Understanding Climate Change Through Art

Used with permission:  Dr. Greg Johnson and Sightline Institute

Used with permission: Dr. Greg Johnson and Sightline Institute

One of our favorite Climate Mamas, Anna Fahey, mom extraordinare and Senior Communications Strategist at SigthlineDaily, recently wrote an elegant and uncomplicated post that helps detangle and unwind the September 2013 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Using “pictures” created by Dr. Greg Johnson, the scientific language disappears, and is replaced by beautiful, simple, yet haunting drawings.

As the reality of climate change becomes infinitely clear to scientists, many people continue to turn a blind eye as the story becomes so big, so complicated and so overwhelming. Through Anna’s post and Dr. Johnson’s pictures, the story becomes more approachable and one that we can “pretty much” get our hands around. Anna has given us permission to share her post with you. Please share it with the kids in your life as well. Help them understand and see what we are confronting, and then together, one foot forward at a time, we must move in the direction of solutions.

The Entire IPCC Report in 19 Illustrated Haiku
By Anna Fahey

Reports released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) can be daunting, even for science and policy insiders. The full Physical Science Assessment, the first installment of the Fifth Assessment Report (pdf), released in manuscript form earlier this year, is over 2,000 pages long.

And even the Summary for Policymakers, rather optimistically referred to as a “brochure,” is a dense 27 pages.

What if we could communicate the essence of this important information in plain language and pictures? Well, that’s just what one Northwest oceanographer has done. He’s distilled the entire report into 19 illustrated haiku.

Used with permission:  Dr. Greg Johnson and Sightline Institute

Used with permission: Dr. Greg Johnson and Sightline Institute

The result is stunning, sobering, and brilliant. It’s poetry. It’s a work of art. But it doubles as clear, concise, powerful talking points and a compelling visual guide.

How did it come about? Housebound with a rotten cold one recent weekend, Greg Johnson found himself paring his key takeaways from the IPCC report into haiku. He finds that the constraints of the form focus his thoughts (He told me that he posts exclusively in haiku on Facebook.), and described the process as a sort of meditation. He never intended to share these “IPCC” poems.

Johnson’s daughter, an artist, inspired him to try his hand at watercolors. On a whim he illustrated each haiku and shared the results with family and a few friends.

When I got wind of it, I had to see it. And I’m glad I got the chance. I immediately wanted everybody I know to see it too!

Used with Permission:  Dr. Greg Johnson and Sightline Institute

Used with Permission: Dr. Greg Johnson and Sightline Institute

Condensing to this degree is not how scientists typically operate. But, as Johnson proves, scientists can also be poets. Still, he’s quick to caution that this is his own unofficial artistic interpretation and that it omits all the quantitative details and the IPCC’s scientific qualifications.

Therein lies the beauty; stripped of the jargon and unfathomably large numbers, the limitations and the scales of confidence that confound and distract us laypeople, it is an arresting and informative entree into the science—not, of course, a substitute for the full report.

We are delighted to share Johnson’s beautiful meditation here {and in our original post here} (Also as a PDF, DIY booklet, and video slide show for personal or educational nonprofit use.).

Anna Fahey: Senior communications strategist, oversees opinion research and distills best practices in messaging. You’ll find her writing posts on how to communicate about tricky issues like climate change and government. Prior to Sightline, Fahey received her MA in political communication from the University of Washington. Email: anna [at] sightline [dot] org.

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