Climate Illustrated - Issue Thirteen Interview

Marte Skaara & Michaela Koke @climateillustrated

Michaela Koke

Thank you so much for discussing the work you both do with us! Please introduce yourselves to our readers.

Marte studied journalism, meteorology, oceanography and human geography. Now she works as an advisor with the Norwegian Forum for Development and Environment in Oslo. Her family have a small farm on the west coast of Norway where she grew up.

Michaela studied environmental law and policy, and is now working in climate philanthropy in San Francisco, California. She grew up all over the West Coast of the US, but calls Seattle her childhood home.

The two of us met when we were doing an internship with the adaptation and resilience department in the United Nations Climate Change headquarters in Bonn, Germany. Marte developed the idea for Climate Illustrated with our supervisor at the UN and recruited Michaela to help with the project. Michaela collected the very first story for our project at the UN climate conference (COP24) in Katowice, Poland in 2018 from a pastoralist woman in Kenya.

Climate Illustrated collects personal stories from around the world on climate action and impacts, sustainable living, environmental justice, and social change and pairs the stories with colorful illustrations made by artists. We post these stories as a true collaboration between storyteller, our team, and the illustrators we work with.

Marte Skaara

You have created a beautiful collaboration on Climate Illustrated, what benefits do you see to the wider debate on climate change in using such personal stories and illustrations?

Our stories highlight the human - and deeply emotional - dimensions of climate change. Climate change tends to be discussed in technical and futuristic terms, but it’s about so much more than CO2 emissions, electrical cars and future impacts.

Climate change creates deep losses for people all over the world as you are reading this. There is the loss of a predictable future, the loss of faith in our leadership to handle the most pressing issues of our time, and the loss of clean drinking water and a reliable harvest. Our storytellers write about these losses and show how climate change is already affecting people’s lives both physically and emotionally.

It is clear that the poor in the global south will be the most affected by climate change. There are many people in the global south speaking up about climate action, but their voices are too often ignored. We want to be a platform where a diversity of voices from the environmental movement can be heard.

A crucial part of partnering with artists and pairing these stories with an illustrator’s colorful and creative interpretation is to give people hope and inspire action. It is much harder to act on something that feels so far in the future – the personal stories serve to call attention to the immediacy of what we need to do.

People act on their values, and hearing the “why” behind other people’s engagement in climate action helps put things in perspective. Through art and color, we wish to instill a little boost of hope for the future. This helps motivate people, rather than contributing to a feeling of powerlessness and uncertainty that can paralyze even the most engaged activists.

Has it been a challenging task getting people to speak about their personal experiences with the environment and climate change? What have been the most inspiring stories?

In the start we worried that it would be hard to get illustrators to help us, and believed collecting the stories would be the easy part. It turned out to be the other way around. We have to work very actively to collect enough stories.

The stories we post are personal, and those are not the easiest stories to come up with. Writing a personal story is a process requiring deep reflection, for which you need space and time to think. In our culture of production, making space for reflection can be challenging.

The most inspiring stories are about transformation, growth, and change. Some of our stories come from people who live or have lived in very polluted areas, and their story is about restoring that area or the resilience of that community in trying to make change.

Hearing about the resilience of the human spirit in these stories is incredibly inspiring. The other stories that are wonderful are when people realize they are not alone in this work, that even though it can feel like you’re the only one who cares about this, in fact millions of people around the world share your goals.

You both have an impressive background in environmental sciences, police and law. What do you feel has been the most crucial aspect of your education in pursuing the work you both do today?

Michaela: I was originally reluctant to get into advocacy – I thought I could best use my education to go into policy and that government action was the most effective way to work on climate change. I have realized through my education that we truly need systems change but that doesn’t happen by simply passing a couple of laws. Systems change happens through policy, yes, but also requires change in the private sector, our financial institutions, local government, etc. The throughline in all of this work is inevitably the individuals and organizations pushing for change. A crucial part of my education around climate change was realizing that the necessary large scale change (including policy) does not happen without activism and the actions of people.

Marte: “People are the solution”, my professor in human geography often said. She always insisted on the importance of the human dimensions of climate change, and her message really resonated with me. She made me want to highlight the people – their hopes, struggles, and actions. My background in journalism also helped shape Climate Illustrated. Journalism made me believe in the importance of stories and images to create community and inspire action.

What are your thoughts on Re-Wilding, and how we communicate the need to act quickly and decisively on climate change?

Marte: I always wanted the world to be wilder. I love the idea of Re-Wilding; it sparks my imagination. Where there is lawn I see meadows full of wildflowers, where there are parking lots I see gardens, where there is sprawl I see green areas with small islands of human communities that care for the land. I can imagine a regenerative future where humans take care of the land in ways that bring back wildlife that have been absent in the presence of pesticides, pollution and our continuous degeneration of ecosystems. Re-Wilding is not just about bringing back locally extinct species, but increasing the overall diversity and abundance of our flora and fauna.

Michaela: As someone who loves being in nature and outdoors but has lived primarily in cities, I always wish where I lived had more green spaces. I try to imagine a future where the cities that I live in look like they were built with nature as the guiding force. Rewilding also encompasses the idea of bringing back crucial species to ecosystems in order to put things back into balance – like the story of the wolves in Yellowstone National Park. I love hearing stories like these because it shows that even human-caused destruction can be tipped back into balance with a little help by utilizing nature itself.

Climate change communication is so tricky. It’s probably one of the most challenging parts of solving the climate crisis. That said, we obviously believe that one way to communicate climate change is to highlight the stories of people who are on the front lines whether those front lines are experiencing climate impacts, participating in a protest, or making conscious daily choices.

Being incredibly informed on matters surrounding climate change, what do you feel are the three most important things individuals can do inpursuit of a greener future?

  1. Eating plant based and local, minimizing waste and adding to nature by composting, divesting your savings from fossil fuels, and making your home all electric are some ideas for climate action. There is so much you can do as an individual that helps us all collectively signal what we want in the future. Explore what is meaningful to you, you don’t need to do it all.

  2. All individuals are also connected. Nurturing community in the age of individualization is in itself an important act. You could start a community garden with your neighbours! At the local level we have a unique opportunity to help build the future we want to see on a smaller scale, then be an example to the rest of the world. Cities and local government have a huge role to play in global climate action.

  3. Ultimately, the scale of the problem will require much more than any individual can do alone – it requires system change. But remember, together we are the system. When we change, we change the systems. Join a climate strike (digital or in person, when we can do that again), support global climate actions by donating money or time, and VOTE. And know that everything that you do on the individual and community level will help build a more sustainable future.

Handling climate change and creating a greener future can feel overwhelming. Do not shy away from difficult emotions such as feelings of loss, sadness and fear when dealing with climate change. Working through negative emotions prevent paralyzation, and meaningful action builds hope. Embrace your power to change the world, and take time to recharge because we’re in this fight for the long run.

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