Yearly Archives: 2018

Wild Authors: Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson is an award-winning author of literary and science fiction; he is widely known for his realism in fiction since he bases his stories on modern scientific theories. He is also known for carefully researching climate and other sciences while planning his stories. His academic research and credentials, and his fiction writing, go back decades; you’ll find themes of ecological, social, and economic justice in his literature. Robinson is also one of the pioneers among fiction writers dealing with human-caused global warming.

Before anyone ever came up with a way to label climate change in fiction, he and others had long been tackling it. In fact, scientists knew, and came to a consensus in the 1970s, about global warming. According to the American Institute of Physics (AIP), in 1977, “Scientific opinion tends to converge on global warming, not cooling, as the chief climate risk in next century.” Writers of earlier science fiction had already been speculating about long-term climate change, but finally we had scientists convey what was happening in our world.

I read a good article by Marie Myung-Ok Lee recently in Quartz Media titled “Here are the books you need to read if you’re going to resist Donald Trump,” and while the list focuses more on dystopian outcomes in fiction, if we stay on this path we’re on (Robinson was not mentioned due to it being quite a short list). One quote stuck out to me from the article: “Artists are like deer: They sniff the winds of change long before the rest of us.”

For decades, such writers have warned us of predicaments in which we are now finding ourselves. They warned us in science fiction, other times in literary fiction. And Robinson, among such great storytellers as Ursula K. Le Guin, Ernest Callenbach, Octavia Butler, John Brunner, J.G. Ballard, David Brin, and many other speculative fiction authors, blazed the path for those of us who came later, who are younger but who now see climate change in front of us, along with some of the dystopian themes predicted in early science fiction. Paying homage to those before us – in many cases they are obviously still here – seems to be a worthy cause in this day and age, and one of the reasons I felt this series needed to come alive.

See Wikipedia for a complete bibliography of Kim Stanley Robinson’s books and short stories. Unlike other authors I’ve spotlighted here who may write one iconic book on climate change, Robinson is way more prolific, so this profile will lack the focus on one work in particular.

Because he so often deals with ecological resources, sustainability, and environmental justice (which also go hand in hand with political, social, and economic events), his books about climate change have made a big impact. However, climate change is not one event. It is a hyperobject, as previously alluded to in this series. It is a massive object, tough to write about, and hard to explore in its totality. Global warming is made up of many pieces, and all the pieces are subject to exploration in fiction, including in many of Robinson’s stories.

Robinson said, in an interview with The Atlantic, when asked about using science fiction to portray climate themes:

Science fiction can be regarded as a kind of future-scenarios modeling, in which some course of history is pursued as a thought experiment, starting from now and moving some distance off into the future. The closer to the present the work of science fiction stays, the more obvious it is that it is a way of thinking about what we’re doing now, also where we may be going, and, crucially, where we should try to go, or try to avoid going. Thus the famous utopian or dystopian aspects of science fiction.

Whether Robinson’s stories explore climate change set on Earth (such as Buddhist-environmental themes in Science in the Capital series, what I like to think of as Orange County in three fated acts, the Three Californias trilogy, or in the upcoming New York 2140), or outer space (such as in his Mars trilogy, the moon colonization novel Aurora, and 2312), it is clear that Robinson is both deeply concerned about our existence and is greatly talented at building worlds in fiction. His concerns about the fate of humanity often stake our good intentions against our imperfections, and model our fates. His approaches are diverse, from pure hard science fiction to literary fiction.

The New Yorker asked if Kim Stanley Robinson was our greatest political novelist and stated, referring to the Mars trilogy:

Robinson argues that, now that climate change has become a matter of life and death for the species, it’s time for scientists to abandon their scrupulous neutrality and enter into the messy arena of politics. Essentially, Robinson attempts to apply scientific thinking to politics, approaching it less like pure physics, in which one infallible equation / ideology explains and answers everything, than like engineering – a process of what F.D.R. once called “bold, persistent experimentation,” finding out what works and combining successful elements to synthesize something new.

Another great deer sniff on the upcoming wind, wasn’t it? For now, just over three years after this article came out, we are presented with a new president who is promoting fossil fuels and doesn’t believe in or care about climate change or any other environmental issue. And scientists are becoming more political (such as with the Alt National Park Service and the upcoming March for Science on Earth Day 2017).

Robinson’s newest novel, New York 2140, coming next month, is set in New York City after sea levels have risen enough to drown the city – yet the metropolitan area still seems to thrive, with canals rather than streets. The novel may be fairly sobering… just a warning.

As always, I think that fiction and the arts have a unique place in the narrative about global warming. Fiction writers such as Kim Stanley Robinson are important in using the arts to convey our humanity’s identity in an exponentially changing world. How do we deal with the extinction of an ever-increasing amount of species? How do we find the wilderness again (when any idea of “pristine wilderness” is questionable since we have already altered the planet too much)? How do we cope with recent changes in government that seem to be dystopian and dangerous? How do we deal with a natural world that is dramatically changing to the point our constructed worlds are threatened by sea level rise, long-term climate change, ocean acidification, food security, and so on? How do we ensure stability in the world when a host of changes result in violent terrorism and large refugee crises? Are we coming to a tipping point wherein we’ll lose natural identity and find a fugue state?

I like the saying, “It’s better to light one candle than curse the darkness,” which is a quote attributed to many but more likely was an old Chinese proverb. To me, fiction and the arts can be the candles in a seemingly darkening world, especially fiction that is based upon science and realism, which guides us, well, as realistically as possible (with hope or with warning).

Robinson has spent a lifetime writing and speaking about humanity. His fiction knowledgeably considers our cultural aspects – environmental sustainability, technology, economy, polity, and ideology – and artfully helps us find our identities, sense our fates, reflect on our mistakes, and learn how to prepare for the future.

(Photo by Stephan Martiniere. Downloaded from Phoenix New Times.)

This article is part of our Wild Authors series. It was originally published on on February 9, 2017.


Mary Woodbury, a graduate of Purdue University, runs and, sites that explore ecology in literature, including works about climate change. She writes fiction under pen name Clara Hume. Her novel Back to the Garden has been discussed in Dissent MagazineEthnobiology for the Future: Linking Cultural and Ecological Diversity (University of Arizona Press), and Uncertainty and the Philosophy of Climate Change (Routledge). Mary lives in the lower mainland of British Columbia and enjoys hiking, writing, and reading.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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This Sentence: How Do We Comprehend the Effects of Climate Change?

Like you, I read thousands of words in a day, online, in books, on my social media feeds. I’m both a writer and a devourer of words: does that make me a cannibal? I love words, can’t get enough–

Yet, I can’t get through this sentence. You try.

Wild animal populations dropped by 58 percent between 1970 and 2012, and we will likely lose two-thirds of all species by 2020 if nothing is done to prevent the decline.

Yeah. No. Hang on, let’s try again.

Wild animal populations dropped by 58 percent between 1970 and 2012, and we will likely lose two-thirds of all species by 2020 if nothing is done to prevent the decline.

Here it is in shorter form. Less numbers, fractions, timelines.

We face a global mass extinction of wildlife.

No, still can’t read it. I can’t at my desk. I can’t on my phone. I can’t in my feed.

Maybe I can face it in the theatre.

In the theatre we have Time and Space and Each Other. And, by God, we are gonna need all three if we are going to get through that.

Or this.

“We ignore the decline of other species at our peril—for they are the barometer that reveals our impact on the world that sustains us,” says Mike Barrett in a recent report from World Wildlife Federation. Be assured that local rates are on par with the global ones. Given the current rate of biodiversity loss, we are facing a future with no assurance of our local ecosystem’s stability to support us.

I gotta sit down for a minute. There. Come sit with me. Come close. There you are. We are at the theatre together. What are we seeing tonight?


Slime is a play by Bryony Lavery about the impact of climate change on the animals that make the ocean their home. You join one hundred animals, seven young translators, scientists and suits, and step with them just slightly in the future at a fictional conference on marine extinction. Seated amongst the conference delegates, you might hear an otter swimming down an aisle, a dolphin whistling at your elbow, or a seabird over your shoulder: animals too have something to say. Join the animals to face an insatiable creature, Slime, which, like facebookslime or googleslime, is taking over. Ask yourself, “who is coming to save us?”

It’s a play, so we can take that question.

Slime features scenes, many scenes, of animals speaking in their own languages, which their young translators understand. Our Slime actors became conversant in many languages—polar bear, seal, cormorant, sea lion, dolphin, and a small frog called Atelopus Bomolochus, among them. We hired an animal language librarian to translate the roles written in animal into their languages, and the actors worked and worked and worked to learn them.

We must learn them. If we are to share this great blue-green earth with animals, this is the time…we must listen. And we must understand what to do next.

We previewed the show in June 2018 in Banff, Canada to Alberta audiences. At the Calgary airport, behind the check-in desk I saw a sticker stuck to the drawer that said “I [heart] Oil and Gas.”

The Alberta audiences treated the play as fiction, set in the future, in a world other than their own. There is no ocean that touches Alberta. There is no Albertan polar bear.

The Polar Bear with Teo Saefkow and Sophia Wolfe in Slime. Puppet design by Shizuka Kai, photo by Donald Lee.

On our way to Vancouver to open the show to our home crowd, news hit that the Kinder Morgan pipeline had been pushed through by our liberal Prime Minister. You know the one who created a cabinet position, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and appointed a capable woman, Catherine McKenna, to that position? If that sentence gives you cognitive dissonance, steel yourself for the next one. Kinder Morgan Pipeline (which is still in play) not only supports the tar sands of Alberta, the most energy inefficient way to extract oil from land, but it also turns the British Columbia coastline in Canada into an oil export central, and along the way it decimates marine environments. Especially orca.

You know those guys, right?

You know Tahlequah, from the endangered Southern Resident pod, who gave birth to the first live orca calf in three years? The baby orca died and the orca mother wouldn’t let go of that calf for seventeen days. That activist orca, yeah, her. Well the tanker noise that will result from the Kinder Morgan pipeline spells death for that orca pod, even before the oil inevitably spills…

Phew, that is a whole unreadable paragraph, we are getting behind.

With this Pipeline prologue, we opened Slime in Vancouver. For Vancouver it wasn’t fiction, and it wasn’t future. It was raw and real. When the show was over we saw audiences touch each other, an arm around the shoulder, a hand clutching a knee, a hug.

The animal translators from Slime. (l-r) Sophia Wolfe, Mason Temple, Teo Saefkow, Anais West, Pedro Chamale, Lisa Baran, Edwardine van Wyk. Photo by Donald Lee.

Slime isn’t long. Maybe eighty-eight minutes. But it makes time for the absurdity (come into the smoking area and let the polar bear bum a ciggy, the absurdity is right there). It makes time for the grief (hear the testimony of the bump-headed parrot fish, it’s there). Or be silent and upstanding for creatures who have ceased to exist this year (hear the last words from the O’o bird, it’s there). Stay with it. You can’t click away. It makes time for seven young animal translators, the future leaders, who listen in a new way, as one animal among many…

In eighty-eight minutes of potent theatre, I think we get that one sentence about wild creatures. It has time to land in our hearts, which is where that creature lives that is wild and free in each of us. That we hold dear. That we claim as our own.

Theatre does that. And we do theatre. I do. With a brave team of artists. With a fierce playwright giving us words. One sentence at a time.

(Top image: Edwardine van Wyk and the Seal in Slime. Set and puppet design by Shizuka Kai, photo by Donald Lee.)

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, on September 17, 2018.


Kendra Fanconi is a theatre creator of original, often site-specific work. She has created plays in swimming pools, treetops, on working waterways a mile wide, and in a theatre built of snow and ice. Kendra is the Artistic Director of The Only Animal, a decade-old company that is uniquely dedicated to theatre that springs from a deep engagement with place. She specialized in ambitious theatricality. Selected Credits for directing/writing: Nothing But Sky, a living comic book (Jessie winner for Significant Artistic Achievement), NiX, theatre of snow and ice, at the 2010 Cultural Olympiad and Enbridge Festival, Alberta Theatre Projects 2009, (Nominated Betty Mitchell Awards and Vancouver’s Critic’s Choice Award for Innovation); dog eat dog, 2007, (Nominated Jessie:  Outstanding New Play), Other Freds produced by The Only Animal, 2005, (Winner Jessie Award: Significant Artistic Achievement). She is currently developing the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, Tinkers, into a sited show in an old-growth forest.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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An Interview with Photographer and Filmmaker Nathan Kensinger

Happy holidays! I hope you all are doing well and taking care of yourselves as the weather changes and the holiday obligations start to pile up. 

The latest in climate change news is of course the Fourth National Climate Assessment, released on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Other climate communicators have already weighed in on the significance of this report, so all I’ll add here is that I, too, was appalled at how America’s national leaders handled its release. And I am as grateful as ever for the scientists, writers and artists, and other climate communicators who continue to make it their life work to bring more awareness to climate change and its devastating effects on our planet. Thank you.

Speaking of climate communicators, I am very excited about the panel on climate change and narrative that I’m moderating at the New York Society Library on December 13th. If you’re in the city, please join us! Otherwise, tune in to the live stream, which you can find on the NYSL Facebook page.

This month is an interview with photographer, filmmaker, and curator, Nathan Kensinger. You may know his work from the twice-monthly photo essay he creates for Curbed NY, wherein he explores New York City’s hidden urban landscapes, off-limits industrial structures, unnatural waterways, environmental disaster zones, and other liminal spaces. Or perhaps you’ve seen or heard about his short documentary film, Managed Retreat, that captures three communities in Staten Island that are being dismantled and returned to nature as sea-level rise becomes a more immediate threat.

Or perhaps you saw him on my “Art and Activism in the Anthropocene” panel that I moderated this past spring at the New York Society Library.

As you can see, Nathan keeps quite busy, so I was delighted that he took the time to do this interview.

Much of your work focuses on hidden and/or abandoned green spaces in urban areas. What attracts you to these places?

I feel like I am drawn to these places for a variety of reasons. It’s partially out of a desire to find some small piece of the natural world, in the middle of our crowded urban landscape. It’s also an interest in understanding how we created the ecosystems we now live in, some of which are terribly polluted. And another reason is that, as a documentarian, my work focuses on exploring overlooked places, and places that haven’t yet had their stories fully told. There are a surprising number of hidden green places in our cities, that have been almost completely forgotten, but that have such important stories.

Please tell us about your recent documentary film, Managed Retreat. What inspired it, and what do you hope audiences take away from it?

Managed Retreat is part of a series of short documentaries I am working on, looking at the uneasy relationship between humans and nature in New York City. The film examines three neighborhoods in Staten Island that are undergoing a “managed retreat” from the waterfront, because of the threats posed by rising sea levels. Basically, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the residents in these neighborhoods asked the government to buy their houses, so they could move to somewhere safer. Their homes are now being demolished and turned back into a wetlands. 

I decided to make the film because I’ve been documenting the impacts of Hurricane Sandy over the last six years, and this “managed retreat” was the most interesting response to the the storm that I’ve seen. It’s the first time that New York has decided to relocate entire communities, because of climate change. And very few people have heard of this process – people are not aware that their neighbors are tearing down their own homes, to escape from sea level rise. I’m hoping the film will give audiences a better picture of what may be in store for many other neighborhoods, in the near future.

The process of managed retreat in Oakwood Beach, Staten Island. Photograph from 2015 by Nathan Kensinger.

Is climate change and/or sea-level rise something you think about beyond your artistic work?

I definitely think about climate change all the time, in my daily life. It’s hard to avoid here in New York City, where sea level rise and storms and flooding are already completely changing the landscape. Sometimes, while I’m walking around the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn, I find myself wondering what the city will look like in 50 years, or 500 years, or 5,000 years. What might still be here? What will be underwater? What species will have survived? I’m very interested in which artifacts will survive from our current civilization, for future archaeologists to puzzle over, like the ruins of Carnac. 

What is Chance Ecologies?

Chance Ecologies is an arts project I have been curating for the last few years, along with Catherine Grau of the Queens Museum. It invites artists to consider abandoned post-industrial landscapes in New York City, that have been taken over by other species. Polluted landfills that have become wild-growing meadows and forests, toxic rivers and canals that are also lined by hidden wetlands and bamboo groves. We’ve worked with a whole range of artists, including sculptors, filmmakers, choreographers, architects and scientists, to create a series of exhibits and public events around these forgotten environments.  

Do you think that art and/or artfully created documentaries about climate change can create greater social awareness of the issue?

I definitely think that artists and filmmakers can help highlight the challenges we are facing from climate change. I think artists can be a great conduit, for explaining and interpreting the science of global warming and sea level rise. I sometimes wonder – if you are an artist and you are not looking at climate change in your work, what are you looking at? We are in the middle of one of the biggest mass extinctions in the history of the planet, and artists, filmmakers, and journalists should all be focused on communicating that. 

What’s next for you?

I’m looking forward to sending Managed Retreat further out into the world, and to finishing up work on a couple other short films, about nature in the city. I’m also nearing completion on another project I’ve been working on for the last five years, where I’ve been photographing and writing the story of every river, creek and kill in New York City, and I’ll hopefully be wrapping that up in the coming year. 

Read more about Nathan Kensinger and his work at his website.  

(Top photo by Jason Speakman. Downloaded from Brooklyn Paper.)

This article is part of the Climate Art Interviews series. It was originally published in Amy Brady’s “Burning Worlds” newsletter. Subscribe to get Amy’s newsletter delivered straight to your inbox.


Amy Brady is the Deputy Publisher of Guernica magazine and Senior Editor of the Chicago Review of Books. Her writing about art, culture, and climate has appeared in the Village Voice, the Los Angeles TimesPacific Standard, the New Republic, and other places. She is also the editor of the monthly newsletter “Burning Worlds,” which explores how artists and writers are thinking about climate change. She holds a PHD in English and is the recipient of a CLIR/Mellon Library of Congress Fellowship. Read more of her work at AmyBradyWrites.comand follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x. 


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Shaping New Climate Narratives: Why a Journalist/Historian Turned to Theatre for Climate Stories

Earlier this year, taking a front row seat at a church in Gary, Indiana, I watched as a young rapper, local food leader and an arts educator beguiled a standing-room-only audience with a theatrical envisioning of their city in the year 2030.

To the side of the stage, jazz legend Billy Foster and his trio added a lively soundtrack to the performance; a multi-media show reflected the images of their stories in the background.

To be sure, this “Ecopolis” performance was no simple task. After a short period of training, developing the script and rehearsing, the actors had to transform the sanctuary into a pop-up theatre and a community of the future in the minds of the audience.

Requiems for Gary’s demise have been written for years, where entrenched poverty and unemployment have left the city in ruins; where the strong scent of hydrocarbons still sting the cold night air. “The maw of that beast, the steel industry,” actor and urban farmer Walter Jones recounted, “takes up nine miles of lakefront.”

“Love song to the scarred lungs, my people bare,” performance poet Krystal Wilson rapped, “because in my city glocks ain’t got nothing on poison and hostile air.”

Gary Ecopolis. Photo by Jeff Biggers.

Departing on a journey through the Gary woods, on the edge of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, one of the most biologically diverse regions in the nation, the local actors walked the audience on a trip from the city’s past as a once proud Steel City to a futurist rendering of Gary as a “regenerative city” in an age of climate change, re-envisioning ways to regenerate their energy, food, transportation, green enterprise zones and a circular economy, neighborhood by neighborhood, front yard garden by front yard garden, bakery by bakery, character by character.

After the performance, the audience convened for lunch outside, catered by urban farmers, where discussions were led by the actors and community organizers on various renewable energy and local food initiatives. Rarely had I encountered such an energy of determination and excitement for change as I experienced in Gary.

The pop-up theatre took the page to the stage–and into the daily lives of the participants. It literally gave everyone a seat at the table. By providing a vision of a regenerative future, and a roadmap of stories to reach it, the performance galvanized action on climate change in a very real way.

Gary Ecopolis. Photo by Jeff Biggers.

At a performance at the Jane Addams Hull-House in Chicago, upstream designs for a zero waste neighborhood were explained in the voice of Magali, standing in front of his row of veggies in a hoop house that looked like a quilt from Somali; carrots, peas, beans, bell peppers, potatoes, cabbage and cloves—what he called the Chicago Sambusa.

On the stage at Appalachian State University, a character walked us through the future Boone EcoDistrict, where retrofitted homes with green roofs and solar energy moved beyond doing less bad, and actually doing something that enhances rather than harms our environment. To give a new framework and vocabulary to our times – to begin the process of regeneration.

Ecopolis Iowa City. Photo by Miriam Alarcon Avila.

After years of filing hundreds of stories, blogs, and radio stories, writing several books and organizing community events, I founded the Climate Narrative Project in 2014 to ask how can we better inform ourselves on the growing peril of climate change and promote regenerative solutions.

In truth, I created the Climate Narrative Project out of a sense of failure. I had spent years – decades, really – investigating and chronicling the devastation of the coal industry on communities, miners and the environment, as well as its impact on carbon emissions. From Appalachia to Illinois to Black Mesa on the Dinetah (Navajo Nation) in Arizona to Montana and the 20 coal-mined states, a health and humanitarian crisis from the lethal fallout of decades of mining had raged under the auspices of flawed regulatory measures, blatant disregard for civil rights, and media indifference. Coal companies and barons who openly flaunted workplace safety and environmental laws walked away free. The cumulative effect of CO2 emissions from coal had altered our future with climate change.

We had simply failed to galvanize the necessary action to learn from our mistakes, atone for our regulatory disasters, and hold coal mining outlaws accountable. The same can be said for the rest of our fossil fuel industries and the political apparatus and ways that have allowed it to flourish.

In effect, while the science of climate change is clear, and abundantly available on campuses and communities across the nation, the art of communication for more sustainable ways of living, planning and development has yet to take the stage in an effective manner.

Bringing together science, the arts and humanities, I have found myself turning more often to the stage with actors who are also deeply engaged in the local arts, food, biodiversity, environmental justice and community development, in order to find new ways to communicate and galvanize action on climate change. Using local history and stories, we have “rooted” our Ecopolis stories on the stage with actors in major cities like Chicago and San Francisco, working with urban planners and arts organizations, and in small towns and college campuses across the Midwest, the South, Appalachia and the Southwest.

Collaborating with fellow artists in leading workshops in creative writing, film, theatre, visual arts and dance, we have worked with schools and communities to design new frameworks and media arts strategies for presenting climate solutions.

The goal: to shape a new climate change narrative.

“How can you be a catalyst for this regenerative city,” the actors asked the audience? “What is your role—and the role of artists, innovators, engineers, teachers, preachers, and entrepreneurs? What is growing in your garden? And can I walk there?”

It all begins with a vision. And a stage.

(Top image: Gary, Indiana.)


Journalist, historian and playwright, Jeff Biggers is the founder of the Climate Narrative Project, and author of numerous books and plays, more recently Damnatio Memoriae: Una Commedia, and Resistance: Reclaiming an American Tradition.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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CODAsummit Explores Humans’ Impact on the Environment Through Interactive Art

The art and technology worlds can often feel locked in competition, each prizing what the other inadvertently seeks to curtail: the art world eager to preserve and appreciate natural beauty, and the technology world determined to seek enlightenment and advancement. But they needn’t be at odds – and the inaugural CODAsummit held across September 20 and 21 at the Center For Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico proved beyond any doubt that technology can be used to explore and discuss environmental issues.

Organized by CODAworx, an art collective that serves as a central facilitator to bring together talent from all backgrounds and walks of life to collaborate, CODAsummit was created to allow the various links in the art commissioning chain – primarily commissioners (designers, architects, etc.), creators (artists), and suppliers (fabricators and manufacturers) – to congregate and pursue opportunities to develop new and creative cooperative projects.

A recurring theme throughout the many talks was how art projects can communicate the broader significance of our changing environment in ways that scientific statements and papers never could.

This isn’t the first time that the CODAworx community has addressed these ideas. It produced the #OurChangingClimate project of 2015, which used communal workshops and video compilations of personal stories to reframe the concept of climate change from an issue that seems impossibly large and abstract to something with tangible local effects and experiences that everyone could understand.

Let’s take a look at some of the speakers who contributed heavily to CODAsummit’s environmental themes, considering their styles and discussed projects:

Andrea Polli, creator of Energy Flow

Andrea Polli specializes in environmental art that touches upon themes involving science and technology, and has worked on everything from public exhibitions and mobile media to broadcasts and publications. Her work typically draws from scientific data (something that often fails to prove impactful when made widely available), turning stats and figures from abstract notions on computer screens to arresting and eye-opening visual displays.

Appropriately, she participated in the panel entitled “The Art of Depicting Reality: Data Visualization,” and discussed her Energy Flow installation (pictured at the top) that ran in Pittsburgh from November 2016 to April 2018. Powered by wind turbines attached to the catenary arches of the Rachel Carson Bridge, it lit up in response to wind and temperature conditions, showing the activity of the natural world while demonstrating what can be done without recourse to fossil fuels or external power sources.

Cheryl Maeder, creator of Submerge

Cheryl Maeder is a noted photographer and videographer who has worked extensively on impressionistic projects, most notably inspiring Dove’s well-received “’Real Women, Real Beauty” campaign which made a lot of progress towards changing the media’s perception of beauty and women in general. Her fascination with coastal living led her to create her Submerge art series.

Speaking as part of the “Making Waves: New Technologies” segment, she discussed her Submerge installation (pictured above) for the City of West Palm Beach, Florida. Video projections on the underside of the Royal Park Walkway (the bridge connecting West Palm Beach to Palm Beach), were used to explore the extent to which water defines our connection to the environment: making up most of our bodies, covering most of the Earth, and representing both the serenity and the power of the natural world.

Matt Niebuhr, creator of Sun Pavilion 

Matt Niebuhr is an artist who established the West Branch Studio of Des Moines, Iowa. Trained as an architect, he focuses on public art exhibitions and installations, finding ways to combine his architectural skills with community drives.

Photo by Zahner

Also, part of the “Making Waves: New Technologies” segment, Niebuhr spoke about the inspiration for Sun Pavilion, the project he and fellow artist David Dahlquist worked on for the municipal government of the City of El Paso, Texas. The project combines function and form by giving park visitors a place to seek shelter from the heat while artfully playing upon the area’s storied cultural history through the incorporation of ancient sun symbols – early inhabitants of the El Paso region featured them heavily in drawings thousands of years ago.

CODAsummit as a hub for future discussion

With this first CODAsummit selling out and attracting a wide range of talented and passionate attendees, plans are already underway for future instalments. If CODAworx can continue its good work of bringing the art and technology worlds together, so much can be accomplished to make the issue of climate change more present and urgent in the public consciousness, and to place more pressure on governments and corporations alike to act.

Photo by Annie Watt

After all, what discussions about environmental issues so often lack is that vital context, that emotional gut punch that reminds us of what’s really at stake, and what the consequences of failure will be. The art world is uniquely positioned to do something about this – and with such a passionate community rallying around it, there’s reason to be optimistic.


Toni Sikes is Founder and CEO of CODAworx, the global leader in commissioned art, serving as a professional network for a wide variety of artists, design professionals, and industry resources.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Protected: Opportunity: Cultural Adaptations seeks Embedded Artist

Creative Carbon Scotland is the lead partner in an EU-funded project Cultural Adaptations. As part of this we are seeking an experienced artist to be ‘embedded’ within and to influence the work of Climate Ready Clyde as it develops and implements a climate change adaptation strategy for Glasgow City Region.

This is an exciting, paid opportunity for an artist or cultural practitioner interested in exploring the role the arts can play in shaping how our society adapts to the impact of climate change. It offers the chance to participate in an action-research project taking place at the European level, and contribute new knowledge to the local and international sector.

Cultural Adaptations

This opportunity is part of our Cultural Adaptations project: a European co-operation project, funded through the Creative Europe programme of the European Commission, running October 2018 – March 2021. Four cultural organisations in countries with similar climate challenges but differing socio-political frameworks (Scotland, Ireland, Belgium and Sweden) will explore the different cultural approaches taken to our adaptation to climate change.

Each Cultural Partner is working with a local Adaptation Partner on the project: Creative Carbon Scotland will be working with Sniffer and the Climate Ready Clyde ProjectAxis (Ireland) will be working with Codema, Dublin’s regional energy agency; Greentrack Gent (Belgium) with the City of Ghent local authority; and TILLT (Sweden) with the City of Gothenburg local authority.

Each country partnership will jointly research, develop, plan and implement their own Embedded Artist Project in which an artist is placed in an adaptation project in order to provide new ways of thinking, fresh perspective and different approaches to the complex and seemingly intractable challenges that climate change present.

Embedded Artist Project Brief

We are looking for an artist or cultural practitioner working in any art form to make use of their relatively autonomous position as an ‘outsider’ to help to provide new ways of thinking, fresh perspectives and different approaches to the challenges of adapting to climate change.

They will be an active participant in and contributor to Climate Ready Clyde meetings, events and activities with stakeholders and partners including the Board, and lead on key areas of work to address specific challenges and opportunities within the Climate Ready Clyde programme.  The Artist will have a particular responsibility to combine the environmental, social and cultural interests of the partners and ensure that this complex and novel but crucial combination of fields is understood and made use of by the wider Climate Ready Clyde board, and interested parties.

The anticipated total time commitment is around 28 days spread over the whole project. This will include:

  • Preparing for, attendance at and participation in each of the four Transnational meetings taking place throughout the project:
    • Glasgow 19th – 20th March 2019
    • Gothenburg 12th – 13th November 2019
    • Dublin February 2020
    • Ghent June 2020
  • Preparing for, attending and contributing to various meetings and events of the Climate Ready Clyde partnership throughout the project
  • Preparing for, attendance at and participation in a final international conference in Glasgow in Autumn 2020
  • Contribution to the project evaluation, the Toolkit and Digital Resource and the final report to Creative Europe

See full Cultural Adaptations Embedded Artist Brief. 

Artist Fee

The artist will be paid a total fee of £9,200 for the 28 days work. This is to include the artist’s travel to and around the Glasgow city region.

Travel to, accommodation at, and subsistence costs for Transnational Meetings and the conference will be paid in addition to this sum. There is a small budget available for materials across the duration of the project (£400-£450), although no physical artwork is anticipated as an output of the work.

Artist Specification

This role is imagined for an experienced and established individual artist or cultural practitioner, working in any discipline, looking to use their creative skills to contribute to wider society. We anticipate an individual with 5 or more years of experience in the cultural sector will be most appropriate for this role.

The types of skills and experience that will be beneficial for this project include:

  • Interest and experience of working collaboratively with diverse groups and in non-arts contexts. For example, regeneration, environmental, educational, social, healthcare contexts;
  • Experience of making strategic contributions to initiatives. Synthesising diverse facts, goals and references, making connections and communicating with different ‘audiences’. For example, being a Board member or Trustee of an organisation, being an active member of a union or membership organisation, contributing to policy consultations;
  • Experience of building engagement/ developing communications for socially or politically-challenging topics. 
  • Knowledge of or demonstrable interest in learning about sustainability-related issues, including climate change. 
  • Imaginative thinking and the ability to work with complexity and varying degrees of scale.

The artist must be able to fulfil the full duration of the project and agreed timetable (January 2019 – Autumn 2020).

How to apply

Please download the Cultural Adaptations Embedded Artist Brief for full details of the context, partners and activities, and review the skills and experience required as outlined in the Brief to ensure you meet the required experience and abilities. Please note that you must be available for all specified dates in the project timetable (see Brief), and for the full duration of the project.

To apply: complete the online application form. 
The application form requests:

  • A CV demonstrating appropriate experience (max 2 pages)
  • A covering letter (max 3 pages) which details:
    • How the applicant sees their skills and experiences contributing to the aims and tasks of Climate Ready Clyde (and the wider Cultural Adaptations project)
    • Up to 5 example of projects/contexts where the applicant has contributed to planning and decision making.
  • Up to three examples or descriptions of relevant previous work (max 3 pages)
  • Completion of the Creative Carbon Scotland Equal Opportunities Monitoring Form


Please complete the online application by 5pm on Friday 11th January 2019. 

Shortlisted candidates will be contacted w/c Monday 14th January 2019 and asked to participate in a video/phone call or in-person informal meeting with Creative Carbon Scotland in order to discuss the project, answer any questions, and explore the practical delivery of the project. Following this, shortlisted applicants will be asked to attend an in-person interview (in Glasgow) with Creative Carbon Scotland, SNIFFER and Climate Ready Clyde on Wednesday 23rd January.

Cultural Adaptations

Cultural Adaptations (EUCAN) is co-funded with the support of the Creative Europe programme of the European Union.

The post Protected: Opportunity: Cultural Adaptations seeks Embedded Artist appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.


Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.

We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.

Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:

Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.

Go to Creative Carbon Scotland

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Reframing the Narrative: A Compost Conversation

A pungent odor emerges when I turn the piles of worms and rotting scraps. No matter how many leaves and other materials I add, the smell lingers. My husband and children think I’m crazy, but they get it – it is here with the worms and this scent that I feel connected to life. The smell reminds me of being young and climbing into the dogwood tree near our family’s compost where I’d watch my mother in her garden. Who knew, when I was sitting in that tree, that compost would become my muse and mentor?

I love how pomegranates look on snow and discarded leek greens come to life when mixed with coffee grinds. Small red worms wriggling to escape light make me laugh. The contrasting colors and textures in my compost pile seem to say, “Look at us! Aren’t we beautiful?” I get my camera every time – it’s irresistible. My connection to composting is deep and satisfying.

It began when I made our three-bin system from scratch – milling the lumber from old cedar logs and using a power drill for the first time to assemble it – that was back in 2009. Three times a year, in April, July and November, I manage the pile. It is a messy, smelly job, my fingertips blackening as I sift. Where did all those popcorn kernels, pepper seeds and pomegranate skins go?  They can’t just disappear, and yet they do. Every time. Here among the slimy cucumbers and onion peels, they become something entirely new. The worms transform everything, decomposing the carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen into “black gold.” They wriggle beneath the surface to escape the light and get the job done. No longer garbage, our former food waste transforms into a source of energy. When spread in the garden, the decomposed matter provides needed nutrients. It’s pretty amazing that since I built this system, we have diverted two and a half tons of food and other waste from the landfill.

Compost is like people wrestling with ideas, needing to be turned over, mixed up and mingled with others. I’m still in awe of the magic of biology and chemistry and can’t stop exploring with my camera. The pomegranates against the snow and the leeks mixed with coffee invite me to look more closely. At first it was an artistic celebration of light, color, and texture. Soon my attention shifted to the actual stories of what our bin contained: lemons traveling thousands of miles to our counter, each avocado needing thirty-six gallons of water to grow, the people who planted, picked, and processed these fruits and vegetables and how privileged and thankful I was to have such an array of food fill my body, my kitchen, and this bin of waste. Each scrap became more colorful, textured, and nuanced.

Hundreds of photographs later, it hit me – this is redemption. My hands dirty from sifting, my back aching from carrying – this is renewal. I moved past the structures and science and even the art and understood that really, this was all about love. My camera and the compost guided me. I love every aspect of the process, the product, and what it means. When I care for my own waste, I am, in a small way, taking responsibility for the enormous impact my life has on the planet. In a world filled with economic theories and political discord, the waste, the worms, and the soil are real. It makes me feel powerful – not in a dominating, “I have power over you” way, but in a collaborative, loving, “we can do this” way.

It is that power that inspired my most recent exploration – it’s called Two Degrees. In our attic, my two degrees gathered dust. Together, they weighed 10 pounds. More clutter and stuff in a cluttered world. What would happen if I composted them? As I used an exacto knife and pliers to take apart the frames, I wondered, “Am I crazy?” But when I tore the corner of my University of Virginia MBA, new shapes and textures emerged. I kept going. When I ripped my undergraduate Harvard Fine Arts degree, I noticed how much more interesting the paper became when torn and layered, strewn across the dismantled backing of its former frame.

“Isn’t this what we have to do,” I thought,  “not just see beauty where others see waste, but see beauty in remaking what we know?” A few weeks ago, at my 30th reunion, some classmates were shocked by what I had done. I wonder how shocked they are going to be when our planet surges past the 2-degree Fahrenheit threshold because we didn’t collectively have the courage to reframe our shared narrative, let it decompose a while, and then allow it to reemerge as something new and potentially more beautiful.

On a most fundamental level, there is power in the transformation of waste – it gets me every time. There is also power in the transformation of self. When I see the black gold in the garden and the harvest that results, I know it’s possible. I am grateful for this magical interplay between what I observe with my camera, what I experience with my compost and garden, and what I feel.

For more on food, see our Foodstuff series.


Evelyn R. Swett is a photographer who is happiest mucking around with compost and comfrey. She has spent the past decade trying to figure out what it takes for a suburban family of four to live within the climate’s means. Evelyn’s photographs focus on this question, emerging from the dynamic interplay between her art and the people and places she loves most. For her, it’s about caring deeply and finding joy. You can learn more about her climate action on her blog, By Degrees.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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