In a world full of problems, climate change may be one of the most serious. Taking the long view, climate change has the potential to upend American society as we know it.

“A Dress Made from Waste” by Hannah Slone of Kennebunkport was one of the winners of the inaugural Tidal Shift Award in 2022, recognizing young artists exploring the climate crisis. The Portland Museum of Art is accepting submissions for this year’s award through Feb. 28.  Photo courtesy of the Portland Museum of Art

Like many people my age, I spend a great deal of time thinking about the future. Our global communities and ecosystems face unprecedented uncertainty and opportunity. We are redefining the power structures that have been idealized throughout our lives. We are rethinking the hierarchies that disregard the values of respect, interdependence and connectivity integral to collective well-being. We embrace climate action by questioning the norms that too often make our leaders’ pledges of sustainability empty and unrealistic.

For my generation, climate change must be met head on – with honesty, intelligence and determination. It is encouraging that my home state of Maine recently received more than $7 million in federal funds to minimize the impact of sea-level rise and other environmental damage brought on by climate change. At the same time, Gov. Mills has announced more than $5 million in new state grants to create green energy jobs, among other initiatives.

But social activists can do even more, and one of our top priorities is educating others. Public awareness is still lagging in many states. After all, about one-quarter of Americans don’t believe in or are unsure about the climate crisis. When tens of millions of U.S. citizens can’t even identify the problem or openly ignore its existence, finding a solution becomes an uphill battle.

Which brings us to one underrated solution: art. In all of its many mediums, art is perhaps one of the most creative and meaningful ways to respond to the climate crisis. It is communicative, empathetic, and emotional. It fosters dialogue, leaving space for reflection and education without polarizing us.

I witnessed the transformative power of art last year, as an inaugural juror for the Portland Museum of Art’s Tidal Shift Award – the annual prize for young artists who address the climate crisis through their artwork. Along with my fellow jurors, Samaa Abdurraqib, Darren Ranco and Dave Reidmiller, we were overwhelmed by the passion and courage of our region’s next generation of artists. Prizes were awarded to middle school, high school and college students who explored climate change through fashion design, science, sculpture and more.


Tidal Shift artwork is a welcome reminder that hope is not lost, and I look forward to seeing what our young artists develop for this year’s award, which is accepting submissions through Feb. 28.

In many ways, the time to act was yesterday, but it is too late to be pessimistic. The Tidal Shift Award is a perfect example of a call to inspire becoming a call to action. It is an opportunity to be part of the solution. I invite all young Americans to be part of that solution. I hope that hundreds of young artists will submit their work in the coming weeks for their chance to win the Tidal Shift Award prizes and make a real difference.

Those who admire art understand its wide-ranging benefits – it doesn’t just mean a pretty picture on the wall. Young artists in particular are leveraging their interests and talents to make statements about the looming threat of climate change. Not only that, but they are proposing new ways to mitigate the threat at hand, giving a whole new meaning to social activism.

Climate change is one of America’s most serious problems, but it’s still not too late for a tidal shift in environmental action.

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