Climate Change Art Helps People Connect With A Challenging Topic

During the recent global climate change marches and strikes, many people have been carrying creative signs and placards to get their message across. Some even dressed up in costumes, danced, sang or played instruments.

Beyond the mass protests, climate change has inspired artists to create works that express anything from people’s fears to the scientific consensus around the issue. But are these artworks effective in getting a message across? What is the role of art  in communicating climate change?

Several researchers have looked into the role of art in climate change communication. Earlier this year, Laura Kim Sommer and Christian Andreas Klöckner published a paper suggesting that climate change art is capable of changing people’s opinions, as long as the message is hopeful, and gives people ideas for change. They based this on an analysis of artworks that were on display during the 2015 United Nations climate change negotiations (COP21) in Paris..

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After analysing questionnaires that people had answered about the artworks that were on display at the meeting, they categorized the pieces into different groups. One group, the “awesome solution”, included works that conveyed a hopeful message, showing solutions to environmental problems. These were the pieces that were most effective in changing visitors’ viewpoints.

This was a relatively small study, only taking into account the works that were on display at COP21. But last year, another group of researchers did a more detailed analysis of climate change art. Diego Galafassi from Stockholm University and his colleagues from different international institutes looked at works created over the period between 2000 and 2016 and found an increase in the number of climate change art projects in that period.

They also identified several different roles and purposes of climate change art. One of these roles is science communication, where art can be used to make scientific data more accessible.

An example of art being used to convey scientific data is the interactive use of warming stripes. The stripes themselves are a very simple and colorful data visualisation pattern, developed by Ed Hawkins. The #ShowYourStripes websites allows people to easily download a set of stripes personal to their location, and set them as background on their online profiles, for example. It’s a conversation starter, and people are actively engaged by searching for the stripes for their own location.

In the study of art at COP21, Sommer and Klöckner did not find interactive art to be particularly effective in changing people’s views, but they did note that these pieces made people feel like they belonged. That can be very helpful in getting people to connect with a cause, even if the art itself doesn’t necessarily change minds.

Another very simple piece of climate change art that has popped up at some of the many climate marches and protests in the past year is the hourglass symbol of Extinction Rebellion. The logo is easy to reproduce, and freely available to use for non-commercial purposes, so anyone can display it on their own banners, bags and shirts. It also adds an element of engagement to the art by allowing people to participate in printing or painting their own materials.

Unlike the “awesome solution” art, the stripes and hourglass may not be hopeful or positive symbols,  but their interactive element gets people involved.

Galafassi and colleagues also noted that there is an increasing trend for scientists and artists to co-create work to help communicate climate change research, such as the Sustainability In An Imaginary World project.

They also emphasized that art has a different, but complementary, role to play in climate communication than science. Climate can be a personal and emotional topic to talk about, and the straightforward facts of science aren’t always enough to convince people. (Just think about the gut reactions of people who reject that climate change could even be a major issue. It’s often emotional, rather than rational.)

Art allows for a way for people to connect more directly with these emotional and personal aspects of climate change, but can also connect to the scientific facts. It can bridge that communication barrier.

And as Sommer’s and Klöckner’s work showed, at least some types of art have the potential to make people feel more empowered about finding possible climate change solutions.

[“source=forbes”]