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I'm a Gen Z climate activist and artist, and there are 5 reasons I think art can help stop the climate crisis

Elijah McKenzie-Jackson   

I'm a Gen Z climate activist and artist, and there are 5 reasons I think art can help stop the climate crisis

  • My work vividly depicts the effects of the climate crisis.
  • I believe this kind of work can change narratives and explain complex topics related to the climate.
  • Artists who work with materials, like designers, can lead the charge on sustainable manufacturing.

Throughout history, art has been a powerful tool for addressing the most pressing issues of the day. Today's social movements are no different: Younger generations are turning to art to create change just like their predecessors.

With creativity and expression, young people around the world are making significant strides in raising awareness of society's carbon footprint and driving the climate-action conversation.

As an artist and climate activist, I've seen firsthand how art is used to slow the climate crisis.

Visual storytelling can trigger emotions

In my work, I craft large-scale art installations, paint murals, and curate exhibits that vividly depict the impacts of the climate emergency.

These techniques serve as a bridge from apathy to empathy, triggering emotions and inspiring action.

Humanity has been apart from nature for generations, versus a part of nature, which I believe has spurred a macro-emotional disconnection from the earth that underpins the climate crisis. By engaging the public in a tangible way, art can create a sense of urgency, prompt a collective call to action, and motivate a reconnection with the planet.

Design can encourage the use of sustainable materials

Fashion designers are starting to embrace sustainable and green materials in their work, moving away from harmful chemicals and dyes by weaving sustainability into the production process — from sourcing fabric to manufacturing the garments to extending the life cycle of clothes when they leave the shelves.

This shift reduces the environmental footprint of the fashion industry and shows what's possible with alternative products.

For example, Pangaia, a clothing and materials-science company, is turning away from harmful polyesters, which contribute to textile waste. The brand makes its sweatsuits out of 20% lyocell SeaCell, or seaweed fiber, and 80% organic cotton. It also uses a biowicking treatment made from microalgae, a dye made from inedible fruit and vegetable waste. Pangaia is just one example of this work.

By championing eco-conscious practices across fashion, design, and elsewhere, artists set an example for our peers and audiences by encouraging wider adoption of sustainable approaches.

Art can shape narratives

Art gives us the opportunity to portray nature and the environment in various forms to cultivate a sense of environmental stewardship and build a deeper connection and appreciation for the natural world.

For instance, Olafur Eliasson is an artist who creates immersive, ecologically minded experiences that focus on the global environmental crisis and how art can offer solutions. His work, titled "The Weather Project," which debuted at the Tate Modern in London in 2003, depicts the dynamic, all-absorbing nature of the weather.

Building cultural narratives such as Eliasson's can create a more environmentally conscious society where individuals are empowered to use their voices for good, in the workplace, in the streets, and beyond.

Artists can translate complex topics

The Western world, which produces many sustainability-related resources, centers the English language, thereby limiting global accessibility to research papers, information delivered in speeches, and other needed data and guidance.

Art plays a crucial role in making climate action accessible to all by pushing past language barriers and triggering emotions. Through its universal language, art can convey complex ideas and solutions, allowing people from different backgrounds and cultures to connect to issues surrounding the climate crisis.

Digital media and advertising can reach people wherever they are

Graphic design and advertising offer opportunities for art to play a role in combating the climate crisis.

Through captivating visuals and innovative messaging, companies and nonprofit organizations can generate awareness of the need for climate action and motivate people to take action on various social-justice issues across media platforms.

For example, Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk band and activist group, took to Trafalgar Square billboards in London this year with their "Cultural Institute of Radical Contemporary Arts" project, a visual project that used graphic design and art to convey the lasting need for gender equity.

This kind of visual media can reach an audience and shape perception and behavior among people who may not typically be engaged in civic issues.

As an artist, I believe in the transformative potential of art to curb our climate catastrophe.

I will continue to use my creativity as a force for positive change, reminding myself and others that a paintbrush can be stronger than any number of words.

Through visual storytelling, continuous practice, advocacy, education, and fostering a deeper connection to nature, art stands as a beacon of hope in our collective efforts to combat the climate emergency.

Elijah McKenzie-Jackson is a member of the One Planet advisory council. Learn more about his work here.


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