paintings about climate change and the future

We know about climate change and the projected future consequences on our children or grandchildren.  The present world trajectory will mean the catastrophic end of everything we hold dear.

We are in the grip of a system which has to be changed from outside as well as by us within it. Extinction Rebellion is a worldwide movement trying to make governments and the biggest corporations  act as our leaders to save human civilisation.

I was some months wondering about doing some painting until I thought of this in 2019 as a worthwhile theme.    The  paintings about human induced climate change are explained in the commentary below.

Scroll to the bottom to see the future.....

1.      The present - reflections on contemporary circumstances or events at the time of painting



The first picture shows a street scene in Brighton, 2019, but it could be any town or city.   This was the first painting I did after a break of about 50 years.  The car drivers are unconscious of the pollution they cause, and so are the passengers in the aeroplane.    Perhaps the mother and daughter are returning from an XR demonstration, or they can be taken as symbolic of the people.   In an echo of Greta Thunberg  (“When the adults act like children it is children who become the adults”)  it is the child who drags a banner that implores the government  to tell the truth about climate change.       Above the traffic light a CO2 meter shows the needle in the red zone for danger.     I decided where the needle pointed at the time  and  the point where safe becomes dangerous as follows:    the Paris agreement  in 2016 decided that a target of 350ppm  or  1.5 deg of warming (relative to  pre industrial levels)  should be treated as the upper limit. Humankind must avoid exceeding this..      At the date of the painting (late 2019) the level was approaching 400 ppm,  hence  humankind had entered the danger zone.      Passing by in the open topped car you can see the laughing figure of Boris Johnson , the UK prime minister.         Picture 2  is a detail of the "CO2 meter".


In picture 3 a man and grandson are on a motorway bridge gazing at the traffic.   The bridge is the M5 junction 20 roundabout at Clevedon,  looking south.    This is legally accessible by bike, though I don’t recommend it particularly with a child as it involves crossing the slipway on the motorway.    Viewers sometimes assume the pair are displaying the banner (the same one as in the first picture) to the motorists, but that isn’t the intention, for the message  ‘Tell the Truth’ is addressed to government.    In the centre a coach has a global warming or carbon dioxide meter on its side.  This is based on a tram in Freiburg , Germany, but with a difference that the tram shows the rising temperature over the past 100 years  whereas my  coach displays the current level of CO2 emission.   Again the gauge is in the danger zone, as described for picture 1.      As with the first picture the viewer must make up their own story about why the couple are there with the banner.

 The fourth picture takes the message direct to the Houses of Parliament in London, draped in sheets painted “Tell the Truth” .    The river Thames has risen and submerges  the lowest part of the building.   The co2 meter covers the clock of Big Ben.  The hour glass, always shown symbolically in the XR logo, is here more realistically depicted  showing the sand running out, hung over the tower of Big Ben.    This time the child’s placard tells government XR’s second demand “Act Now”.    Passers- by are seemingly not greatly interested. 

The clear blue sky of A New World  or "XR in lockdown” displays the magnificent few weeks we had in March and April  2020 with very little traffic and no aeroplanes because of the Covid19 pandemic.  Many people were out cycling and walking in the countryside.  Extinction Rebellion Bristol undertook to help deliver groceries and essentials to vulnerable people while campaigning and civil disobedience was on hold.  The view is of Hatherley Road, Bishopston , Bristol, viewed from its junction with  Gloucester Road, but the shops are altered.   The closed cafe on the right is in reality a traditional red and white striped butcher’s shop.  Banishing this was fitting, as meat consumption is a prime cause of the ecological crisis.    The little girl of the earlier paintings is in one window with the banner under her hand and the ACT NOW placard in the room behind her.  The boy is disconsolately sitting in a window on the right.    A campaign for NO Going Back got underway to try to persuade governments to rebuild to a zero carbon, pollution free and ecologically balanced world after the pandemic.   This got nowhere as the government bailed out the fossil fuel economy and encouraged a return to excessive consumption of resources.

World governments and powerful companies are leading the world to an unprecedented warmed world and encouraged a return to excessive consumption of resources.

“Starting a conversation” depicts a real happening in Clevedon in March 2021.  It was one of many such “protests of one”  promoted by Extinction Rebellion.  A man is sitting in the road with a sign: "I am terrified for our children and grandchildren because climate and nature are being destroyed

".  The object was to get people to take notice and start a conversation about why he was doing this.     A letter to the Editor in the local paper next week said   “Thank you for your front page coverage of the brave act by my friend Dave.on 1st May 2021 when, after much deliberation, he took the step of sitting in the road to demonstrate against our government’s lack of protection of the future of our children and grandchildren.  I was there on the day and helped ensure that Dave’s initiative made its point while minimising risk to the public.  The police were informed from the start, and Dave was ready, of course, to move straight away if an ambulance siren was heard. 

The kind reception Dave had from the people of Clevedon was touching.  One family applauded and gave Dave flowers. A person came out of the salon to give him a drink.  Many passers-by said thank you and clapped him.  Some people started directing traffic past, which I and another friend took over.      One man with his son and kept saying he wanted to get on with his day - but stayed the whole time.  Some passers-by or car drivers shouted ‘idiot’ or similar. One particular man shouted abuse initially, but ended up chatting to me about what should be done........ I hope Dave’s bravery makes people think about the future of the younger generation. There’s much criticism of governments of many countries for “pledging” now but pushing real action into the future for today’s young to deal with when the crisis will be much worse”.

My painting seemed to capture the comedy of the event - true this was there, but the subject was deadly serious.

COP26” is about the catastrophic world leaders’ climate change conference held in Glasgow in September 2021.  The 26th United Nations Climate conference.   Although the delegates recognised that the global maximum atmospheric  temperature increase had to be limited to 1.5 Centigrade degrees, the policies tabled meant a rise of 2.4 degrees - higher still if these policies are not put into effect.  In effect world leaders could not agree to save humanity from a catastrophic future, with the  suffering  and likely early deaths - whether from drought, flood, fire, or war - of our children or grandchildren.   The refusal of China, India and other nations to stop burning coal formed a large part of the stalemate.  The picture shows the conference venue (next to the Clyde) flooded by rising sea level, while in the background are power stations burning coal and oil.  In the foreground is a load of coal,  a discarded Extinction Rebellion vest,  a sinking sign of the Marshall Islands delegate who made an impassioned but unsuccessful plea for action to save her homeland, and a washed-up news vendor’s sign.

“Insulate Britain 2021” illustrates the campaign attempting to persuade the British government to put into place a programme to insulate homes.  British houses are some of the most wasteful of heat in Europe.  (This is the field I worked in before I retired).   It was evident 20 years ago that a massive programme, city by city, street by street, would be needed to reduce energy use  and hence CO2 emissions in winter.    The government did the opposite, making cutbacks on insulation programmes and cutting an improved standard for new houses..  Furthermore, many older houses will need to be insulated to enable heat pumps to be used instead of gas boilers.  The picture is a representation of a thermographic image of homes  in winter. The brightest colours are the highest heat loss.   The newspapers complain of the disruption to the public and never mention that the objective would save everyone costs now as well as the longer term hope of preventing the collapse of human civilisation.  Insulate Britain have acknowledged that the 2021 campaign failed. The government response was to silence the campaign rather than to listen to its demands, by attempting to make dissent illegal and imprisoning campaigners.       Insulate Britain is not part of Extinction Rebellion, though its members are quite likely to support both movements.

2.     Below -  the future we're hurtling towards --- 

and Extinction Rebellion and other activists are trying to prevent      

"Uninsulated Britain, 2031” draws on an image from the depression of the 1930s.   It shows what Insulate Britain try to prevent, particularly in terms of fuel poverty.  Already in April 2022, gas and electricity costs are set to rise by 54%, or £693 per home on average.   In the picture the media of 2031 reports on the hardship.  Ironically, if people cannot afford energy, homes won’t be heated and CO2 emissions will reduce.  Is that the way to achieve this? 

It is estimated that flooding will displace 20 million people from Bangladesh by 2050.  It has already affected many in this region, today.   CLIMATE REFUGEE CENTRE, BRIGHTON , painted in 2022, shows a future in which some Bangladeshi climate refugees make their way to Britain.  At this future time (say 2050) the painting shows government policy to be more open to refugees than at present, which is debatable.  (Of applications from Bangladesh at present only 15% are accepted.   The government is trying to criminalise refugees arriving in small boats and or push them away  through its Nationality and Borders Bill.  The House of Lords has just voted this down as I write in March 2022.)   Brighton is likely to be more welcoming than some other parts of the country.  Nevertheless the ominous presence of anti-immigrant vigilantes is seen in the left hand corner.  

To research this picture I looked at Bangladesh by Google Street view.    Street-view cameras often seem to pick quiet times, and the capital city of Dhaka did not look as crowded as it is reputed to be.   The streets looked quite pleasant and the people seemed relaxed.  There is indeed plenty of water, including water parks and water sport centres.     As I picked people to place in Brighton I felt I was displacing real people and sending them far away.  Just as will inevitably happen to them or their children.      

The latest UN climate change report, issued in February 2022, concludes “Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all”.   At present there is little prospect of humanity taking  global action to secure this liveable future.  In any case sea level rise is already built in because of oil coal and gas we have already extracted and burnt.  (This is depicted in my earlier painting, with carbon fuelled cars and an aeroplane in the same location).   Global annual oil consumption continues to rise, far outstripping the increase in renewables.     In Britain by 2050 “managed retreat” will be on everyone’s lips in coastal areas– meaning that low lying towns and villages will be allowed to flood permanently.


Autocratic Government” or “Protest not allowed”  illustrates a critical point in government reaction to anti-government protests - the use of the armed forces against its own citizens.  We hope this does not become reality.  But if current trends continue, over the 21st century human society and governance will be increasingly stressed by extreme weather, food and fuel shortages, lack of employment, reduced incomes, wars, mass migration, reduced longevity, and declining quality of life.  In 2019 the World Justice Project reported  an increase in world autocratic rule for the 4th consecutive year.   In UK the government is already in 2022 creating new laws to prevent and undermine protests, a pattern that is repeated elsewhere, supported by right wing media and corporations with incomes bigger than many countries.  It is quite possible that step by step the army will be used to quell protests by groups like Extinction Rebellion.   These protest groups plead governments to lead people away from the pursuit of growth and plunder of the earth’s resources, and take a different path to avoid the worse of the possible futures.    


The picture contrasts  with my contemporary 2019 picture when peaceful protest was still possible.  In the future of  “Protest not allowed” a single protestor discretely holds the banned XR symbol.   Perhaps she is at the head of many more protestors behind the viewer.  The houses of parliament are still the seat of government but are routinely protected by the army  from the unrest of the people.    

Two small details in the painting – the Thames has risen above the lowest parts of the building, which is now protected from flooding by a new concrete wall along the embankment.   The clock stands at ten to three – a reference to the Rupert Brooke poem.  But there’s no honey now for tea.  Bees have been exterminated by government approved pesticides.

"Tribal communities"

The atmosphere has now warmed over 2 C degrees, and increasing.  The world has not seen this in recorded human history.   The ‘new normal’ weather is now one continuous stream of unpredictable conditions that would formerly have been treated as individual catastrophes – extreme cold, followed by weeks of rain, followed by searing heat, drought,  fires,  then flood, then snow , hail, electric storms, and always blistering wind.  Food shortages follow ecological collapse and destruction of crops by weather.      People struggle to keep energy, water, transport and communications infrastructure working.  Illness and early death increase as medical services decline and new disease is prompted by the warmer climate.  One third of the world human population is on the move to escape unliveable conditions .   Under these pressures central governments collapse worldwide.  Human society rearranges itself into self sufficient communities.    The picture shows 2020s houses abandoned and being stripped for building material to build huts sheltered from the elements in clustered communities.    Lawlessness is high making it dangerous to travel.   Much major manufacturing has stopped.   Technology from earlier in the century is recycled and re-used.  Food is grown in the walled communes.  Windows from derelict houses are used to shelter vegetable plots.   Disused vehicles are piled to make the protective wall.  Guards patrol the entrance. In the bottom left of the picture you can just make out lurking outsiders hidden from the guard by a fallen tree.

Source material :  This is partly based on the Foresight Programme of the UK Office of Science and Technology written circa year 2000, “Tribal Trading” scenario.

 Survivors” -is this 80 years’ time?  The last aeroplanes flew and the last cars were driven some decades ago.   Much of England is permanently flooded.    The world human population will have declined by 90%, with billions of early deaths through disease, war, starvation or extreme weather. The equatorial region is too hot for humans to live there, but the British Isles are habitable.  

 The family in the picture are experiencing a relatively benign outcome.  In the abandoned van they store fire wood for cooking.  They are a short distance from their home shelter.  It’s a fine day.    Their clothing is remnants from the past industrial age.    The scene is based on the view of the Somerset Levels from Deerleap at the top of Ebbor Gorge on the Mendip Hills.  The local goats are natural survivors.   The vegetation on this higher ground shows the climate is similar to the south of France in the present day.

These young people are surviving because they were brought up with the ability to cope.   As children, they heard folk tales of people calling themselves Extinction Rebellion, who tried to stop the destruction of the old civlilised world.  


Survivors 2” was my second attempt at this subject.  Although I set out to depict  a threatening environment  the end result seems more like a message of hope for this surviving family.


“This report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a litany of broken climate promises.

It is a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unliveable world. 

We are on a fast track to climate disaster: 

Major cities under water.

Unprecedented heatwaves.

Terrifying storms.

Widespread water shortages.

The extinction of a million species of plants and animals.  

This is not fiction or exaggeration.

It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies. 

We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5-degree limit agreed in Paris. 

Some government and business leaders are saying one thing – but doing another. 

Simply put, they are lying. 

And the results will be catastrophic.” 


António Guterres,   Secretary-General of the United Nations,  4 April 2022