State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

These Zines are Helping Us Imagine a Better Future for Climate and Society

young woman reading a book, text says 'welcome to my zine'

There is no shortage of disaster narratives around the climate crisis. The western U.S. is in a dire megadrought that’s straining water systems and leading to out-of-control wildfires. The back-to-back hurricanes that hit Central America in 2020—coming after years of drought—have led to food insecurity.

These and other impacts will likely only worsen in the coming decades without a rapid and total overhaul of the energy system and the global economy. There’s a wide gap between knowing everything must change and implementing those changes. Imagination can help bridge that gap.

Before graduating earlier this year, students in the 2020-2021 class of Columbia University’s MA in Climate and Society program worked to build a bridge. As part of Applications in Climate and Society, one of the program’s core classes, they spent the spring semester creating zines that imagine the world actually getting on track by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Zines are a part of a subculture of self-publishing and have a rich history (much of which is chronicled by the Barnard Zine Library), though they’re not as common as final projects for classes compared to term papers. But then that’s the point.

“We didn’t want to do a term paper or a traditional final project—no shade to term papers,” Brian Kahn, a co-instructor for the course said. “Zines offer a chance to break from the mold of traditional academic thinking and unlock new ways of imagining the future. More than anything, we need those new futures to be tangible to the public.”

This year’s zines show a wide array of interests, futures, and approaches to storytelling. From a dream to a toolkit to a children’s book to a festival, the choices of this year’s class are a testament to all the different pathways to a new future in front of us.

Festival for the Future, by Max Elling, Maddie Healy, Emily O’Hara, and Jordan Welnetz

Green New Zine, by Sal Brzozowski, Abby Meola, Nick Pelaccio, and Katy Wilson

The New New York: A Toolkit From 2030, by Courtney Jiggetts, Sanketa Kadam, and Sheri Kusatzky

Inspired by Dreams, by Michael Ascari, Toni Gagliardi, James Kahn, and Jordan Pares-Kane

The Traveling CO2 Molecule, by Chunyu Liu, Muhajir Lesure, Hiroaki Morikawa, Rhiannon Stephens, and Jess Wang

This story was originally published by the MA in Climate and Society program in September. 

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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