How Can Art Approach the Environmental Problems?

By Yu Funahashi.

These days, the environmental problems are getting more serious around the world, such as extreme weather, air pollution, rise in global temperature, and resource depletion. For example, UN environment (2018) pointed out that “Pollution kills more than 9 million people every year - that’s roughly one in six deaths worldwide” Also, the environmental problems cause social problems. Harper (2016) described that “It has become clear that ‘social’ problems are intimately connected to ‘environmental’ problems: environmental problems have been largely created by human actions and by neo-liberal global capitalist societies.” From her point of view, we can understand that ‘environmental’ problems and ‘social’ problems mutually affect each other. To solve the environmental problems, we also need to consider the global impact of social problems.

The research by Burke et al (2015), “If future adaption mimics past adaption, unmitigated warming will reduce average global incomes with 23% by 2100” (Burke et al, 2015). It means that the increase in global temperature widens inequality around the world. There is a growing recognition of the necessity to deal with environmental issues. Although many countries address the serious challenge of these problems, it is difficult to rapidly solve them because of the clash of interests in a globalized society. According to UN environment (2018), “Even with the pledges made under the Paris agreement, global temperatures could still rise by up to 3.4℃ this century” It could be said that it is not easier to put the agreements, strategies, and policies into action than we expect. However, we should continue to tackle environment-related issues, cultivate the environmental partnership, and find a solution to these problems.

There are various ways to approach the environmental issues, but I will focus on one; how can art approach the environmental problems. Even though it might be hard to imagine that the relationship between art and environmental problems, art can create opportunities for people to face the harsh realities of environmental issues and turn their attention to the outside world. In addition, art offers them people first glimpse of understanding the environmental problems and represent a first possible step toward moving into action to these problems. Roosen et al (2018) argue about climate change and art:

Organizations like Cape Farewell (www.capefarewell.com) have stimulated artists’ interest in climate change by bringing together artists and climate scientists aspiring to create both a new climate science and new forms of art. Its founder, Buckland (2012, 2013), coined the phrase ‘climate is culture’–meaning that climate change is the product of our culture, but also that culture is a means to shape the future. He claims that ‘art has the power to move people’ (Buckland 2013, 367) as well as the ability to articulate social and emotional trends through individual passions; personal stories and narratives may change people’s perceptions, inspire, and create visions for the future. (Roosen et al, 2018, p.2)

It could be said that collaboration with different fields, such as art and science, generate a positive impact on future mutual growth because it invites a new perspective and diversified viewpoints. As Roosen et al (2018) describes about the power of art, art has potential strengths to move the hearts of people and transform the way they think.

From 19th April to 24th April 2018, Pollution Pods by Michael Pinsky was displayed at the Quad at Somerset House in London. Professor Christian Klockner at Trondheim University in Norway, who lead a research project “Visual art as a tool to trigger behavioural change in the public – exploring the psycological mechanisms” and Cape Farewell, commissioned Pinsky to encourage this research. Through his installation, visitors can experience the polluted environments in Tautra in Norway, London, New Delhi, Beijing and Sao Paulo. (Safra, 2018) His installation revealed how serious air pollution is, and visitors might recognize the seriousness of air pollution.

Art cannot speak directly to people, however, art can come knocking on the door of their heart and make them think about global issues that require taking action.


A.C. Dinerstein (ed.). (2016). Talking About Nature: Ecolinguistics and the Natureculture Paradigm. In Harper, Z. F. Social Sciences for an Other Politics. (pp. 93-105)

Burke, M., Hsiang, M. S., & Miguel, E. (2015). Global non-linear effect of temperature on economic production. Nature 527, 235-239. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/nature15725

Cape Farewell. (2018). Featuring Michael Pinsky’s Pollution Pods. Retrieved from https://capefarewell.com/latest/906-earth-day-at-somerset-house.html

Roosen, L. J., Klockner, C. A., & Swim, J. K. (2018). Visual art as a way to communicate climate change: a psychological perspective on climate change-related art. World Art, 85-110.

Safra, E.J. (2018). Michael Pinsky: Pollution Pods. Retrieved from https://www.somersethouse.org.uk/whats-on/michael-pinsky-pollution-pods

UN environment. (2018). Climate change. Retrieved from https://www.unenvironment.org/explore-topics/climate-change