08 April 2006

Okay, Tim, We Are Weather Makers...


Jamie's response to my work got me thinking. I am being Whitmanesque here. I am trying to play both sides of the fence at the same time, and I need to do that with a much more steady hand. On one hand, I am really angry at the weak marketing, anxiety and emphasis on personal virtue that characterizes the current climate change discussion. People want positive messages, I cry! People want to know they can do something, not wallow in the fact that they are already cooked!

And yet, I am memorializing a city that still has people living in it, that had a Mardi Gras and that is rebuilding.

And I am doing that knowingly, for good reasons. I do not care how many New Orleanians I offend by reiterating structural facts about their great city. Much of it is under sea level, and sea level is rising rapidly. Southern Louisiana is losing land at the rate of a football field every thirty-eight minutes. Much of the bayou is getting claimed by the sea. As the oceans continue to warm, we can expect more hurricanes that last longer and are more destructive. This is only the beginning.

I am an optimist and everything, but I can't change physical facts.

Just to clarify my position, and to back off Tim Flannery a little bit, we absolutely need to know what is unfolding. It is equally important to acknowledge that what is unfolding is really, really bad. New Orleans is not special. The Maldives are also losing ground to the sea. Dutch officials are tearing their hair out. Native peoples in arctic regions (the Inuit, Saami, Laaps) are completely fucked. They are losing solid ground as permafrost and sea ice melts. Hunting opportunities are dwindling as caribou have to fight to get at lichen, and as polar bears have to wrestle with huge tracts of open water to get at seals.

I do not want to dispell the facts. I want to dispell the hysteria and bad marketing. The only way to deal with something this serious is to be able to really look at it for a long time with a keen and steady eye.

A professor once told me that making good sculpture is all about finding comfort in disequilibrium, or being able to handle whatever unfolds without rushing to the finish line. When you're making a sculpture, you've got to just evaluate what it does dispassionately and sensitively, and make every move based on the information the sculpture is giving you. If you're not doing that, you're forcing something, and forcing something results in despair or furniture.

Translating the intimacy of the sculpture/sculptor relationship on such a large scale is tricky but important. We got where we are today by forcing the earth to take us on our terms. We imposed our will. We can't get out of this by crying that we are not dead yet (sorry Jamie) and blaming the levee-makers. It's bigger than that. Anxiety and apocalyism do not make for good listening, but knowing the facts is crucial. New Orleans is dying. So are lots of other places. Our response must acknowledge that set of physical facts.

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