The least we can say is that 2018 has been challenging – politically, socially, environmentally. At times, many times, it seemed like for every step forward, we took two steps back. Not only did the political pendulum swing dangerously towards authoritarianism this year, but basic civil rights were taken away, and our sense of safety was severely challenged by an onslaught of natural disasters.
The publication of the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October, which warned that we have less than fifteen years to lower our carbon emissions and keep warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius, also contributed to this unease. Our window of opportunity for preventing the worst is closing fast and the actions being taken by those in power are still dreadfully inadequate.
But still, life goes on and we have to find ways to push ahead despite the challenges; in fact, we have no choice but to embrace the challenges. So, to mark the end of the year and the metaphorical turning of the page, the Core Team of Artists & Climate Change asked a few people what gives them hope. What makes them get out of bed in the morning? How do they stay positive in the face of so much uncertainty? We invite you to answer the question too, by leaving a comment below. We all need these beacons of light as we embark on a new year and get ready for what lies ahead.
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Susan Hoffman Fishman: Eve Mosher is an environmental artist living and working in New York City. Her large-scale interactive, public art projects address cultural and social issues of the urban ecosystem. One of Mosher’s most well-known work is High Water Line | NYC, which she first created in 2007 and has since adapted for the cities of Miami, Philadelphia, Delray Beach and Bristol, England. The project uses art to visualize how climate change will specifically impact individual communities. I chose Eve because I am particularly drawn to the way in which she develops inventive and effective ways of engaging the public in her work.
Eve: I have been closely watching the school strikes on behalf of climate change solutions, which were started by Greta Thurnberg in Sweden and then taken up by students in the UK, Australia and Germany. (and on Friday, December 7th, by young people in New York City). These young voices rising up around the world are speaking their own generation’s truth.
We have solutions, we have the knowledge for combatting climate change, which are available from indigenous people, scientists, individuals working in and with the land and water, etc. but world leaders lack the will (right now) to make these changes. It will take a shift in culture to move more people to action around climate solutions. And the culture shift is already being tackled by many active and passionate cultural producers around the world. Artists, musicians, performers, designers and others are showing us all what is possible.
With a rising up of voices and a shifting of culture around climate solutions, we can make a new world. I read plenty of articles around climate disasters, I am not blind to that, but imagining a world in which the solutions are realized, where there is more justice, better infrastructure and radical ideas that are reshaping our environment – that is what gives me hope.
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Modesto Flako Jimenez
Chantal Bilodeau: Modesto Flako Jimenez is a Dominican-born, Bushwick-raised theatermaker, producer, and educator. He is best known for original productions and three signature festivals – Ghetto Hors D’Oeuvres, One Catches Light, and Oye! Avant Garde Night! – produced with his company Oye Group. In 2018, Flako became the first Dominican-American Lead Artist in The Public Theater Under The Radar Festival with his show Oye For My Dear Brooklyn. He was also a guest speaker at the 2018 Artists & Climate Change Incubator, has worked extensively with Superhero Clubhouse, and is someone I love to turn to for some good, down-to-earth insights.
Flako: To be honest, what gives us hope in terms of climate change at the Oye Group is the younger generations of kids working hard to learn more about our environment and ways to protect it. When we were kids, we weren’t spending nearly enough time in school learning about how to recycle, compost, or use materials in an eco-friendly way. Now, through our involvement with New York Public Schools, we are seeing that kids are striving more and more to use things in an environmentally friendly way. It’s inspiring me to make more steps in my life and my art to be more green and hopefully inspire the generations older than us to do the same.
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Julia Levine: Blake Sugarman is a multidisciplinary artist based in Brooklyn, NY. He finds expression as an actor, musician, poet, and activist but is best known for his unusual solo performances which have been described as “spoken word and installation art in a theatrical duet.” Earlier this year, I wrote about Blake’s latest solo piece, Prelude to the Apocalypse (For What It’s Worth). I wanted to circle back to Blake, in the context of his involvement with Sunrise Movement during this midterm election year.
Blake: The thing that gives me hope right now is the radical new leadership we’re seeing emerge in the fight for a Green New Deal. Young people from Sunrise Movement helped get Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez elected and now she’s walking the talk and sticking by our side. Together, Ocasio-Cortez and Sunrise made waves last month after a sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office and are forcing a more meaningful and urgent conversation around climate. The call for a “Green New Deal” seems to really resonate with people in a way that market-driven climate policies in the past have not. I think the “12 years” slogan (based on the latest IPCC report) could be a game-changer too as it shakes people from the delusion that this is something we can afford to put off. Democrats can no longer just say “climate change is real” and move on to something else – young people won’t let them. Sunrise came back to Capitol Hill in December with even greater numbers. I was able to attend this time and was very inspired. I urge you to tell your representative to “support the creation of a Select Committee for a Green New Deal” in the House. This could be a big moment!
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Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI)
Joan Sullivan: In my previous post, I explained that “While renewable energy art is not yet mainstream, it is definitely headed in that direction, thanks in large part to the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI), whose tagline Renewable Energy Can Be Beautiful speaks for itself.” Founded in 2009 by co-directors Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry, LAGI is a bold multi-faceted, multidisciplinary global collaborative platform to accelerate the energy transition by challenging creatives – artists, architects, designers, landscape architects, engineers and scientists – to design site-specific public art installations that generate carbon-neutral utility-scale clean electricity. It is called solutions-based art: part renewable power generators, part large-scale public art installations. More than any other organization, LAGI is helping us all to visualize – to imagine – what our post-carbon future will look like. And it promises to be beautiful.
Elizabeth & Robert: The thing that most keeps us grounded is the gravity of this time in human history – the great energy transition. The naysayers and denialists are still out there, but it’s easier to remind ourselves of how inevitable the transition is when we see how community groups, municipalities, and businesses have taken up the mantle. Global investors and reinsurers are issuing warnings louder than the climate scientists, pointing to a carbon bubble of soon-to-be stranded assets. The falling price of solar and other renewable energy technologies means not only that their implementation will continue to increase, but that their use can become more democratized as well. It opens up opportunities to use clean energy technology in creative and inclusive ways, and to engage the community in the design of the distributed energy systems and microgrids that power their neighborhoods.
While it may not be so easy to see the forest for the trees (especially when they are burning), we are already living in a new culture of stewardship. The 20th century ways of thinking about systems and infrastructure design through the lens of dominion over nature are falling away. As creatives living during this time, we have an opportunity to help design beautiful renewable energy landscapes that can stand for generations and serve as monuments to future generations, reminding them that, when we awoke to the crisis of anthropogenic climate change, we did our best to respond to the challenge.
What gives us hope are youth climate activists and innovators such as Georgia Hutchinson, age 13, who won the top prize of $25,000 at the Broadcom Masters nationwide STEM competition for middle-school students for her invention – a data-driven dual-axis solar tracker for solar modules that can locate the sun at any time by relying on geospatial information and publicly available databases. Her innovation may have just brought the price of solar down yet again, and we’re looking forward to seeing how her generation will bring forward the heyday of the great energy transition in ways that are equitable and beautiful.
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Mike van Graan
Chantal Bilodeau: Mike van Graan is the President of the African Cultural Policy Network and an award-winning playwright. He is the 2018 recipient of the Sweden-based Hiroshima Foundation for Peace and Culture Award in recognition of his contribution to the fight against apartheid, to building a post-apartheid society and to the interface of peace and culture both in South Africa and across the African continent. Mike is also one of the 50 playwrights writing for Climate Change Theatre Action 2019 and someone who lives in one of the regions most affected by climate change.
Mike: According to Greenpeace, Africa contributes relatively little to global warming and yet as a region, it does – and will increasingly – suffer the effects of climate change with 180 million Sub-Saharan Africans estimated to die by the turn of the century as the result of unpredictable rainfall patterns, lower crop yields, higher food prices and increasing desertification.
There is an urgent need for changes in economic structures, political leadership and culture to arrest and reverse climate change, and the greed, intransigence and selfishness reflected in societies that currently enjoy globally hegemony tends us towards pessimism.
But my generation has lived through the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the break-up of the Soviet Union, the demise of apartheid, the ridding of dictatorships in various Arab countries, not least through sustained active citizenry. History appears to happen in cycles and while we may be in a dark cycle now, through active citizens globally, the wheel WILL turn and, and history will smile on greater humanity.