On 9th August, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a press release ominously headlined ‘Climate change widespread, rapid, and intensifying’. The IPCC statement painted a grim picture of what would happen in the likely event that global temperature reaches 1.5 degrees Celsius: rising sea level, unprecedented extreme weather conditions, drought, wildfires, etc. Interestingly, some artworks created more than a century ago — long before there was talk of CO2 emissions and global warming — provide a foretaste of what is happening today and what could happen in future in terms of climate change. It is as though the Past were mirroring the Future.

The following images are best viewed in full-screen. For the full text of the IPCC press release and an executive summary of the IPCC’s ‘Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis’, click here.

Heat waves

Heat, 1919
Florine Stettheimer (American, 1871-1944)
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

Drought and desertification

The spirit of the drought, c. 1895
Arthur Streeton (Australian, 1867–1943)
Courtesy of the Google Art Project

Wildfires

Mountain Fire, c. 1906-1907
John Singer Sargent (American, born Italy, 1856-1925)
Watercolour
Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

Crisis in drinking water

Thirst, 1886
William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825–1905)
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of WikiArt: Visual Art Encyclopedia

Rising sea level

Prout’s Neck, Breaking Wave, 1887
Winslow Homer (American, 1836-1910)
Watercolour
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Raging floods

The Flood, 1648–49
Michel Anguier (French, 1612–1686)
Terracotta sculpture
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pollution from ships

A Paddle-steamer in a Storm, c. 1841
Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775–1851)
Watercolour, graphite and scratching out on medium, slightly textured, cream wove paper
Courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Fuel fossil mania

Factory Smoke, 1877–79
Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917)
Monotype printed in black ink on laid paper
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

~ Barista Uno

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