Thursday, November 29, 2012

On facing the anthropocene with resilient adaptive community evolution

We now know there isn't a corner of the earth that humans haven't impacted, not a force of nature our activities have left untouched. It is called the anthropocene. The anthropocene is our present geologic age dominated by humans. Speaking for myself, I don't think that dominance is a good thing. Speaking for myself, anthropocentrism, like racism, sexism and a few other isms, is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. It is a devastatingly short-sighted way to go thru life. The evidence is in the collapse of entire ecosystems we depend upon, the rise of what scientists call novel ecosystems, to replace those we've lost, often vastly over-simplified without enuf biodiverse redundancy to avoid even further collapse and even in their present state, often do not adequately service our own survival.

At the risk of sounding didactic, judgmental and exhortative, I think the answer, as Darwin pointed out a while back, may be moral evolution, a community affair. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it often gets pretty scary to face the present and future we've created with our meddling. Fish, the subject of much of this blog and my new project (Fish Story), are the tip of the iceberg, the underwater, invisible canaries in our mines and so on.

But those of us who care about these issues are less and less alone. We are building communities and those communities are talking to each other. I have been a founding member and participant in one of those groups, the ecoart dialog, which numbers over 100 members internationally. It is an invitational list but of course there are many other groups with open membership. Recently, we have been corresponding about how dire the global situation is, sharing articles and thinking and how to cope with the anxious feelings that arise. Those feelings include, but aren't limited to: anger, fear, despair, confusion and grief.

The following is an edited version of what I posted this morning about facing the environmental crisis clear-eyed, but not alone. I am posting it here, with the full names of some of our members, to continue to enlarge the community of ecological art practitioners and thinkers and those who are our support and audience:

Speaking for myself, I really appreciate what others, inc Amy Lipton and this from you, Jan van Boeckel, have shared to give us all strength to continue, while squarely facing the realities here. Speaking for myself, one of the great values of this dialog is the opportunity, reinforced when we can meet in person, as we did this past Tuesday, at Jackie Brookner's or at each other's events, at conferences, etc, so there's a continuity of relationship.

Speaking for myself, beyond abstract discussions, I need to know there's a caring, informed and experienced human heart on the other end of my dialogs with fear and anger. Not the same as therapy or even a partner.

Speaking for myself, it is all terrifying and enraging and yet, as Gene Turner quoted me as saying last year, human beings are very promising. We are smart creatures who can solve problems. And this is one h---- of a problem.

Recently, I inadvertently upset someone on the list, Linda Weintraub, when she realized I hadn't read her book before making comments about relativity and restoration. I do apologize for hurting anyone's feelings here on this list, inc Linda. I am passionate and some of that passion is fueled by intense frustration with the problems and the obstacles. 

Thankfully, over the years, we have shared our values but have also overcome our disagreements because of a shared common, deep ecology ethic.

One of the issues that came up at Beverly Naidus's talk at Parsons last week, was the perennial one of urgency vs trying to bring the timid into the activist fold. As Beverly said Monday night, some people come in with a teaspoon. Most of us on this dialog come in with at least a shovel and sometimes, literally, an excavator.

These are things that personally scare me: that I won't have the stamina to continue (I still have chronic fatigue syndrome, I fear a recurrence of cancer or heart issues and all the potential economic issues around those problems), that even if I were superhuman, it wouldn't be enuf to forestall any of the coming disasters, let alone, the ones already upon us. I don't, curiously, fear being driven mad by the sheer scale of the problems. Perhaps, I am already over the edge.

These are the things I'm grateful for: that so many of us are reaching so many others, that so many of us share things (exhibitions, articles, essays, books, calls for conferences, etc), as Jan, everyone, has, that let me know or remind me how hard others are working on these problems, that we have genuine interest here in each other's work, a willingness to self-critique and honestly judge without meanness and are generally so often willing to share resources, ideas, opportunities that make it easier for us all to keep going.

This dialog began in 1998. As each of our careers have developed, it is remarkable how much we have clarified about our shared values, our common and divergent strategies, how much the field has expanded. It would be very interesting for someone to calculate, in fact, how many people we have collectively reached- if you add up all the conferences, students, exhibitions, articles, books, parties. Not inconsiderable.

You are all my teachers, as is everyone in my internet audience.
I am humbly grateful and fiercely proud: resilient adaptive evolution in practice here, I think.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving labor

I think one way to look at our experience of climate change, is that it is a thriller. Will we survive? Very few people who are carefully tracking what we've done to our planet are still talking about sustainability. We speak of resilience. What we mean is that we have surrendered the idea that we can sustainably keep things we know. Now we just want to see what might survive the anthropocene with resilience.

It is early Sunday morning and I am thinking about different kinds of work on a weekend when most of us take some time off. As I complete my dissertation writing and move forward with Fish Story, I can't help wondering how things will play out for my own life and everyone else. What I mean by play out, is how will we manage our resources in a changing world? Will we succeed in saving fish from all the ways we are transforming their waters? What about other familiar ingredients of our lives, like cranberries grown in wetlands for Thanksgiving?

I have had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) since 1990, a mysterious immune system disorder which makes those of us who have it, very, very tired. Much more tired than most people can ever imagine. It seems to predispose us to cancer and among other symptoms, causes sleep disturbances, which is one reason I've been awake today since 3: AM thinking about work and sustainable systems. Lately, about that too, I find myself wondering how much resilience I can sustain. CFS has been an instructive illness because it means I have a built in template for how to live sustainably and accept the limits of my resilience. When I go past my limits, I collapse and whole swathes of my life fall apart. Applying the template is about what may happen to the earth as we go past our limits. For example, what may happen to the wetlands where we grow cranberries, if they become inundated with sea water from sea level rise with global warming? Speaking for myself and my built in template, my personal question is what part of the aspects of life I value, such as having all the right ingredients (cranberries, honey, etc) for making my cranberry sauce recipe for Thanksgiving will be resilient?

Simmering down Porto for cranberry sauce
Last Thursday, I went to my sister, Ilana's house in Armonk, to make cranberry sauce for a family dinner at my nephew's house in Thornwood. My recipe takes about two hours and starts with Ruby's Dow Porto, which gets cooked down (never boiled) from two bottles with the juice of about nine oranges and their zest, light honey, maple and brown rice syrups and spices to a thick enuf consistency to make the texture, fragrance and taste divine. This is old-fashioned cooking. Will the ingredients, such as light honey made by honeybees still be here through out my lifetime?

I put my colleague and friend, Juliette Yuan, the New Media curator to work helping and she cheerfully grated the zest off the nine oranges before squeezing the juice out for the sauce.

New Media curator Juliette Yuan grating zest with my brother-in-law as audience on Thanksgiving Day.
On the way home, I encountered a musician in the subway who had gathered a crowd and was exhorting them to get moving in response to his labor. Will we still have subways under Manhattan?

Times Square musician

I got home before midnight and woke the next day to complete most of the second chapter of my dissertation. My dissertation was inspired by the acupuncture treatments I take for CFS. I thought, if we can leverage small catalyst systems in the human body, can we do the same for the planet? I push myself now to complete writing up my research, because I want to think that some insight I may share will help the fish, the cranberries, myself find a measure of resilience.

Yesterday, I began writing my third chapter, about how Geographic Information Systems (GIS) science may take a point of landscape nucleation and extrapolate a useful analysis. I studied GIS at Lehman College for two years but I am not very good at it. GIS makes beautiful maps of complex relationships between systems, seductive blend of science and art. Perhaps, because it requires a high level of resilient physical stamina to sit at the computer and concentrate that is not very sustainable for me with CFS, I find it a very difficult media. So now I need to decide how far I will go to present my premises with this tool. Answering that question is a search for the right balance between personal resilience and understanding and communicating planetary resilience. In my last "Gulf to Gulf," webcast with Dr. Jim White, we spoke about sustaining the tension of that balance for climate change scientists: what are the personal limits for those who have been the messengers of global warming as they encounter a culture determined to silence truth?

I wrote on FB:
I have recovered most of the dissertation chapter I lost Tuesday night, reduced my word count from 18 009 to 10 695 and am almost done with my conclusion for this chapter, which begins with, "Scientists agree that problems of novel ecosystems, loss of water quality and quantity and trophic cascades are among the consequences of habitat degradation, encroachment and fragmentation, all caused by human agency serving anthropocentric attitudes. This chapter considered nucleation practices as part of a focus on how and when environmental restoration practice can shift a point of view, to conserve bioregional clean water and the role of animals in that process." And a good night to you all.
  • And then yesterday, in reply to a link from Ann Rosenthal, I added that: 
  • One of my points, about nucleation, is about how critical animals are to the health of the entire ecosystem that protects water. Each species distributes seeds, etc in specific patterns. Ie, bats & birds have very diff patterns. I have to focus on marine (littoral zones) in my research but there's a ton of fascinating data about forests, most of which I had to cut down to stay in the word limit. Of course, it all works a bit differently in the ocean, where tiny organisms, like detritovores carry out functions large carnivores fulfill on land, with tidal patterns functioning as wind does. Some of my third chapter is about mapping those relationships.

Today, in the NYTimes, there was an article about how much of New York City may end up underwater, possibly within our lifetimes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fish Story, Thanksgiving eve

Holiday decorations outside the Hotel Carlyle

At 10:AM this morning, my phone started ringing off the hook, as people called to tie up unfinished business before Thanksgiving. It is the start of the holiday season in the USA and many Americans will not be doing much serious work until January 15, 2013.

My assistant, Daisy Morton and I, however have made initial contact with 8 organizations in Memphis, with whom I hope to speak before arriving there to spend a few days from December 12.
Meanwhile, I will be working steadily on my dissertation, "Trigger Point Theory as Aesthetic Activism," which will lay out the theoretical basis for why I am looking at fish in the anthropocene and why Memphis in particular. Last night, I had a small panic about that work for my second chapter, when my files crashed both on my computer and a back up. Word help retrieved a relatively recent version. I have wrestled that tiger to a draw today and am moving along to wrk on Chapter 3. Chapter 3 has several GIS maps about predatory green crabs and fin fish and I just noticed one of the maps I created but have not yet published, is on the net. Not sure how I feel about that or what to do about it. I assume it got there because I had posted it a year ago on my FB page. I think the take away is that it's time for me to publish an article about biological context for healthy fish, including East coast rocky intertidal zones. But not tonight.
Tonight, I'm quitting early. I don't usually quit work till about 10: PM but tonight, it's not even 7: PM and I'm quitting work till Friday.
Tonight, I'm wishing all my friends, American or not, a happy day with much to be grateful for tomorrow, the American day of Thanksgiving. What are you grateful for this year?
This is what I'm grateful for tonight: 
1. Cease fire brokered by Egypt in Israel- Gaza
2. NYC is recovering from Sandy and talking about softscaping the margins of the island, which would be very good for everyone, including the fish.
3. Climate change is finally getting serious attention in the USA, which will make my task in Memphis a whole lot easier.
4. Romney and all those $100's of millions lost the presidential election in the USA, which means to me that you can buy some of the people some of the time and all of the people some of time but not all of the people all of the time. It also means there may be an alternative to making money by gutting and trashing the environment. There may be green jobs to be had.
5. Personal #1: I caught early stage cancer last Spring, got thru my treatments OK and found out how many friends I have.
6. Personal #2: The end is in sight for my dissertation. Word count today for Chapter 2 after yesterday's file recovery trauma: 11 851, down from over 18 000 in September, clearer and meaner. I can move along to Chapter 3. And, universe willing, will have my mind clear for Fish Story as I go into the spring.

7. Steady, modest progress for Fish Story.

When I did Ghost Nets, my most sobering lesson, was that nothing replaces environmental conservation. Fighting back from ecosystem degradation is enormously difficult and problematic. I have often been quoted as saying, the environment was destroyed by increments, it can be restored by increments. But when enormous swathes are destroyed, it's a lot harder. And for me, it seems a lot more exhausting. For now, I am grateful for the increments and the time off.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Fish Story update; one month after launch and more fish stories

Memphis airport website

After six months of planning, thinking and talking, it's exciting to announce that I have settled on a date to visit Memphis for the first time, to begin to move Fish Story forward. The dates have been pencilled in- December 12-14- and the first letters have been going out to specific people and institutions in the area. Susan Steinman and I talked earlier today to follow up some of our thinking. Gene Turner shared some ideas about engaging young people. I spoke at length with Tom McGlynn about what to schedule in that first window and with Eleanor Whitney, at NYFA about how to move forward with fund raising. Tom is writing the first letters of introduction for me to folks there. I'm beginning to break out a budget.

On my FB page, I wrote:

I have begun contacting people in Memphis for Fish Story. It feels big, scary, important & exciting. I got the intro down to an elevator pitch: "It is an ecological art project for Memphis Social, May 2013. Fish Story (see launch post on my
 blog @: is about how the impacts of climate change are reflected in the fate of fish in the Mississippi River."

And, I might add, how our attitudes about that reflect a lot more about our values and understanding. Now, going forward, I must state the caveat, that altho I feel anguish over animal suffering, in the interests of ruthless transparency, I do eat animals, including fish, so as long as that's true, I have no right to judge anyone else. I had salmon from Zabar's for lunch. That said, I would hope we consider fish seriously for two reasons.

1. Their fates reflect our careless disregard for the health of our own ecosystem- our home.
2.  They experience pain in death, as all animals we consume and out of respect for life, it seems to me we have an obligation to become mindful and responsible about those deaths.

Meanwhile, for a while, I wondered if anyone noticed the dead fish after Sandy.
There are dead carp in New Jersey now, fish that were washed into the wetlands with Sandy and when the waters receded, died. One biologist wasn't unhappy about that. He said they are invasive. But I can't help but think about evidence of sensitivity to pain and sentience in fish.
There are also dead fisheries:
But this isn't the first time.
In 2010, it happened in Cape May
and ominously, the seagulls wouldn't touch the dead Menhadin:
It also happened in 2007:

The vegetarian aspect of our attitudes to animals as objects of consumption is horrifically engaged by Paul McCartney, sent by:

 Cristina Sedna Varuna, Seville, Spain

And more whimsically by Carissa Welton who wrote:

"I started swimming before I started walking. So it was only natural that I fantasized about being a mermaid as a child. I would always refuse to eat fish when it was served for dinner; I couldn't stomach eating my own kind."

In contrast, Susan Shulman shared her artwork about fish, In her statement, she writes, "My magic symbols of fish are a continuous theme running through my works, their scales have become my symbolic vocabulary, my musical notes, tones of fluid and soft movement, a visual syncopation between colour and imagery."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

LIU Panel tonight on Social Networking; let's give them something to talk about

Speaking of social networking, I have been experimenting with using FB for a studio visit cum exhibition. This was something I posted last night (Nov. 15, 2012). FB allows some of us a very peculiar but interesting means to straddle venue and party.

I'm looking forward to seeing some of my friends and very pleased to be part of tomorrow's (Nov. 16, 2012) panel with Dennis Broe and Buck Moorehead, moderated by Claire Goodman, "Using Media to Make Change." Our discussion will be about how we can use media and technology to bring about social change. It's for the 11th Annual Big Mini Media Festival, Friday, November 16th, Long Island University, (LIU), Brooklyn, NY. Festival screenings start at 6: pm, with the panel taking place from 6:40 pm -7:40 pm in the Spike Lee Screening Room. It will be recorded and the recording can be accessed on the website:

I am convinced that social media is the greatest thing since swiss cheese to change thinking and ultimately, behavior about our social and environmental problems. I think it's the glue of hope and community, as powerful as the media revolution that began with video in the seventies, not for itself, but as a means to mobilize events on the ground. An example since the hurricane is the moving work of Occupy Sandy:

On the FB screen shot above, my hard to read text with reads:   

I have been pulling up documents from the creation of Ghost Nets to explain the thinking behind Trigger Point Theory for my dissertation. It's very emotional for me to read passionate letters of endorsement from my supporters, for funding t
hat rarely came thru at all. This image from 1993 shows the trajectory of ritualized walks I took daily for ten years on the site, as I transformed it from a pile of barren rubble to wetlands and uplands gardens.

Call me Pollyanna. I refuse to dwell on the falling sky. I insist on worrying about the dying fish. I have every expectation that good will triumph.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fish Story update

I am pleased to announce that, "Pushing Rocks,"a place to think about the impact of climate change and other anthropocene effects on fish, has just reached 1250 hits since we launched the blog. I have temporarily changed the settings, in celebration, so that friends of Fish Story can post more of their own stories.

Fish Story, is part of the "Gulf to Gulf" project of webcasts about the impact of global warming on gulf regions internationally. It was formally launched October 19, 2012 and Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, October 30. It was a pre-Halloween witch and an October surprise for the presidential election.

Since then, I've been trying to write about the relationships I see between fish, global warming and the kinds of attitudinal and policy changes we may need to make now to avert future disasters ... and to seeing many fewer fish.

Sandy, btw, now has her own wikipedia entry:

I invite you, my dear readers to add your thoughts to this mix.

Note: we had some tech troubles today, so if you tried but still couldn't post today, please don't give up. Try again tomorrow.

Acts of gods (lower case and top down)

added the text: "policy makers" to the center of the lavender dot on Washington, DC beneath Hurricane Sandy on the visual that came from yesterday's Acts of God "Gulf to Gulf" webcast.

There is no doubt in my mind that the cause of Hurricane Sandy was passive, tin god policy makers in Washington, DC, who lie down (present tense) to accept $ from corporate fossil fuel funders to determine environmental regulations.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Acts of God II

I pulled up this chart for today's "Gulf to Gulf" webcast at 11 AM about "Acts of God." 
I referenced some of what I wrote about yesterday on this blog. 
These were some of the topics we hit: 

1. resilience, 
2. evolutionary adaptation 
3. nucleation, 
4. virtuality, 
5. the fast cycle of global warming, 
6. fish><human: species disruptions, 
7. LID: Low Impact Development vs Large Impact Disasters.

This is the url to the recording of today's meeting "Acts of God"
I gotta say, this was the most frightening of all the Gulf to Gulf webcasts I've done since 2009.

Northeast nightmare.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Acts of God

Tropical Cyclone Storm Surge Probabilities, NOAA site
Chance of Storm Surge >= 2 feet (NGVD-1929) at individual locations
Sandy (2012) Advisory 31
For the 77 hours from 11 PM EDT Mon Oct 29 to 04 AM EDT Fri Nov 02

Unlike my academic writing for my dissertation, on this blog, I can own my opinions without too many citations. I have a few opinions about Hurricane Sandy.

Hurricane Sandy has turned many lives upside down in NYC, not to mention those lost but we have never so desperately needed to invert our ideas about our relationships to nature, from infinite expansionism and extraction to accepting our limits while exercizing infinite empathy. we used to say that major weather events were an Act of God. I charge that Hurricane Sandy was an act of stupid white men. Michael Moore's Stupid White Men were DC policy makers. I think we are all stupid white men when it comes to the environment. We have made a world where Cuomo and Bloomberg can talk about storms like Hurricane Sandy becoming routine. We have replaced god, with our own stupidity.

In considering my new project for Memphis, Fish Story, I am still thinking about fish: the fish that have now lived (if they still live) in a toxic soup of chemicals and sewage for almost two weeks (not to mention the birds that eat them or the small life the fish normally consume). In a "normal, healthy" estuarine system which historically surrounded Manhattan Island with fecund abundance, Sandy should be part of a cycle of high impact phenomena to bring even greater nourishment and support to this bioregion. Instead, we have made a charnel house of this region.

Humans, particularly white European colonists and their progeny since 1650, have ignored any attention to how things work in their own world, except as they serve short term interests of acquiring material wealth and power. New York City, is in fact the icon of exactly that acquisition. It has been enormously successful in proselytizing that ethos and exporting it globally out to the world. the consequence of all that "success" is this disaster. We expanded to the point of what Jared Diamond wrote of as Collapse, filling in the wetlands that might have protected us. What has collapsed is the fertile, protective natural system that protected us and the built infrastructure that replaced it. That collapse signals an opportunity to exchange and invert our priorities. To exchange expansionism for empathy for all life. If we live with empathy, we cannot countenance what we have done to this planet. If a god had any part in Hurricane Sandy, it was in the circumstantial conflation of a climate change event and the Apple, days before an election for president of the USA.

It has been incidental to the success of our great expansionist society, that NYC is also full of begging homeless people, extracted from a culture that has no place for them.

Drawing of homeless woman begging across the street from Bloomingdales, May (from Homeless in the Apple project) 2012 Aviva Rahmani
Now, we are talking about the impact of global warming. In my opinion, global warming is the symptom of a terrible spiritual disease that is literally killing the whole world. My opinion is that Hurricane Sandy, as part of global warming in the anthropocene, is a spiritual wake-up call. The spiritual part has little to do with gods in the world and everything to do with the moral power of empathy for what is not us. Hurricane Sandy was not an Act of God. It was the backdraft of many acts by many people who chose convenience, expedience and short term gain (including myself) over encompassing a view of the world which might include the suffering of others, whether fish or homeless women across the street from a luxury emporium. As I type, I am listening to Brian Lehrer on WNYC speaking to a caller from Coney Island, describing old people walking down 14 flights of stairs to deliver a bucket of their own waste to the street level. None of that misery is the consequence of an Act of God.

Tomorrow, I will record another Gulf to Gulf webcast to discuss the science behind this new normal reality in depth with Jim White, my collaborator from INSTAAR and will post the url after we are done. Friday evening, I will participate on a panel at LIU in Brooklyn about fracking and social media. I will also post further about that here before the event. They are connected: the fish, the homeless, the old people with a bucket of waste, fracking and the world crying for an ethos of empathy rather than expansionism. And it is here, on the net, where we can advance another point of view, one that might invert our present headlong trajectory towards destruction.

Friday, November 9, 2012

"Chasing Ice" aftereffects

Shot by Wendy Brawer of greenmaps of me with James Balog, photographer of arctic ice and subject of "Chasing Ice" showing this weekend in NYC @ Cinema Village
"Chasing Ice", is a film directed by Jeff Orlowski about the melting Arctic ice. The story of the ice is seen thru the filter of James Balog's work to capture the astounding images of vanishing glaciers. James, a fellow affiliate at INSTAAR, University of Colorado at Boulder, set up multiple cameras over a period of years, at great peril to his (and others) health and life to document the dramatic story of loss and destruction. They hope this film will finally break thru the wall of denial about global warming. It has garnered a lot of attention at Sundance and won many awards. Fellow artist Aimee Morgana shared her passes with me so I could attend this special screening, along with Ed Koch and many other opinion makers. This weekend is the time to see it. Next stop, Lincoln Center for a week.

The images are haunting & exquisite. The record of loss, heartbreaking. The story of James' harrowing adventures to capture footage is told in the tradition of  intrepid Arctic explorers. James & Jeff are convinced that beauty will draw people into the film's message of desperation. Louie Psihoyosthe executive producer of "The Cove", did cinematography. Scarlett Johansson sings a raspy but lovely closing song about not dying before her time. It is certainly well-timed after Sandy.

After the screening I asked 2 questions:

1. My first question was about beauty. What about the Hudson River effect- how images of the Hudson River School brought people to the river to destroy it? James felt that was a negligible danger relative to our sources of carbon loading. Having recently done a Gulf to Gulf webcast with Jim White (director of INSTAAR) about the implications of opening the Arctic, I'm not so sure. James feels people just turn away from the gory details of real impacts. Beauty is his strategic choice and judging from the film, he puts his money and body where his mouth is, going to any lengths for those results.

2. My second question was about denial. People seem stuck in the denial stage of grief over climate change. Will this be enuf? James felt it would be the cumulative effect of many things.

I have some reservations. Not about this beautiful film but over what will bring people to put pressure on policy makers for change. I am uncertain about the limits of the power of beauty and the power of the unlimited stage of grief that has entrenched so many politicians, corporations and confused American in denial. Perhaps I am too cynical. I have been part of the resistance movement against fracking since 2010. The corporation pushing fossil fuels are in it for the long haul and we still don't know what will happen with the tar sands pipeline or natural gas in NYC. Our window of hope is that at least they didn't succeed in buying the recent USA election.

As I've written elsewhere, I see us in a protracted war with formidable opponents who will not give up. On the other hand, thinking about about COP15, which James & I both attended, there were plenty of good folks there from business, as well as Govt agencies of all stripes. Our default is that we need "leaders." But "we" may be the leaders. This may be an equal opportunity revolution.

Over the years with my Gulf to Gulf webcasts with Jim White and many others, the topics of neuroscience, cognition, perception and behavior have come up many times. People don't always seem to behave realistically when confronted by reality, no matter how extreme. But they do eventually yield to cumulative evidence, as they eventually did with tobacco. At least, most of them.

James and I spoke a bit more after the film. In spite of my pessimism, I think he is right about cumulative effects. Sandy. Fires. floods. Storms. Plus this film. Plus the evidence of dying fish, polar bears, Inuits and Island Nations.

Plus other groups:, the Yale Mason group (CCCC), ACE including my own small teams working on Fish Story and Gulf to Gulf and many other artists, thinkers and scientists, may be the steady drip drip we need.

Jeff & I spoke briefly about the stages of grief. It is something I give a lot of thought to these days. What brings people to acceptance and finally, realistic behavior? Certainly, what we see now in the face of global warming is NOT realistic. Until we succeed in weaning the world from fossil fuels, the jury is out.

Addendum: Frank Rich did a good analysis of modernist relativism run a muck in the USA political system I wonder how much this may affect climate change policy? I wonder whether a gorgeous film like "Chasing Ice," can overcome this kind of delusionalism?

I have my doubts. I think people cling to the moral structure of fairy tales and weave all sorts of pretty gee gaws into that architecture. I guess that makes me a radical cynic, tho an optimistic one: I do believe art touches people's souls in ways nothing else can, and wish for us all, that "Chasing Life" will.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Drawing for all we're worth

On the ecoart art list serve, my friend Lenore Malin asked recently whether people need to move from the coast? She asked who pays for all that? She and Jackie Brookner, both fellow artists, had gone to help in the Rockaways, devastated by Hurricane Sandy The activist artist and educator Beverly Naidus said she has a student who replies, when people ask him what he does, that he draws to save the world.

Young men enjoying Hurricane Sandy, Photo credit, Chandler Blackington, November 4, 2012
 Vinalhaven Island, Maine

As far as what to do about the shoreline, I may have written this before, but when I asked the late wetlands ecologist Michele Dionne about that, years ago, she replied: insurance. The insurance companies would stop insuring structures too close to sea level rise and eventually people would stop building there. And that's what is happening.

Except that many companies got various kinds of federal back-up, not just in flood prone regions but also fire prone areas of the SoWest, leaving too many in the way of Sandy & ginormous forest fires.

Who's to blame and who's to pay?

Well, we can start with anyone who blew off a science class and every legislator who cut funding for the sciences, along with the arts. And we can ask why the insurance companies, like the financial institutions that brought us the on-going economic crisis, are still being artificially propped up.

Living on the coast is a calculated risk these days and will increasingly be. But so will living in fire/flood/drought/storm paths. In other words, this is the world we have wrought by ignoring how things work. By ignoring how things work, I mean biogeographic dynamics, imagining that small scale solutions can be disengaged from larger forces and privileging the grand designs instead of all the little parts of microhabitats that hold bioregions together.  And that echoes economically as much as biologically.

In short, we have made our own sci fi reality by ignoring garden variety reality.

Based on the scientific discussions I have been having since 2007 with Jim White and others, we have entered the accelerated fast phase of climate change. There are landscape level precedents for ecosystems to evolutionarily adapt resiliently to Large Impact Disasters (LID).

Maybe. If so, we aren't seeing most people either rushing to solutions or getting the education and support they need for a chance at a resilient transition.

Biologically, the solution is called evolutionary adaptation. But even evolutionary adaptation has a cost.

I am not sanguine about this situation nor am I cold about it. I think 100's of millions of people may die in our lifetime because we here in Rome fiddled and lost time in our opportunities to address global warming and establish transitions for evolutionary adaptation. The cause of these deaths would only tangentially be directly from natural disasters. Most would come from the geo-demographic change that will result from massive socio-economic and cultural disruptions as people find their own ways to adjust.  Meanwhile, the ones who might die won't be the Romney's of the world, who laughed at sea level rise and advocated drill baby drill. 

In 2007, when I realized what we were facing, I was shaking with hysteria over the implications for months. A year later, I decided to do a PhD that would tie together what I knew and present the research to back it up. The program, Z-Node, a division of the Planetary Collegium with the University of Plymouth in the UK, blends environmental sciences, studio art and technology.

So as some know, I have been writing a dissertation on an original theoretical approach that I believe might support resilience: "Trigger point theory as aesthetic activism," and have periodically posted to my friends about my progress, "Reports from PhD Land."

My current "Report from PhD Land," is that I'm about half thru the writing now, which takes forever and that is still not what I need to do to make it into a trade book. That's at least years to come to get the ideas in front of anyone who might pay attention and be able to act on whatever I put forth ....if in fact, it amounts to real new knowledge anyone doesn't already know by then.

Realistically, it's a grim landscape, a brave new world that is not for the faint-hearted.


I guess we keep drawing for all we're worth.

Still shot Aviva Rahmani November 8, 2012 from Bill Viola's 2005 "The Tempest" in Chelsea at James Cohan. Riveting tonight with the pungent smell of flood waters still intense in my nose from my walk North from the closed galleries on 22nd St.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Choices, homesteading, microhabitats, fish and trigger point theory as pragmatic ethics

Detail of 20'x40' chalk blackboard mural created for ecological novelty conference in Monte Veritas, Switerland, 2011

Like any addict on this election day, despite mental self-destruction, I can't turn off the WNYC voting reporting on the radio. Truth is, so much is at stake this time: civil rights for so many, global warming & the environment, democracy & economic sanity... I still hope to do the phone banks today. But the other part of me, wants to turn all the news off until this time next week.

I believe I understand the mentality of climate change deniers. I think they are in one of the early stages of grief: the first is denial. Then people in grief cycle thru anger, bargaining, sadness and finally acceptance. The same biological drivers that make deniers want to put their heads in the beach sand, are the same impulses that make me want to pull my mental covers over my head until next week. I've posted for years on FB & elsewhere about the dangers I see from bigotry and exclusionary practices, unrestrained corporate power, creeping fascism, deprivation solutions. I've argued with relatives, made art, launched webcasts and other projects to erect a seawall against what I see as ignorant blindness and today, when so much is in the balance, my vote was cast a month ago with an absentee ballot. I am struggling with a bad head cold and don't know if I have the stamina to do volunteer work on the phone banks. So it is out of my hands right now: all of it.

That's not all, of course that's out of my hands. But I, we, still have choices. Choices must come from informed values and a set of ethical premises that do no harm. I think we can all agree on that premise.

The values I want to address today are those that connect us in the world and conserve human welfare. I'm not talking about some Kumbaya Lala land. I mean linking ourselves to ecoregions and other species, because whomever is elected today in the USA, that is the thinking, I believe that may save us as a species and conserve our welfare. Water is the fount of life for all and water conservation is also about conserving other species: living bioregions.

An ecoregion is how geographic features, such as rivers and oceans, mountains and valleys create what landscape ecologists call a mosaic of habitat patches. On the macro level, the function of these mosaics in ecoregions, is to preserve clean water for all life on earth. On the micro level, what links the patches of these systems, are the communities of animals and plants that make up an ecosystem. That is why environmentalists battles so hard to save the wolves, bears, lions and other megafauna: they are the regulators in these large systems. There is no chance, anywhere in the world, that such large predators will overtake the earth. They are not the apex predator. Humans are. When the populations of an "apex" predator, such as humans run amuck without any resistance, as we are seeing today, all the smaller biological links become so disrupted and the matrix of what environmental economists call "natural resource services," frays and begins to collapse. That point of collapse results in what biologists call "novel" ecosystems. That means they get weird & unpredictable.

The summer of 2011, I was one of a handful of artists at an international conference on novel ecosystems, held in Monte Veritas, Switzerland, hosted by the prestigious ETH At one point, I drew a large temporary mural on a vast blackboard with colored chalk (see illustration), asking the audience to call out key words that were on their mind as a result of the presentations as I wrote them on the board. The terms that were called out, weren't taxonomic. The words called included, "complexity, fear, confusion." 

Scientists, like any other demographic that has gotten past the stages of grief over what we have done to our planet, are experiencing what Glenn Albrecht has called, "solastalgia," They are frightened by what we are coming to accept. The recent flood from Hurricane Sandy in NYC is an example of what that acceptance means, along with chronic fights against fossil fuel industries, as fracking and their representatives on the right decimate our waters and our air. We can't in fact, separate these ecosystemic consequences from our political and personal choices, personal choices such as are being exercized in the USA with the national election of our next president.

There are many more complex choices I believe we need to examine. An example is how we fail to connect large bioegional dots. On the bioregional level along the Mississippi River, the choices we make over what supports fossil fuels, also determines the fate of fish in those waters. When the use of fossil fuels warm temperatures, fish literally cook alive in the warmer waters which can reach over 98 degrees. When climate change causes droughts that require dredging the river to allow barge traffic, the habitat for fish is as utterly destroyed as when marine fish habitat is destroyed by trawlers that stripmine the ocean floor.

Another example is how we fail to connect small dots. Many people think the answer to fossil fuel industries is "get off the grid." and homestead. There are two problems with that choice. The first is that fragmenting ecoregions into small plots of less than 10 acres, usually transformed into agricultural plots without the fine shadings between microhabitats that support whole sytsems, it creates what the Wildlands Project has called a sink for biodiversity, because domestic cats and other medium size predators such as raccoons can decimate birds but large predators can't control the populations of those mesopredators. The second problem is that by conceiving of land as a series of self-contained patches, we lose sight of and most often diverge from and destroy ecoregional integrity when people divert waters and create farmland out of woodland. We simply have too many people and not enuf biogeographic literacy today to look to homesteading as a solution.

What I think we need instead, is a shift of conciousness to what former physicist & philosopher Edgar Morin has called an "ecology of action." Or, what I propose as the ethical mentality of "trigger point theory," in which each choice, each action, connects us to a larger whole, in which bioregions, water and other species are the complex matrix within which we must fit ourselves. The alternative is to fit the world to our needs. And we have seen how well that works. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Czech Christmas carp

"There is a habit to eat fish on the Christmas eve in Prague, Czech Republic, where I was born. We, 3 children,had a wish to buy a living fish and to keep it in the bath stab in the meantime. The carp was lovely to watch, so living and fresh. Too beautiful to eat. We decided to give him the freedom, to bring him to the river. It was great feeling, we felt happy and generous when we saw the carp slipping in the water and disappear. It was the most beautiful Christmas gift not only for the fish, but also for us."
Dagmar Dost-Nolden

We are so accustomed to imagining nature at our service, to be extracted for our consumption. it's refreshing when I encounter a different attitude. -AR

Friday, November 2, 2012

Art, climate change and politics

Girls outside the UWS Whole Foods raising $ for the Red Cross by selling homemade cookies. It was nice to give them a dollar and let them keep the cookies instead of my usual dollar to hopeless homeless people.
The coming together of people to support the city they love has been very moving to me
  • This is an amazing, heart breaking account from Jerry Saltz, of loss and heroism to flank the stories of trying to help the elderly & infirm victims of the Hurricane Sandy disaster or my own posts about the impact on animals, as the fish and birds in the Tri-State region. All martyrs to climate change denial. 
  • Art is like a beating heart that lives outside a body. And now it has become disconnected and trashed. a bunch of those hearts have been ripped from those bodies by the tidal surges and sea level rise of global warming driven by fossil fuel production. I am grateful to Jerry for being one of her caretakers.
  • As he wrote, it's easy for us to knock the gallery system, dealers, etc, But these are our blood kin. I was esp upset about Printed Matter, an institution-cum-museum of alternate art and a real tragedy. 
I woke still haunted by the implications of Jerry's essay. What haunts me is the combination of the cultural impact of climate change and the personal implications of the rise of the right. They are inseparable.

In 2009, I was an official observer for the University of Colorado at Boulder, where I am an affiliate, for the United Nations IPCC meetings at the Bella Center in Copenhagen.
I blogged about my experiences and observations:

The most moving of all the presentations then was from the island nation of Tuvalu

To standing room only, they held a session about the loss of their homeland to sea level rise, with flowers, dancing, song, giving us all necklaces and impassioned pleas to hold the island nations in mind as we discussed climate change.

There was a lot going on then, but one of the actions I was involved with was an ethical action group, led by Don Brown who had worked on toxic waste sites in the Clinton administration. We crafted the press releases for the press conference and one of the points I focused on was language in the IPCC documents to the effect that we must protect the cultural treasure of impacted nations, such as Tuvalu, as much as we concern ourselves with economic sustainability. I vividly recall crafting phrases for that press release, to the effect that culture is what holds a people together and allows them to be resilient.

I had been scheduled to give our own press conference, on the work Jim & I were doing as a precursor to Fish Story: "Gulf to Gulf," when the police cordoned off the Bella Center and began beating demonstrators in the City of Copenhagen. That was followed in swift reprisal, by a flood of corporate funding to seed global doubt over global warming, drown out the island nations and scientists and culminating with the present Citizens United decision which has allowed one party to, in effect, precipitate a corporate take over coup of the United States.

Previously, in work with Jim White, of INSTAAR who enabled my attendance at the iPCC, we had spoken about our horror over, and generated visuals from, studying the projected global impacts of climate change refugee migrations. Our horror was over the human cost.

Most of the attention to the impact of of Hurricane Sandy in NYC has gone to Wall St and transportation to get back to work and return to normal life. What people are missing is that this is the new normal. NYC is also an island "nation" in the same peril, with the same implications as the fate of Tuvalu. And NYC is the canary, singing for all she is worth about the peril we all face. Jerry is a good microphone for that song.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Fish, feathers and us: conversations from the edge

I am happy to pre-announce that December 11, 2012 we will record a 1 hour Fish Story "Gulf to Gulf" session with environmental animal ethicist Marc Bekoff who has written about animal consciousness and fish sentience in over 200 papers and 22 books:

Bekoff regularly blogs for Psychology Today.

I am hoping that in addition to our regulars, Jim White of INSTAAR, Gene Turner of Louisiana State University and myself for our regular chat, Marc may be joined by ecological artist Aimee Morgana, who has trained a parrot, N'Kisi, to have intelligent, thoughtful conversations (N'Kisi wants Aimee to hurry up and write her book about him I think Aimee's work with just one animal, personalizes and dramatizes the horrific loss of biodiversity caused by climate change. It reflects our blind spots about other species which Marc addresses more abstractly.

When we have completed the recording, it will join the following works, some edited & some raw excerpted videos of my work and from  "Gulf to Gulf," on youtube:
Excerpt from Trigger Point Theory Applied to Fracking: 
Simplifying Complexity Excerpt: