Transcribe of Presentation by Lisa Meaney 
to Fly Zero 70 Engineers and Scientists working on Hydrogen Flight,
Dec 2021

When I first started to think about talking to you, my instinct was to look up to the sky and wonder about flight itself - What inspired flight? What made us think we could even take to the skies, did we think of ourselves as gods? Did we want to become like birds?

Perhaps flight is within us, many deep sleeping dreamers have felt themselves soaring through the air, whilst actually snoring on the ground, children try to lift off through imagination alone,  …I remember standing on the end of a diving board at the local swimming pool at 6 years old closing my eyes and thinking if I clicked my heels three times jumped high enough and wished for it enough, I might just take off – and it wasn’t just the flight I desired – but the amazement and adoration of all my friends as they watched me swoop above them, while their energies were taken up with not sinking, perhaps there is some hubris involved in flight.

In the end like everyone else it took a plane to get me of the ground.

However now I choose not to Fly. Because of the state of the planet all the related reasons you already know and I don’t need to explain. This also seems like a pretty boring decision to have made, but I am hoping that it is temporary because you are going to liberate me from it.

The Fly Zero press release on the 6th December – made me think perhaps I will be able to resume my adventures sooner than imagined. As someone who has been grounded for some time now the image of fly zero plane evoked in me the same excitement those early adverts full of smiling air hostesses in the 70’s -  but sold to me not through glamour, but through lightness, pureness. it tempts me back towards a sense of progress and modernity – it seems so fully formed.

We all know the dangers of echo chambers, and I accepted his invitation because it forces me out of mine. I know nothing about Hydrogen, or engineering.

So I invite you to meet me for an while on the intersection between social sciences, design, anthropology, science theory - it’s a bit of a tangled place, no-where near as bright and clear and as that Fly Zero plane zipping through the sunlit sky, and it doesn’t go neatly from A to B either.

And it is here that I would like to explore with you our relationship with nature, the ways in which we know things, how this effects what we create, and how what we create, including  a hydrogen plane, effects the world, not just in practical terms, but in terms of our concept of it, and our own sense of being –This is what anthropologists call our ontology.

I would like to explore with you how this type of tangled thought might be useful alongside the endeavour to create a no-impact plane.

First some theory, from the social sciences design and even theoretical physics, then I will share how I have tried to play with the theory in the world.

‘When we fly we connect, and our demand for the connections aviation makes possible are only going to grow’ Gene Gerbils CEO of World Energy, and pioneer of SAF

‘Your reality is only as vast as the diversity of relationships you nurture’
Ben Weaver – Dark Mountain Project, an anthology of literary works about the situation we are in environmentally.

The CEO of world energy is talking about human to human connections, maybe place to place connections, business to business.

Ben Weaver is talking about relationships between humans and all that is not human.

We know how a hydrogen plane connects us with each other but what is its capacity to create or even concealother types of connections and relationships, what else does it make happen apart from getting us from A – B. 

Carl Di Salvo, author of many books on design , talks about ‘Design and the Construction of Publics’ how the processes and products of design construct us as a society. Radically new objects can construct radically new publics, by embodying new or unarticulated issues or desires. I expect the Fly Zero plane is already doing this. New objects  can also embed meanings and behaviours that that did not previously exist.  

The mobile phone is a great example –  it allows us to communicate, to share images, even to monitor our heartbeat and our bank account. Beyond its function it has also constructed a whole new set of assumptions and entitlements, transformed us a society, transformed social norms… if you haven’t got a phone – what tribe are you part of?

Design is hugely powerful and that power, the full sense of what we are engineering when we engineer something - and what other possible ways of life it conceals is not always obvious or transparent, to us from the outset.

Michael Hensel a German architect and design theoretician  describes a related concept of performance in design, which has its roots in the social sciences. He describes how what we design not only performs in a technical way – in terms of efficiency for instance, but is performative in that interacts dynamically with its natural and cultural environment.

Nature and culture and objects perform together, they construct each other in a sort of mutual articulation. Almost as if nature culture and objects are all on a stage together, evolving some sort of play – but in this theatre everyone and everything is on the stage and there is no audience.

For Hensel performance is also rooted in the idea of agency. Agency is the capacity of entities to act within the world and affect events and behaviours -  these entities can be human and non-human, cultural and material.

In his work Hensel borrows a quote borrows a quote colleague Andrew Pickering

‘One can start from the idea that the world is filled not in the first instance, with facts and observations, but with agency.’

          Professor Andrew Pickering, Science Theorist and Anthropologist

This means a designed object is never discrete. The Fly Zero plane we see up in the air, exists not only in and of itself – but as something in a dynamic state with our concept of the sky, the agency of the air itself, the agenda of investors. it is always part of a natural and cultural assemblage of agencies. The plane is not an inanimate prop in this performance, its writing the script along with everything else and everyone else.

This sort of piling in of everything is not a way of thinking we are brought up with.

We are taught from an early age to understand what goes on in the natural world as very separate from our own agency as humans.

Let’s explore a really good example of how we are taught to separate human and - non human agencies.

As our minds are in the general space of the sky - let’s look at the hydrological cycle.

I suspect that for most of us in this room the hydrological cycle been taught to us in a geography lesson a system that we can observe – framed as something ‘out there’. I leant it as this many decades ago,  and my children learn it now.

You would be hard pressed to find a diagram of the hydrological cycle with a human being in it. In the same way that our plane, might not commonly be described  in terms of the natural agencies that enable it,  the hydrological cycle is not expressed in terms of its human agencies.

It is largely understood as a system of nature – something apart from us. I certainly wasn’t taught that water moves through my body in the similar way that it moves through a tree, or a plane even. Or  that it evaporates out of me like it evaporates off the surface of the ocean.

Geographer Jamie Linton – describes how the conception of the hydrological cycle as  something we can simply observe is very specific to our times. He proposes we think instead of ourselves as being part of a hydro-social cycle. The hydro-social cycle acknowledges an ongoing process through which water and society make and remake each other over space and time, in an entanglement of natural and cultural agency.

Prior to the identification of H20 -  bodies of water each had their own character. Where I live, for instance, the spring supplying the town was known to be good for the eyes.

We can choose to acknowledge that the rain, the clouds the mist, the healing spring, the stuff that comes out of the tap, and swishes around in the washing machine, or excretes from the back of a plane, is lent meaning by its cultural frame, and knowledge  frame at any one time.

This frame is always moving -  the conception of the water cycle only as something we can observe could become quite niche – move to the fringes, over the coming centuries, as the balance of the agencies we are prepared to acknowledge changes.


As we look deeper at meaning, we can go beyond our tendencies to objectify and separate things out to explore what is known as the  post-human.  

Feminist science philosopher and Biologist Donna Haraway is widely credited with bringing the ‘performative turn’ to science. She aims to expose the possibility of scientific objectivity, as a myth and coined the term "situated knowledges" which describes how all knowledge comes from a certain position and never tells the whole story.

She is affiliated with the body of thought called Post humanism.

Post humanism is similar to performativity, and relational dynamics, but is positions itself in relation to humanism.

Humanism - assumes the humans are exceptional beings and have more agency than other entities and that human agency is  most worthy of our attention – this is an anthropocentric perspective, it relates to a sense that we are the most important beings on the earth. Humanism can conceal the agencies of other species and matter.  

Post humanism asserts that yes, humans participate in the unfolding of things, but they do not have more influence than other entities, and are always being influenced by other entities…as they are by us.

We are physically, chemically, and biologically enmeshed and dependent on the environment, and made up of a larger evolving ecosystem.

Haraway’s work is very much about power dynamics of humanism  – and that is why it has its roots in feminism.

She describes how when it comes to our scientific understanding of matter, the apparatus one uses, the lab coat one puts on, the computer one sits in front of to analyse data - all set up and reinforce a relationship with matter that frame it as inert, trap it physically and force the continuation of Newtonian meaning onto it  – whilst all the time propping up our position as exceptional oversee-errs.

For Haraway the notion of objectivity, of the discovery of objective material facts, is part of a constructed self-fulfilling performance, played out within and reinforced by the constructs of science.

She suggests that we allow ourselves to embrace the independent, meaning generating power or the more than human world. Nature is not simply a puzzle to unpick, it is in an active unfurling of meaning with us – if we chose to see it that way.

She argues that we conceal this from ourselves with our methods of knowledge creation -  and that we are stuck in a self-fulfilling anthropocentric feedback loop.

From Haraway’s perspective – All the science and engineering and behaviours associated with flying - from the lab to the runway, re-enforces many ideas about our human relationship with nature - and what’s interesting and tricky, is that from a post humanist perspective this issue of how we relate to things can’t be separated from the issue of emissions that the Fly Zero plane aims to solve. 

Haraway asserts that we should be mindful of how we use the power we have assumed for ourselves to construct meaning. 

I often wonder What would happen if we gave this power up ?

I would like to introduce the work of Karen Barad, theoretical physicist.

In her book ‘Meeting the Universe Half way’ Barad brings another nuance to Posthumanism. She describes all things as having ‘exteriority within’, or ‘intra-activity’. Whilst there is a boundary between things enabling relationships, all relationships, and boundaries, are based on that fact that things already exist as part of each other.

We can understand ourselves to be in an ongoing process of intra-active becoming. For Bard Matter itself is substance in its intra-active becoming’ it is not stuff ‘ but a doing, a congealing of agency.’ Matter it is not a noun – but an active verb.

She advocates that scientific knowledge construction be replaced by a conscious re-enactment of boundaries between the human and nonhuman. She describes the urgency of a relational way of being  - less of a one way street of observing and manipulating matter – more getting to know matter and expressing interdependencies, that is understood as part of an ongoing and mutual human-nonhuman becoming.

Together all of these things aim to challenge human exceptionalism, and collapse the idea that nature and culture exist as two separate things.

I would like to  briefly share with you some more playful – but also serious ways I have found to explore this work…

In a time of environmental crisis I need to know what this type of thinking can effect in the world.

So a few years back attempted to enact this performative posthuman relational way of being I tried to do the doing that Barad talks about- and operate on an open human-nonhuman border, as part of my own private practice – which is somewhere between design and art. I tried to commit to letting the nonhuman capacity to create meaning exist.

My experiments were with water, which I hope feels relatable to your experiments with hydrogen.

I took few approaches to this – firstly I tried to loosen up my own conceptual framework in a day to day way by talking to others about their relationship with water. I asked people about their tears, their sweat, I spoke to sailors, and fountain manufacturers, people who had just had a leak in the plumbing. I went out in the rain without an umbrella, and mindfully unpicked my interactions with the kitchen tap.

We (that’s water and I) did simple things like spending time together gurgling. One thing led to another, and with my attention, water began to show me what it makes possible. I noticed the heaviness that rose through my body as the bath drained and understood that my own sense of physical weight, was in part an agency of water. I contemplated the wider power dynamics of needing a wee, when you really badly need the loo – there comes a point when water is moving on from you - whether you like it or not.  I observed waters response when offered shapes and folds and weaves of different fabrics, I listened under various roofs, heard the rain meet materials to form different messages.

All the while I carried on reading. 

I found it is very difficult to enact a different way of thinking and being. For a long time my understanding waters effects as agency - even intention, with parity to my own agencies and intentions, felt confusing and wrong footed.

There’s a lovely world ‘Sympoesis’ - “making-with.” Or worlding - with, and over time this was playfully brokered, between water and I…..and from this process that interrupted the normal way of doing things, and being in the world – a few small things with unusual agencies emerged.

Designing with Water, and I mean this is in the sense of ‘together with’ led to hand held ‘Water Sluggers -  an acceptance of waters offer, together with a certain weave of fabric, to gather its sparkly-self up and roll into my mouth.  I engaged my family in dribbly pre-dinner ‘slugging’ rituals. These are performed in humble recognition of our ultimate lack of control of water – before we raise our glasses and settle into consumption.

Together we designed a simple dwelling - Charcoal roof slates point upwards to meet the flow of the rain, and clean polluted rainwater on way into the earth to offer something to and for water, and other beings, from humans, as they dwell together in hydro-sociability.

A rain door to collect potable water on a camping trip beside the saline sea – making rain the campers friend rather than saboteur. 

Embracing water as a lively, intentioned collaborator, led to creative acts one would not have considered alone – and these acts these objects, seemed to me to interrupt my assumptions about water.


Other more multi species and bodily revelations emerged: whilst bouncing a toddler’s spaghetti floats on the side of a pool as extensions of my arms, I understood that whilst we fall through water as liquid -  it is at the same time always a silvery flowing solid to the  long legged pond skater.

As the months went on some long held meta-narratives were on the turn - it slowly appeared that water might have intentions not only within me but beyond me: sweat, the transfer of subtle minerals into the atmosphere? Tears, perhaps part of waters bigger plan for ongoing global emotional balance. The idea of water as something to consume and utilise gave way to the sense of an omnipresent, multifarious, and always animating substance, and I understood my physical and imaginative (if relatively limited) ability to reciprocally animate water.

What was very surprising to me was that by going about thing this way – some sort of very personal ontological shift occurred. Which has been very enduring .

Now as I go about days, I understand that my liveliness resides in water, I have a different sense of self as internally connected to its flows. As a result of what felt like slightly absurd mucking about -  I personally  have a deeply known sense that …water becomes me, it makes me.


But how does that relate to the endeavour we are all part of, the endeavour of sustainable existence?

Lucy Attalla, anthropologist and New Materialist  encourages a rediscovery of the whole world and everything that is part of it as one of materials in relationship with each other NEW MATERIALSIM emphasises that the materiality of the world and everything – social and natural – within it. We know we are made of star dust – and that our Hydrogen  is essential in rebuilding our bodies with time and time again over our lifetimes. A core concept of  ‘new materialism’ is that to negotiate the environmental crisis we are in, we humans must come to see ourselves, come to be, in an everyday way as materials in relation and dependency with all the other stuff of the world  -and with all the other beings that we share matter  with. For Attalla, a rethinking of  material relations is fundamental to sustainability. There cannot be sustainability without it.

If we lived this way – how would we think about a Hydrogen powered plane?

And as a final thought, from the discipline of anthropology – I want to look again beyond our-selves but this time to other humans…

Phillipe Descola a rebound French Anthropologist says that in the western world’ in anthropological terms we are largely in the naturalist camp.

Naturalism in anthropological terms means living your life on the general basis that nature exists, and by that I mean that nature exists as a separate thing to us. It is this assumption that allows us to even have the word ‘nature’ in our vocabulary -and oppose the ideas of nature and culture.

Other ontological camps or ways of being are totemic, animism, analogism, the sort of varied and distinct ways of life, or ontologies lived by lived by what we tend to describe together as ‘indigenous people’

These have always and remain in existence alongside naturalism – it’s worth remembering  are not just ancient  ways of thinking and being – they are naturalisms contempories.

All of these other ontologies assume no distinction between nature and culture, they already exist in something like this intra-activity, this post humanism, that performativity – this sense of non-human agency, and shared interiority.

And I find it very interesting that this work coming out of design theory, science theory and the social sciences reaches from out naturalist ontology – towards these other ways of being, 

To Wrap up.

It’s very easy for what goes on in Academia – or in one’s own private practice, for theory  – to be removed from what is happening in the wider world.

However, things are starting to emerge in law that challenge our sense of anthropocentrism  - be they expressed firmly in naturalist language – i.e. using the word NATURE.

Going back to the idea of agency - There are legal theories around The Rights of Nature emerging which point to a new sense of nature as being. The concept of the rights of nature affords inherent rights to ecosystems and species, similar to the concept of fundamental human rights.

As of 2021, rights of nature laws exist at the local to national levels in 17 countries, including in the US

In Ecuador the rights of nature have been evoked in relation to proposed Hydropower developments CHECK  

In India in 2012 the supreme court found that  "Environmental justice could be achieved only if we drift away from the principle of anthropocentrisim”

What also interesting is that the  rights of Nature movement is quite clear that it expects  to follow the same path that human rights movements have followed, where at first recognition of rights in the rightless appeared "unthinkable", later matured into a broadly-espoused worldview.

Where naturalist and non-naturalist ontologies co-exist for instance in Aotearoa New Zealand, things are also moving on. In 2017 The Maori Wanganui Iwi - the people that belong to the Wanganui River, secured dual analogist and naturalist, or Maoris and Western status of the Wanganui river: The river is now a legal person - human and more than human watery entanglements the Maori worldview attests to, are enshrined as a truth in law, and this law has been passed by the British Crown.

So with all of this starting to move already - where will be by 2035?  How might this impact FlyZero ?

Whilst the Fly Zero team strive to reduce flight emissions to zero, what will have changed in term of how we think about ourselves as part of the world. New materialism and the related concepts build a case for a re-enactment of our relationship with the more than human world in everything we do and make, design theory calls for us to be mindful of what we create reinforces in term of our relationship with the world. And indigenous people are fighting hard for their voices to be heard at places like COP.

It’s entirely possible that new ways of framing the relationship between humanity and the rest of the world will gain ground. We all know that what is acceptable as normal in society changes all the time – women now have votes, slavery has been abolished. Things that were once thought of inconceivable to change, become what we morally expect every day.

If ways of relating to the non- human world are evolving not only in the minds of social scientists and theoretical physicists but in ethics and law - where will we be by 2035, and what will a hydrogen powered plane zipping through the sky mean in the midst of all of this?

What meanings will it unfold into the world, will it still even be the same thing? what will those who gather around it and use it think and become because of it?

In this context is there any value in active unknowing?

Is it possible that quotes from Aviation CEO’s , and poets become less divergent – that they come to mean quite similar things.  

‘When we fly we connect, and our demand for the connections aviation makes possible are only going to grow’ CEO of World Energy.

‘Your reality is only as vast as the diversity of relationships you nurture’

Ben Weaver – Dark Mountain Project, and anthology of literary works about the situation we are in environmentally.


In the spirit of Christmas let’s now move onto a breakout session where I’ve prepared some provocative post-human fun… and I would like to thank, Ben Beth and Steve for their help with these.  

I’m going to ask you to put your post humanist , performative, new materialist hat on –

The link in the chat will take you to a board that looks a bit like this – but you will be able to see it better.

Let’s imagine that its Christmas 2035 – and the ‘Overton Window’ of what is acceptable in society, has shifted dramatically towards a new materialist concept of sustainability, we’ve just had COP 40, and everyone is thoroughly convinced of the agency of all matter, the post humanists are in charge.  People are these days a bit careful about when they say ‘nature’,

In your groups pick one or two provocations – sketch or scribble some answers on paper –  after 10 mins we’ll bring you back for some to be shared  . Your time starts now. 

We should  have time for a few questions at the end.
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