Linda Cheung’s nonprofit is working to use technology and art to combat climate change

Linda Cheung of Before It's Too Late sits in front of artwork by Eric Karbeling: @erickarbeling. Photograph by Nick Garcia.
Linda Cheung of Before It's Too Late sits in front of artwork by Eric Karbeling: @erickarbeling. Photograph by Nick Garcia.

Linda Cheung hadn’t traveled internationally much before she started her career. The 31-year-old social entrepreneur and founder of a climate-action prototyping lab called Before It’s Too Late had grown up cycling in and out of poverty, moving from New York to California to the Midwest.

Cheung’s father had owned restaurants, but his passion for computer programming, technology and entrepreneurship led him to start a small software business. “I adopted his personality,” Cheung said.

Studying business at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania presented an opportunity for Cheung to travel to Guatemala. “It was my first time leaving the country,” she said. “I was living at an orphanage and seeing these kids who had such small worlds and small lives, and it really opened up my mind to how people around the world live.”

Linda Cheung. Artwork by Paul Kettlewell: @odobostudio. Photograph by Nick Garcia. NICK GARCIA

Linda Cheung: Finding Her Cause

Understanding other cultures became an integral part of Cheung’s early career and research. She decided to go back to business school, this time choosing MIT. “I wanted to dedicate my life to a real cause,” Cheung said, “and by spending a lot of time traveling and getting to know other cultures, I realized that climate change was my cause.”

A self-proclaimed “systems-based thinker,” Cheung believed that climate change was the social issue that we were running out of time to solve. Her research at MIT led her to an internship at NextEra Energy, the Florida-based company whose subsidiaries include Florida Power & Light. The experience left Cheung aware that she needed to take a grassroots approach to effect real change.

In founding Before It’s Too Late, an organization dedicated to spreading awareness and finding solutions for climate change through art and technology, Cheung is applying innovative storytelling techniques to engage and galvanize local support.

“We’re not putting the pressure on our elected officials, and all these different people are confusing us,” she said. “I’m intrigued by the power of art and storytelling and narrative-building, because no matter how rational and intelligent we are, we are very emotional creatures.”

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Linda Cheung with polar bear artwork by Jose Salaicez: @salaicesart. Photograph by Nick Garcia. NICK GARCIA

Small Actions, Big Impact

Before It’s Too Late uses virtual and augmented reality and Miami artists to educate and inspire people to get involved in their local governments. The Miami Murals project, for example, brought together local artists and technologists to design climate-focused murals that would come to life when viewed through a smartphone. The Miami Hacks Climate Change Hackathon had artists, coders and designers tell stories about climate change, highlighting the people, neighborhoods and environments currently being affected.

Like any upstart nonprofit, Before It’s Too Late’s greatest challenges lie in fundraising. But Cheung’s longterm vision is to develop an augmented reality app that leads users to art and inspires them to take small actions to combat climate change. “Not only is it a beautiful artistic project, but you’ll also be using the app to convert and measure real actions,” she said.

“The whole idea,” Cheung added, “is that we can prove our collective power to combat climate change is worth something.”

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