“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Thoughts on Global Warming and Art

Herewith some thoughts I've been sharing with Judy Natal on art and global warming. Art that addresses global warming must get outside the box of simply pitching global warming as if it were some kind of product (yuck-- you probably know what I mean). The problem isn't about some new but recognizable thing. This affects everything in the world and it involves being very big about things that can make us feel very small: the fact that we're "inside" it for instance like Jonah in the whale, and the fact that it's humiliating huge and long term (and tiringly so, from a self-interested point of view). So "The Big Picture" here (the title of Natal's upcoming panel in Chicago) means something quite disturbing, disrupting our normal categories of here and there, home and away, inside and outside and so on. Global warming, in other words, is a gigantic entity, on my view, like a huge alien being, inside whose belly we find ourselves. This is not cool (to say the least). For example, reality now becomes very claustrophobic. There is no "away" because we know that whatever we do has some effect. Ultimately this is very healthy if we can integrate it into society. But I think we're at the first stages of grief right now (denial, anger). I think that the kind of "Big Picture" thinking your work suggests to me is precisely to help us humans over the first phases of grief about this. It's funny I was just talking in the gym to two guys who happened to be climate scientists, and perhaps this would be a good anecdote to start with, since we were talking about the terrible rain here in CA and whether it was related to the tsunami, which must have scooped up quite a lot of El Nina in its path through the Pacific. Of course then we have earthquakes as a product of global warming since the changing pressure due to warming water at the bottom of the ocean creates nonlinear dynamics down there... Then there's the little question of scale: 7% of global warming effects will be around 100 000 years from now. One of the scientist guys said "the trouble is, how do we integrate this knowledge into society?" To which I replied "Yeah that's the big question isn't it?"

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