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UCI Rally to Fight Climate Change With Art Falls Short of a Revolution

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The University of California, Irvine held a Day of Climate Action festival at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts last Friday night, joining 60 campuses nationwide in a day of support for climate justice. About 40 people showed up to UCI’s Day of Climate Action, with most of the attendants being staff and organizers. The theme of the climate change festival was the importance of student involvement.

The sparsely-populated event marked UCI’s contribution to the Climate Reality Project’s first annual Day of Climate Action, a day on which campuses nationwide united in hosting events on October 2 in a show of solidarity for environmental awareness. According to Climate Reality spokesperson Hal Connolly, the 60 campuses including UCI, UCLA, Harvard and Yale hosted events on Friday in an attempt to draw attention to Climate Reality’s online “Road to Paris” petition. Activists were urged to sign their support for the U.N.’s decision to finally reach a “universal climate agreement” against carbon emissions at the 21st annual U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is taking place in Paris this November.

UCI’s event was spearheaded by second-year MFA dancer Amelia Unsicker, who worked for months to organize an event which would add a revolutionary twist to UCI’s involvement in the Day of Action. Unsicker hoped to incite student interest in climate change by using her love of performance art to add entertainment value to the event. The day’s lineup featured poets, interpretive dancers, painters and musicians among professors and speakers all trying to put an artistic spin on the hard-science issues.

“With the Day of Climate Action, I’m trying to use the arts as a transformative tool for communication and progress in sustainability,” Unsicker said. “I want to bridge the gap between art and science at UCI and on the subject of climate change as a whole.”

Speakers throughout the event stressed that changing cultural attitudes and improving communication is key in garnering interest in the cause of climate justice. Science professors stood at the front of the courtyard before rows of empty chairs to insist that the U.N.’s delay in taking climate action is caused not by their lack of ability, but the lack of widespread interest in the cause.

“The technology to reduce carbon emissions exists,” said UCI Earth systems science professor Julie Ferguson during a speech at the event. “What we need isn’t just science and technology, it’s artists and journalists – we need to get better at communicating the human tragedy of climate change to people. That’s where we’re going wrong as scientists.”

Another speaker, UC San Diego professor Ruth Wallen, described the lack of interest in climate change initiatives as “a cultural deficit in our ways of thinking about solutions.”

Wallen went on to outline ways that culture and art have made tangible impacts in the realm of climate justice. She told the story of a colleague, Aviva Rahmani, and her “Blued Trees” project, which garnered intrigue earlier this year for its revolutionary application of eco-art. Rahmani used nontoxic blue paint to mark musical notes on hundreds of trees in New York slated to be destroyed as part of a pipeline installation. Rahmani called the collection of note-covered trees “a symphony,” which, according to the Visual Artists Rights Act makes the string of trees protected under copyright and illegal to chop down. Rahmani and the Spectra AIM Pipeline have been entangled in legal feuds over the land since February.

UCI’s unique art-based Day of Climate Action was a laudable attempt to fix a major cultural awareness problem, but the event’s disappointing turnout underscores a need for UC Irvine, twice ranked #1 in Sierra Magazine’s annual list of most environmentally sustainable colleges, to set a better example when it comes to student involvement in sustainability awareness.

“Here we are, considered the greenest campus in the nation,” Unsicker said after the event. “There should have been a much larger student turnout.”

Despite the attendance issues, Unsicker’s novel spin on imbuing climate science with culture is at the forefront of a cultural shift in climate action, which according to her is crucial.

“We’re at a point now where we have to let our voices be heard,” she said with finality, “because if we don’t promote sustainability now, we won’t have a future.”