Confronting Climate Change on Canvas: The Art and Activism of Diane Burko

Burko_Matterhorn Icon Series

This article appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Roots and Branches - a newsletter produced for women forest landowners in the Women and Their Woods network. To read the entire article, sign-up to receive future newsletters, and find archived issues, visit


This past fall Delaware Highlands Conservancy staff attended the Schemel Forum—a symposium centered on cultural enrichment and community education—at the University of Scranton. The focus of the day was Environmental Immersion, with presenters including Conservancy Board Member Dr. Michael Cann concentrating on topics like sustainability, environmental economics, and climate change. Though the discussion of these subjects can be rather polarizing, the conversation about global climate change is currently at the forefront of the scientific zeitgeist. The speakers all delivered unique perceptions on the topic, informed by their diverse professional experience. One presenter in particular tackled the theme from an unusual perspective—as an artistic medium. 

While some would say that relationship between art and science is more like lines that parallel—existing side by side, but never truly connecting—for artist Diane Burko, these two worlds are inextricably linked. Her body of work brings together the disparate fields of climatology and classical painting and illustrates in vivid hues the struggles facing our warming planet.  In an interview with the PBS special Movers and Makers, Burko explained the motivation behind her work: “What I’m interested in is melding information with aesthetics; melding data with reality, but with beauty. I enjoy learning about the world, and sharing it.”

For the past thirty years, her body of work has focused on geological phenomena. From the Matterhorn to the Grand Canyon, sweeping mountain vistas, vast glaciers, and volcanoes, have all served as inspiration. It was a desire to return to earlier works and compare the changes in landscape over time that started Diane on an intercontinental odyssey of environmental activism. Rather than painting from reference images made by others, Burko is dedicated to capturing her own. 

In her World Map Series: From Glaciers to Reefs, Burko has added depth to her visual storytelling by overlaying her paintings onto Landsat maps. This juxtaposition of fine art and scientific documentation captures the viewers’ attention and makes the technical information more accessible to the audience.  The work is gigantic in scale—the World Map Series is 56 feet long—which helps to engage the viewer into the work. It is a confrontational approach, but one that makes a lasting impact on those who see it.

Diane has published two books of her work Endangered: From Glaciers to Reefs, and Diane Burko: Glacial Shifts, Changing Perspectives, both highlighting the drastic alteration of the landscape due to warming global temperatures. Her latest work is a time-based series of lenticular, or lens-like, media. These pieces are dynamic—the fluidity of change captured spectacularly through the medium of pouring paint. Each piece is attached to a light box and moves and flows like the ocean before the viewers eye. The immersive works of Diane Burko bring the stark realities of climate change to light, taking the audience along to bear witness to the alteration of our planet.

To learn more about the work of Diane Burko, visit her website at: