Climate change, through the language of the arts

September 27, 2013 •

When the conversation turns to global warming, many Americans are inclined to turn away. And why not?

After all, it’s a vast and complicated subject. Truly understanding it seems to require specialized knowledge most people don’t possess. And perhaps most notably, it’s become such a hot-button political issue that it easily inflames passions.

That’s enough to make people turn off and tune out whenever the subject arises. But an overwhelming consensus of scientific agreement that the problem is serious and caused in part by human activity, ignoring climate change won’t make it go away.

The trick is figuring out how to reach people without turning them off.

“It always seems like a very intellectual issue,” says Beth Osnes, assistant professor of theater at the University of Colorado Boulder. “Yet the fallout from it is very emotional, involving violence against women, deprivation of resources, scarcity of food, contamination of water, poverty for children — these are huge things that stir a real emotional response for people.”

Using the arts to inspire an emotional connection to and a deeper understanding of a difficult subject is the idea behind a series of events at CU-Boulder Oct. 1-6.

On Oct. 2, New York-based Armitage Gone! Dance will perform the brand-new work, “Fables on Global Warming,” at Macky Auditorium. The piece, which premiered Sept. 24 at the University of Illinois, Urbana, uses fables from Greek, Chinese and American Indian culture, dancers in elaborate animal costumes and puppetry to explore the modern conundrum of climate change.

“For a long time I’ve wanted to do something on global warming, which is such an important topic,” says “punk ballerina” Karole Armitage. “But I wanted to do something that was emotional. Not didactic, not gloom and doom, but something that has an incredible, enchanting sense of nature and its beauty and generosity.”

Armitage, who was nominated for a Tony Award for her choreography of the recent Broadway revival of the musical “Hair,” also will present a master class (open to the public for observation) on Oct. 1 and give a talk on climate change as an artistic inspiration.

On Sunday, Oct. 6, Inside the Greenhouse — an interdisciplinary program at CU-Boulder focused on creative climate communication — will present “Climate Wise Women,” an interactive event to engage students and members of the public in story-telling about how climate change affects people in the real world.

Constance Okollet, a peasant farmer from Eastern Uganda, and Ngozi Onuzo, a youth organizer from Nigeria, are part of the international Climate Wise Women organization, which connects women community leaders from around the world with schools, universities and other groups to exchange stories and illuminate problems caused by climate change.

“Climate change impacts poor women the most, people who have done the least to cause it. These women are coming here to bear witness to their own stories and get people to share their own stories,” says Osnes, who met Okollet at last summer’s Rio+20 gathering.

The two women will tell their own stories from the University Theatre stage and encourage members of the audience to relate how climate change has affected them.

“We are all climate wise,” Osnes says, noting that residents of Boulder County found themselves in the midst of a catastrophic, climate-related event when a record-breaking flood swept through the area Sept. 10-13. “This kind of event certainly increases our solidarity with others who are experiencing extreme weather.”

As part of a week of climate-focused programming on campus, Bernard Amadei, professor of civil engineering and founder of Engineers Without Borders, also will give a talk aimed at lay audiences about the role of science, engineering and technology in sustainable human development.

“It’s really cool that so many of these events are taking place in arts buildings at the University of Colorado,” Osnes says. “We are using the arts to communicate climate change.”

 

Read the whole story, and see the full schedule of events at the Colorado Arts & Sciences Magazine website.

 

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