Can art help mitigate climate change?

by Tania Gianone

TORONTO – Science is supposed to be a secure way to understand how our world functions, so we could live better. 

In a time where information can reach us quickly through our gadgets, scientists should find a broader audience. However, despite the innovations in communication tools, mistrust in science is accelerating. 

Political and personal views seem to be stronger than the pieces of evidence brought by researchers. As a result, important issues are left aside and considered irrelevant. 

For instance, despite the efforts scientists are making to raise awareness about climate change, some world leaders still resist to adopt environmental policies to address the problem. 

As global warming asks for urgent measures before it is too late to revert its effects, how could scientists efficiently deliver their message so that they could persuade people to make changes? 

The legendary landscape architect Marta Schwartz is one example that proves that creative professionals might be the help scientists need for the environmental cause. 

Schwartz’s lecture “Landscape, Art and My Existential Crisis” that took place this past June 22 at George Brown Waterfront campus as part of the Azure Talks event, gave students and attendees the opportunity to learn about how she transformed her practice to help reduce the harmful effects of global warming. 

Renowned for projects such as the Grand Canal Square in Dublin and Village of Yorkville Park in Toronto,  she made clear the lecture would not delve into her portfolio but rather into how and why she steered her practice to adopt only methods in accordance to sustainability. 

She explained this turning point in her career came after a moment of “existential crisis” when she became aware of the increasing rates the temperatures are rising and the disastrous consequences that are forecasted. 

As a person with education and career in the arts, she remembered being paralyzed at first by the feeling that an artist could do little to help to stop the destructive process that threatens life on earth. 

However, the silver lining of being a landscape architect is that the media this art uses to build environments are the same that are being damaged by pollution and exploitation. Thus, the insight to find a solution for a global issue led to the adoption of techniques such as recycling of water to preserve the natural resources and avoid more waste. 

Landscape architecture is a type of art that can potentially work as a bridge between scientists and public authorities. Since it involves nature and urban open spaces, the author of the project goes beyond the artistic sphere to play a central role in negotiating with the authorities and convincing them to adopt sustainable materials and methods. 

Schwartz also inspired artists to discover more about science. By giving a lecture almost entirely based on reports, graphs, and charts, she demonstrated her self-taught approach to understand the facts better and find her way of contributing to the cause. 

In her view, not everyone can become a scientist to find the best solutions to survive climate change. Complex interventions that are being considered to avoid the environmental disaster such as building an envelope of umbrellas in the upper atmosphere to shade the earth are certainly out of reach for creative practices. 

However, in her opinion, creative professionals are perfectly able to read the studies published by researchers and incorporate sustainable approaches into their work, even if on a small-scale piece of art. 

By having creativity as the center of their practices, artists may be the professionals with best chances of finding out ways to deliver the message scientists are not successful in providing to the politicians and the general public. 

Instead of engaging in the endless arguments between the opposing parts on social media, artists can invite people to interact with their creations. As a result, they can promote a transformation that only an immersive experience can provoke. 

Moreover, as Marta Schwartz suggested, she hopes to inspire creatives to follow her example, so they can transform their work and make it an integral part of the global movement to rescue our planet. 

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