350.org Gets Creative About Climate Change

Editor's Note: The Climate Change section has two takes on 350.org's eARTh exhibit. Nick Engelfried has the other take on the climate change art exhibition.

Reason inspires understanding. Emotional connections inspire action. Explaining climate change through science can create an understanding. But to tap into that emotional connection, you have to go deeper. The group 350.org, founded by Bill McKibben, is taking up that challenge with a new global art installation, 350 eARTh, in the week leading up to the climate talks in Cancun.

Art has always played an important role in catalyzing action. The image of Rosie the Riveter inspired women to get involved in the war effort during World War II. It has also used by feminists as a slightly different but still powerful symbol. From protesting wars to the civil rights movement, art has been used to subvert the status quo and promote change.

350.org is harnessing some of that creative energy this week. Across the world, artists, youth, educators, scientists, and community members are putting together art visible from space to support climate change action. Installations started to pop up yesterday and will continue to be unveiled through November 28, the day before climate talks start in Cancun. Satellites traveling 400 miles above the Earth’s surface will capture them, and they’ll be displayed in a virtual climate change gallery.

There are over a dozen major global installations as part of 350 eARTh ranging from hopeful to thought provoking to pragmatic. In Santa Fe, New Mexico this past Saturday thousands of residents, including many students from local schools, gathered in the dry riverbed of the Santa Fe River. American River’s named the Santa Fe America’s most endangered river in 2007.

As a satellite passed over, they raised blue cardboard and tarps to show where the river should flow. The river provides up to half the drinking water in the area.

Climate change is likely to reduce overall precipitation and cause earlier spring runoff in the Southwest, affecting thousands of people in the Santa Fe area in a very real way. The art project gave community members a way to show their concerns in a way more powerful than a signature on a petition.

There are also a number of international projects. In Mumbai, thousands of school children will do something a little less labor-intensive, no less thoughtful. They will form the shape of an elephant to send a message to policymakers: don’t ignore the elephant in the room.

Outside of Cairo, youth will create a traditional Egyptian Scarab out of solar panels. The Scarab represents renewal and the succession of day and night. The art piece is about more than aesthetics, though. It will also serve as a reminder of how to harness the most abundant clean energy source we have.

Will these art projects fix climate change? No. But that’s not their goal. As Diane Karp, one of the planners of the Santa Fe River project said, “Art has the power to reach the hearts and minds of the people who come into contact with it.” And inspiring those hearts and minds is what’s at the root of McKibben’s movement. The work done in the next week will be unlikely to change deniers like James Inhofe’s mind about climate change. However, it could very well get those in the middle to pause for a moment and reflect. And maybe even act.

Photo credit: Michael Clark