Photo by Lee Pellegrini

Leonardo DiCaprio and Pope Francis may not be two names one would ordinarily link together, but both provided inspiration for Brigid Rooney ’17 in creating her “eARThproject” currently on display in O’Neill Library’s First Floor Gallery. The exhibit incorporates NASA global climate models with photographs of environmental degradation and destruction.

An earth and environmental studies major, Rooney freely admits that she was in tears while viewing DiCaprio’s documentary “Before the Flood,” which focuses on climate change and essentially sparked her idea of creating the exhibit. She also was moved by Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’

Laudato Si is subtitled ‘On Care for Our Common Home,’” says Rooney, a Wilton, Conn., native. “We are called as Catholics and human beings in general, to be stewards of this earth and this is something we are failing at miserably right now. 

“When it comes to the environment, I think advocacy is one of the most crucial aspects of fixing issues that we are facing. I wanted to create a project that would help inspire awe in others over how incredible our Earth is. I felt like I could effectively use the privilege of my education to become an advocate for the environment in unique and creative ways.”

The NASA models in the eARThproject exhibit depict aerosols emitted by human activity, swirling sea patterns, cloud formations, global precipitation and other phenomena. “I wanted to expose the wider population to these images that usually only scientists look at so as to gain some understanding of the complex processes that seem very abstract when you’re looking at day-to-day weather,” Rooney says.

Among the photos are two showing destruction from hurricanes Sandy and Katrina and another of a polar bear with a reduced body mass – an effect of climate change – meant to bring a “relatable quality” to the science, Rooney says. Off-putting or sad though some of the images may be, she felt it important to provoke a reaction among viewers, one that might inspire them to be active in environmental issues.

Rooney grew up sailing, living for months at a time on a boat with her family. It was a truly formative experience for how she relates to the natural world – a world for whose wellbeing she now fears.

“Climate change affects everything about our lives, from what we eat and drink to where it is suitable and safe to live, and even extends into matters of public health and national security,” says Rooney, who following graduation will work at an environmental consulting and urban planning firm.

“If one person on campus is compelled to think about the connections between anthropogenic activity and climate change and how inextricably linked we are to the environment in which we live, I feel that this project will have succeeded.”  

Following its display in O’Neill, Rooney’s eARThproject will be used at the April 21 Earth Day Fair to be sponsored by EcoPledge and the Office of Sustainability.

–Siobhan Sullivan / University Communications