What can the creative community do to help solve the climate crisis?



Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

The United Nations has labelled climate change “one of the most pressing issues of our time.” Scientific evidence for the warming of the climate system is unambiguous. The impacts of a warmer world today include:

· Intensified heat, insect outbreaks, and increased wildfires.

· Declining water supplies and reduced agricultural yields in non-coastal areas.

· Increased flooding and erosion in coastal areas.

· Rising human, animal, and livestock health crashes.

Reviewing the many reports and perceived action plans to combat climate change gives the grocery list of specific solutions. Fundamental strategies are called out with generic titles like Local Action, Greener Farming, Private Sector Action, Stop Cutting down Trees, and Unplug your Devices. While such a list is a good start, it reads like Swiss cheese. In the battle for climate management, there are unclear chores for everyone.

Will tech save the day? Technology on its own doesn’t provide the silver bullet to climate management. Some powerful technologies will certainly help if we implement them correctly.

What if we don’t do anything differently? It’s expected to cost over $23 Trillion more to simply live like we do today by mid-century to account for climate change. That’s more than the entire GNP of the US in 2019. So, we need to generate twice the 2019 US economy (already the largest) worldwide to break even. Now figure in additional costs and lost margins by manufacturing, transporting, consuming, and connecting becoming more expensive. Sit with that for a minute. Working harder and longer isn’t the answer. No one will buy their way out of this mess. Continuing to do what we’ve been doing isn’t a solution.

If we do nothing different, increased suffering — the likes of which are hitherto unimaginable to our little history on spaceship Earth — will be commonplace. Half of the world’s population is expected to live in water-stressed areas by 2025. The United Nations expects water extremes to displace 700 million people by 2030. Yet, we can do better.

But it may be hard for some people to feel personally impacted. Hearing research and news reports won’t provide an emotional connection. It is therefore crucial for artists, performers, and storytellers to help solve these problems, issues, and challenges.

Art in all its forms can bridge the communication barrier between loads of data and personal action. Artists provide a witness of their surroundings; reveal truths that are either universal or hidden, and help people view the world from a different or novel perspective. They can connect with and inspire communities to engage and rally toward social progress. Though social progress got us in the current climate situation, social progress is undoubtedly part of the solution.

Creative thinkers and makers provide their communities with joy, hope, interaction, and inspiration. They are ambassadors of the natural world. By providing a source of access, artists activate our senses to the natural world. Storytelling is a powerful ally to move hearts and minds.

Nature and climate projects have been a staple of the arts community since the beginning. Climate change is a muse today. Photographer Ansel Adams wrote: “The quality of place, the reaction to immediate contact with the earth and growing things, … is essential to the integrity of our existence on this planet.”

In the past, artists introduced the public to the geology of ice and the concept of ice ages as evidence of Earth’s ancient origins. Today, artists present the fragility of ice, which is rapidly disappearing in our warming world of climate change. Artists highlight the sublime beauty and deteriorating condition of the planet’s once-remote regions: alpine mountain chains, the Arctic, and Antarctica.

The arts are an essential part of creating large-scale public awareness and understanding of climate change that can bring about substantive policy change. Tying together the scientific and creative worlds in pieces of beauty and activism, creatives have the influence to raise environmentalism’s priority and bring climate-supportive measures to the forefront of cultural conversations.

We know about the power of awareness, visualizations, and connections to inspire and motivate. Let’s look at some additional strengths that the arts community brings to the complex table of problem-solving.

Artist collectives like Dear Climate, the Cape Farewell Project, Vanishing Ice, Countdown-TED, and specific artists such as Olafur Eliasson, Tavares Strachen, Mel Chin, and others have created works meant to motivate the public on this issue.

Without a doubt, entrepreneurs, leaders, advocates, and activists will change existing paradigms in profound ways. Some myths and existing standards will be shattered for climate-friendly futures. To remain agile and resilient in this VUCA world, organizers need to determine paths forward through futures programs that give an entrepreneurial, social, and leading edge.

To win the battle, we need to rely on the strengths of every cohort. Every artist plays a different and necessary part in contributing to our society’s overall health, development, and well-being. In addition to cultural bridges, arts deliver mental health benefits from both doing and appreciating. The creative orbit is home to diversity and inclusion.

Food scarcity will be a rising issue, but creative culinary wizards are ready to make nutritional, tasty, and culturally sensitive dishes from new sources. Creatives are experts at communicating in many forms. Everything manufactured item has a creative mind behind the wheel of its appearance. Technology isn’t limited to what we see in the tech basket today. The Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence have the most significant potential from today’s crop to help us better predict and titrate resource usages.

On the horizon, biophilic surfaces, alternate realities, and alternate materials designed with a climate-friendly, user-centric viewpoint are coming into focus. Designers, well, create our living spaces. Economists can benefit from improved pattern identification and risk valuation.

Of all the creative community’s transferable skills, creative and innovative thinking is its most incredible. The abilities to dream up and “what if” are the hallmarks of the creative. Think you can’t schedule creative time? The creative does it all day, every day. The amateur waits for inspiration; the professional makes it happen, and teaches it.

We can genuinely solve this crisis: Creatively.

© Robin Jourdan 2021



Robin Jourdan (MFA cand, Shaping Tomorrow Tr Dir)
The Futurian

Robin has w 30+ yrs research, foresight, 6 Sigma & automotive. She is also an MFA Candidate at Wayne State University (MI/USA)