Shift Thinking

At the same time that evidence of global climate change is confronting us all over the world, we humans seem to be more anxious to deny it altogether or to pretend that we can avoid dealing with its consequences for another year, another decade, another century.

What does it take to convince people that changes need to be made?

Scientific proof would seem to be the answer; but some suggest that metaphor — art — is a stronger tool to bring about a profound change in attitude.

For we are not exclusively rational beings, are we? Sadly, we are not even usually rational when it comes to decision making. Studies demonstrate again and again our hidden biases, our ingrained emotional responses, our instantaneous judgments. Recent books like “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman and “Blink” by popular writer Malcolm Gladwell are only two of the many that discuss and analyze these tendencies.

An organization called Cape Farewell believes that it is only by creating a cultural response to climate change that humans will be inspired to act. Mere information can be ignored, re-evaluated, misinterpreted, devalued… but the emotional response engendered by art cannot be denied.

Founder David Buckland quotes author C.S. Lewis for a core philosophy of the group:  “reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.” Accordingly, Cape Farewell partners artists with scientists to develop projects that couple scientific information with artistic expression in the form of film, poetry, sculpture, and the like, in the hope of affecting a change in the attitudes and feelings of the people of the world rather than just changing their minds.

While this may seem, at first glance, to be a far-fetched plan, consider the power of art to move social forces. The anti-war protest songs of the 1960s. Picasso’s Guernica. Novels such as “Native Son,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” It has happened before; it can happen again.

You can read Mr. Buckland’s post on the Guardian’s climate change blog here, or check out the Cape Farewell website by clicking on the link above. Then let us know what you think. Which kinds of artistic expression might be the most effective and impactful? Which could reach the most people? What is the most important target audience? How can art avoid preaching and yet get a message across? We’d love to have that conversation with you.

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