How the arts can raise climate awareness, part 2

Published Tuesday, November 8, 2016 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal and the Fredericton Daily Gleaner.

As a science guy, I strive to be guided by facts and evidence.  But I understand that charts and numbers don’t resonate with everyone.  

So here are more examples of how the arts can be an ally in raising awareness of climate change.

Poetry: Shane Koyczan

If you’re prone to being whisked away by verse, prepare to be swept away by Shane Koyczan’s “Shoulders”.

Koyczan is a spoken word poet – renowned for his words, but even more for the way he recites them in live performance.  He rocketed to fame after performing at the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

“Shoulders” opens with the legend of Atlas, the mythical Greek figure charged with carrying the heavens upon his shoulders.  Koyczan likens Atlas to a single drop of rain – and suggests that each of us is like a single drop of rain too.  He muses that, just as it’s unfair to hold Atlas responsible for supporting the universe, it would be unfair to hold a single drop responsible for making the entire world clean again.  But, we, the drops of rain, are capable of cleansing the entire world when we work together.  Collectively, we are Atlas.

There’s much more to “Shoulders,” and you can hear it at  (Warning to the sensitive: one little vocal transgression.)

Photography: Chris Jordan

When you first look at an image from Seattle photographer Chris Jordan’s “Running the Numbers” project, you might see a beach scene, a whale or even Mount Denali.  But click on the image and you zoom in to discover it’s really a collage depicting a consequence of mass consumption.  

The beach scene depicts 400,000 plastic bottle caps, equal to the average number consumed in the US every minute.  The whale depicts 50,000 plastic bags, equal to the estimated number of pieces of floating plastic in every square mile in the world's oceans.  Mount Denali is really 24,000 logos from the GMC Yukon Denali, equal to six weeks of sales of that model SUV in 2004.  All metaphors for human progress: beauty which, examined closely, often reveals uncomfortable underlying realities.  

Jordan’s artistic renditions of trash and mass consumption can be viewed at  

Music: Baba Brinkman

Typically, rap music on my radio provokes an automatic reaction: change the station.  But then along comes Baba Brinkman.

Brinkman is a BC rapper whose past albums have delved into literature, evolution, religion and medicine.  This fall, he released “The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos”.  It’s a project he describes as “knowledge-based hip-hop for hungry minds and switched-on citizens”. 

Even for non-fans, it’s worth a listen: its 24 tracks cover the science, politics and economics of climate change better than most books.  “Greenhouse” is a review of two centuries of climate science history.  “Party Don’t Stop” is about the fossil-fuel world we have created, and “Ride Electric” covers solutions.  The final track, “Makin’ Waves,” is a call for personal and political action.  Interspersed are cameos by Barack Obama, Elon Musk, Richard Branson and others.

If you’re inclined to dismiss “The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos” as a rant from the fringe, don’t: Brinkman has actually had his compositions peer-reviewed for accuracy by climate scientists.  Listen and download at

From arts to action

There’s much more: photographer James Balog’s classic film, “Chasing Ice”; Massachusetts artist Erica Daborn's climate change-themed murals; a techno-rap of 60 years of rising CO2 in our atmosphere set to music by scientists at the University of Washington;’s spectacular animations that bring our global carbon budget to life; Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary, “Before the Flood”; or, from Stanford University researchers, an orchestral arrangement of 100 years in the life of an Alaskan forest, where each instrument represents a species either disappearing or emerging as a result of rising temperatures.

All effective ways to raise awareness, a critical prerequisite to action.