OSU Prof Marries Science, Art to Battle Climate Change

Art and science are not typically involved in the same conversations, but artist and climate change scientist Dominique Bachelet is changing that. With two upcoming art shows at the Arts Center and Benton County Museum, this Oregon State University Associate Professor of Biological and Ecological Engineering is making an impact with her art.  

Dominique Bachelet has been involved with both science and art most of her life. Her father was a painter, and growing up in France, art is a requirement. When she moved to the U.S. for college, she continued with her passion for both.  

Bachelet first began hearing about climate change in the 1980s. Working with ecosystem models, she became interested in how climate affected processes such as photosynthesis. Bachelet learned most of the messages involving climate change were negative, but she believed there was more to the story besides doom and gloom.  

“We have to be prepared for both the challenges and opportunities,” said Bachelet. 

She also realized no one was reading the huge books or listening to the long lectures on climate change. People, she believed, are not driven so much by knowledge as they are by emotion. In her eyes, all of these extensive lectures and books were not making much of a difference.  

Bringing Hearts to the Conversation 

At a 2007 climate change conference, Bachelet tried something a little different: she hosted an art show alongside the conference. Seeing the reactions from the attendees, Bachelet came to the conclusion that art could be used to prove a powerful point and illustrate the real science behind it. But the paintings that were submitted to the art show were depressing and frightening; Bachelet knew there was another narrative.  

“It can pass a message of hope. We created the problem, we can be the solution,” said Bachelet.  

In her upcoming show at the Arts Center, titled, “What Will Nature Do?” Bachelet focuses on reminding people that nature changes just as people do. Nature will always find a way to take care of itself even if that means changing its landscape from mountainous forests to deserts. People become upset that nature is not static, even though we are the ones causing it to alter. 

“With the water levels rising, we will have new coastlines. It’s an opportunity for a second chance to manage them better,” said Bachelet. “We cannot restore that land. It has aged and changed just like humans do. As you age you are still you, but also something else. The mountains will still be there, just might not have snow on them.” 

Seeing Change in Daily Lives 

As a professor at OSU, Bachelet encourages her students to think about the ways climate change has affected humans’ dietary habits over the years. She is currently working on creating a climate change cookbook with her students.  

Bachelet asks her students to find a recipe for one of their favorite meals that has been around for at least 100 years. They examine the recipe to see how it has changed over time and how climate change has affected those alterations. In past decades fruit could not be bought out of season. Water was more plentiful. The environments where certain vegetables and fruits grow have been altered over time. In sum, Bachelet has her students study the climate’s impact on their favorite foods —  including how they will continue to change in the next 100 years.  

Bachelet does want to encourage people that small changes in their daily habits can help the planet. Simple things like buying fruit only when it’s in season and using a rainwater cistern to water your garden in the summer, buying things with less packaging all help the greater good. But the most important thing humans need to start doing?  

“We need to think of others and not just ourselves. We need to start using common sense and logic again when it comes to our resources,” said Bachelet.  

We as a society have the power to make positive changes for the world we live in. We can be more responsible about what we buy and consume, we can unlearn instant gratification, we can prepare ourselves for these new natural challenges such as wildfires, and we can start working as a team to make these positive notions a reality.  

By: Kayla Mosley