The Daily Heller: Climate Change is Causing a Great Magazine

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Remember the 2004 Hollywood iceblock-buster The Day After Tomorrow? My god, that was a intense Winter movie. There had been sci-fi films about inconceivable climate disruptions before that, but they all felt like well-packaged fiction. We were assured that should such an anomaly happen, there’d be billions of years before we’d have to move to high ground. Audiences were never too cold/hot-and-bothered but were instead calmly assured that time and space were on their side (atomic war being our biggest “real” fear).

Well, the days of melting polar caps and radical weather fronts are now getting real and realer since planet Earth’s caretakers—in business and politics—have become dumb and dumber. The facts are in and the science is verified that if greenhouse gases, carbon emissions and the human errors that foster natural upheavals are not controlled, we’re not going to be in Kansas anymore—in fact, neither will Kansas.

Through the monthly indie magazine subscription service STACK I was recently introduced to It’s Freezing in LA!, the smartly edited and elegantly designed London-based magazine that scares the bejesus out of me.

Published biannually, it walks the razor’s edge between science and activism, inviting writers and illustrators from a variety of fields to share their views on how climate change (and its falling dominoes) impacts all our lives.

“We want to help untangle the environmental tensions and choices that humanity must navigate by platforming as many different perspectives as we can find,” state its editors.

I contacted the primary crew—editor Martha Dillon, deputy editor Jackson Howarth, art/co-creative directors Matthew Lewis and Nina Carter—top among an impressive roster of contributors, to collectively discuss this refreshingly written, conceived and art directed, intriguingly titled magazine. Their answers are fused together below.

I will say this: If we’re headed for disaster, the ratio of sensitive graphic design and illustration to chilling science helps to focus our attention.

What is the origin of the periodical? 
We started in 2018. The core team all worked on climate and ecology in our respective jobs, but there was little crossover or dialogue between fields. It was just before XR and Greta [Thunberg], and the renewed attention to climate in the mainstream in 2019, so we were all desperate to find reading that went into detail on climate, and connected it to the other issues our peers and colleagues were talking about: social justice, polarization, capitalism …

We realized a magazine was a perfect format to pin some of these conversations down. It invites lots of voices, it changes over time and it can be permanent and shared (rather than another tab to close or link to leave unopened). We’d also all done a bit of magazine or editorial work before, so as a team we felt able to make a tiny print run of hand-bound issue 1s. And people seemed to like it!

This is not a typical lifestyle magazine but it is about life and graphically it has style and personality. Does how it looks represent your editorial aims?
Our written content has always been aware of a polarization in climate communication between science and activism, so in the design, too, we have tried to find an accessible middle ground. Our design reflects on this by combining scientific visual elements with bold colors and an eye-catching visual identity. We also reference the design language of counter-cultural zines to reference the activist history of environmentalism. In all our issues, we feature a graphic motif through the pages that is derived from a different environmental pattern: maps of the earth’s temperature heating, microscopic images of ice cores that show global carbon emission patterns, smoke patterns from climate-exacerbated wildfires. The design of each magazine is this mix of information, accessibility and visually pleasing outcome.

This issue we looked at images of different pollutants flowing and dispersing. We use different scales of pollutants (from oil flares to microbes) so we were also very interested in the fixed, satellite perspective of Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of Ten films as a reference. The perspective offers accessibility, by flattening the view for clarity, with interesting and unexpected visual outcomes, by abstracting recognizable forms.

In the illustrations, we look for work that is approachable and humane. We want to center the text and ideas in the piece in real people and real spaces.

You have a pretty deep masthead. Where do you find your staff members?
We are a broad editorial team of activists, writers and everything else. We all work in other fields when not collaborating on IFLA!—as engineers, designers, lawyers and more. So we often find writers and illustrators through the people we meet in our “other” worlds. But we also find people through other climate projects we enjoy, through social media, and through other activist groups we work with.

One design decision you made and carried out from front to back cover and all stops in between is the phosphorescent green color. It represents various hotspots and unsafe zones. These swaths of green add up.
There has been conscious decision-making behind the green and blue graphics. We collected far more of these images than there was room to show so that there were plenty of images to select the most striking outcomes from. In this way they have been very intentionally curated. We think that there is something intriguing about the interplay between information and curated visual appeal in images about climate destruction. How we choose to tell a story affects the way it is received, understood and responded to.

How has the public response been to the magazine?
As we have essays that cover a mixture of topics (from art to politics to science), we get a broad range of responses. Some readers are also activists and engaged in their own work; they often get in touch with writers to continue a conversation, or absorb the articles in their own work. 

Others are people wanting to find out more about climate and get more deeply involved—we often hear from them that they find it a strangely uplifting read, given we make no effort to be “positive”! We think that’s because so often climate is treated with anxiety and distance, whereas we embrace the depth and try to untangle it bit by bit, which helps people have something to grasp. 

And often, we just hear from lots of like-minded people with ideas and drive to tackle the issue, which is how we’ve grown, and which gives our team a lot of hope.