What We Talk About When We Talk About Climate Change

This article originally appeared in the Capital City Weekly on June 22, 2016. We were at the Fish House in Ketchikan early in April, talking about climate; the room was full and the conversation was lively. Outside, the berries were blooming and the snow was gone. Ketchikan was the third stop of the Tidelines Journey, a nine-town ferry tour organized through my work at the Island Institute, a Sitka based nonprofit dedicated to fostering resilience by promoting creative, collaborative explorations of the connections between place and community. I was traveling for the month with a group of storytellers, artists, and culture bearers, all of us working in our own ways to better understand the relationship between the changing climate and our changing cultures. A week into the tour it was becoming clear that other people in Southeast Alaska are as preoccupied with climate change as I am. For my entire adult life there’s been an environmental alarm in the background of my consciousness, sometimes

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The Air We Breathe

I live on the edge of the earth’s largest contiguous temperate rainforest that connects with over 25 million acres of federally protected wild land. Annual precipitation ranges from 25 to 140 inches along this coastal panhandle. It is here that water defines our identity, our way of life, our values, and our survival. Some would argue it is salmon that defines Southeast Alaska as the bounty of nutrient-rich tidal inlets and glacier-fed rivers and streams have provided ample human habitation for thousands of years. Sacred Tlingit song and dance about salmon abundance and return has been passed down for hundreds of years. Salmon fill our freezers and shelves, fuel our regional economy and culture, feed our families and the bears which ultimately feed the forest to complete an inexhaustible cycle of nutrients. As an artist in Alaska, salmon seem an obvious theme to base research on. As I began sifting through the ecological significance of salmon for my own survival,

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Telling the Climate Change Story

There are many ways to tell the climate change story. It can be told in numbers organized in charts or graphs – the tools preferred by scientists. Or it can be told in a myriad of artistic ways as evidenced by the categories on this blog. For painter and photographer Diane Burko, the climate change story is best told in large-scale images that capture both the majesty of the depicted subject, and the poignancy of its potential demise. Inspired by the science of climate change, Burko’s paintings and photographs invite us to revere what we have, and to understand that despite its magnitude and seemingly unlimited resources, our earth is at risk and requires as much nurturing from us as we do from it. The merging of the aesthetic and the rational in a single experience invites us to confront our own understanding of, and response to, climate change. In the interview below, Burko talks about her two current projects: Politics of Snow and Polar Investigations. For more on these projects, see also this excellent post on the World Policy Institute Blog. You have had

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Vanishing Ice

The Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Washington is currently showing the exhibition Vanishing Ice: Alpine and Polar Landscapes in Art, 1775-2012. Curated by Barbara Matilsky, with an accompanying catalogue distributed by University of Washington Press, the exhibition provides a 200-year overview of artists’ responses to the enduring fascination that frigid and isolated places seem to exert on the human imagination. While climate change is, at least in the public consciousness, a relatively recent concern, our desire to conquer the poles is not. In that context, it is interesting to step back and look at the evolution of Arctic imagery, from early 18th century romantic depictions of forbidden landscapes to contemporary works highlighting the vulnerability and fragility of polar environments. Artists from Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Russia, Switzerland and the United States are represented. Notable among them are Arctic veteran photographers James Balog, whose ambitious project Extreme Ice Survey was recently featured in the documentary

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