Brown Bear Feasts on Barnacles by Stephanie Harold

What’s Your ‘Local’ Superpower?

Climate change, global warming, superstorms, rising sea levels, burning forests, human migration…they all add up to a daunting sense of oppression, doom and gloom, and hopelessness. With such massive problems seemingly all around us, many struggle to know how to proceed, how to make a positive change, and how to engage. Following is one individual’s story and solution in overcoming some of today’s climate challenges. Hoonah, Alaska artist Stephanie Harold, owner and creator of Discovery by Sketch, shows us how harnessing one’s passion and hope for positive change, combined with a personal skill or talent, can give birth to that positive change. Think local. Think superpower. Using art as an icebreaker, Stephanie’s talents build bridges with Alaska visitors, allowing conversations about climate and the potential for climate action to follow. Here is her story (and how she uses her artistic superpower) in her words.

Hi! I am a sketch explorer — an artist, educator, and writer living in Hoonah, traditional territory of the Huna Tlingit. Working mostly in the field, I strive to give my audience an intimate experience with the places I document. I create landscapes, nature illustrations, and visual stories using pen and ink, watercolor, or color pencil. At Hoonah City Schools, I teach observational art skills as a way to explore our planet’s largest remaining temperate rainforest.

I also carry around a heavy burden of climate anxiety. This past summer I decided to see if through art, I could spark cruise ship passengers to care about the climate crisis. I already donate the bulk of my profits to organizations working for conservation of the Tongass, including the Juneau Carbon Offset Fund. Could I encourage cruisers who come to Hoonah’s Icy Strait Point to offset the carbon generated by their trip? That would at least help me feel less conflicted about the Point’s presence.

Welcome to the many tentacled conundrum. No matter how much we wish we aren’t, everyone is part of a larger system of carbon production. In Hoonah, tourism via cruise ship has been a net economic benefit. Icy Strait Point is a model for a successful Native-owned business. And the cruise industry, even as it spews carbon into the atmosphere, is a huge advertisement for the wilderness of Southeast Alaska.

As much as any of those passengers, I too value taking “trips of a lifetime.” Much of my field art happens on multi-month backpacking, kayaking, and biking adventures with my husband. Some are near home, but many occur farther afield. For example, we flew to Patagonia in 2019 and hope to return soon. My carbon footprint feels as large as any cruiser’s.

My first attempt to talk climate change with passengers came in June when I crewed on a whale watching boat. The boat owner said it was fine for me to sketch while we were underway. I imagined my art sparking micro dialogues, putting a creative film over the seemingly negative subject of human-caused global warming.

As I speed-painted the curves of swimming and breaching humpback whales, I tried to share with the guests the vulnerability of the mountainous Tongass. I wanted to help them understand that the acres of green velvet cushions rising out of ochre tide flat are essential in the fight against climate change. But I quickly felt uncomfortable broaching the topic: these people just wanted to see cool things while on vacation. And, quite rightly, the spouting whales, cavorting sea lions, and adorable otters consumed them. Because the marine wildlife is commonplace for me, I have the bandwidth to speculate about how climate change puts it all at risk. However, they focused on photos.

In July, I did an all-day demo and sales stand at Fishbone Gifts at Icy Strait Point. Owner Monica Savland hoped I would draw customers into the shop and be able to sell more of my work. Ah ha, I thought. A captive and undistracted audience. Renewable Juneau’s Juneau Carbon Offset Fund (JCOF) even made me a special QR code to place prominently on my table. I envisioned cell-phone-happy cruisers crowding around to log into the JCOF website.

My display actually worked — kind of. At times during the day, I found myself flooded with the visitors who didn’t have prearranged tours. I was able to talk about my field work process and my donation focus for my profits.

“Thank you for doing this,” said one customer.

“Oh, it’s so good that you are here,” said another. “Here’s ten dollars — can you give it to them?”

And, best of all, “I’ll get some extra cards because you are doing this for a good cause!”

However, reflecting on the ten hours at my table, it seemed a long day’s work to earn a few compliments and raise a very small amount of money. (And unfortunately, no one even tried to use the QR code because of poor cell coverage at the Icy Strait Point complex!)

How do we convince people to care, viscerally, about climate change? Facts don’t stir the emotions that caring requires—otherwise we would have started addressing this crisis long ago. As a teacher, my default is always to facts, but any scientist at the forefront of climate change knows that facts aren’t enough. And guilt doesn’t work, but rather turns people away from issues.

I decided that the point was just to have the conversations. Perhaps seeing such natural abundance and hearing about how much I love this landscape raised my customers’ awareness. Could all those tiny inputs add up to memories which change political choices and daily behaviors? It’s hard work, made harder by not seeing definitive progress or change. But at the very least, it’s a way to insert myself into climate work in a manner that recharges me rather than plunges me into more despair.

To see more of Stephanie’s fantastic work and to give yourself a great new source of art and gifts for all, visit her online at Discovery by Sketch. As Stephanie indicates on her site, all profits from the sale of her artwork support local organizations working to prevent climate change and protect Southeast Alaska’s unique environment and lifestyle.

Thank you, Stephanie! In our book, you’re a climate superhero!

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