Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wars, animals and climate change

Is it always darkest before the dawn?

Maine dawn

Since the last time I posted here, I came up from New York City to spend a couple months in Maine. Before I left, I completed revisions for my PhD dissertation text, "Trigger Point Theory as Aesthetic Activism," and since I've been here, a video as a trailer for that research and written but not yet published  an article reflecting on what resistance to environmental wars might look like. The trajectory of my thinking during this period has been all about what is the most effective response, as an artist, to escalating stressors? My last post was part of a thread of thinking since that I've published on FB and with colleagues in response to developments I've watched carefully in the world: complex patterns of continued weather extremes, migrations and conflict zones related to global warming.

How do we unravel complexity?

Drift Nets detail

What I want to know is, when does human logic become irrelevant? Where do I find the healing trigger point? This post is an exercise in exploring the edges of those questions.

Re: events in Palestine/ Israel. I can hardly bear to look. I cannot look away. Another reason to be heart sick. 

And then to try for understanding, I start with questions.

How much of recent military conflicts we see globally, but particularly in the Middle East now, have to do with biological imperatives- closer to lizard brain neurological conditioning and animal reflex in which human "logic" is irrelevant rather than strategic thinking about a common future- or is it simply that some people's fundamentalist strategic thinking is my anathema?

When war broke out again between the Palestinians and Israel this week (And it IS already war)  I was immediately in touch with friends & family in Israel. I imagine few people I know, also know many people in Palestine, and that knowing is even less likely in the even more ghastly situations in Syria or Iraq or even Egypt. So, for those of us outside those fields, it's hard to know the whole truth except that it's very, very bad. Of course, it is a terrifying situation for almost everyone and I'm concerned, as I'm sure almost anyone is, for everyone's safety and the regional stability. 

I do however, want answers to two questions I've been thinking about a great deal.

Since 2007, Dr. Jim White & I have been speculating about the geopolitical impacts of climate change, specifically how migrations of species, climates and peoples are contributing to global conflagrations. I anticipate that the Middle East is the tip of the melting iceberg of conflicts we can expect to see at the nexus between climate change, resource depletion, etc. All the thunder about religion, ideologies, etc just mask, in my opinion, lizard brain responses to stress. It's no accident that the most virulent Tea Partiests live in the hotter states. So here are my questions:

1. What is the research about animal behavioralism on exactly how animal self-destruction emerges under heat/ drought stress?
2. How can artists contribute towards quantifying (modeling) impacts of relatively small initiatives such as ecological art is capable of, on such complex situations? 
These are of course, somewhat rhetorical questions that others are working on as well as myself.

Yes there are crazies- on both sides in Israel-Palestine and so many other places. But as the parent of one of the murdered Israeli boys said, "I see no diff between the blood of a Palestinian boy or an Israeli boy." And yet, humans can still surprise us with compassion;

However, one can't dismiss patterns: Hamas's vow to wipe Israel off the face of the earth or the calls to kill Jews internationally or the rise of anti-semitism. If you don't call that collective, lizard-brain retribution, I don't know what is. This conflict is a monstrous situation with horrendous implications not just for the peoples that can't share this land but for many way beyond the borders of this hopeless conflict. Blaming either side at this point, except for the extremists, is just shallow, simplistic and counter-productive, adding fuel to an already raging fire. However, how much of that fire is being deliberately set and how much is grounded in inevitable animal responses to stress? How much is the deliberate manipulation of the inevitable? Where are the larger patterns?

My friend and colleague, the artist, Alyce Santoro shared a few links on topic:

can climate change cause conflict? recent history suggests so:
Climate change is world’s ‘gravest security threat’ – report - See more at:
Climate change is world’s ‘gravest security threat’ – report - See more at:
Climate change is world’s ‘gravest security threat’ – report - See more at:
climate change is world's greatest security threat:
So, let me deconstruct some specific manipulating of the inevitable, beginning with marketing  The Palestinians and the Arab world in general have been far more clever in their marketing & the Israelis far more naive, isolated and isolationists. 

But that doesn't define the issues. I persist in arguing that the real issues reflect far deeper, broader problems that are not regional, may not even be conscious and do presage terribly worrisome implications for what is coming in the next decades as more & more humans continue to compete for fewer & fewer resources with greater & great weapons of destruction in every sense of those words- psychologically as much as by missile strikes- under ever greater stressors. What is needed now is wise leadership from an eloquent and compelling voice and that is sorely missing The closest we have might be the current Pope but alas for the Middle East, his audience is neither Jewish nor Muslim.

The geopolitical marketing issue came up decades ago and has been an incomprehensibly disastrous lapse in judgement for the Israeli state. My hunch is that there's an odd combination of fatalism and self-righteous entitlement that has sabotaged any effective PR. The Muslim fundamentalist movement, on the other hand, completely grasped an opportunity to frame the arguments from the very beginning and have played them as skillfully as the American far Right leveraged & conflated religion, racism, right-to-life, individualism and guns to sell a corporate culture based on fossil fuels. Both the far Right in the West and OPEC/ Muslim Fundamentalism have had access to unlimited funds for think tanks to advance their cause from the sale of fossil fuels as the covert centerpiece of their respective agendas. That would explain the costly marketing campaign success. 

In terms of recent human history, how do I think we got here? In the sixties, Israel was an extension of St. Tropez. People still remembered WWII and so anti-Semitism and tolerance for it declined. The beaches were beautiful. There was no apparent conflict between Arabs & Jews. I was born in NYC but routinely spent time in Israel almost every year from childhood. My father had many Arab friends. In fact, that is the origin of my name. My real family name was changed because Stalin had sent my uncle to Siberia and my father tried to protect him by changing our name from Gabin to something more common in the Middle East. Then things changed.

In 1982, after the war with Lebanon I went back to Israel by myself and spoke to some of the Arabs I met casually and asked them what had happened. I will never forget a conversation with one taxi driver. He said one day, the Iranians started going door to door and telling people that if they didn't join the Intifada, they would be killed. Simultaneously, many ultra-Orthodox Jews were settling in the Israeli occupied territories who had no experience of or interest in living side by side with Arabs. The right wing began to rise again in Europe (it never really went away- I went to school in Europe and knew many Germans who would say in an argument, "Hitler was right.") and deliberate campaigns of anti-Semitism were financed out of Iran, etc. Of course, many settlers acted with arrogance & entitlement and the Israeli govt backed them to stay in power. A past of peaceful co-extence is now forgotten. The rest is sad, tragic history.

What I think began as a very smart (if, arguably evil) campaign coalition between OPEC & Muslim Fundamentalists in which Israel was led into a proxy war with the West & Western oil interests, has become something entirely different and not what anyone bargained for. I don't think most Arab muslims are entirely happy with ISIS's Sharia Law for example. The disaffected army of the long disenfranchised began to lead the clever generals. But I still think that the drivers aren't just human greed for power.

Which brings me back to the animals and climate change and complex relationships between war, animals, and climate change. Humans are animals. Most animals respond in similar ways to environmental stress. We know that from E. O. Wilson's island biogeographic theory: they move, start competing harder for resources, become more stressed, anxious, fretful and default to flight or fight: migration or war or both. That is exactly what we're seeing and unless cooler heads prevail, will continue to see much more of. The conflagrations in the Middle East are tips of icebergs floating and melting into our seas.

So where is the trigger point in this snarled net? Where might an artist intervene? I'm not sure yet but I'm dancing as fast as I can at the party.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Apocalypse Now

In 2007, in conversations recorded with Dr. James White as part of our project, "Trigger Points/ Tipping Points," he said we were entering the fast-phase of global warming, which would accelerate in about three years: 2010. It is now 2014.

Tonight, NYC expects flash floods and my mind is still full of burning California hills. As San Diego cools down, I am considering ... we have entered the fast phase of global warming, in which climate change impacts will geometrically accelerate with all the attendant globalized socio-poitical-economic disruptions we are already observing and consequent loss of life. Geometric means each year, the impacts double. Or triple. They don't go to a steady state where people and other animals can adjust. So, if I apply trigger point theory, the answer is to go into the chaos, dive into the fire and flood for answers, not fight or try to control it but learn it's logic. I don't even know what that means, except that physics and complexity theory tells me it must be true.

My worries are based on films and photos of fires in San Marcos above San Marcos University. I once watched a cougar visit me there. The cougar sat at the top of my driveway. I sat in my car at the bottom and we just watched each other for the longest time.

I know exactly where the photos were taken from on Barham Road. It looks like the flames overcame a house I built there in 1979 on Walnut Hills Drive, as my first strategic design of a trigger point. The beautiful house I built with a wildlife refuge, gardens, orchards and a medicine wheel meditation area surrounded by Torrey Pines trees grown from seeds might very well be ashes now. 

Still from news video.

It looks very likely my former home is gone. The cougar is long gone. In a sense, it doesn't matter- it could be anyone's home, anyone's dream, anyone's life. I find these fires a terrifying harbinger of the consequences of global warming. I don't know how I could have screamed louder over the dangers we've been hurtling towards as either an artist or a person. I tossed & turned over this till 4:AM last night. This AM, I am more in grief than anger. In my mind's eye, there is the fire and the cougar.

I will paint it in encaustics this week, with wax and flame. To the left, fire. To the right, flood.

Sketch for Apocalypse Now.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

I'm Aviva. And I'm a recovering human.

The Obama administration has released their report on climate change and it is grim but nothing new. George Bush once said that we are addicted to oil. Evidently, we are also addicted to denial. Obama and the Pope recently met and perhaps planned the timing of this report with the Vatican pronouncement as reported in the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

But human nature is a recalcitrant beast.

In 12 Step relationship programs, what is repeated in those rooms is that we must accept the alcoholic/ insane/ addicted person with love and detachment while working on our own welfare. What eventually changes the dynamic is not trying to change anyone else but focusing on changing ourselves. The critique of that approach, which evolved from Bill Wilson's wife's response to her husband's initiation of AA, is that it's essentially sexist. That is, put up & shut up while her husband cheated on her, underearned and filled their house with drunks.

On the other hand, there's a lot of wisdom in working on the solution, As far as the Dark Mountain project, recently described in the NY Times magazine section, I'm not sure. It certainly represents working on oneself. But on the other hand, the Jewish mandate to step forward when a crime is committed or you are equally guilty, is worth considering. Even in Al-Anon, passivity isn't recommended. People routinely organize "interventions" to confront a person with their effects on others. The trick, is to do that with true love and compassion, not rage, fear, self-righteousness, judgement, pity or contempt. A bit of a task that, sometimes.

As far as working on oneself, the "solution" is to be so deeply grounded in the spirituality, personal responsibility and spirit of being of service to those still suffering & fellowship with those in recovery, that it overwhelms awareness of horrors. A bit of a task that too. 

Which is why I'm sharing these thoughts with you, dear readers, rather than crying in my white wine. And, considering that we have the President of the United States and the Pope on our side, there may really BE some cause for hope.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Fish + Hope = the future

After a year of work, the Fish Story team, part of the Gulf to Gulf project, is launching a ground-breaking new website. It goes live today and is ground-breaking because it will become a platform to connect an educational forum, the webcasts that have been coming out of Gulf to Gulf since 2009, ecological art, hard restoration science and actual restoration projects. Check it out as an Earth Day present!

Our launch date is auspicious. The launch procedes the 44th Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, 2014. The 44th Earth Day is bookended by two critically tragic anniversaries: the March 24, 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and the April 20, 2010 BP Macondo oil spill.  Both events have made it clear that significant progress towards protecting the earth from human opportunism must come from ordinary citizens, not institutions. The 44th Earth Day is going to be auspicious because it represents the persistence of hope. That persistence is a testament to the determination people have to protect the earth from untrammeled greed.

Another reason for auspiciousness is that last week, April 14, 2014, the IPCC press release announced it's new report on climate change. The IPCC report is auspicious because it is the loudest call for action we have heard so far. In a nutshell, the IPCC report says 2 simple things:

1. We must act radically NOW.
2. Rich countries must give poor countries money to rescue them from bearing the consequences of climate change caused by rich countries.

Personally, I would be pleasantly surprised if geopolitics will give way to intelligence on this crisis. There are too many governments too beholden to extractive fossil fuel industries and the short term profits of destroying water, habitat and species. However, I do believe ordinary citizens, especially those of us "enlightened" by education can effect dramatic change. This is a time for hope, not despair.

The 44th Earth Day is going to be a time to celebrate a realistic strategy to save the  planet from human behavior.

Almost one year ago, the Fish Story team was in Memphis, TN., as part of the Memphis Social city-wide exhibition curated by Tom McGlynn. Our mission for Fish Story was to draw attention to how fish habitat mirrors human environmental challenges. The inspiration to focus on Memphis came from Dr. Gene Turner, whom in response to my question about how to catalyze healing dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico, before the BP spill, had replied "Iowa," referring to the effluent from factory farms up river. Our premise was that Memphis is sited at a habitat and impact nexus critical to the Mississippi Water Basin. In 1982, it was estimated that water from the Basin serves at least 18 million people. Over thirty years later, presumably that number is higher. At the close of the Fish Story series of events, Dr. Jim White and I calculated what it might take to mitigate climate change (36 % re-greening of the earth).

The Fish Story plan is a bit more specific than planting a tree and much less abstract that a number. If you study any system of tributaries, rivers and watersheds, it is easy to see how systems link up and are interdependent with each other. Those systems can be conceived metaphorically, as all the elements that make a beautiful vocal sound from a human voice. Restoring habitat as a bioregional strategy for conserving habitat. It is about connecting dots between specific locations (trigger points) in a mapped system. Focusing on fish as the indicator taxa for that system ties our goals to specific externalized results.

The Mississippi Water Basin can be conceived of as a physiological system comparable to how the human voice produces beautiful sound.

Our new website, www.gulftogulf is just the new leg of a long journey but it will be a significant leg.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Hope 3 of 3 FIsh Story Afterlife!

Fish Story Afterlife! 

When the Gulf to Gulf team completed Fish Story Memphis last Spring, I knew we had to do more. The team had calculated that 36% re-greening the earth could mitigate global warming. How to do that? We decided to create a website that could link restoration work, education, the Gulf to Gulf work on line, ecological art and invite our friends to be part of that 36%! Please join us and consider giving feedback on this beta version of the site before it goes public:

Screen shot from the new website