FOCUS on Art and Global Issues: Climate Change

By Renata Koch Alvarenga
Staff Writer

With increasing global awareness for climate change, the actors in the dialogue on environmental action have also changed. The field, previously dominated by politicians, environmental experts, and select non-governmental organizations, now includes artists.

Poetry is one of the artistic forms in which climate change is portrayed. Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a poet from the Marshall Islands, decided to use her words as a tool to advocate for climate action. In 2015, after learning that the global climate agreement – which has just entered into force with the ratification of 76 nations – initially pledged for a limit to global warming of 2 degrees Celsius, Jetnil-Kijiner understood the urgency of the situation.

Any rise on the global temperature above 1.5 degrees will leave her hometown and many other islands under water due to rising sea levels. “I’m going [to COP21] because I’m fighting for our home. I’m going because I have foreseen the loss and the sorrow that awaits our children and grandchildren, because I have fallen into that abyss,” said Jetnil-Kijiner about her performance at the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris, according to Climate Change News.

Jetnil-Kijiner recited her poem inside the Green Zone of COP21 where all negotiations took place as well as at other civil society events, such as ArtCop21, a global climate festival about culture. Her poem “Tell Them” raises awareness for the imminent threat small islands face due to climate change.

Music also has a leading role in spread of climate change awareness. Hip-hop artists and brothers Xiuhtezcatl and Itzcuauhtli Martinez, of Aztec heritage, write and produce music to educate and inspire the new generation on the climate crisis. As part of the youth organization Earth Guardians, the two musicians made an album called Generation RYSE with various songs related to environmental activism. Xiuhtezcatl’s song, “Speak for the Trees,” was chosen as a theme song for COP21, according to Rolling Stone.

Xiuhtezcatl told BBC about the power of music as a campaign for climate action: “We decided that it would be a really great medium to engage a lot of different people that normally wouldn’t listen to our message but are listening to hip-hop.”

The impact of young people rapping about the environmental crisis has been enormous. Earth Guardian’s representatives were invited to speak at the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Event on Climate Change in 2015. One of their songs also made the group one of the winners of the 2015 Global Challenges Youth Music Contest.

John Croley, of UNESCO’s Management of Social Transformation Programme (one of the organizers of the contest) stated that “the creativity and musical communications skills of so many young people are a testament to just how seriously youth from all corners of the Earth today take climate change,” as stated by the news section of UNESCO.

Art is the newest yet perhaps the most effective form of raising awareness of the global problem of climate change. As Xiuhtezcatl Martinez told BBC, “Be a poet, be an activist, be a writer, be a photographer, whatever it is you love. Use your passions to change the world.”

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