Using art to show the threat of climate change

Climate change can be a tough topic to face. Permafrost is thawing, sea levels are rising and glaciers are melting. But in our day-to-day lives, those changes can be hard to see. Most of us don’t live near glaciers or beaches. Most of us won’t build a house on permafrost. How do we grasp the problem? Maybe we need art.

From epic operas to video games to city-spanning painted projects, here are seven artists, scientists and composers who are using art to spread the word about our changing climate.

1. Climate change is “one of these topics that makes people want to turn off and disengage,” says Dargan Frierson. “It shouldn’t be that way.” Frierson is a climate scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle. He created a game called Climate Quest to help players engage with climate change. 

2. Scientists often state that the planet has warmed by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1850. But the weather from year to year varies. It’s hard to grasp just what one degree of overall warming is like.Crawford and St. George started with a dataset of surface temperatures beginning in 1880. By matching each yearly temperature change with a musical note, Crawford composed a “song for our warming planet.” 

3. Artist Michele Banks frequently uses science in her work. “I use science as a way to approach ideas about life in general,” she says.

4. Diana Movius designed a ballet performance that represents melting ice and moving glaciers.

5. Ed Hawkins decided to do it with stripes. He studies climate at the University of Reading in England. He created an eye-catching array of stripes to show how the world has warmed over time, going from a cool blue to an angry red.

6. Growing up in the tiny village of Nuiqsit, on the northern edge of Alaska, Matthew Burtner experienced climate change firsthand. “I would come home from college, and I would see the changes taking place in Alaska were dramatic,” he says. Burtner is now a composer at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He wrote an opera about climate change. 

7. In a project called “Underwater Home Owners’ Association,” Xavier Cortada painted numbers and waterlines onto thousands of large signs. Each number corresponded to how high someone’s house or business was above sea level.

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