):

Thought Bubble:

Being Human:

James McKay (editor)

James is a manager of two EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training at the University of Leeds in the field of Low Carbon Technologies and Bioenergy. He is also a comic book artist and illustrator, shortlisted for ‘best new UK graphic novel artist’ in the Arts Foundation Awards 2009, and regularly collaborates with scientists to visually communicate their ideas in fields as diverse as health care, palaeontology, transport, climate change and engineering. Through this work, James has led several outreach projects including the ‘Dreams of a Low Carbon Future’ graphic novels, shortlisted for the 2014 NCCPE Engage Awards (recognising projects engaging young people in science).

Benjamin Dickson (illustrations and lettering)

Ben is a comic book writer and artist, and has written several non-fiction and historical graphic novels.  He also works as a language teacher in Bristol.

Priestley International Centre for Climate

The Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds brings together world leading expertise in all the key strands of climate change research. As well as forging new international partnerships, the Priestley Centre’s focus is on interdisciplinary research partnerships that better link our physical, technological, economic and social understanding of climate change with strategies for mitigation and adaptation. The Priestley International Centre for Climate is one of the University’s flagship strategic investments in response to the global challenge of climate change, with £6.82m invested in it over five years. The director is Piers Forster, Professor of Physical Climate Change in the School of Earth and Environment. @priestleycentre #climateleeds

Media Contact

Kate Lock Communications Officer, Priestley International Centre for Climate

+44 113 343 9767