Column: How to visualize climate change in MinnesotaGlobal warming remains a puzzle to me. It’s a communication puzzle: How do we communicate the need to act to mitigate the human contributions to global climate change?
By: David Beard, For the Budgeteer News
Global warming remains a puzzle to me. It’s a communication puzzle: How do we communicate the need to act to mitigate the human contributions to global climate change?
It’s also, for me, a visualization puzzle. I’ve seen the disaster movies in which New York is flooded by melted polar ice caps, but I’m a long way from New York. I don’t know how to visualize climate change in Minnesota — but I want to, because I think visualizing that change will help me communicate that need to act.
And we need to act.
The MacRostie Art Center in Grand Rapids gave me the tools to answer my questions in their recent “Art from the Edge of the Boreal Forest” exhibit. The forests of Minnesota are positioned on the edge of the boreal forest ecosystem — as climate change transforms the boreal forest, it will transform Minnesota.
In works such as Debra Greenblatt’s “Red Pine New Growth” (watercolor, graphite), I am reminded that climate change is about more than the charismatic species we typically visualize — the polar bears who remind me, playfully, of Coca-Cola commercials and penguins who remind me of the movie “Happy Feet.”
Climate change will transform the plants, the soil: as artist Marj Davis draws and paints native prairie plants found in Minnesota and Wisconsin, she reminds us of what we stand to lose in the forest understory.
It helped that these Minnesota artists are skilled in using pen and ink, watercolor, graphite, colored pencil, carbon dust — delicate media, requiring a gentle touch that helped, in my opinion, communicate the fragility of the environment they are recording in art.
According to Ashley Kolka of the MacRostie, “As a community art center located in a town that hosts research offices for the DNR, Forest Service, and the University of Minnesota, the MacRostie is uniquely situated to host exhibitions that make thought-provoking ecological statements through art. We are proud to have been able to provide a platform for the powerful work of these artists.”
That platform is also a platform for discussing the consequences of climate change and future action.
Working with Dr. Lee Frelich, a forest ecologist with the University of Minnesota, Dr. Gerald Niemi of UMD, and Jana Albers, DNR Forest Health Specialist, artists in the MacRostie shared images of the trees, plants, birds, and insects identified as most at risk for disappearing from the northern woods of Minnesota.
Through their work, I could visualize what might be lost if we don’t work to mitigate global climate change.
Beard is a professor of rhetoric at the University of Minnesota Duluth.