College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Agricultural & Resource Economics

The Art of Climate Change

Ice Watch by Olafur Eliasson and Minik Rosing
Ice Watch by Olafur Eliasson and Minik Rosing, Place du Panthéon, Paris, 2015
Image Credit: 
Martin Argyroglo © 2015 Olafur Eliasson

Students in Anna Alberini’s Economics of Climate Change course (AREC454) took a break from deriving equations and evaluating policy this past Wednesday to hear Dr. Brendan O’Donnell speak about the intersection of climate change and art.

Brendan O’DonnellO’Donnell is based at Ecologic Institute in Washington, DC, where he works on local initiatives to communicate the adverse effects of climate change on the planet and in our own lives. He noted that so much information on climate change is not having the impact on people that it truly ought to. For example, people are likely to find a “2 ° C temperature increase” or “sea level rise” difficult to grasp.

O’Donnell knows that these issues are real, and he acknowledged that the communication of these crises could be improved—if for example it were possible to convey notions that normally appear in peer-reviewed scientific papers through art.

Walking the class through several striking pieces of art, he identified each artists’ unique representation of climate change. While several were visual, some used sound as the medium. Some of the pieces of art even promoted sustainable energy use through solar and wind power production.

One of the many examples given was Ice Watch, which featured actual two-meter-tall chunks of ice from a glacier melting on a street corner in Paris. They melted in a matter of days in December of 2015 during the UN Climate Change Conference that led to the Paris Agreement, putting the audience face-to-face with the impact of global warming.

“All art is but imitation of nature,” said O’Donnell quoting Lucius Seneca. It’s fitting that we now see art giving back.

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