The Role Of Art In Climate Change
The climate crisis requires action from multiple sides if it’s going to be tackled, and art is a surprising way to push the movement forward. If insightful environmental art can bring to light the urgent need for climate action, then citizens will feel more inclined to push forward the climate agenda to politicians, causing politicians to feel ongoing pressure from citizens to act. And this is exactly what Danish artist Olafur Eliasson is doing.
Eliasson’s 2014 “Ice Watch” consists of glacial ice blocks from Greenland, placed as an art exhibit in front of Tate Modern in London. Their strategic placement in a megacity helps bring awareness to millions about the urgency of the climate crisis, as climate denial can be an easy trap to fall into when one is not exposed upfront to its detrimental impacts.
Catastrophic effects are already appearing in the populous city (of more than 9 million people), as London experiences increasingly hot summers (with average summer temperatures of 61 degrees Fahrenheit in 1950, up to 64 degrees in 2019). Eliasson tugged at the art viewers’ hearts, as they observed the ice glaciers’ natural beauty, only to realize that they are indeed melting. Last summer, I had the privilege of visiting London and happened to stumble upon Eliasson’s featured summer exhibit, “In Real Life.” Not only was there a collage of photographs and text that displayed the importance of “Ice Watch,” but the whole exhibit’s theme revolved around the realities of climate change. One of the most immersive works was a tunnel of orange fog. Walking through this mysterious path was eerie, as much of Earth may soon become inhabitable and look like this. After all, climate models show that future heat will likely make some parts of the world uninhabitable. This orange path is ingrained in my mind as a worrisome glimpse into what climate inaction will result in.
Not only did this exhibit produce important awareness needed for climate change, but Eliasson helped implement more sustainable practices within the museum. The Tate’s restaurant is now offering ethically sourced vegetarian food, helping to educate people on the importance of reducing meat intake. By eating a more plant-based diet, food production can increase in a more sustainable manner for a rapidly growing human population. In addition to producing catastrophic quantities of the greenhouse gas methane, cattle ranching permanently destroys natural habitats and dramatically increases the rate of deforestation, so if the number of people that become inspired to eat less meat increases, extinction due to habitat loss will decrease. This is why reducing meat intake is so important to reduce the effects of climate disruption.
Once more citizens become educated on the most urgent issue of our time, motivation will spark people to push governments on all levels to implement laws to help prevent the current rate of climate change. Scientists have already provided the tools to address the climate crisis, and now artists are entering the battle. Now it’s up to society to choose whether or not to implement solutions in a timely manner.
Pictures from https://olafureliasson.net/
Sources: National Geographic (2017), ClimateData.Org (2020) and London Weather (2020).