Combining science and art to shift our thinking and spur action in a changing world

(Story originally appeared on EarthLab website)

The Bloodline of Floriculture by Tyler Ung.

Tyler Ung
The Bloodline of Floriculture by Tyler Ung.

We’re living in the Anthropocene, or the epoch in which humans are—for the first time—the dominant driver of global change related to climate and the environment. As polar ice melts, sea levels rise, and storm and wildfire seasons get longer and more intense, climate projections suggest the Earth will be several degrees warmer by 2100. Although most Americans say climate change is an important topic, research shows fewer than half see it talked about in the media and just one in five discuss it with their peers. Science communication, or moving science outside the walls of academia, isn’t easy—but it’s imperative. Tyler Ung wants to play a role in that imperative.

Tyler is a 2018 graduate of the University of Washington’s Program on the Environment, a bachelor of arts offered through the College of the Environment.

He’s an artist and an academic—an atypical combination that may become more less-so as institutions, organizations, and individuals see the value of communicating science through both academic and cultural lenses. Tyler believes people practicing both disciplines within their traditional silos falls short in reaching the public, especially when it comes to contextualizing the precarious situations we face.

“In science, we’re taught to act inhuman to remain objective. On the other hand, art has been a method of communication since our ancestors could draw on rocks, but a common response to art is, ‘I don’t get it,” he said. “If we’ve got senators throwing snowballs, we know we have a gap in communicating science into public discourse.”

Recent UW Program on the Environment alum Tyler Ung.

Tyler Ung
Recent UW Program on the Environment alum Tyler Ung.

As an intern at UW’s Center for Creative Conservation, now fully integrated in EarthLab, Tyler developed a senior project focusing on the budding “sci-art” movement, a concept that bridges the science communication gap through creative expression. Working with Sara Jo Breslow, an environmental anthropologist and the Center’s program manager, he wanted to know if sci-art could truly increase environmental awareness, where and how it’s currently being employed, and to try his hand at creating sci-art.

Tyler developed three categories that sci-art efforts commonly incorporate to appeal to individuals’ hearts and minds. Based on Kathleen Dean Moore’s book Moral Ground, he looked at sci-art projects through anthro-centric, bio-centric, and human virtue-oriented lenses. That is, sci-art often speaks to people by appealing to their sense of moral obligation to future generations of humans, the Earth itself and all its creatures and/or compassion and preservation for oneself.

Digging deeper, he wanted to see sci-art efforts and opportunities around the globe. In addition to examining the Pacific Northwest, Tyler analyzed sci-art’s prevalence through two study abroad experiences offered through the University of Washington. He traveled to China with Program on the Environment Lecturer Kristi Straus, as part of her “international flipped classroom” partnership with Tsinghua University in Beijing, as well as spent time in Bangalore, India with UW’s Grand Challenges Impact Lab.

“China, India, and the US. heavily impact the trajectory towards a more livable future. They hold records as one of the biggest emitters, highest in urban population growth and most wasteful per capita,” he said. “This inspired me to examine and connect these three cities and countries.”

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Combining science and art to shift our thinking and spur action in a changing world