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Youth activist uses art as a tool to educate her community about climate change

Youth activist uses art as a tool to educate her community about climate change

artwork by McKenna Kelly

Youth activist uses art as a tool to educate her community about climate change

Christina Deodatis & Cassie Xu
|January 27, 2022

We are committed to engaging future generations of students at Columbia Climate School in discussions about climate change. Youth are the strongest voices for climate action and social change. We are committed working with them to have important conversations about the climate crisis.

We are creating a portfolio of precollege programs for youth learners. This is one way we do this. We will offer an online workshop titled Empowering you(th) for Climate Action this spring, which will be led by Laurel Zaima, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at the Columbia Climate School. Learn more about the Program offering available hereSign up now Info sessionJanuary 27, at 4:30 p.m. EDT

Our pre-college program is also being developed in this way: Columbia Climate School in Green Mountains. This program was offered for the first time in summer 2021. It was a campus-based program that lasted two weeks and allowed high school students to participate. Mobilize action, drive change, and mobilize the force of your actionsWe are responding to our warming planet. In 2022, we are planning two in-person summer sessions of the Columbia Climate School in the Green Mountains program, along with a new effort, ‘Columbia Climate Corps.’ These are small-group climate and sustainability programs designed for students interested in combining intentional travel with in-depth educational opportunities while experiencing a destination through the lens of climate change. To learn more about these opportunities, we will be holding an information session on February 3rd at 5:00pm EDT. Please click here to RSVP.

All these efforts bring together learners and faculty from Columbia Climate School to share knowledge, learn about cutting-edge innovations and ideas, and collaborate on projects that tap into their collective strengths.

All participants created action plans to help drive climate change conversations in their communities at the conclusion of our summer 2021 Green Mountains program. We are very excited to share an update that showcases how one of last summer’s program participants has responded to climate change in her community through a personal passion of hers: art.

McKenna Kelly, a high school senior and a native of California’s Bay Area, has seen the effects of wildfires for herself. Through the Green Mountains program, she has learned about many aspects related to climate change, including sustainability and psychology of climate deniers. McKenna chose to be a climate activist in her local community through her art. She also uses her art as a means of education. She creates pieces related to climate change by drawing inspiration from the news, climate projections and conversations with her peers.

McKenna has graciously shared some of the pieces she created this fall, which she plans to display at her school and local galleries.

artwork by McKenna Kelly

Title: Emissions

Materials: Acrylic paint, cardboard, pen

Description:  I wanted to play on the idea of polar bears stranded on melting ice in the Arctic from global warming and include the actual causes, greenhouse gas emissions. To represent electricity and transportation, I used a car and factories. The emission from these two sectors is what I had to show grabbing the polar bears and displacing them. This piece is on cardboard, and is hanging outside my AP Environmental Science class.

Inspiration: One of the first things to come up when someone searches ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ are polar bears stranded on melting ice. I wanted to use this image that often pops into people’s heads, but also display the causes.

artwork by mckenna kelly


MaterialsOils, coffee and paper

Description: I painted a house that was destroyed by the California wildfires. Also, I selected articles that conveyed the urgency and effects of climate change on wildfires. I tore off the edges of the articles, and toned them with coffee.

InspirationWildfires are the biggest effect of climate changes in the Bay Area. I have seen the sky turn a frightening orange, had to take days off school due to smoke, and had many outdoor activities cancelled. I wanted to create a piece displaying climate change’s effects on the worsening wildfires.

artwork by mckenna kelly

See Also


MaterialsOil, Acrylic

Description: This piece shows the danger of oil wells being within close proximity to residential areas in California. There are houses nearby and children walking by the wells every day.

InspirationCalifornia has no restrictions on oil-well buffer zones between homes, unlike other states. The effects of pollution from the well can be severe for those who live near it on a daily basis.

artwork by mckenna kelly

Title: Youth Activism

Materials: oil, acrylic, pen

Description: Greta Thunberg is a figurehead in youth climate advocacy. Her influence over the media and the inspiration that she spreads are remarkable. I added other symbols and words to the background.

Inspiration: Greta Thunberg inspired me when I first heard about her in the news. I hope to inspire others as I continue to learn and advocate for climate change. Education is one of the first steps. As climate change progresses, it is crucial that younger generations take action.

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