The Glaciers of Wrath: What Artists Can Do About Climate Change

After an extremely boring adventure involving two canceled flights and almost 22 hours on a train, I spent today happily wandering the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Chicago. AAAS is my favorite scientific conference. It’s not specific to any one discipline, so it’s a good place to get caught up on all of my interests and pick up a few shiny new ones.  It also has a nice density of per capita Twitter users, which means that I can kinda sorta be at all the cross-scheduled panels I’d really like to go to.

One of the thought-provoking bits from today’s Twitter stream was a suggestion about the relative role of scientists versus humanists in dealing with climate change:

On a strictly literal level, that might not be true—scientists are the ones who figure out what’s going on with climate change in the first place.  On the other hand, what we have now really is a liberal arts problem: how to convince people to act, and how to organize that response. What we actually need, then, are more and better ways to connect science and the liberal arts to deal with climate change.

This is not a particularly novel observation, and a lot of those connections already exist. Scientists and artists meet at salons, cruise the Arctic together, collaborate on poetry and paintings and music.  Many scientists are artists, and artists can now join in citizen science efforts. And yet, the same challenges that make climate so psychologically difficult to address—it’s big and amorphous and too slow to easily attract attention—make it difficult to address artistically.

We know there are human impacts and human stories, things that could make for great drama. And yet, as far as really well-known climate art goes, we have a lot of documentaries and The Day After Tomorrow. I can list a dozen great non-well-known books and songs, but not with that kind of recognition. Climate change has yet to produce a Grapes of Wrath or The Wire or a Top 40 protest song—and we need one.

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