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Art is Vital in Climate Communication

Hot Scientific Grappling

I love podcasts, and one of my favorite ones at the moment is called Our Warm Regards. They describe themselves:

A podcast about the warming planet. Hosted by  w/ co-hosts  & . Produced by . We’re all in this together.

I especially like the episodes where I hear the presenters and guests, mostly scientists grappling with not just the science of climate change, but also the human aspects of it–who on the planet is affected and how do those people doing climate work process the many strong emotions around climate impacts.

You hear this in the show that featured Dr. Katharine Heyhoe.

Going Viral–Hot Climate Meme

The most recent show takes a look at a powerful visual tool that has zipped around social media. The info is not new–it shows how the earth’s temperature has changed during the time of humans starting in 2000 BCE to the dramatic recent increase in temperature.  They chatted with Gavin Schmidt from RealClimate about the science behind the cartoon.

Ah, but as they spoke, I wondered about the ART behind it. I hadn’t seen the image, so once the show ended, (I was cleaning the kitchen while listening) I found it and immediately understood why this image got such traction and interest from all kinds of people who maybe are aware of climate change, but not necessarily engaged.

It is a long big image that you can see here, but below is a ice core sample from it.


The drawings are skillful while also appearing amateur, almost childlike. This expertly offsets the scientific graph. It brings balance and invites non-scientists in through a medium that is familiar and friendly. The font also is inviting and non-threatening. The viewer is drawn in by familiar events from history, some that are very human and relatable. The colors are muted. They don’t scream ALARM. Like the art and the font, they are inviting.

The historic role of Art and Political Action

To me these elements are interesting to discuss. The role of art in moving people to feel, understand, and act is vital. Historically this is true with the abolition of slavery. Novels like Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped a generation of people to come close and to care. The famous meme of the cross-section of a slave ship, visually representing the cruelty African men, women, and children faced when enslaved still speaks powerfully.

A plan of the slave ship Brookes, showing how 454 slaves were accommodated on board. This same ship had reportedly carried as many as 609 people; published by the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade (source wikipedia)

In addition to ACT UP HIV/AIDS related art, Keith Harring's images about the Apartheid struggle communicated directly to the public.

In addition to ACT UP HIV/AIDS related art, Keith Harring’s images about the Apartheid struggle communicated directly to the public.

In more modern times we saw the same with all the art that developed during the South African anti-apartheid movement and with HIV/AIDS activists.

My husband is South African, and had been active in the anti-conscription movement, the queer liberation movement, and the anti-apartheid struggle. The ANC activists recognized that once the artists embraced the struggle, that is when they believed they were going to win. This is true with climate change too.

Calling All Artists!

While there is bad art, over-the-top movies, and didactic clunky presentations in art drag, more and more quality visual and performance art is emerging that addresses the many aspects of being humans in a time of climate change.

 Even at the risk of making bad art, those of us who do art–visual art, installations, performance, comedy, music, etc–need to try our hand at it. That’s why on the Citizens’ Climate Radio show, we have an Art House section that features poets, and others. Next week I will share an interview and music from singer/songwriter Michael Levy.
Calling all artists: You have a role on this new planet!

Author: Peterson Toscano

Peterson Toscano is a quirky queer Quaker concerned about Climate Change. His website is

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