Sometimes, I like to take a step away from the art itself to ask what art does for society. In a world that often portrays our field as frivolous or boils our work down to how it can stimulate local economies, it’s a nice exercise to imagine how the thing to which we dedicate our lives actually contributes, and has even more potential to contribute, to bettering the world at large.
Shifting gears a bit, let’s talk about one of the most global issues facing…well, the globe: climate change. A 2009 report by the Pew Research Center claims that the number of Americans who believe manmade global warming is real has dropped 14 % from 2008. And, according to a Brookings Institute study, even among Americans who believe that global warming is occurring, there was an 18% decrease in respondents who said they were very confident that this phenomenon was taking place.
Speculation about the reasons behind the climate change movement’s loss of momentum abound. While some popular hypotheses for its decline include the current economic crisis and the radicalization of the Republican Party in the wake of Obama’s election, one of the most interesting to me was in a Newsweek blog entry suggesting that many Americans are indifferent or unable to comprehend the long-term effects of climate change. That indifference has emerged more strongly now because it’s much harder to prioritize abstract, far-away problems like climate change when compared to the daily threat of losing one’s job.
In Timothy Williamson’s “Reclaiming the Imagination,” he talks about how imagining future scenarios allows us to prepare for threats, which ensures our basic survival. On a more sophisticated level, imagination (plus complex statistics and data) allows experts to create decision trees for say, possible strategies for U.S. military action in Afghanistan. To me, the true strength of art isn’t its economic impact or how it helps kids learn in school; it’s the way that it allows us to suspend belief and cultivate this ability to imagine scenarios beyond the confines of our current, individual reality.
Therefore, if one reason for the environmental movement losing ground is an inability to imagine the long-term effects of climate change, then fueling people’s ability to comprehend those consequences is key. Art is one of the best tools we have to achieve this. So, artists are uniquely positioned to be instrumental in strengthening Americans’ belief in climate change, which is an essential step to making larger change possible.
Recognizing the contribution that the arts can play in this dialogue, the CoolClimate Art Contest provides a formal opportunity for artists to join the discussion on global climate change. This online contest encourages artists to explore how climate change is impacting our lives and what can be done to ensure a sustainable future for all of Earth’s inhabitants. Inspire us to look beyond the current realities and do our part at http://www.coolclimate.deviantart.com/.