Wednesday, December 16, 2015

In a World Responding to Climate Upheaval

This is that era now, written up in publications and on broadcast reports in all the decades I remember but one, when the greenhouse effect would wreak its changes. They are so sweeping and intricately woven through our whole beings that most who think about it at all can't yet sort out an advisable response from a decided sacrifice or a forced ending to the ways we live, travel and make our livings. Every step and every sidestep has its reverberations, and which behavior is worse than which in terms of another outburst of carbon, methane, etc. here beneath the skies? If we're going to personally do anything to lower emissions it will have to be of obvious worth and, we figure, affordable for us. Anyway, what does it matter, up against all the wholesale stuff that keeps going on--trucking, refining and fracking, military maneuvers and bombings and urban overgrowth, because there is still economic, military and population growth?

We follow our hearts, and what are better drivers than hearts informed by minds, where this matter is concerned?

There are so many compounding effects from climate change along with shortages aggravated by massive population growth; it's disconcerting to think what may be required of ourselves not to mention whole societies. Not just in death but in survival, too, is there shrinkage. What we love we will try to save, or help it to save itself. Each of us bears a repository of intended actions and priorities. For those who have no cares about the whole situation, the world will do its best and worst to convert such people to something other than they are.

When I was still young enough to have picture books on my shelf at home and from the library, there was one library book whose cover illustration bore a sun drawn in black lines on desert-gold background, with skyscrapers on the sun, drawn in black line the way children draw things. For a moment I must have been charmed, but mostly I remember how these pictures touched me with a despair I've yet to forget--I could imagine living on an earth-like sun, maybe not the real gaseous devouring sun but a planet all about heat and light, all that you could want of it. An assortment of readers might be smitten with the picture but for me  it felt like a vision of sterility. Who would want to live on a hot planet that had burnt itself bald?

That memory came to mind last evening as I drove in the old Prius back from my downtown day, at long last, after days and days above freezing, even many nights above freezing, in a brisk December snowfall. It was not quite blinding but enough to make the roadsides uniform and slow a motorist down. A full measure of the old childhood glee awoken by a downpour of snow awoke in me so I was exuberant again, talking to myself and the radio announcer, peering along the dark route ahead for the ever-more-remarkable. Tomorrow, I said, I'll go out since the hunters are all gone and see what I find on the way to the river. Never mind that there probably won't be enough snow to ski.

It is significant what subtle but widespread effects a climate has, probably on all of ourselves. As realms known for snow and ice seem to convert, before the eyes of those of us born there or in love with their beauty, to something out of a fairy tale or dream memory, we're not necessarily enchanted. It is possible to feel partially stranded, ignoring the emergency of folks in other places watching ground alongside or underneath their home or neighborhood subside into the sea. Our personal identity, along with that of the place, is being baked away. What had consoled us with a feeling of eternity is in the early stages of a transition that will move us far from a lot, if not all, that we cherish. How our mood responds varies, but if we're tackling or waiting out other issues, we may seem to observers like someone waking up out of troubled dreams into a problematic Monday, the opening of a week defined by confusion.

Cottonwood in Pasture After Frost - watercolor & pencil, 8x11"
Now this weekend we're hearing about the Paris Agreement, signed by representatives of not quite 200 nations including the United States, its legal force, to the extent that it has any, not requiring approval by the U.S. Congress because, as representatives of the fossil fuel industry, they would refuse; the U.S. delegation and any other conferees familiar with U.S. politics could take that for granted. So it was possible, at long last, for diplomats from all these countries to meet, approve a limit, whatever that goal may end up good for, to 1.5 degrees C worldwide warming, and to agree to meet again every five years to assess progress. Skeptics about the ultimate worth of the agreement (What about all the fossil fuel we will still keep burning because it's available and we won't just shut down? What would ever hold countries to all these commitments of financial aid to poorer nations?) in their ongoing rallies and campaigns, shouting to us of the insufficiency to the language and provisions so far in the agreement, remain more of a vital force than what's encoded in the treaty.

The engendering of this agreement does, I think, soften some of the desolation about what an inhospitable future the earth has to offer us, due to our overloading of her systems with our waste gases and liquids. To the extent that art enlivens us, a body of artwork about ourselves, about living creatures native to certain lands, who historically have accompanied us out across woods and plains, remains justifiable, but becomes more theoretical in its possible messaging. The imagination of the artist connected with that place has even more leeway than it recently had to show or describe a maybe or amazing outcome through documentary; fantasy has a little more grounding in realistic genres of art than it may have had, depending on which artist you are talking to about present versus future. Change, not necessarily of our liking, is at hand in nature and therefore in ourselves, change we can measure against our own personal timelines.

The less-addressed miserable trend, which climate disruption will to an unknown extent help to offset, is human population explosion, ruining more and more of the prospect for more and more other creatures not ourselves. Outside forces like famine and aquifer depletion look to be the main forces that will curb the overgrowth that society, business and political leaders almost all presumed right and necessary. We don't know what will happen. But tonight I'm consoled that if we all want enough to enact a global agreement to slow down our own destruction by weather cataclysm, we might agree on the value of other restraints even before the restraints come at us out of basic biology and geochemistry. I would like to make artwork that joins forces with the plant communities, the aquatic systems, the birds and furry and cold-blooded creatures to dazzle my own kind into balance, our exploding masses forsworn in favor of balance with the rest of life.

The Inca Dove Ranges Northward, Resting where it Never Was  - original watercolor/mixed media 12x9" unframed - see at

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