What Role Does Art Play in Combating Climate Change?

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    Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme sat down with Ben Whitehouse, artist and founder of SkyDay, a citizen art project and call to action to address climate change.

    In the interview, Ben talks about his lifelong passion to connect people through art and science. Moreover, he describes his role models, from his student days and later in life, who influenced him on this journey to change the world for the better.

    Despite the enormous task involved in encouraging people of the importance to combat climate change, Ben Whitehouse is already making inroads in achieving this objective.

    Inspiration for his big project

    If we don’t come together truly as one global family and help each other, we’re not going to like what’s coming to us.

    “In 2013 when I attended Aspen Ideas Festival and heard many great conversations from some extraordinary people, I found Yo-Yo Ma discussing his ideas of moving curriculum from STEM to STEAM. However, what struck me greatly was his ideas about the role of the citizen artist. How can we, those of us in the arts, use our talents to serve the next generation by engaging and inspiring them to something that matters a great deal to us.”

    Igniting responsibility in citizens

    Talking about how sky is a natural resource that everyone needs to cherish and take care of, Ben Whitehouse says:

    “That’s how close we live in its proximity. And that also teaches us that we all have a responsibility to it because we all impact it. Every one of us is in the room of people who must go to work to take care of this great resource for everyone’s benefit. And I’ve thought about inviting everyone to photograph the sky while they think about those things and then help create a global citizen artwork, a global mosaic of our sky that would show what the sky looks like all over the world. It could conceivably become a library of sky photos that could form the basis of an interactive educational platform. That was my original idea.”

    “You can’t paint away the carbon in the atmosphere”

    According to Ben Whitehouse:

    “Is it sensible for people like me to just stand on the sidelines and not try to help, or do we have a responsibility to try to help? So, the first step was accepting the responsibility that if there was a way that art and science combined could be purposeful and could help create substantial change, I wanted to give it my best. Acknowledging, of course, that you can’t paint away the carbon in the atmosphere and a poem can’t wish away all the damage.”

    Barriers involved in creating an impact

    “The barriers are the human being and the time we live in. We are all incredibly busy and inundated with input. And there are a few things, in fact, that are more important than the impact we’re having on climate. If we don’t come together truly as one global family and help each other with empathy, thought, effort, wisdom and creativity, and innovation to create substantial change, we’re not going to like what’s coming to us. Our children aren’t going to like it. Our grandchildren are going to be miserable because they will be dealing with a laundry list of outcomes.

    So, I would say that education is one problem. Getting attention in the right way is, however, the major obstacle. I just told you. As you all know, the climate change laundry list is long. I didn’t mention polar bears or melting ice caps, but we could go on for hours and it’ll only be depressing.”

    SkyDay’s creative initiative on global sustainability

    “So, we created SkyDay. It’s on the 21st day of September and is a day of contemplation and engagement in our sky, a day of reflection on what it is. What the science behind it all, what’s going on up there, why you should care about it, what the implications are, and what we need to do about it. So, we’re beginning this process.”

    “Is it sensible for people like me to just stand on the sidelines and not try to help, or do we have a responsibility to try to help? “

    SkyDay has a team of distinguished artists and scientists

    “We have an amazing team that includes Daniel Horton who leads the research group at Northwestern University, the Climate Research Group. We also have Nicole Stott, an extraordinary human being, who has experienced our planet from the depths of the oceans because he is also a NASA aquanaut. She has experienced our planet from the depths of the oceans to the heights of outer space and talks beautifully about the implications of those experiences.

    Don Wuebbles, a leading atmospheric scientist, is also on our team. He is a lead author for the IPCC. He and his panel were even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in 2007. He is an extraordinary person to have on our team. We also have Dan Simpson and Sam Illingworth with us. Both are based in England. They are poets and scientists who care a great deal about these issues.

    Our goal is to not just talk to each other. We want to speak with any scientist, educator or artist who has an idea about engaging the next generation in projects that will be both inspiring and informative and may help create substantive change.”

    Credits: Interview by Andrea Macdonald, founder ideaXme Ltd.

    With permission of ideaXme, a global podcast, ambassador and mentor programme. ideaXme interviews the creators and innovators who shape our world.  They speak to all those who Move the human story forward! ideaXme Ltd.

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    The original interview has been condensed and concluded by Iqra Naveed.

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