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Haiku and watercolors help oceanographer Greg Johnson ’85 explain climate change

On the topic of communicating science, I like to quote Bates biologist Will Ambrose.

He once said that if the only people who understand your research are your academic adviser and your parents, then you’ve not done your job as a researcher.

Enter oceanographer Gregory Johnson ’85, who, as reported by Reuters, The Seattle Times, Salon and other media outlets, has used haiku and watercolors to communicate deftly the daunting concepts of climate change contained in a massive 2013 report.

Above is a watercolor that oceanographer Gregory Johnson '85 created, along with haiku to illustrate various concepts about climate change. (Copyright Gregory Johnson)

This watercolor by oceanographer Gregory Johnson ’85 is among 19 images with accompanying haiku that explain climate change. This one suggests that global warming persists despite the cooling effects of clouds and dust in the atmosphere. (Copyright Gregory Johnson)

Johnson, a physics major at Bates who earned a doctorate at MIT, is a major contributor to that report, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis, serving as a lead author of the chapter on climate change and the oceans.

At more than 1,500 pages and 8 pounds, the report paints the complete picture of climate change. But it’s not easy reading, and even an MIT-trained researcher like Johnson was looking for ways to reinforce, in his own mind, the report’s major ideas.

As Reuters explains, Johnson was home sick one day, going over the report’s “Summary for Policymakers,” itself a dense, 28-page slab of ideas. “I thought that if I tried distilling these ideas into haiku, maybe that would help fix them in my mind,” he says.

He eventually created 19 watercolor/haiku pairings that can be seen at Sightline Daily, published by the Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based environmental policy think-tank.

“Scientists can also be poets.”

In Sightline’s story, writer Anna Fahey notes that Johnson has created a “work of art [that] doubles as clear, concise, powerful talking points and a compelling visual guide” to understanding climate change.

“Condensing to this degree is not how scientists typically operate,” writes Fahey. “But, as Johnson proves, scientists can also be poets.”

As a disclaimer, Johnson emphasizes that the haiku and watercolors are a personal project, and don’t represent his employer, NOAA, or the international team of scientists responsible for the report.

A selection of Johnson’s haiku and watercolors are below. (All images copyright Gregory Johnson.)


We burn more carbon,
air warms for decades — but seas…
for millennia.

full_11_response-croppedweb


Recent air warming
slowed by volcanoes and sun?
Seas sequester heat.

Copyright Gregory Johnson


Forty years from now
children will live in a world
shaped by our choices.

full_14_the_future1-cropped-web


Arctic will warm most,
and land more than sea — too hot.
Still, choices matter.

full_15_future_air-croppedweb


Wet will get wetter
and dry drier, since warm air…
carries more water.

full_16_water_meets_air-croppedweb


Fast, strong action
will reduce future warming, but…
rising seas certain.

full_21_future_reprise-cropped-web



3 Responses to “Haiku and watercolors help oceanographer Greg Johnson ’85 explain climate change”

  1. deborah j barnes (@fashionRIP) says:

    This is so wonderful to see. J Campbell said artists need to tell the new stories (paradigm change “leaders”) and i said yes to his advice and it is so cool seeing others doing in kind.

    I came from fashion, marketing and web design to degree in Enviro Science and communications- I was appalled at how little most people see reality and accept the manmade construct (ego manifesting) in its place.

    Humans have the ability to change their beliefs about who they think they are and why , etc..aligning with the super reality of Earth systems will help us see ego in new ways and this will allow us to heal and move towards more love, less fear. This is such a better vision than “all fall down.”
    thanbk you, thank you,
    d

  2. Ruth Hirsch says:

    Lovely. Thanks for sharing this. Looking forward to seeing more from you!

  3. James says:

    Fantastic!

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