thomas starr

Remembrance of Climate Futures

Laser/ceramic-marked aluminum
8” diameter x 1/8” on a sign post


Remembrance of Climate Futures is a series of site-specific installations that addresses the urgent civic issue of climate change by contracting the distance between its global scale and the local effects on people’s lives and their communities.

The City of Cambridge, like many municipalities, makes available extensive climate change data to anyone who knows where to look. Yet even for those who do pursue this content, the effects of climate change often fail to resonate, because they are expressed in spans of time and place that lack immediacy, producing psychological gaps. Remembrance of Climate Futures, guided by research from the field of climate change communication, is designed to close the gaps that disconnect people from climate change. It closes the spatial gap by physically inserting data typically relegated to websites or reports into the land or streetscape by means of markers mounted on sign poles at the geographical sites to which it pertains. It closes the temporal gap of long-term effects through a time-travel narrative. Employing the immediacy of the public domain, the installation directs attention and inspires action on a critical issue.

While climate change is an issue that can sometimes induce fear, Remembrance of Climate Futures disarmingly enlists a time travel trope as a way to lighten the otherwise graveness of climate change effects. More importantly, it instills in the viewer a sense of empowerment. Time travel narratives often include a journey to the past where an action is taken to alter the future. By portraying change as certainty, Remembrance of Climate Futures provides a gap in time that enables viewers to return to the present where they can take action now to affect their future. The goal is to increase personal mitigation efforts while building public support and demand for institutional climate change initiatives.

The Paris Climate Accord was a remarkable achievement, but it makes clear the limit of greenhouse gas reduction to which nations are committed. The withdrawal of the United States further indicates that there can be impediments to commitment itself. In contrast to the federal level, however, there is robust attention to climate change at the state and city level. Most importantly, it is at the municipal level that there is the potential for greatest impact, because this is where residents can be reached directly. Ultimately, it is the public demand for energy and other carbon-producing processes that result in GHG emissions. Significantly reducing emissions and the effects of climate change depends on the participation of all people.

The target population is residents who may feel unmoved by climate change and/or unaware of how it will affect them personally where they live. The project is being realized in Massachusetts in the City of Cambridge and the Town of Essex, and in New Hampshire in the Town of Durham.

Made possible by a grant from the College of Arts, Media and Design, Northeastern University.

About the Artist

Thomas Starr is Professor of graphic and information design at Northeastern University. His work focuses on visual communication that engages civic, social and political discourse, challenging the public perception of issues such as gun violence, domestic violence, reproductive rights and climate change. He strives to expose this area of practice, where design intersects freedom of speech, to students, designers, academics and to a broad public. His work takes many forms—designing, writing and curating. Underlying his visual work, his research into the typography, printing and dissemination of the Declaration of Independence links the responsibility of design to the fundamentals of democracy. Starr’s work has been published in the US, UK, Netherlands, Switzerland and Japan and honored by the American Institute of Graphic Arts, the Society for Environmental Graphic Design, the Association of American University Presses, the Art Directors Club of New York, the International Biennale of Graphic Design in Brno, the International Poster Biennale in Warsaw, the International Poster Festival in Chaumont, and the Federal Design Council. His designs are in the collections of the Zurich Design Museum and the Library of Congress.

8-inch diameter plaque attached to street sign pole

8-inch diameter plaque attached to street sign pole


QR codes on each plaque connect viewers to other plaques in the series and to the municipality's climate resources page. Scan the above code to experience the Essex Remembrance Trail.

Related City resources

Climate change means the future will be different in terms of the patterns of temperature, humidity, precipitation, and sea levels.  While we know it will become warmer and wetter, we cannot predict the magnitude of change precisely.  Yet it is necessary to develop some projections in order to make plans.  The City’s agencies and others use projections based on the best available science and assumptions about how much greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere to drive global warming.  Cambridge looks out toward 2030 and 2070 with global climate change models that are scaled down to our location and calibrated with local weather station data.  We rely on findings from scientific consensus reports, most notably the U.S. National Climate Assessment and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  The City completed its first Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (CCVA) in 2015, using those projections to understand the risks from higher temperatures and heat waves as well as flooding from higher rates of precipitation and coastal storm surges.  The CCVA presents these impacts geographically, showing where the floodwater is likely to go and where it will be relatively hotter.  With that information, we can understand better which facilities and infrastructure are at risk and which neighborhoods may be more vulnerable.  With this understanding, the community can make plans to reduce our vulnerability, increase our resilience, and set priorities.

Cambridge Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment & Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience Plan:

Boston Metro Mayors Climate Smart Cities Tool/Trust for Public Land:

Greater Boston Research Advisory Group Climate Change Projections: