If you’re wondering about the origin of those enormous, funky globes that appeared downtown last month, the answer lies with a Jewish environmentalist from Chicago who is passionate about promoting local solutions to climate change.
Wendy Abrams is the founder of “Cool Globes, Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet,” a public art installation that has made its way around the world since its launch in 2007, including stops in Jerusalem, several European cities, and in the United States from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. Pittsburgh is its 20th stop.
Each of the 30 globes that are in the Pittsburgh exhibit represent a different solution to climate change, and each was created by a different artist. The exhibit opened in June and will be on display in Market Square, PPG Plaza and Gateway Center through early October.
Abrams was inspired to create the project in 2005 after participating in the Clinton Global Initiative conference, when all those involved were asked to take action to help combat climate change.
Abrams had spent the previous five years advocating for climate change legislation and was disappointed with what she saw as the governmental leadership’s lack of progress on the issue as a result of yielding to public opinion. She realized that to make a difference, she would have to “engage the public,” she said.
Inspired by a parade in Chicago, with “quirky public art on the sidewalk,” she thought that by putting large, colorful globes outside, people would be “forced to stop and take notice. And the symbolism is, we have to take notice of climate change, because it is right here in front of us,” she explained, speaking by phone from her office in Chicago.
Each globe depicts a different solution to climate change — rather than the problems climate change presents — showing that “the solutions are right here in front of us as well,” she added.
Many of the globes, which each weigh more than a ton, are from the original 2007 Chicago installation, with others coming from the various cities on the exhibit’s tour, including three created by local artists.
“The new globes that were done by the Pittsburgh artists I thought were extraordinary,” said Abrams. “One, by Lindsay Wright that is in Market Square is a tribute to Rachel Carson, with a quote, and talks about the connection between organic farming, eating organic foods, and how that has an impact on sustainability.”
The globe created by local sculptor Ashley Kyber and her students speaks to the impact of people working together as a community to foster change, Abrams noted, and the globe by Katy Dement — a mosaic with fragments of mirror — indicates the power of self-reflection to find solutions to climate change.
Abrams reached out to the City of Pittsburgh last year to inquire about bringing the globes here, although Pittsburgh was not initially on her radar.
She started thinking about Pittsburgh when, last year, “President Trump said, ‘I don’t represent Paris, I represent Pittsburgh,’ and the mayor of Pittsburgh responded by saying, ‘FYI, we’re not just a coal town and a steel town, we’re all about renewables and we are about innovation and technology,’” she recalled. “That really struck me. I didn’t think about Pittsburgh as a renewable energy town or an innovation town.
“I thought, ‘we have to bring the exhibit to Pittsburgh,’” she continued. “The purpose of doing the exhibit is to brag about the good things that are happening locally, and I just think that Pittsburgh has a lot to brag about.”
A friend put her in touch with the PNC Foundation and the Heinz Endowments, which were eager to support the project, and within one day of reaching out to Mayor William Peduto’s office, Abrams had the green light to bring the globes to the Steel City.
“Of all the cities I’ve been working with around the world, they were so warm and friendly and helpful which was such a joy,” she said.
“Cool Globes offers a message of hope and resiliency that is what Pittsburgh is all about,” Peduto said in a statement. “I encourage everyone to visit the globes and learn more about what you can do to help combat climate change.”
Creating Cool Globes is part of Abrams’ commitment to “tikkun olam,” said the mother of four, who sees the issue of climate change as something “personal.”
“This is my children’s inheritance,” she said. “Their world is going to be compromised, it’s just a matter of to what degree. And that makes me so angry, especially because — although I don’t know how to cure cancer — I know how to solve climate change. And we’re not. And there is a ticking clock attached to this problem.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.