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Calling All Artists

Earth Day 2014. Calling all artists: Earth to Artists! Earth to Artists! Rise! Choose your weapon. This is your moment…

The rest of us have failed:  Nobel laureates, journalists, politicians, parents, academics, activists, CEOs.  No one — yet — has found that elusive holy grail of climate change communication that will resonate with the general public. That special metaphor capable of unlocking the floodgates to climate action.

To date, we’ve learned that:

  1. Fire-and-brimstone, doom-and-gloom, fear-based approaches don’t work;
  2. The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence doesn’t translate well to the masses (nor to the media, in some cases);
  3. Grandiose political oratory followed by inaction doesn’t fool anybody;
  4. Environmental activists are, more often than not, preaching to the converted; and
  5. Even Hollywood can get its fingers burned drawing attention to the urgency of climate action.

Considering that we, the collective we, seem to be adrift without a compass on the rising seas of climate (mis)communication, logic suggests that we need a new message or a new messenger. Or both. A storyteller, perhaps?

Calling all artists!

Last year, Sara Fishko’s fascinating award-winning radio special Culture Shock 1913 described how artists reacted to and interpreted the chaos at the beginning of the last century leading up to World War I.  This “unsettling, shocking era of sweeping change” gave birth to the Modernist movement.  The artists — Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Nijinsky, Picasso, Duchamp, Brancusi, Kandinsky, Mondrian — burst violently onto the scene, challenging all cultural senses and sensitivities of that conservative époque.

WNYC logo for Culture Shock 1913, the one-hour special program produced by Sara Fishko
WNYC logo for Culture Shock 1913, the one-hour special program produced by Sara Fishko

According to the music critic Tim Page interviewed by Fishko, “I think in a lot of ways, it was just the beginning of a century … of absolute chaos and nightmare, and as so often, the artists heard it and reflected it first.” (Emphasis added.)  Fishko ends her hour-long special by reminding us that, 100 years later, history is repeating itself :  “We are about to experience the next great cultural explosion, when artists help us sort it out, with sometimes shocking results.”

Calling all artists!

Last week, another reference to the chaos prior to WWI was made by meteorologist Eric Holthaus in Slate.  He concluded: “In short, climate change could be the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the 21st century.”

Holthaus was referring to his interview with retired Navy Rear Adm. David Titley who co-wrote a Fox News op-ed that warned: “The parallels between the political decisions regarding climate change we have made and the decisions that led Europe to World War One are striking – and sobering.  The decisions made in 1914 reflected political policies pursued for short-term gains and benefits, coupled with institutional hubris, and a failure to imagine and understand the risks or to learn from recent history.”

The signs are clear:  we must first fix our broken conversation about climate change before we can expect any significant progress on climate action at the local, national or global level.

Emily Best says it best: “If we want different results, we have to change the conversation.”

Calling all artists!

On this Earth Day 2014, we are calling on artists of all stripes — painters, cartoonists, graffiti artists, actors, comedians, DJs, photographers, filmmakers, poets, playwrights, scriptwriters, composers, musicians, songwriters, performers, multimedia artists, installation artists, storytellers, dancers, fashion designers, textile artists, architects, interior designers, landscape designers, authors, journalists, editors, publishers, curators, critics, innovators, CliFi novelists, even carpet weavers — to recognize that history is calling.

To recognize, in the words of Sally Perry, that a sustainable future “requires seeing differently and doing differently.” Jonathon Porritt provides a compelling glimpse here.

To recognize, in the words of Jason Silva, that “humans are hardwired for story and cinema” and, more profoundly, “Art is the lie that reveals the truth.”

To recognize, therefore, that the future of civilization as we know it may literally depend upon artists’ collective creative genius to change the mood music and to convince the rest of us to embrace the inevitable but chaotic rollercoaster ride as we transition to a carbon-neutral economy. The “end of fossil fuels” appears to be increasingly possible in our lifetimes — see here, here, here and here — despite (or in spite of?) lack of political wisdom, courage and leadership.  Similar to the situation at the beginning of the last century?

Calling all artists!

On this Earth Day 2014, the Artists and Climate Change team is convinced that the time has come to draft an Artist’s Manifesto on Climate Change.  Will you join us?


Joan Sullivan is a renewable energy photographer based in Québec, Canada. Since 2009, Joan has focused her cameras (and more recently her drones) exclusively on solutions to climate change. She is convinced that the inevitable transition to a 100% clean energy economy will happen faster – and within our lifetimes – by creating positive images and stories that help us visualize and embrace what a post-carbon future will look like.  Joan collaborates frequently with filmmakers on documentary films that explore the human side of the energy transition. She is currently working on a photo book about the energy transition. Her renewable energy photos have been exhibited in group shows in Canada and the UK. You can find Joan on Twitter and Instagram


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