Emma Little

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'Art is a way to make people look at things differently'

Four days a week, Emma Little is a consultant and project engineer working on resilient and sustainable water systems. On the other weekday, she creates audiovisual installations using freely available meteorological data. It is her form of climate activism.

Lofty green ambitions

‘In Canada, where I grew up, I was always outside. We’d often walk barefoot through the forest. Then I started doing ballet: for 20 to 30 hours a week, I was inside on a hard floor. After four years of disciplined training, I thought to myself: What am I doing? I missed the outdoors, so I decided to quit ballet and focus on a different ambition: contributing to the connection between people and nature. I studied chemical engineering and, after graduating, moved to the country my mother comes from. The Netherlands is a small country with lofty green ambitions. Here, the effects of human activities are clear to see; climate issues are tangible, in particular due to our location largely below sea level.’

Treating rainwater

‘After coming to the Netherlands, I completed a master’s degree in environmental engineering at TU Delft. I use the technical knowledge I gained there in my current role at Witteveen+Bos. As a consultant, I form the bridge in project teams between my technically-minded colleagues and our clients’ green ambitions. To maintain groundwater levels in Amsterdam, for example, we’re testing a system that will allow us to treat rainwater on location in sewers and then let it drain into the soil. On this project, I’m working closely with the people from Waternet responsible for ensuring clean sewers. My task involves taking the input from these and other stakeholders and making it quantifiable for the purpose of a sustainable design. I really enjoy doing that, because I get to go to a lot of different places and speak with a lot of different people.’

Audiovisual installations

'Four days a week, I work at Witteveen+Bos. On the other weekday, I work on improving my Dutch and on a creative project with my boyfriend. We create audiovisual installations using freely available meteorological data. It’s our form of activism and a way to express ourselves through art. It’s also a great way to make people look at things differently. Conversations on the climate crisis tend to stall because of facts; human emotions get forgotten. If you look beyond what’s quantifiable, though, our motivations often turn out to be the same. Art makes us feel; it connects people.’

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