Rising Waters and Public Awareness, by Susan Israel
22 September 2017, Newton, Massachusetts – Will the recent hurricanes, heat waves and fires in the United States and Caribbean finally serve as the call to action for which we have been waiting? 70% of Americans understand that climate change is happening and that it will harm future generations of humans, animals and plants, about 53% accept it is anthropogenic, and yet only 40% believe that it will affect them personally (data from Yale Climate opinion Maps, 2016: http://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us-2016/. This lack of personal urgency leads to inaction. The problem of perceived risk seems to be largely an American problem, rooted in cultural outlook, misinformation campaigns and politics. In other words, it is an emotional, cultural and communications problem, not a data problem. We have plenty of data. People don’t seem to respond to data, and when they do, they become overwhelmed, hopeless and apathetic in the face of something so big they cannot conceive of personally impacting it. So how do we reach out, convey the risks of climate change, and mobilize people to act in whatever ways they can?
Climate Creatives is a company founded to address this problem: how do we engage, educate and inspire people and companies about climate issues? How do we support innovation and collaborations that lead to solutions for both mitigation and resiliency? Begun by an architect, Susan Israel, who is accustomed to thinking about systems, interrelatedness, and problem-solving through design, Climate Creatives addresses engagement and innovation in all sectors: communities, organizations, companies, schools and individuals. They make data salient and connect it to people on the human-emotional level.
Climate Creatives has created a unique methodology: they have developed art- and design- based exercises to engage and educate people in any type of setting. The purpose of using art is to create a fun, engaging and non-threatening way to translate data and empower people to act on it. They work in many formats, including workshops, public events, curriculum, and public art to facilitate and motivate groups to innovate and collaborate on climate action.
One of Climate Creatives’ flagship projects is “Rising Waters” by Susan Israel: marking future flood levels in the landscape to show potential impacts of storms and sea level rise. Susan has installed Rising Waters over 15 times, including in Panama. With a small team, Susan went to the Guna Yala archipelago (San Blas Islands) and installed colorful fabric stripes on thatch houses, pilings and trees; led children through a day of painting; and interviewed island residents. Susan did the installation pro bono, and is donating use of it to Burwigan.org, an organization established to raise funds and awareness for Guna climate migration.
An exhibition of photographs of the installation is travelling in the United States to bring this story of climate change flooding and migration to the American electorate, and so far has been at EarthDay Texas, where over 130,000 people attended, and the UN Oceans Conference in June. Ideally, the photographs of Rising Waters would be hosted by and paired with examples of real solutions, such as the ones provided by SIDS-GBN companies.
Climate Creatives is making a series of short video stories to tell their story, common to so many small island developing states: in a few decades, these people will be forced to leave their coral atoll islands, funds to make the move are scarce, and the islanders are awaiting help from their government.
Will the inhabitants of Guna Yala escape their sea level homes before a disaster hits? For the first time ever, in 2016 a hurricane – Otto – reached Guna Yala.
With relocation, will the traditional Guna culture and language survive? How can island cultures survive climate migration?
Climate Creatives is seeking location hosts and funding to bring Rising Waters to other island nations to help their communities understand, publicize, prevent or remediate flood threats. All installations will be documented to bring these stories to the United States and global community. More is at www.ClimateCreatives.com.
The positions taken are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.
Feature Photo: Susan Israel