Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) Takes on Climate Emergency

Climate Change: Inspiring Action continues through June 25, 2023

by Kate Enderlin

“We can solve climate change . . . It’s not all doom and gloom! That’s why the Earth figure is holding up a golden circle — to show viewers the greener future we could have if we helped out and started changing the way we live for the better.”

     -Artist Jada Mensah, whose work is featured at the PEM exhibition

The PEM’s Climate Change exhibit “brings together dynamic contemporary art, hands-on experiences and inspiring works by youth artists” to galvanize visitors to take action in the face of this global emergency. It hopes to use creativity to help us overcome our feelings of helplessness and work toward a sustainable and just future for all.

In a recent visit, I noticed that the exhibit asks important questions, which SAFE members could easily answer. But many of the attendees probably have not considered these issues and their connection with climate change. For example: a table with eight or nine square blocks with pictures of different food choices invites the visitor to pick them up. I pick up the apple (best choice of the group). The block is light. The amount of CO2 produced to make the apple is revealed under the block. The banana block is a little heavier. Shipping bananas from tropical islands releases more CO2. The cheeseburger is the heaviest item and the largest CO2 polluter. The not-so-subtle suggestion: we can make a difference by changing our diets.

As I proceed through the exhibit, there is incredible artwork, videos and more interactive projects. 

As I proceed through the exhibit, there is incredible artwork, videos and more interactive projects. At one computer screen, I have a choice of visual art, film, interactive activities, and multimedia presentations including music, poetry, and prose. Youth from Massachusetts and around the world have created the offerings. I am intrigued by the depth of understanding and the eloquent way they explain climate change issues and the need for action, along with a sincere sense of hope. 

The exhibit reminds me of my Walks for Water in the early ’70s in upstate New York. Lake Erie had been declared dead, and we could no longer swim in Lake Ontario. Two Great Lakes were severely polluted. I thought back to my feelings of urgency as well as my “we can fix it” determination. It took longer than we expected but eventually Congress passed the Clean Water Act.

Massachusetts Audubon has a Youth Climate Leadership Program. SAFE may be too small for this type of program but we could invite some of these youth groups to our actions. The viewpoints, creativity and energy of young people will inspire us. It may also help young activists to know that some people over thirty understand climate change and that we are here to assist them.  

PEM states: “The goal is for each of us to move beyond our fear and feelings of helplessness and make informed choices to take positive steps forward. Collectively, as a growing community, we can take actions that will help lead to a climate-stable and environmentally just future for all.”

Hope shines throughout this exhibition! The exhibit certainly made me more hopeful. And belonging to SAFE provides an avenue for those positive steps forward. 

Note: The PEM exhibit is free for Salem residents.

Kate Enderlin is a member of the SAFE board and the North Shore node of 350 Mass.