Communicating Climate Change through Art and Culture
By Eve Moore
Effective communication is critical for raising awareness of climate change and inspiring action. This communication can range from a simple conversation to a seminar, however, regardless of scale, any conversation that occurs around climate change is important. One method of climate change communication that is particularly effective, and also serves as a creative outlet, is the communication that occurs through art and culture.
To understand more about the importance of art and culture as a medium for climate change communication, a member of Cork Nature Network spoke to Dr. Nessa Cronin, a lecturer at NUI Galway who is well versed in this form of communication. Dr. Cronin’s background is in Irish culture, heritage, and mapping, and how our culture is represented in both the Irish and English languages. This led her to begin looking into the idea of a living landscape, and how we can strive to provide a better landscape for future generations. This naturally led Dr. Cronin to the discussion around environmental concerns. She then worked with different artists and geographers (brought together through both Irish and international networks), to discuss how we can live more respectfully and sustainably on this island.
Climate change, sustainability and art
When it comes to living more sustainably and having conversations around climate change, the use of art and imagery can sometimes succeed where words fail. Dr. Cronin attributes this to art having the ability to communicate personal stories that linger in the mind — saying that “graphs and charts might not tell that story very well, but art does”. She then described how art can help us think about climate change matters in different ways, as it appeals to a different part of the intellect than normal conversation.
As we all know, it can be easy to get overburdened with facts and statistics when discussing climate change, which can leave us feeling gloomy and pessimistic. Art, however, can communicate climate change matters in a more stimulating manner which can also be more universally understood.
When asked about her favourite climate change-related art installation, Dr. Cronin named the Drowned Galway project — a series of montages around Galway as part of the 2020 European capital of culture project. These montages depicted the city underwater — an all too realistic image if climate change continues at its current rate. The project also worked with dancers and photographers to visualise what it would look like to live and breathe underwater. This kind of project is essential for making people confront the negative consequences of climate change — the pictures are honest and striking. While we can hide from statistics to a certain degree, there is no avoiding the stark message behind these images. As well as compelling people to really think about what our future will look like, imagery and art also help to initiate conversation and change, both in Galway and across the globe. They don’t say that a picture paints a thousand words for nothing.
One running theme with different art projects relating to climate change is that they frequently have negative undertones showing the destructive and terrible consequences climate change will have for all of us. Could it be that this fails to have the desired effect and causes viewers to despair instead of motivating them? When this question was raised with Dr. Cronin, she said “We can’t ignore the acceleration of the issues and problems that are there… At the same time, we can’t give up either. Not all is lost.”
She spoke of the importance of remaining hopeful about the future, but also the importance of being realistic. She also raised the excellent point that we only protect what we love — that is why it’s essential for us to ‘rewild’ our children. By encouraging stewardship and a love for nature in children from a young age, we are safeguarding the future of nature for future generations. However, the importance of taking responsibility for the climate crisis must also be stressed, although we want to encourage children to care for their environment, we cannot expect them to do all the work to undo the destruction climate change has caused.
Climate change and culture
As well as communicating climate change through art, it can also be viewed through the lens of culture. Culture is increasingly becoming recognised as the fourth pillar of sustainability, with the other three pillars being social, economic, and environmental sustainability. These pillars form the foundation for sustainable development and are therefore imperative for a future in which we can thrive. Dr. Cronin described how we are “beginning to realise that culture is a driver for human change and a driver of societal change” and discussed how people are driven by cultural identity and responsibility.
She provides the example of the corncrake in Ireland and why do so many of us want to protect it? Much of the reasoning comes down to cultural identity and preserving it for the future. The importance of cultural identity is intertwined with art as a driver of societal change, as both art and culture can lead to new avenues of conversation that can be instrumental in motivating action against climate change.
As well as inspiring conversations about climate change, art and culture allow people to form connections across the world. By bringing us together and celebrating our differences, art and culture aid us in fighting climate change in a way that normal conversation cannot. To paraphrase Dr. Cronin, art and culture can remind us of our values, the things that make us human, and most importantly, the things that make life worth protecting for future generations.