Why make mosaics about climate change?

When I tell people that I’m doing a series of mosaics about climate change, the usual response is something like <insert raised eyebrows, skeptical / confused look> “Ummm…ok…?” (My environmental policy wonk colleagues are the exception to this rule—they are super keen and excited about it.) This is why I figured it would be a good idea to devote a blog post to explaining why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Let’s tackle the easy question first: Why climate change? In short, climate change worries me. A lot. I will be the first to admit that I often get very very frustrated by

  • the lack of awareness and concern among the general public,
  • the overwhelming sense of apathy and inertia that seems to exist (including the lack of action at the political level),
  • the ‘debate’ about the reality of climate change, which is engineered by a small but vocal few who are propped up by junk ‘science’ (for a good explanation of this, I highly recommend James Hoggan’s “Climate Cover-Up“), and
  • the entirely false but annoyingly persistent either/or choice we are offered between the economy OR the environment (when, in fact, we can have both).
Joel Pett's editorial cartoon perfectly sums up the fact that we have nothing to lose by acting on climate change. So what are we waiting for?
Joel Pett’s editorial cartoon perfectly sums up the fact that we have nothing to lose by acting on climate change. So what are we waiting for?

I could go on, but at the risk of sounding ranty and alienating readers, I’ll stop there. While I do what I can in my personal life, at work I often feel like my hands are tied. Such is the reality of being a small cog in the big machine that is the federal bureaucracy. Anyway, I wanted to do more, and I decided that one way I could do this was through my art.

I think artists are in a unique position of being able to translate complex and/or intangible concepts and issues in a way that makes them more accessible and visceral for the general public. Art encourages people to slow down, and it invites them to really interact with a subject. I think creating this space for contemplation and dialogue is an essential counterbalance to the never-ending stream of headlines and soundbites. In this way, artists are well placed to contribute to the public policy dialogue on any number of issues. I get positively giddy when art, science, and public policy collide.

One of Gregory C. Johnson's 19 brilliantly simple illustrated haikus from the IPCC Physical Science Assessment
One of Gregory C. Johnson’s 19 brilliantly simple illustrated haikus summing up the IPCC Physical Science Assessment

I am neither the first nor the last artist to engage in this way. Even in the narrower niche of art related to climate change, I am in good company. Some recent examples that have been inspiring me are oceanographer/artist Gregory C. Johnson’s 19 illustrated haikus of the key takeaways from the IPCC’s Physical Science Assessment (a 2,000+ page document), Courtney Mattison’s large-scale ceramic installations depicting coral bleaching, the eclectic rafts created by street artist Swoon as a statement about rising sea levels and the loss of people’s homelands, and, of course, fellow Canadian Franke James’ visual essays that take aim at Canadian climate policy (among other things). Even within the mosaic community, I am not alone. Yulia Hanansen is working on a series about the effects of climate change on water distribution, and I’m sure there are others.

I have cheekily given my series the working title “Fiddling while Rome burns.” Who knows, maybe it’ll stick! I’m basing it on graphs and basic concepts / processes because (a) I think we tend to forget that there is a solid scientific grounding behind calls for climate action and (b) I believe we have pretty much become immune to alarming climate change graphs, statistics, trends, and impacts. I know I am certainly guilty of simply scanning the latest graph du jour and thinking “Yup, it’s bad,” as I scroll past. And if I—as an informed and engaged citizen—do it, then I know other people do it too. So putting these graphs and trends in stone, turning them into art, is my attempt to get people to look at them for more than a split second and realize that, yes, these trends are real, climate change is happening, and we’re already feeling its effects. Mosaic also seems like a good medium for communicating about climate change because they’re both such slow, gradual processes. But I think the parallels between mosaic and climate change also hold true for addressing climate change. Individual pieces of stone and glass come together to create something bigger, and individual actions really do add up and collectively make a difference. If my mosaics can inspire people to make even one positive change in their lives for the sake of the climate, well then that’s pretty neat and it gives me a bit of hope.

Extra credit: If you want to bone up on climate change, I’d highly recommend checking out DeSmog Blog (it even has a sister site dedicated solely to the Canadian context) or tuning into the new TV series Years of Living Dangerously. There are plenty of good and credible climate news sources out there, but these should get you started.

Mosaics in the series (evergreen list):


I too have created a mosaic about global warming. It was made for a friend in Texas. I think we see the effects of global warming more easily here in Canada, a northern country. It is a good way to show people from other part of the world the physical changes we see.

Let me know what you think!

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