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Stacking the deck for sustainability

ASU initiative seeks to engage students, young artists and activists to shape ecologically just futures

Sustainability cards

July 20, 2021

Scientists have been sounding the alarm on the climate crisis for nearly three decades, and we still face major challenges. A group of Arizona State University educators are reaching out to youth for solutions.

“Scientists have warned us that the planet’s systems are dangerously close to irreversible tipping points. Children and youth are well aware that we live in environmentally precarious times and that they face an uncertain future,” said Iveta Silova, professor and director of the Center for Advanced Studies in Global Education at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “Yet, schools and universities continue to reproduce the hierarchical ‘man over nature’ relationships in an ongoing pursuit of economic growth.”

She believes this requires a complete paradigm shift and that our very future survival depends on our capacity to make this shift.

Which is why Silova is participating as a research director for a new ASU initiative called “Turn It Around! Flashcards for Education Futures,” a card deck that calls for climate action and ecological justice. ASU and the Artists’ Literacies Institute, with the support of UNESCO’s Futures of Education initiative and Open Society Foundations, are creating this card deck to present to policymakers and global leaders at the 2021 United Nations COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

The goal is to engage students, youth, artists and activists to reimagine the role of education in shaping more sustainable and ecologically just futures, expressed in artistic ways. In this instance, youth are leading the creation of a deck of 40 to 60 flashcards that will display climate crisis-inspired artwork. The artwork will be on one side of the card while the other will offer motives, actions and facts for policymakers to guide their decision-making.

“Art is essential to reimagining education and how we think about sustainability. We will need to harness all of our creativity to address the challenges we are facing; we want to move young people in that direction,” said Adriene Jenik, an artist and professor with ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, who is the creative producer on the initiative. “The cards will not only be given to policymakers but will also be used as pedagogical tools by teachers at any level. The idea is to provoke classroom discussions about addressing the climate disruption.”

She added the cards will also be translated into French and Spanish. They'll be available online through a dedicated website and linked to social media for a wider engagement and dissemination of the work.

Jenik, whose current research spans “data humanization” performances, ECOtarot readings and experiments in extreme experiential learning, said she’s been impressed by what she’s seen.

“The ones who have submitted entries so far are very amazing young artists and they have strong feelings about the topic,” Jenik said.

That sentiment could apply to Saiarchana Darira, a triple major in global management, peace studies and psychology with a minor in sustainability, who has been working as an assistant producer on the initiative since March.

“I didn’t even realize that our planet was in a climate emergency until I came to ASU and took a class in sustainability,” said Darira, an ASU senior graduating in spring 2022. “It’s so heartbreaking that many people my age may not know this is even a problem. What’s also sad is that youth often don’t get heard when it comes to policymaking.”

And that’s the beauty of this initiative, said Ann Nielsen, associate director of the Center for Advanced Studies in Global Education.

“We are leaning into youth for their passion, wisdom and insight about how they can think differently about this issue because clearly our generation is not doing it,” said Nielsen, who is a researcher on the initiative. “This initiative is doing something powerful and meaningful and we’re hoping youth can help policymakers reenvision education necessary for our future survival.”

Artists who create artwork and written submissions chosen for the card deck will be paid for their contributions.

So far, the initiative has received close to 100 entries from around the world and are looking for more. People can send their art and written submissions at the project’s website: The deadline to submit is July 23. They can also stay up to date with the project on social media: Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. 

Top photo: A collage of submitted artwork from around the world for the "Turn It Around! Flashcards for Education Futures," a new initiative headed up by Arizona State University. Courtesy of Saiarchana Darira.

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