Catastrophe: “an extremely bad event that causes a lot of suffering or destruction” (Cambridge Learner’s Dictionary).

Big environmental challenges are often portrayed as catastrophes. For instance, rising sea levels around Pacific Island countries, the shrinking of the Aral Sea and melting ice sheets in Greenland. Many people consider catastrophe framing necessary for spreading awareness and motivating people to act. We argue that catastrophe framing has the opposite effect. It can lead to inaction, paralysis and feelings of fatalism. It can also cause people to search for a single “magic bullet” solution, which hardly ever works.

Instead, we must see beyond catastrophe. For that, we identify four major topics. We call them the four pillars:

  • Home: There are places where the environment has dramatically changed and there are very real environmental, economic and health challenges. Yet these are still places of life and value. These places are still and always will be home for many people, plants and animals. For some species, such spaces might be their new home.
  • History: We need to look beyond simple stories of inevitable decline and tragedy. For this, we should consider two facts: 1. Environments are dynamic in the long term. They are always changing. 2. Each place has a history of resource use and human management of the environment. Such local and regional histories are significant. Looking across history does not mean that we deny challenges, but rather that we look further than simplistic narratives.
  • Connection: We need to look beyond the narrowly defined physical area of the “catastrophe”. Then we can see how this place fits within a larger context and how the social and ecological systems have adapted. This includes talking about collaboration and how it can be transboundary.
  • Imaginings: Catastrophe framing suggests that solutions must be implemented immediately and on a large scale. It suggests that there is no time or possibility to wait for local imaginings of what places could become. Seeing beyond catastrophe means creating time and space to center1 the voices and stories of the people who call these places home. If we want to work together to create alternative futures, we must engage with home, history and connection. We can do that through conversation, questions, constructive feedback, and shared experience.

Our vision is to collect and share projects, stories, art, and resources that attempt to see beyond catastrophe and creatively imagine alternative futures. We present diverse viewpoints and ideas keeping the four pillars in mind: Home, History, Connection and Imaginings. This is a communal project, driven by everyone interested. We very much welcome your contributions!

We have chosen to start this project with the Aral Sea region but hope we will expand geographically in the future. We also hope that this website will become a collaborative project. If you want to contribute to Seeing Beyond Catastrophe or even join the team, please check our Contribute! page.

Our first major contributor is Masharifboy Atanazarov, who designed the concept for our logo!

1 With centering we mean prioritizing, putting first (literally: “putting at the center”). We think it is important to put local perspectives ahead of our perspectives as outsiders, to not tell others what we think they should do.

Current team

Nico Bergounioux is a documentary filmmaker from the Basque region in France. He is now working with Saxon on the series, “Mission: Find Aral”.

After graduating he lived and worked in Sri Lanka and then Paris, France. His main subjects of interest centre around water management, Nature-based Solutions, geopolitics and human rights.

Always enthusiastic and curious when it comes to learn, share experiences and be in contact with new people, he would be happy to discuss with you guys!

Recommend him your favourite documentary!

Nico is responsible for the Encyclopedia of Life

Saxon Bosworth is a documentary filmmaker from England. He is now working with Nico on the series, “Mission: Find Aral”.

He has been passionate about photography and travels since a young age. He created a travel inspiration and story sharing platform “Découvrir La Vie”. Deeply interested in wildlife, he is researching and writing articles and is always happy to connect to people.

Saxon is responsible for the Forum

After five years in sunny Central Asia, Nora Heinonen cannot imagine living in a dreary climate anymore. She spent three years working with youth organisations in eastern Kyrgyzstan and now tries to make a living as a freelance consultant and grant application writer in Nukus, Karakalpakstan.

She finds Uzbek grammar very satisfying and tries her best to not be missionary about slowing down global warming.

Nora is responsible for languages and translation

Kate Shields is a PhD Candidate in Geography at the University of Oregon (USA). She has been fascinated by the Aral Sea region since 2011. Her dissertation project is entitled “Seeing beyond catastrophe: Rethinking environmental transformation and development in the Aral Sea region of Uzbekistan”.

In her previous lives she has studied toilets, worked as a technical director and stage manager for a small theater in Istanbul and taught English.

Kate is responsible for coordination of Stories and Resources