State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Illuminating the Science: Art and Climate Change Part II

an example of the windowfarms projectLast week I expressed some skepticism that art and climate science were complementary languages. I also expressed some hope that the nature of these two fields – that is, that they both are ways of better knowing the world – really were reconcilable, and could create a better robustness of understanding the natural world.

I’m glad to say that my optimism wasn’t misplaced. After attending both sessions on Thursday, my expectations were perhaps even expanded. There were a number of presentations – on windowfarms, on tree museums, on plankton, a play – and each emphasized new ideas of interaction, relationships, and communication.

If there was a takeaway on Thursday it was the idea of collaboration – not just between scientists and artists, but that art forms that did interact with climate data could themselves be collaborative with larger groups of participants. Britta Riley’s ideas on R&D-I-Y (Research-and-Develop-it-Yourself) crowdsourcing through her windowfarms project was an outstanding example of this collaborative approach. For R&D-I-Y is not only a project that interacts with and proliferates climate science awareness, it establishes a democratic model wherein the solutions to climate change percolate up from the community.

The windowfarms project is informed by, but does not rely solely on, expert knowledge to build a climate change solution. It is improved through a network of people who experiment with new ideas, share knowledge, establish interpersonal relationships, and ultimately do. In this the project seems somewhat analogous to the process of creating science, but there is a difference: the collaborative model here is a solution that is more accessible to the non-scientific community. As such, the windowfarms project can fill some of the gaps between creating scientific knowledge and disseminating that knowledge; it works from both the top-down and from the bottom-up.

This collaborative and accessible approach was repeated throughout both sessions. Scientists expressed frustrations that their research often seemed inaccessible, while the artists emphasized interactive models for the dissemination of that otherwise-inaccessible scientific knowledge. Whether it was through Katie Holten’s tree museum, Superhero Clubhouse’s theatre projects whose format and dialogue were improved upon through audience participation and response, or Cynthia Hopkins‘ collectively-written song on climate change, each presentation posited new forms for the communication of climate scientists’ knowledge.

As part of a larger gesture towards more collaborative communication and an emphasize on accessibility, Thursday’s event surely offered ambitious proposals towards the better proliferation of climate-change awareness. As I had hoped, it offered a new way of thinking on climate change – a new robustness.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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