Imagining a Better World

Could art be what eventually solves climate change?


Photo credit: Nick Saracino

Dr. Mika Tosca presents to a class about climate science.

At the top of a website, in bright yellow lettering are the words: “We can build a better world, we just need to imagine it first.”

The site belongs to climate scientist, activist and humanist Dr. Mika Tosca, as she describes herself later on the website page. Tosca preaches that we need to be creative with our approaches to one of the biggest issues of our era, climate change. She writes that sometimes the answer doesn’t always lie in engineering and science. According to Tosca, the key to solving climate change could be where we least expect it–in art.

During the week of November 7, Francis Parker School was able to hearing Tosca speak at a Morning Exercise, followed by a smaller gathering in the Harris Center that was open to the wider community.

Mika Tosca has been interested in the climate since childhood. “When I was younger, I was really into the weather,” she said. “I would measure how much snow had fallen and record it on my computer.” 

As time went on, she wondered how she could turn her interest in the climate into a career, and that came to fruition in graduate school at the University of California, Irvine. “When I got there, I started researching climate change and climate science.”

After college, Tosca worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA. “I got really interested in how I could apply my learning and my knowledge of the climate to these big problems,” Tosca said. 

Tosca was initially exhilarated by her work but decided to make a change. “I started to become a little bored, and I knew I wanted to teach and do something interesting,” she said. Tosca eventually landed in Chicago, “I took a position at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I got to teach science to art kids,” Tosca said. 

“Right now with climate change, it’s not too late to solve this problem,” she said “But first we need to think of solutions beyond what we think is possible even if it’s so outlandish.” 

“The reason I focus on art is because art is very good at touching us and reaching our imagination,” she said. 

In 2015, the Paris Agreement was passed to keep the earth’s rising temperature below 2 degrees Celsius. Upon more scientific information, it was revised and the new target for global warming was set at 1.5 degrees Celsius. “There is a general consensus that between 1.5-2.0 degrees Celsius is where we need to cap things to prevent catastrophic climate change,” Tosca said.

“In terms of what policies we have implemented, we’re headed for about 2.6 degrees of warming so we’re not actually that far off but still in the catastrophic area,” she said. “We still have some work to do but it’s down from 5 degrees of warming, which is what it used to be.” These cynical numbers, she explains, are what scare young people into thinking that climate change is set in stone when in fact it is not. 

“Young people are feeling this anxiety and we have to reach them and give them hope,” Tosca said. She posited that young people in our world often are more open to change if they can only see that it’s possible. “We have to convince people that fighting climate change doesn’t mean giving up your way of life, it just means changing it,” she said.

The “young people” at Parker agree. “Dr. Tosca’s speech heightened my awareness of the climate and that if I believe change is necessary and possible, it can be achieved,” sophomore Lincoln Hamid said. 

“Dr. Tosca changed my perception of climate change for the better. I learned that I have to start taking action when it comes to saving our planet,” sophomore Jasper Chazen said.

“The world still has a lot of work to do,” Tosca said. “The media makes us feel like we can’t overcome it, but we can. We can always change course. It’s never too late.”