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.

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