Youth express climate fears, hopes through art

·3 min read

Less than two years ago, Abby Neufeld and her friends were part of the global youth movement demonstrating against climate change. It was then Neufeld realized that she cared too deeply about the cause to simply sit on the sidelines. Since then, she’s helped create a digital space for youth to share their messages.

“The climate issue is so intersectional. It hits housing, it hits social justice, the pandemic - we want to explore all of that,” said Neufeld, a co-founder of The New Twenties, a writers’ collective and magazine aiming to shape discourse around climate issues.

The online publication provides young people with an artistic outlet to express their voices in a more creative fashion. They launched in January 2020, just before the climate movement was sidelined due to the pandemic, and have been able to direct some of the passion generated by the climate protests online.

The website publishes a variety of different art forms and writing ranging from performance events, poetry, and non-fiction to reviews and artwork.

Through topics such as plastic-free sports drinks from ancient Rome to Alberta’s intention to privatize provincial parks, the goal for Neufeld and company is to discuss environmentally-based topics in a more reasonable manner than the current discourse while showcasing the struggles of young people.

Neufeld was motivated to start the website by what she felt was increasing anxiety surrounding the climate crisis and the lackadaisical actions by policymakers. For Neufeld, who lives in Toronto, part of the intention around creating an art-based setup was to differentiate her site from other types of climate information often disseminated through research, journalism or large theatrical movements, which she dubs “disaster porn."

“We wanted to fill in the middle of the spectrum, to give an honest depiction through art of what it was [like] to live in this time,” she said.

Creating a platform to allow for artistic expression was key because Neufeld and company feel contemporary art has not adequately captured the climate change movement and art is a powerful communication medium.

From a room filled with several dozens during their pre-launch party in Dec 2019, Neufeld was amazed at the amount of support they have since received. After a few months, their platform grew larger and even in its infancy, reached parts of the world she hadn’t anticipated it could.

“It was humbling when writers expressed interest to work with us, and not just local, but we have writers that are international,” said Neufeld, who noted that they’ve got two Americans, a Brit and Indian as part of the writing team.

Because art is subjective, organizers wanted to provide resources for tangible activism viewers could follow after viewing a piece.

With several of the art and think pieces published on the site, there is a “solution” laid out to combat the challenges faced in the climate crisis.

In Neufeld’s eyes, there is no turning away from the impending climate crisis and with that comes anxiety and fears for many of her generation and younger. For her, it’s important to ensure that voices are being heard and people have a place where they can speak their mind and let their virtual paint brushes paint the picture of a world on fire.

“[Our generation] has big existential issues...I think a lot of [young] people are finding value and meaning in doing work that they feel is important,” said Neufeld.

Ahmar Khan / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National Observer

Ahmar Khan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer