EXPLORATIONS OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENVIRONMENT
Climate change: Words we hear increasingly often; words that might invoke fear, uncertainty, a call to action, motivation, paralyzation, a collective fate; words that still might ring untrue. For some people, climate change still lives in the future. Sure, the temperatures are a bit more extreme, the storms more frequent, the favorite flowers bloom earlier.. but things change. For others, homes are underwater, crops cannot grow, and fire is rampant. Non-human life is far from exempt from these effects, as suitable habitats shrink and food sources are few and far between. Collectively, climate change is very much here, and will make its presence increasingly known with time.
To accept the presence of something as massive and life-altering such as climate change is one thing, to determine what to do about it is another. Outside of the more concrete, textbook solutions for the issue of climate change, I believe deeper answers lie in our collective culture and capacity for compassion. An awareness and sense of responsibility of the current and impending consequences bring forth an opportunity to reconnect to the earth and reinvent the way in which we live. Of course, there is more to do than simply go outside more, love the trees more, and drive our cars less. This is an effort that cannot be won without massive international policy changes, significantly decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels and global trade, and unwavering commitment by the majority of humanity-- but these things are only possible when we have heart and hope and compassion and a reason for our efforts. Climate change is begging us to see clearly and muster our strength: Yes, it's bad, yes, it's scary, and yes, we can do something about it.
The process of creating this body of work was about ninety percent thought (the majority of which involved questions rather than answers) and ten percent art-making. Climate Change. A million things could be explored with these words, as it involves every being and every thing. I decided to begin with only one rule that I carried with me through my process: less fear, more celebration of this earth. I believe all work-- anything from an illustration series, to combating the largest global issue we've ever faced-- ought to come from a place of love, hope, and genuine connection. I did not want these pieces to invoke immobility, but a hard truth, a call to action, a sense of home, and a reminder that we are powerful beings-- both in devastating and beautiful ways. The choice is ours.
A Celebration of Ice
Glaciers are, themselves, an endangered species. These persistent bodies of compressed ice cover about ten percent of earth and are generally out of sight, out of mind. They live in places we often do not, they thrive in temperatures we do not, yet we interact with them daily as they help create a stable climate, keep massive amounts of water in one place that would otherwise contribute to sea level rise, as well as provide sources of fresh water while the oceans retain healthy salinity levels. A warming earth causes them to retreat and break apart. Some cultures regard glaciers as living beings that protect and heal; the disappearance of them signifies a death of a deity. These immense and ever-moving giants are extraordinarily worthy of our gratitude.
A Rise of the Elements
Wildfires ablaze in the mountains, water to our knees in the cities. Shifts in climate bring change to natural rhythms, causing severe fire and flooding in more frequent intervals. Fires are a normal and necessary component of the wild: they clear dead trees, break down nutrients while returning it to the soil, and inspire new growth. Water is, of course, needed for all aspects of life. For both elements, too little or too much can be devastating. We've invited both to be off balance, and they are here at our doorsteps, asking us to be adaptable, to let go of luxury, to consider another way of being.
Leading and Trailing Edges
Some are moving far offshore, some north, some south from the equator. Some are bound to a place so specific, that moving is not an option, some are trapped due to geographical boundaries. A changing world requires adaption for survival-- for many marine organisms who are particularly sensitive to temperature changes, this means new home ranges are already being established for those fortunate enough to do so. The Peruvian Anchovy, Engraulis ringens, is moving away from the shores of South America and into deeper waters as the Humboldt Squid, Dosidicus gigas, is extending its range to the north, charting unknown territory in the eastern Pacific. New ecosystems are being defined with threads of old ones; many species lost along the way. The world is abuzz with movement, migration. All is in flux.
Intensity We Have Not Known
The cost of climate change is disproportionate. Some regions will experience drought, others will host storms growing with intensity, some will see more subtle effects. Similarly, people with the privilege of education, the ability to move and adapt, and the luck of geography will be less impacted. Those living in poverty with less access to resources are already feeling the effects of this earthly shift. Women, in particular, are the most at risk. They are often the farmers who experience declining crop yields in changing weather patterns, are less likely to have been taught to swim or be able to survive in the aftermath of natural disasters, and are the first ones to sacrifice food and water when supplies are scarce. We only have a glimpse of what this new world will look like, but science reveals deepening differences between people and spaces; we must consider others before we feel it ourselves.
500 Million Years, Dissolving
We are intertwined with this. Fault resides on our species' shoulders and we'll feel the changes in time just as much as any other being. But this also presents an opportunity to be magical, to become the beings we haven't yet given a chance. The late Cambrian gave rise to the ancient corals. The first were solitary organisms that eventually evolved to become colonial, only after surviving several mass extinction events. Now they symbiotically live with photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae in their tissues, while providing critical habitat and a food source to the marine environment. Rising carbon dioxide levels and increased temperatures in the world's oceans are causing them to lose structural integrity and become so stressed that they expel the algae that enables their very survival. The corals have repeatedly reinvented themselves and have learned to work with their communities. So can we.
An Untimely Phenology
The desert blooms in May. In April. In March.. spring arrives earlier and earlier each year. In ecology, phenology refers to the timing of cyclic events in nature influenced by environmental conditions, such as migration, flowering, and reproduction. Through long spans of time, different species have evolved to have relationships with one another so that the timing of events gives way to a beneficial interaction of some kind. These events are triggered by a multitude of factors: temperature, rainfall, length of day.. most of which are influenced by weather and climate. Climate change has caused the timing of natural events to shift which impacts species differently depending on their sensitivity. As one of over 1000 species of native Arizona bees, the Long-horned Bee (Melissodes) is a pollinator of plants in the Aster family, including our loved local plant, the Brittle Bush, Encelia farinosa. As the environment changes, the relationship between this bee species and this plant will shift.
The Spirit of Velutina
This region was once a sea. Looking out into the Sonoran Desert, it's hard to imagine how the environment used to look and how it will change with time. The southwestern United States is expected to experience warming and reduced rainfall before the rest of the country. Some plants will respond positively, at least for awhile, while others that have deep roots and require more water will decline. One of those plants is the Velvet Mesquite, Prosopis velutina. Mesquites cannot grow well when water is unavailable and even struggle to photosynthesize in droughts. Because they are such critical desert species, effects of their decline cascade into the desert ecosystem, interrupting stability and function of the community of flora and fauna. Among us are ghosts of species and systems.
We rarely notice our own hearts beating, the blood pulsing, our lungs inflating, and the billions of microorganisms inside our body helping keep us alive. Similarly, on a grander scale, the earth functions through nearly invisible, yet indispensable, processes that keep us, and every other being, thriving. Carbon has a natural cycle on the planet that we have interrupted since the time of the Industrial Revolution. Human activities have caused a massive increase in atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide. This causes heat to be trapped in the earths' atmosphere, resulting in an altered climate. There are natural 'sinks' -- such as plant life, the oceans, and soils-- that remove some carbon dioxide by converting them into other chemical compounds. However, these sinks can only hold so much, and it brings on consequences such as increasingly acidic oceans, oversaturated with CO2. Slowing down to pay attention to and appreciate the processes that give us life might offer insight into a different way of living.
With The Growing Heat
Seemingly small changes can have effects that travel widely. Sea turtle species around the world already face a growing number of threats, and climate change is adding another element. Depending on the species, sea turtle eggs incubate underground for about 45 - 80 days. During this time, the sex of the individuals is determined by the temperature of the sand around the nest: hot chicks, cool dudes, is the mantra, offering a bit of humor to a serious situation when it comes to an increasingly hot climate. As temperatures rise over the years, more and more female sea turtles enter the water, as males are fewer. This effect has consequences that reach farther than their own species, and into both the terrestrial and marine ecosystems to which sea turtles belong.
Listen To Trees With Long Memories
There is a certain wisdom held by beings who have lived on this planet for long periods of time: they have felt immense changes and have experienced a world quite different than the one in which we currently live. The Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva, is the longest living tree species on the planet, some individuals living for more than 5,000 years in the high mountains of the western United States. It can be so easy to accept the modern way the world looks, feels, and acts, though there have been other realities, other ways of being and living on the planet. History offers important lessons, and we must not forget to listen to the tellers of the past to consider a different future.
These works were shown at the Galleria at the YW in 2017. Select original pieces and prints are available -- please contact for details.