Practice What We Teach

Science isn’t just a topic taught in schools, is it?

On September 20, 2019, Seattle youth joined those in NYC and across the globe in school walk-outs to march for pro-climate policies and to fight for their future.

The 2019 Climate Week in New York City is in full swing, kicked into high gear with last Friday’s Global Climate Strike led by the world’s youth.
Their DIY artful protest signs shared their messages to the world’s leaders and inspired this post. This week, young climate advocate Greta Thunberg admonished governments and big corporations for not doing enough, and stealing her future and that of youth everywhere.

Being young, female or autistic doesn’t make one wrong or a pawn of adult manipulation, as some right wing politicians have implied. Rather, Thunberg’s impassioned plea to congress to listen to the science is direct, and is based on the consensus of the world’s scientists. Thunberg submitted as part of her testimony to Congress last week the
United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2018 report, which states that we must reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 (and to net-zero carbon by 2050) to limit global warming to just 1.5 degrees Celcius to avoid the worst of environmental disasters. How can we teach kids science in school, but then tell them to leave it at the door when the bell rings at the end of the day? One segment of the media holds Thunberg’s message up as a banner cry for change; others worry that her focus on government and big business shifts focus away from the significance of individual actions. And then the U.S. President mocks her on Twitter. .

Climate Science

So, the science has set our metrics and our deadline; step one is to cut carbon almost in half by 2030 to avoid the worst climate scenarios. Eco-advocates have pushed for individual actions for the last 20-30 years, and Thunberg calls for governments and corporations to change. So who’s right? That’s a question that creates a false construct. There is no need to choose. All three groups must implement change; all three are, and must continue to be, interconnected to hit the carbon targets.

So, if we need all three sectors of society to change, what does that look like?

Climate Action Trifecta

We need a trifecta of climate leadership and action – from individuals, private sector businesses and governments at all levels.

Individuals: Many concerned citizens have heeded the climate change call; personal actions range from eating vegetarian to carpooling to work, installing solar panels on our homes to downsizing our housing or amount of goods we buy, and on and on. And these collective actions have influenced the market – we see B Corporations, and Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting, and big business actions. But the rate of change has been too slow; climate change is already happening and we need help. To learn more about how you can take individual actions to cut carbon, read the action section of my post Climate Shift.

Private Sector Business: It’s time for the next industrial revolution, moving toward carbon-neutral technologies, waste-free products, and resource-efficient methods, while also supporting local economies and creating jobs. It’s time for businesses to innovate, to lead, to adapt or die. That’s what free markets are supposed to do. From Amazon to Walmart, more and more businesses are joining in carbon reductions, in part based on consumer, shareholder, and employee demand. Yet, 70% of emissions come from just 100 companies, most in the oil and gas industry (including the consumption of their products by consumers); it’s time for those companies to shift to the industries of the future, and fast.

Governments: Regulations, policies and incentives must be put in place that support the private sector and foster a market that moves us toward a climate positive future. From carbon taxes to transportation and energy subsidies to renewable energy and fossil-fuel free transportation, to clean air and water regulations, we need governments to step up. 24 U.S. States have stepped up so far, so there are clear precedents for the other states and the Federal government to join, follow, or use as a starting point.

Climate Solutions

There are hosts of lists of solutions, steps, and strategies. Two that are concise yet comprehensive are the Washington Post’s “Here Are 11 Climate Change Policies to Fight For in 2019” and , and Scientific America’s “10 Solutions for Climate Change.”

There is a lot of overlap, with common themes of personal actions from diet to transit and home energy to family size; business practices from eco-agriculture to open electric markets, and policies including carbon taxes, emissions goals, and a Green New Deal. If we all pull together in the same direction, we can cut carbon, while also boosting the economy by creating jobs, and supporting eco-friendly technologies, products and methods. It’s time for every sector and every level of society and in every corner of the globe, especially in the developed world which has the highest carbon footprint, to act and to act now.

Eco-Art Outside

An unscheduled month of summer art-ing outside & on-the-go.

Off exploring I go… Looking forward to sharing the eco-art discoveries!
Birch View, detail from oil painting by Teresa Stern.

Between working while juggling my daughter’s swim lessons and summer camp schedule, camping, park outings, and travel, I decided I needed to do things differently for August. So I’ll take my The Art of Sustainability lens with me, and point it toward my eco-art finds wherever I go. But with no schedule for the week’s Instagram posts and a minimal blog.

Join the Eco-Artventure!

Follow along with my summer eco-artventures on Instagram @the_art_of_sustainability and on Facebook @theartofsustainabilityblog. Share your own eco-artventures – tag one of the accounts above. I’ll feature shares along the way as well, with citation of course!

Don’t Trash It! Part 3

Turning Art into Action

The pretty plastic-free paper and humor are a plus. Shipping TP from China is a minus, or is it? The answer can be surprising.

One thing The Art of Sustainability project has done for me is provide a regular process whereby I see amazing environmentally inspired art with a message. The messages range from “protect our oceans” to “prevent more extreme climate change”, from “reduce waste” to “preserve habitat”, and on and on. The creativity is inspiring, the messages, to me, compelling, and they have a common underlying thread: PLEASE ACT and ACT NOW. When I heard about #plasticfreejuly, I decided to see what changes I could make to heed the messages to reduce waste and prevent plastic pollution.

This is a summary of my #PlasticFreeJuly journey. It has by no means been a perfect journey, as my July was not 100% plastic-free. However, there will be more stops ahead, and it has been a fun adventure with much learned. I was ready to go beyond the basics – reusable shopping bags and coffee cups. So to dive deeper, I decided to tackle some of the other plastics I use daily, some single-use, some not. I focused on health and beauty products, and foods in plastic packaging. There was no rigorous weighing of options, I must admit. Rather, I looked at the plastics I saw myself using (or discarding) each day, and looked for available alternatives that suited me, either from a cost or convenience perspective. I was looking for repeatable options preferably, that would survive July.

Who needs plastic to wash their hair? Not I!

July’s “Plastic-Free” Destinations:

  1. Beef up the Basics: OK, I went into July with a fairly well-stocked set of what I’d call the Plastic Alternate Basics: reusable coffee mugs, shopping bags, cotton produce bags, reusable food containers, and reusable or compostable straws and utensils. So for July I set some rules: no reusable cup or bag = no purchase. This resulted in having coffee at the coffee shop a few times when I really wanted it to-go instead, or sometimes skipping coffee until I could get my cup. Full confession, I did get one frosty iced-coffee this month in a disposable plastic cup. Sigh, a moment of tired weakness. Oh, there were a couple deli purchases that required new plastic containers. So now I’ve stashed a couple in my shopping bag pile. But otherwise, the tactic of sprinkling cups, mason jars, and bags at the office, in the car, and by the door at home helped immensely in my somewhat-plastic-free July.
  2. Laundry Detergent: After my April blog post “Plastic Apocalypse” which featured Stuart Haygarth’s Tide Chandelier, I’d just had it with plastic laundry soap containers. Haygarth’s glowing orb of plastic containers haunted me. I searched for “plastic free laundry soap” and found Tangie from Waste Free Products. (Yes, there are powder detergents that come in paper-board boxes, but the boxes have a plastic coating as a moisture barrier so are not recyclable.) Tangie products are made in California, so fairly local to Seattle, and offered the most local product I could find at that time. I ordered their laundry soap paste, which is a soap sized bar that comes in a small compostable paper box. I’ll save my current laundry soap jug to refill with the paste and dilute the paste water to make my new liquid laundry detergent. I have not tried it yet but will add a comment below once I have. I like that this approach skips the paper vs glass container conundrum and jumps right to much reduced and compostable packaging. Additionally, since we are not shipping the water which I will add at home instead, it likely has a lower transportation emissions impact on the climate. At $0.08/load, this is less than the detergent I buy now.
  3. Shampoo and Conditioner: When I’m in the shower, besides the bar of soap, I’m surrounded by plastic. Shampoos, conditioners, make-up remover, baby shampoo, and shave lotion. So for my personal July journey, it was time to hack away at some of those bottles. When I’d ordered my laundry paste, I also purchased Tangie shampoo and conditioner bars. With the first order, WasteFreeProducts offered the option to include free loofah discs labeled “shampoo” and “conditioner”, which are very handy and help the bars dry and last longer. (Note as of today, the loofah option appears to have been replaced with wood drying discs that require purchase. Or just cut up your own loofah.) I finished my bottled set earlier this month and started using the bars, and I LOVE them! My hair feels soft and clean. It’s also easy to use just a tiny amount of conditioner, which is great for my hair type. My 7-year old daughter started using them this month, and it’s really good for her curly hair too; her frizzies are much reduced. I keep the set on their labeled loofah bases in a metal wire soap dish that suctions to the back shower wall to keep them out of the shower spray. The cost was about the same as buying a new set of eco-friendly shampoo and conditioner at my local drugstore, and based on usage so far the bars should last as long as a bottle if not longer, so this eco-swap might also be a cost saver for me.
  4. Toilet Paper: I know that toilet paper is wrapped in plastic wrap for hygiene and to keep it dry. It’s basically a “bag’s worth” of plastic film that I can drop off at the store-recycling bin at one of the stores I go to about monthly, but still it bugs me. I used to see individual paper-wrapped rolls at our local drug store, but haven’t spied them recently. So after seeing the Who Gives a Crap ad go by on @the_art_of_sustainability Instagram feed numerous times, I decided to try the “feel good toilet paper”. Advertising really does work I guess… I went the full distance and ordered a case of 100% recycled 3-ply, plastic-free TP. So far, it really does feel good. It’s soft enough (not scratchy, but not downy soft either) and does what it’s supposed to do without disintegrating during use. And helping fund toilets in developing countries also feels good. At a dollar per roll, it is more pricey than buying standard TP on sale at the grocery store (my previous practice) but is comparable cost-wise to other recycled toilet papers (that come wrapped in plastic). But, despite being the prettiest TP I’ve ever seen, with the patterned paper wraps (which can be reused for crafts or wrapping gifts), and a sense of potty humor that I appreciate, the fact that it’s made in China gives me pause. Great life cycle review here from The Kritic; I’ll need to confirm that similar lower carbon footprint for WGAC holds true for U.S. buyers before my next TP purchase.
  5. Snack Time: The daily challenge of providing healthy, tasty and packable snacks for my school-aged child has proven to be one of the largest conundrums of parenthood. Now, for July and beyond, these snacks need to be healthy, tasty, packable AND plastic-free. Which means granola bars were out. I grabbed a few reused bulk bags and headed to the bulk aisles at the local grocery and Whole Foods (bonus, WF provides paper bags for bulk purchases). After taste and texture testing with my daughter, we settled on a good blend of healthy and tasty treats: bulk sunflower seeds, dried apricots, yogurt-covered pretzels, and cheddar sesame sticks. I also started baking this Oatmeal Banana Bread. Chunky slices in an snap lock container are hearty and travel well. But, I do have to remember to bake during the weekend.
  6. Food Staples: Last fall my husband took up bread baking, for purely culinary and entertainment reasons. He bakes a loaf of whole wheat bread every week so we have sandwich bread covered, with the bonus of skipping plastic bread bags and the excess sugar common in standard store-bought bread. (He uses just a touch of honey.) So I identified two other high volume staples in our household, milk and yogurt, and decided to try making them plastic-free. Our local market has locally milked milk in returnable glass jugs, so I purchased some to drink and some to use to make yogurt. Thanks to this Instant Pot yogurt recipe from A Mindful Mom which shares tips for tailoring the yogurt to your tanginess tastes, the process was super easy. I’d heard that making yogurt was easy but wow, I had no idea just how easy, and at about half the price of store-bought yogurt!
  7. Farm to Table: Truly community supported agriculture, or CSA’s for short, are a win on many levels. Having a box of vegetables, fruit, or both, delivered to your door or somewhere in the neighborhood direct from the farm provides fresh, local, tasty, healthy, seasonal ingredients. And it comes with little or no plastic. We enjoyed a couple of boxes from Full Circle Farms this month. FCF lets you customize ingredients as well as the schedule, so we’ve been ordering 1-2 times per month so far this season. I also lucked into being vacation coverage for a friend who hosts a pick up site for fruit boxes from Collins Family Orchards. They have consistently delivered the most amazing peaches, nectarines and cherries, and at a slight discount compared to farmer’s market. Next year I will reserve my spot as soon as the announcement comes out; I moved too slow this year and they sold out before I signed up.

So, I definitely made some progress on my “plastic-free path”. It feels good to celebrate this month’s successes, while also mapping out a few more things for my ongoing adventure. Much of the above will continue long past July, and now that I’ve noticed the plastic in my home and learned how easy it can be to swap things out in some areas, I’m ready to look for some more plastic-free options. A few things I haven’t gotten to yet include tackling the toothpaste tube dilemma (they’re not recyclable, most tubes don’t even have a recycling logo and plastic number), getting my child to eat fresh peanut butter that we can grind in-store, in our own container (right now she hates it, so we buy Cadia which comes in glass jars), and buying meats and poultry that’s not sitting on foam and shrink wrapped in plastic (even the farmer’s market meats come in plastic). But, there’s one thing I gave up in July that I’m not sure I can live without permanently: tortilla chips. I might give myself a limit, I might still use carrot sticks instead sometimes, but I’m going to need to feed that particular addiction from time to time. My salsa needs its true soul mate.

Whether or not anyone can truly live plastic-free in the western world is also a question to ponder. There are advantages to plastics – they are flexible and durable and plastic packaging weighs less and can reduce shipping costs and emissions – but the loop we’ve created is certainly unsustainable. For now, using plastic alternatives where they are available and affordable, which varies by location and person, and supporting businesses who offer those alternatives are solid steps in the right direction.

Double plastic with beef? How do I say “No thank you!”?
(Image by Robert-Owen-Wahl from Pixabay.)

My list of plastic-free living is more like “less plastic living” and is by no means comprehensive. If you want more “plastic free” tips, visit Beth Terry’s excellent website and blog My Plastic Free Life.

If you have comments, tips or resources to add, please share below. I’d love to hear from you!

Don’t Trash It! Part 2

A Gallery of Art from the Reclaimed

This month’s theme, Don’t Trash It! explores art that mines the reclaimed and the discarded, and turns that trash into art treasures.

PET Cactus Collection by Veronika Richterova. Photo by
Michal Cihlář. This lovely little garden creates beauty out of waste. There really is no reason any plastic bottle should wind up in the ocean when it could become something like this instead…
Detail of Color Collage piece, reclaimed tin, by Nan Wonderly. For Wonderly, working with materials near the end of their intended lifecycle was a conscious statement about environmental destruction and the human role in it. To me, her color-blocked abstracts offer a positive reminder to look at things in a different way.
Banff, recycled mixed media, by Magical Zoo. Magical Zoo’s post-consumer, up-cycled creatures embody zero-waste as a call for environmental conservation, and animal protection. These creatures remind us of the wonder in nature, the majesty of word’s species, of which humans are but one.
The Falter, mixed media on canvas, 30″x40″. Artist Brittany M Noriega
literally paints with trash to create luminous textures.
Fertility, medical detritus, glass, cement by Kalindi Kunis. Pulling from collected non-recyclable waste, Kunis merged the botanical inspirations from her 2D work with the hard “facts” of human activity – waste with nowhere else to go.
Fading Cloth,liquor bottle tops & copper wire, by El Anatsui. I was lucky to see this shimmering sheet of golden yellows, reds and metallics while at the St. Louis Art Museum earlier this year. Ghanaian artist El Anatsui sews a “cloth of gold” from flattened, discarded liquor bottle tops and copper wire. Beyond the alchemy of turning trash into “gold”, Fading Cloth weaves in socio-political meaning; as Europeans historically had traded textiles and liquor for gold and slaves in West Africa. My sister graciously served as a model to illustrate the grand scale of this glowing work.
Joshua Tree, acrylic on found trash, by Mariah Reading. The artist sees the consequences of our consumption on the ground, literally. After traditional sculpture and painting, she turned to trash as the base for her landscape paintings as a conscious move to reduce waste associated with making art and with the hope of “snapping us out of our complacency.” Brava!
Colt 45, found aluminum cans, rocks by Vancouver B.C, artist Robi Smith. Smith’s work is deeply rooted in the NW coastal ecosystem. Her playful recycled beer can fish belies the reality of the impacts of human activities, including pollution and waste, on local forests, beaches, rivers, and ocean life.
Christy Rupp‘s “The Threatened Swan” is modeled after historic art by Jan Asselijn, ca 1650 (image below), recreated here with discarded plastic net bags, steel, plastic, fish line, and paint. 24”x41”x15”
Pipette Necklace, medical waste, by Sheena Mathieson. Mathieson celebrates the “art of the found” in this art for you neck… Truly the resources available to artists to mine for art making is astounding. This statement necklace makes more than one statement!
Scenic World Installation, plastic bottles, Jane V Gillings. Gillings’ work highlights the impacts, and extent, of our man-made materials. Is it a ray of light or a plastic crashing “wave”?
Little Green, geo-metric wall sculpture made with plastic drinking straws and nylon string, 1999. Artist Tony Feher was an American sculptor known for working with low cost and found objects. I spied this pieced at the James Harris Gallery in 2018; now it’s in the Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. 25 ¼ × 25 ½ × ¼ in (64.1 × 64.8 × .6 cm)

Don’t Trash It!

Art that transforms trash into treasure, with a message.

How do we reach a zero waste future? Can art show the way?

We’ve got a problem with waste. It includes single-use plastics, and so much beyond. We have a global dependency on plastic that has been manufactured into every level of consumer society. Hybrid materials mix multiple ingredients that are difficult to recycle or impossible to compost. Synthetic fabrics leach micro-plastic fibers into the water system every time we wash our clothes. The design of fabrics, materials, and products do not address the waste they create during and after their use. The disposal or recycling of products is not handled by the companies that create them, but by the consumer and the communities in which they live. Thus taxpayers tackle disposal, removing corporate financial incentives to reduce the production of waste-generating goods.

So in July, The Art of Sustainability will feature art that mines the vast abundance of waste and trash and beach litter and plastic bottles and caps and so on, and transforms those discarded items into art treasures. Can art inspire us to reduce and reuse, lowering the demand for the challenge of global recycling? Can art inspire demand for plastic alternatives, for slow fashion, for compostable products, for natural materials, for zero-waste pathways?

Also, The Art of Sustainability will experiement with a new format this month. The Don’t Trash It! blog will be split into 3 sub-posts. First, will be the introductory statement, similar to the exhibit description at a museum. The second post of the month will include a gallery of images that grows throughout the month, in parallel to the @the_art_of_sustainability feed on Instagram. The third post of the month will offer reflections and observations from the month’s art with a review of related actions for those who are interested in making change. I’ll include steps I’ve taken in my own life as well as a record of my own journey.

The World of Water

Art explores the myriad of issues.

Every living organism needs water to survive.

As I read about the threats to global freshwater resources, to our oceans, to our climate, and the risks we face because of those threats, it can feel overwhelming. For decades environmentalists have sounded the alarm, calling on the world to use less carbon, to reduce, reuse and recycle, to conserve water, reduce pesticides & synthetic fertilizers, and protect and restore habitat. And yet it is 2019 and we are still on an unsustainable course, with ongoing water pollution from largely unabated carbon emissions, chemical-intensive farming practices, industrial dumping, oil leaks, marine dumping, plastic waste, nuclear accidents and sewage overflows.

In the maelstrom of sobering statistics, and political and corporate inertia, art offers me both hope and inspiration. Art also serves as a powerful educational tool to highlight the issues and provocateur to prompt action.

The Power of Creativity

Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman, creators of the traveling installation The Wave, have found “that art is a very effective way of addressing difficult subjects like climate change and the future of our water resources… Art allows individuals of all ages and abilities to feel and process emotion, [it] starts conversation and sparks creativity.” They found the combination of education and participation in The Wave prompted a greater interest in the future of water.

The Wave is a national (U.S.), interactive, public art project celebrating water and its vital function in our lives. It was created jointly by Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman, (@FishmanSusanH, This community oriented traveling interactive art is a siren call for water conservation. Inspired by the 2011 magnitude 9 earthquake that rocked Japan, which triggered a tsunami so large it shifted the Earth on its axis 4-10 inches, and created a wave chain that reached across the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. This event demonstrated to the artists the reality of a connected world. Since September of 2011, The Wave has been installed in 24 museums, galleries, schools, universities, community centers, festival and parks including: The Peabody Essex Museum (Salem, MA); The National Aquarium (Baltimore, MD); The Rose Kennedy Greenway (Boston, MA); The Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford, CT); Allegra LaViola Gallery (NYC); Governor’s Island (NYC); The New Britain Museum of American Art (New Britain, CT), and many others. 

However we will need more than interest. We will need that interest to inspire creativity and action. Part of “correcting our course” is envisioning a new future, one largely without oil and gas. This will require creative thinking to redirect business, government and lifestyle practices to green options for transportation, manufacturing, building construction, food production, and energy generation. Creating a positive future will require tough choices, yes, but also innovations in design, methods, technologies, and funding mechanisms. And art is a powerful tool in reminding us of our own power and the power of creativity.

Creating a positive future will require tough choices, yes, but also innovations in design, methods, technologies, and funding mechanisms. And art is a powerful tool in reminding us of our own power and the power of creativity.
A creative idea – What if every time you reached for this… (image above)
…you saw this?
Opacify is Post Carbon Lab’s proposal – part art installation, part social engineering – that seeks to hijack the single-use plastics shopping experience. Bottle packaging would include messaging akin to cigarette warning labels; but with warnings of the eco impact of plastics. An option to include thermographic ink would require shoppers to interact with the bottle in order to see what’s inside. If it just plain looks evil, would you buy it? The concept was selected as a Finalist in A/D/O’s Water Futures Competition.

Bio Boulevard and Water Molecule
by Buster Simpson creates a poetic highlight of reclaimed water use as the entry experience in an unlikely place – the Brightwater Wastewater Facility in Woodinville, Washington.
Bio Boulevard and Water Molecule merges water advocacy, public art and function. A series of large cast concrete figurative elements support an episodic sculpture tableau consisting of a large water molecule and a long conveyance pipe transporting reclaimed water. The system intends to facilitate bio mitigation through hydroponics as well as being a water feature. The expressed water then feeds reconstructed wetlands and recharges ground water. Per Simpson, “The concrete figures suggest a heroic collective effort reminiscent of public works projects of past infrastructure endeavors.” I’d like to see more of this kind of infrastructure!

A Connected World

Art also reminds us we are not alone on our planet Earth. We co-inhabit this world with a diversity of cultures as well as the flora and fauna that provide food, medicine, shade, clean air, absorb rain run-off, and other benefits that humans need.

Cook Inlet Beluga mixed media on paper 14.5″ x 21.25″
Vancouver B.C. artist, environmental educator and curator Robi Smith explores our under-water neighbors on the NW coast, from salmon to whales, eelgrass to sponge reefs. Smith’s art reflects her passion for coastal marine ecosystems and her concerns about the impacts of human activities on forest, river and ocean life. Her mixed media paintings embed found materials, such as maps, into land- and sea-scapes that explore the interconnections between different species. The works tell visual tales layering scientific understandings with site-specific observations, allowing a glimpse of what often unseen.

Bluebell by Magical Zoo is based on a Blue Ring Octopus that inhabits coral reefs and tide pools of the Pacific and Indian oceans. This poisonous color shifting creatures is threatened, like many of marine life, by coral reef damage and pollution in the oceans. The artist turns an ugly truth, “that we have been knowingly destroying our planet and killing off its natural life in pursuit of the falsehoods promised by mass consumption” into a zoo of colorful and playful recycled sculptures seeking to inspire conservation actions.

Help Chart the Course

There is a lot of overlap in protecting our water resources and fighting climate change. Water flows around the globe, and rises and falls through the atmosphere – it’s all connected. All the water we will ever have is here on the planet right now. Protecting our water is a global effort that requires local actions and policy.

  • The single most impactful thing we can all do to protect our water is to VOTE for leaders who will enact policies that support (and fund) clean energy and eliminate water pollutants.
  • Walk the talk (reduce waste, buy less plastic, reuse what you buy, volunteer or support non-profits that protect and conserve freshwater and marine water bodies.)
  • Match purchases to your values and support companies that practice good enviromental stewardship (LEED and Living Buildings, Salmon-Safe or organic agricultural products, slow fashion, eco materials and reduced or paper packaging, etc.).

These strategies are necessary to make it clear to politicians and corporations that money flows to those who support pro-planet policies and create environment-friendly products, from reducing waste and eliminating single-use plastics to shifting us to a clean energy economy to implementing organic farming methods, and on and on.

Climate Shift

Time to Choose: Caution Ahead or Disaster Averted?

Scientists have warned that the world would have to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by as soon as 2030 if the aim is to limit warming in this century to just 1.5 degrees Celsius (we’re at 1 degree Celsius/2 degrees Fahrenheit already, and yes that’s significant at the planetary scale). That means we’ve got 11 years to curb carbon and that means we have to start now. Whether we conquer our carbon addiction or continue the binge, the subsequent tale will be told by future generations.

Will future generations see such a sight?
Image: Glaciar Perito Moreno in Argentina by @maptheunknown, with permission.

It’s a tall order isn’t it? Cut emissions across all sectors of the economy, in order to limit warming to 1.5° degrees Celsius. We need political leadership on this issue; but we can’t wait for it (particularly in the U.S.); it’s time to act. As society changes, politics will follow.

“You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.”

Greta Thunberg, climate activist

Trends show us slowly making progress in the right direction, but how do we speed the rate of carbon cutting? Bloomberg’s energy outlook suggests we could hit 50% of electricity from renewables by 2050 – but we will need to push hard to achieve that, and that figure doesn’t address transportation and industry emissions. We’ll have to push even harder to reach the target of reducing total emissions by 50% by 2030-2040. It is possible; we have the technology and the tools (cheaper batteries, lowering solar production prices, improving efficiency in equipment, etc.); but we will need to shift to low carbon lifestyles, business practices, policies and public infrastructure.

Art & Climate Change

So if we know we need to change, what motivates people to actually change? Two key motivators for people to make changes are personal experience with a particular issue or problem, and the belief that what we do can make a difference. Many of the artists working with the climate change topic seek to address one or both of these psychological elements.

“Can visual art affect viewer perceptions of climate change?” The answer is yes.

Prof. Christian A. Klöckner, Climart

“The Floods”, Nathalie Miebach

The Burden of Every Drop by Nathalie Miebach; wood, paper, rope, data
17’x10’x2′, 2018. Photo by: Jean-Michael Seminaro, used with permission of the artist.

Nathalie Miebach uses weather data to generate 3-D sculptures. She transforms the numbers documenting changing weather patterns into colorful woven swirls of reeds, grasses, wood, paper, yarn & rope. “The Burden of Every Drop” is a visual tale of Hurricane Maria – about the fierceness of the wind and rain, about the data silence as all electrical systems broke down, about the vastly underestimates death toll, about rebuilding and about people leaving the Puerto Rico. The piece combines weather and other numerical data with anecdotal information from the news in the aftermath of the storm, with the right side representing wind data coming into a crescendo to the left as it hits Puerto Rico, represented by an unraveling quilt.

When asked about the impetus behind her weather weavings, Nathalie shared that “one of the things I have learned is that it is very difficult to get people to speak about Climate Change.  It’s such a political topic that most people feel uncomfortable talking about that. I think that’s dangerous for the future of this planet and our own survival. If we don’t know how to talk about it, we won’t change and continue living as if Climate Change is a topic that only concerns scientists and politicians.” However, she found that people will share their weather stories; it’s a more personal link to climate change, often involving devastation and destruction. We experience weather every time we walk outside, and the patterns of that weather is already changing. This week alone saw a multitude of super storms across the central U.S. Is that the weather you grew up with? Extreme weather is on the rise; think what 10 or 20 more years along this trajectory might bring.

“Pollution Pods”, Michael Pinsky

Pollution Pods at Somerset House for Earth Day 2018, by Michael Pinsky. Image @ Peter Macdiarmid for Somerset House.

Visual artist Michael Pinsky teamed up with Climart, an international climate & art research project, to create the “Pollution Pods”. The pods are an installation of geodesic domes that contain carefully mixed recipes emulating the relative presence of ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide which pollute London, New Delhi, San Paolo and Beijing. The pods were envisioned as a way to provide visitors with a personal experience of climate change, and to help answer a critical question, “Can visual art affect viewer perceptions of climate change?” Per Climart’s coordinator, Prof. Christian A. Klöckner, the answer is yes. The project’s findings show that the pods “trigger strong emotional responses in the visitors through the visceral experience they provide. These emotions then seem to be an entry point into thinking about air pollution and climate change and ones role in this issue… Some people feel motivated to act.” Pinsky’s TedxFreiburg talk “Cars: It’s a Question of Culture” explores in more depth what he sees as a critical cause of the climate crisis – the combustion engine, “get rid of [those types of] cars, get rid of the pollution.” Simple in word, not in deed. Policy, urban design, transportation planning, and efficient mobility technology all need to shift to a lower carbon mode – but only if demanded by the citizens of the world.

“Greta Thunberg”, Brooke Fischer

Greta Thunberg by Brooke Fischer. Image with permission of the artist.

Botanical artist Brooke Fischer combined her blooms with the a call to action from youth eco-activist Greta Thunberg, in her painting of the same name. The work embraces and celebrates the blunt but hopeful challenge in Greta’s words. Fischer states that, “We both believe that humans are in for a rude awakening if we do not take action now. We can all help the planet now.” From changes in our daily lives, to voting for politicians that support reducing emissions, to “voting with our wallets”, we do have the ability to effect change. It is our youth that will pay the highest price, which may be one reason why concern about climate change is highest among Americans aged 18-34.

“Trojan Horse: Exploring Issues Around Climate Change”, Margot Cormier Splane

Trojan Horse Follows the Money by Margot Cormier Splane. Image with permission of the artist.

Margot Cormier Splane sees art as a means to share her views with an audience. Her Trojan Horse series focuses on her concern for the environment. “Trojan Horse Follows the Money” can be summed up as profit over planet, which translates also to profit over people. Many companies, particularly large corporations, focus on stock holders and the bottom line, at the expense of all else. In fact, U.S. law requires them to do so, unless a company’s mission statement makes reference to environmental, social justice, or other philanthropic goals. Time, population growth, consumerism, habit, and inertia compound the impacts of putting profit above all else, but Cormier Splane believes we can make a difference. We know it won’t be easy, but it is vital that we take action, “because the ball is rolling, and the faster Climate Change occurs, the harder it is going to be to stop it in the future.”

To see more eco artworks exploring Climate Change, visit @the_art_of_sustainability on Instagram.

Change for Climate

Artists across the globe have embraced the climate conundrum and call on the collective “us” to make change. Our individual actions can and do make a difference. I’ll refer to Canadian academic, speaker and environmental activist extraordinaire, David Suzuki, “In a world of more than seven billion people, each of us is a drop in the bucket. But with enough drops, we can fill any bucket.” Are you ready to fill the bucket and help cut carbon? See the Top 10 Things You Can Do About Climate Change, or my own shorter version here:

  1. Use less energy – walk, bike, bus or train to work, weatherize your home, buy efficient appliances when it’s time to replace them.
  2. Support renewables – from asking your university or workplace to divest from carbon industries, to purchasing, supporting, invest in, and voting for renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal, etc.) – to grow the pro-planet industries of the future.
  3. Eat foods that are made with less energy, i.e. more plants, less meat.
  4. Buy less, and buy recycled or reused.
  5. Support carbon taxes to put a price on pollution.
  6. Vote (and make your voice heard).

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Plastic Apocalypse

Clay Apenouvon’s Plastic Attacks

Artists shine a light on the plastic problem.

The numbers are staggering – 90.5% of the 6,300 million metric tons (6,944 million U.S. tons) of plastics ever made have never been recycled and 8 million metric tons (8.8 million U.S. tons) of plastic waste flow into our oceans each year. Instead of getting overwhelmed, these artists transform waste plastics and marine debris into art that asks us to make a change.

Art Reveals Reality

Plastic littered beach.

Images and art can illustrate the impacts of our “single use plastics” era in a way no science report can. From photographic evidence of plastics debris ashore on beaches and floating in the sea to transforming plastic bottles, bits or bags into art works, reality is revealed. We do not have control of our waste, it has control of us.

Tide Chandelier, Artist: Stuart Haygarth, Photo via @florisflavis. Found plastic objects from Kent coastline in Dungeness, U.K.
Head Sculptures, Artist: turns beach clean ups along the Oregon coast into art in their Bandon, OR gallery and for traveling exhibits.

Plastics, often hailed as a marvel material – light, inexpensive, and versatile – have become the bane of beaches worldwide. 18 billion pounds of plastic waste flows into the oceans every year from coastal regions alone, equivalent to “five grocery bags of plastic trash sitting on every foot of coastline around the world”.

Albatross, Artist: Chris Jordan. Jordan’s powerful and stark images remind us lives are at stake.

The mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle” is in reality a myth. The 3 R’s only work if all three R’s are truly an option. With many purchases coming encased in plastic with no recycling stamp and low demand for products made with recycled plastics, the U.S. only recycles 9% of its annual plastic waste. Further, many cities confront a backlog of plastic waste as China now declines to take U.S. export plastic waste, the 3 R stool is broken. So the new mantra is “Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle”, and the new question is “can I do without the item that either is made of or wrapped in, single-use plastic?”

Cactus Collection, Artist: Veronika Richterová. This greenery will last about 500 years, no watering required…

Common Single-Use Plastics

  • Plastic water bottles
  • Plastic soda bottles
  • Plastic single-serve food containers (yogurt, juice boxes, squeeze pouches, etc.)
  • Take-away containers
  • Drink cups
  • Plastic shopping bags (varies)
  • Plastic take-away cup lids (coffee, tea, soda) (varies)
  • Plastic straws
  • Plastic sandwich wrap
  • Plastic sandwich bags
  • Produce bags
  • Produce stickers and tags
  • Dental picks & plastic floss tools
  • Bottle lids
  • Plastic toothpicks
  • Plastic utensils (forks, spoons, knives) & plates
  • Bubble wrap
  • Plastic film packaging (from toilet paper wrap to shipping filler)
  • Deli wrap and trays
  • Hard plastic packaging shells
  • Plastic packaging tape
  • Dirty plastic tarp
  • Coated disposable hot beverage cups (coffee, tea)
  • Disposable diapers

Inspiring Change

While artists may turn waste cleanup into art materials, they aren’t just making art. They are often calling us to action. Consider some of the things used on a daily basis all around the world that either can’t be recycled, or just aren’t recycled due to demand for recycled plastic products. Are there some you can do without? A relatively easy way to start – get and use reusable grocery bags, water bottles or coffee cups. Check your local thrift store for used options too.

Coca Cola Caps, Artist: Mandy Barker. This photographic work depicts 3,000 Coca Cola caps recovered from oceans, beaches, and the stomachs of birds from around the world that were sent in by the public. 

Ready to aim higher? Ditch single use and pick your pledge of anti-plastic allegiance, such as National Geographic’s Planet or Plastic Pledge or the Plastic Pollution Coalition’s  4 R’s (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) Pledge (which both have plenty of resources to help you navigate to the plastic-free promised land.