In Environmental Science, Tapping into New Pools of Creativity

One evening a month, a group of thinkers convenes on the Charles River to discuss the sounds of melting glaciers over pizza and beer. A diverse coalition of researchers, journalists, exhibitors, sculptors, advocators and students, they converge upon a common thread: the challenge of conveying climate change science to the public eye.

Eli Kintisch calls these meetings “Climate/Art Pizza”. On a one-year journalism fellowship at MIT, Eli is the primary creator and host of these monthly pizza dinners in his own apartment. He has taken leave from his journalism position at Science to explore the synthesis between art and climate science. “I’m concerned that traditional journalism forms on climate are reaching a narrower audience than they should given the severity of the problem,” Eli says. Thus, his meetings explore ways art may open up new pathways for communication.

Each meeting centers on a different theme in climate science. At the latest meeting on November 27, the theme was cycles. Within the environment, several elements move through circular pathways; in the water cycle, for example, rain circulates within a closed loop among the atmosphere, land, and ocean. At the meeting, Penny Chisholm from MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering shared her own perspectives on cycles, including a published picture book on environmental science.

Following Penny’s talk, the agenda was brainstorming: how can art convey the science of environmental cycles? What forms of media can be employed, which senses evoked, which learning opportunities delivered? More fundamentally, how can these efforts tie to those issues in climate change most relevant to the public?

While these questions circulated through a Bostonian meeting, one wonders whether they concurrently resonated around the globe. Several other projects have creatively fused art and environmental science. For example, this October, the Center for Biological Diversity announced the latest world census by releasing a colorful line of contraceptives, “endangered species condoms”. 5000 global volunteers disseminated 250,000 condoms (www.biologicaldiversity.org) to alert the world of its 7 billion population landmark, and relate this number to biodiversity loss.

An example of an “endangered species condom” released by the Center for Biological diversity. (Courtesy of www.endangeredspecies.com, the Center for Biological Diversity)

An example of an “endangered species condom” released by the Center for Biological diversity. (Courtesy of www.endangeredspecies.com, the Center for Biological Diversity)

Eli highlighted another public expression of environmental science in art: roadside pillars in Adair County, Iowa demonstrate the progressive degradation of topsoil due to industrial agriculture. This visually direct exhibition provokes viewers to think about the environmental sustainability of agriculture in Iowa.

Pillars exhibition in Iowa conveying a clear loss in topsoil since the onset of industrial agriculture in the state. (Courtesy of boingboing.net)

Pillars exhibition in Iowa conveying a clear loss in topsoil since the onset of industrial agriculture in the state. (Courtesy of boingboing.net)

Such examples only begin to tap into the great pool of creativity in expressing environmental concerns. In the long run, hopefully both science and the public circle will no longer need to search far and wide to find each other.

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