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“Doom and Gloom no More!” Art as a Tool for Hope-Based Climate Education
By: Sophia Conradi
September 16, 2021
Within the last decade, climate change has become more prominent in the BC curriculum, however so has the emergence of eco-anxiety, grief, and feelings of hopelessness among youth. While education is an essential first step in inspiring action, science communication should prioritize educational tools that promote hope and resilience, rather than doom and gloom.
Art as a tool for science communication has gained traction in recent years due to its flexible and open nature, leading to the publication of numerous articles in the last decade. Overall, research suggests that teaching climate change through art is an integrative approach with unique benefits and potential. While traditional means of teaching such as rote memorization can be rigid, art allows for the exploration of different viewpoints and ways of knowing. In turn, this allows learners to view humans as active and reflexive agents of large-scale systems change, rather than adopting a doom and gloom mentality in which individuals may feel helpless and out of control.
Art has been documented as an effective tool in the context of climate change education because it allows for engagement of multiple senses, emphasizes social interaction, and prioritizes creative thinking. Furthermore, the production of art has been shown to encourage peer learning and normalize different viewpoints, both of which are likely to facilitate valuable dialogue surrounding climate change. In the Canadian context, a study conducted in Nova Scotia found that art was an effective modality to improve understanding of climate change causes and impacts, with overall positive responses from students and teachers, and limited negative emotional reactions to the material. These findings suggest that art should be prioritized when considering climate change communication, in order to mitigate the potential negative mental health impacts which can arise.
While numerous forms of art can be used as tools for science communication, filmmaking specifically has demonstrated effectiveness. In one study, students were asked to develop short films investigating how climate change and environmental change are impacting their lives and their communities. This project was successful in increasing appreciation of the impacts of climate change and deepening understanding of climate science and its complexity. While it is possible that other forms of art could have similarly successful results, further research is required to understand how various mediums can impact learning.
Although high-quality evidence surrounding the use of art as a tool for climate change exists, research published specifically in the Canadian context is limited. One challenge which arises from analyzing studies published in geographically diverse regions is that the climate change topics addressed may differ, and therefore may not map onto the BC school curriculum as smoothly. Despite these potential differences, research published in diverse geographical contexts should not be overlooked as art has long been described as a universal language. For example, one study described a high school in Portugal that characterizes art as central to climate change education and engagement. More specifically, its transformative potential, as well as its ability to facilitate greater depth of learning, support the importance of further research regarding the integration of art in the Canadian context.
Congruent with the evidence discussed thus far, psychological perspectives also support the use of art as a tool for climate change communication. Although potential barriers exist, art is unique in its ability to trigger long-term changes such as inspiration. Furthermore, art frequently uses metaphors, analogies, and narratives, all of which are generally lacking in climate change communication. In summation, art can provide an avenue for novel ways of digesting and presenting information that may facilitate more sustainable change on the individual and group levels.
Climate change is typically taught through scientific literacy, policy options, and a general “doom and gloom” narrative, limiting the potential for inspiration and different views or perspectives. As evidenced by the programs and interventions described, art shows promise as a tool for climate change communication and knowledge acquisition. Furthermore, from a psychological perspective, art shows promise to overcome some of the barriers often associated with climate change education. Although more research is needed in the Canadian context, initial findings show immense promise for the integration of art with science.
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