Beyond the Science: Using Art to Convey the Dangers of Climate Change

Three artists and a communications professional all dedicated to fighting global warming spoke on a panel at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. on April 20. The panel, entitled “Climate and Culture: Using the Arts to Galvanize the Public on Global Warming,” provided a forum for the participants to display their work and address the unique ways their particular media can make emotional connections with the public.

Gary Braasch, a photojournalist whose work has appeared in Time, Life, and National Geographic, spoke of the emotional impact photography can provide. His pictures document everything from the encroaching ocean on Tuvalu, a small Pacific Island, to starving polar bears in the Arctic. Braasch is encouraged by the response of people to his photos, noting that he gets the strongest reactions to his series of glacier comparisons, which show recent snapshots next to historic images from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The differences are striking: miles of open land or lakes exist where sheets of ice used to be. Dramatic changes can even be seen between photos from the 1990s and those taken after 2000.

Another featured project was Melting Planet, an effort by award-winning filmmaker Judith Helfand to champion the unsung heroes of the fight against global warming. A clip of the work-in-progress showed Hollywood actors Salma Hayek and Jake Gyllenhaal in Alaska collaborating with Sheila Watt-Cloutier, an activist known worldwide for her efforts to link global warming and human rights issues on behalf of Inuit communities. Helfand hopes the personal stories featured in the documentary will “link the hearts and minds of the audience to people who are on the ground.”

Other speakers included Nicole St. Clair, Director of Communications for the Climate Campaign at Environmental Defense, who spoke about her organization’s recent collaboration with the Ad Council to create public service announcements they hope will become iconic for the global warming crisis; and Kim Stanley Robinson, a science fiction novelist who hopes books like his can provide models to guide people away from an environmentally destructive, dystopian society. Robinson is currently working on a trilogy, the Science in the Capital series,which explores a world reacting to abrupt climate change. The first two installments, Forty Signs of Rain and Fifty Degrees Below, have already been released, and the final, untitled, book is due for publication in 2007.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.