Climate Stories Collaborative hosts second Climate Stories Showcase

Christine Dudley, A&C Reporter

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In the comic book “Fry,” a boy meets a brook trout turned mer-trout. As the boy befriends the brook trout turned mermaid, he notices the trout are suffering from rising water temperatures and increased sedimentation in the water.

Senior sustainable development major Alex Payne’s comic book is one of many projects in the Climate Stories Showcase that uses creative mediums to get people talking about climate change. The Climate Stories Showcase will display student from 30 different classes at the HOW Space on April 5-10.

Sustainable development professor Laura England said the conversation around climate change over the past few decades has focused heavily on science, policy and politics. About 70% of Americans are concerned about global warming, but only 36% of Americans discuss global warming at least occasionally, according to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. England said telling climate stories can change that.

“Stories, in all their different creative forms—whether it’s visual arts, performance arts, actual stories—can engage people because stories can be relatable,” England said. “They can activate our empathy in a way that data do not. Stories can…empower us to move in a different direction or a different trajectory that we’re on right now.”

For her comic book, Payne said she needed to “work with simple, big concepts that are easy to share.” Rising temperatures, chemical pollution, algae growth caused by fertilizer runoff and sediment increases due to damming threaten the brook trout, the only freshwater species native to eastern U.S. Payne focused mainly on the rising temperatures harming the species. Payne wanted to depict the brook trout in an engaging way for readers, so she drew them as merpeople. Payne said making the trout look more human-like makes it easier to empathize with those creatures, which then convinces the reader to think about climate change.

The Climate Stories Collaborative, the organization behind the Climate Stories Showcase, started two years ago. In October 2016, journalist, playwright and historian Jeff Biggers presented on telling climate change stories through creative media at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference. England said because she and other faculty were so moved by Biggers’ presentation, they invited him to hold climate change information sessions at App State in February 2017. Faculty from the College of Fine and Applied Arts then formed the Climate Stories Collaborative in spring 2017. England, theater professor Derek Davidson and art professor Jenny Carlisle co-facilitate the collaborative.

“We wanted to form a group that would take this sort of general concept of using creative expression in all of its forms as a way to broaden and deepen the climate conversation and grow climate engagement on our campus and our community,” England said.

Fifteen classes from the College of Fine and Applied Arts created climate art for the first Climate Story Showcase in December 2017 and drew a crowd of about 300 people. England said for the second showcase, they wanted to include classes from all academic colleges and move it to the spring so they could showcase projects from the academic year.

“It’s been really amazing to see that right now faculty in 23 different academic units are engaging in various ways,” England said. “It’s not something that they’re required to do. They feel moved to do it because of the level of concern we have about climate and what it means for all of our futures.”

England said the two requirements for the projects are a focus on climate change and a form of creative expression. Otherwise, the professors can tailor the projects to their course objectives.

Inspired by the work of artist Jill Pelto, geological and environmental sciences professor Marta Toran assigned her Science and the Public students to create paintings that use the shape of climate science graphs and depict the implications of that data. England said this was a bold move on Toran’s part because they are not art students, but they created amazing paintings, which they will display in the showcase.

Anticipating another large crowd, England, Davidson and Carlisle spread out the events over four days. The opening reception on April 5 is from 5-8 p.m. For more information about the events, visit faa.appstate.edu/events/climate-stories-collaborative.