Glacier plaque
A plaque placed at the former location of the Icelandic Okjökull glacier, which melted away in the warming climate. (Photo credit: Rice University / Wikimedia)

Signs of climate disruption are easy to see these days, from fires, floods, and melting ice to displaced people and mass political protests.

But let’s look for a minute at some signs about climate change. Created and responded to by artists and writers, these signs aim to raise our emotional and imaginative awareness and help us truly grasp our situation.

  • Marking the demise of the Icelandic glacier called Ok, a plaque bearing a short, poignant text by Icelandic writer Andri Snær Magnason was set out in a memorial ceremony this past summer. Addressed directly to the future, this sign got lots of press attention, including these two especially good stories: “The Funeral for Iceland’s OK Glacier Attracts International Attention” (Elza Houhassira, Glacier Hub) and “How to Mourn a Glacier” (Lacy M. Johnson, The New Yorker). The two anthropologists who helped spark this project have also made a short documentary film about it; here is the trailer.
  • The small signs being posted in New England as part of the Remembrance of Climate Futures are similarly in conversation with times yet to come. The events they commemorate have not yet happened, but might; they are the future speaking to the past that is our present, our now. See this story by Michael Casey at the Associated Press: “Artist uses ‘historic’ markers to raise climate awareness.”
  • In Miami, America’s poster city for sea-level rise, murals accompanied by a virtual reality app function as signs about what is visible now, what is real and troubling but often hidden, and what better conditions might come to be. Here is a story from Outside Online about the murals, “This Beautiful Art Makes Climate Change Feel Visceral“; here is the website (where you can try the app long distance) of the larger project of which they are part, Before It’s Too Late.
  • Finally, here are two very interesting literary essays about a set of movable electronic highway signs spread around public spaces in New York City. They’re written by two writers who met because of these signs and then together visited each one: “Climate Signs” by Emily Raboteau (New York Review of Books) and “As We Approach the City” by Mik Awake (The Common).

Contemplating all these signs, we can think about others we might create ourselves. What message might you want to convey on a sign in your community? Who do you imagine responding to it, and how?


This series is curated and written by retired Colorado State University English professor and close climate change watcher SueEllen Campbell of Colorado. To flag works you think warrant attention, send an e-mail to her any time. Let us hear from you.

Topics: Arts & Culture