Meeting Climate Change with Art: The Intersection of Race

This week starts with a particularly heavy subject – The intersection of race and climate change.

So, I’m going to jump straight into it with a fantastic Ta-Nehisi Coates excerpt shared to me by our fellow artist Cassidy Klein. The following is from Between the World and Me. Read it! This excerpt is too powerful to abbreviate.

“… Plunder has matured into habit and addiction; the people who could author the mechanized death of our ghettos, the mass rape of our private prisons, then engineer their own forgetting, must inevitably plunder much more. This is not a belief in prophecy but in the seductiveness of cheap gasoline.

Once, the Dream’s parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmitting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion in plunder with no known precedent. And this revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of humans but the body of the Earth itself. The Earth is not our creation. It has no respect for us. It has no use for us. And its vengeance is not the fire in the cities but the fire in the sky.

Something more fierce than Marcus Garvey is riding on the whirlwind. Something more awful than all our African ancestors rising with the seas. The two phenomena are known to each other. It was the cotton that passed through our chained hands that inaugurated this age. It is the flight from us that sent them sprawling into the subdivided woods. And the methods of transport through these new subdivisions, across the sprawl, is the automobile, the noose around the earth of the earth, and ultimately, the Dreamers themselves.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me)

… Now that is writing that leaves me speechless… 

Coates articulates the deep spirit that is at play in climate change. It is that same spirit that pushes Black Americans into poverty and much worse. It is that same spirit that dawned a white hood when it murdered and tortured men women and children in the perverted name of “justice”.

There are two additional realities we must acknowledge as artists:

1) People of color are currently affected far more by climate change.

2) As the situation gets worse people of color will likely take the hardest hits.

Air pollution affects 92 percent of the worlds population – yet it is not evenly distributed. Areas with high concentrations of racial minorities and people or lower-income are most likely to experience air pollution.

Heart disease, lung cancer, and acute respiratory infections spike and contribute to deaths in highly polluted areas.

Gil Scott Heron gives a powerful expression to these disparate realities in his song, Whitey on The Moon (Spotify) (Youtube).

How can we speak hope while fully recognizing the pain and despair of this situation? 

That question is for you to wrestle with as an artist.

We don’t want to turn this into a naive and oversimplified Pepsi commercial, but we do want to speak hope where hope is due.

I’m drawn to a few songs meant to speak hope into the Black American community specifically. These songs give hope, but it isn’t a lofty kind of hope. The hope they sing of has weight to it.

Curtis Mayfield’s We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue (Spotify) (Youtube).

And of course, Sam Cooke’s Powerful A Change is Gonna Come: (Spotify) (Youtube).

Or, Aretha Franklin’s AMAZING cover of A Change is Gonna Come after Sam Cooke’s death (Spotify) (Youtube).

For a more contemporary story of hope check out this Civil Eats article Black Farmers are Embracing Climate Resilient Farming. It was only a matter of time before I would bring things back to agriculture.

How can our art bring us together across such seismic divides?!

I’m drawn back to two James Baldwin quotes, both on pain:

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain.”


“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world. But books taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive”

Maybe pain is the key. Art can do wonders to express pain.

Hopefully, sharing these pieces of art can help inspire you. 
Let’s have a special thanks to Cassidy Klein though for sharing that AMAZING quote!!! If you think of anything worth sharing let me know!

Here are a few areas around race and climate change to dive into if you’d like to explore more with a google search:

Pollution and the public health of minority communities

Waste Management – Where do we build our landfills?

Environmental refugees

Infringement of indigenous lands and deforestation

Food deserts and lack of local organic produce

Native food sovereignty

Native seed sovereignty 

Indigenous water rights

Polluted water supplies in poor communities of color (e.g. flint)

Or, use this article as a launching off point into the wonderful world of veganism, Baltimore is at the Vanguard of a National Black Vegan Movement.

(This post has since been combined with content from ‘The Space Before Definitions’ and ‘An Introduction to form a larger story on Medium).

Meeting Climate Change with Art: The Space Before Definitions

This post was originally part of an email list with a group of like-minded student artists, but I turned it into a blog post so more people can have access. Enjoy!

One of the big things I will be doing with this email is sharing art that either points us in a cool direction or makes you think.

For this week, I chose a film that represents a particular spirit of this project. Let There Be Light directed by John Huston. Click here for the full 57 min film on youtube, courtesy of the US National Archives.

This film has nothing to do with climate change, but there’s something important for us in Let There Be Light. It’s a documentary produced by the US Army following a group of “emotionally wounded” soldiers through rehabilitation returning from World War II.

Today we all have a pretty good word for this issue – PTSD – but, the word PTSD did NOT exist when John Huston made this film.

It was a film before definitions!

John Huston didn’t come from a word and look for a story that fit. All Huston knew was that soldiers were being severely damaged in more ways than just the physical, and Huston couldn’t ignore it.

He couldn’t ignore the flesh and blood experiences he saw.

Climate Change is the largest challenge humankind has ever encountered. It is big, It is full of depth, and to an extent it’s mysterious. We need art that can push our boundaries on climate change. 

Ten years from now we’re going to have all sorts of new words to talk about climate change, but the road to those new words is built on the art. 

So, we do what artists do best. We focus on the stories. This is my challenge: Find those real-life stories of climate change. Bring it down to the basic level if you have to. What’s your story with climate change? What’s your roommate’s story?

Hopefully, this gives you something to think about.

Deeper Dive Into Sustainability: One thing artists said they’d like from me is more educational information on climate change and sustainability. So, coming from the opposite side as Let There Be Light, maybe your art will come from research and go from there.

This week I’m focusing on an intersection of climate change that I’m particularly passionate about…Food and Agriculture.

Food is fundamental to human life, and the way we make the types of food we eat is fundamental to many of our problems. Here are some of my favorite resources:

Civil Eats Somehow, someway, there’s a news publication dedicated exclusively to “Food Justice”. I actually love Civil Eats. I’m on their weekly email list. 

They have all sorts of interesting articles ranging from “California Farmers Face a Long Road to Recovery from Wildfires” to “Craft Beermakers are Banding Together and Brewing for Good”.

Rodale Institute Rodale is the biggest name when it comes to organic agriculture in the US. They pioneer TONS of amazing research on the power of organics to improve crops and our environment. I HIGHLY recommend checking them out.

“The Raiders of The Lost Crops” (NPR) – This team of international researchers raced against the clock to collect seeds from wild relatives of common crops. This story is a great introduction to the world of biodiversity and the hunt for climate-resistant foods.

(This post has since been combined with content from ‘The Intersection of Race’ and ‘An Introduction to form a larger story on Medium).

Meeting Climate Change With Art: An Introduction

The following series is adapted from a set of weekly emails I’ve been sending out to AMAZING student artists while a student at PLNU. I’m sharing them here so people can easily access old ones, and because I think this is too important not to share.

Why Am I Doing This?

This project began with the framework of 2 developing two art shows on PLNU’s campus (April 2nd and April 24th, 2020), but this is about more than a couple of art shows.

I think Climate Change is the largest issue humankind has yet to face. It’s like nothing we’ve ever met before, and artists have a unique responsibility to step upArt creates meaning, and we’re desperately in need of meaning here

We’ve all seen protest posters and murals that say “Save The Planet”. I love those. I think they’re great, but… We need more than that. This group is about pushing our boundaries. We need art that hasn’t been created yet. We’ll create some things that don’t quite work out, but that’s part of the process.

My focus is on Artists. Art shows are cool, but I’m looking for something more important. I want YOU to leave here confident in your ability to create art that articulates those deep challenges of climate change just a little better than you did before

(This post has since been combined with content from ‘The Intersection of Race’ and ‘The Space Before Definitions’ to form a larger story on Medium).