PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Culture

Boring the World to Death

Paul Hiebert

The green movement is boring. Should environmentalism become less empirical and more emotional?


Climate Change: Picturing the Science

Author: Gavin Schmidt
Amazon

The pilgrimage to Times Square in New York City is most sacred at twilight. People of all sorts from all parts of the world, speaking in different tongues, walk through the outdoor cathedral in reverent silence. Colossal video screens project dazzling colors, which reflect off the gazing eyes of tourists and the windows of taxicabs attempting to squeeze through transfixed crowds flooding onto the streets unawares. The screens are like medieval stained-glass windows, except the images are animated and the electric sun makes them shine at all hours. Logos of banks, commercials for jeans, and trailers for the latest Hollywood film light up the night. You may occasionally hear someone cry out “Oh. My. God.” out of sheer fascination, but at other times it is over a fumbled hot dog.

On the outskirts of this modern spectacle, at 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue, is an art exhibit. It's like a leper outside the temple wall; no one notices it.

The project, Climate Change: Picturing the Science, is derived from a book of the same name by Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist, and Joshua Wolfe, a climate photographer. It shows how humans are destroying the earth. Photographs of melting glaciers, shrinking lakes, and drilling rigs pillaging the landscape are fastened to the wall, covering a large section of the Port Authority Bus Terminal building. Accompanying these images are blocks of text explaining climate change, with headings like “Symptoms”, “Diagnosis”, and “Prognosis”. A graph indicates that if we do not act soon to reduce our carbon-emission rates, a bunch of multi-colored squiggly lines will rise higher over the next hundred years than if we did. There is even a large photograph of a punch card, which probably represents something very factual and scientific.

If all this sounds as exciting as a dental clinic, that's because it is. The exhibit is dull, drab, dismal, and didactic. In comparison with the illuminated citadel of Times Square, the art project is a bitter hermit’s hovel. Times Square enchants its patrons; Climate Change: Picturing the Science is a wall to lean on while waiting for the bus.

What is baffling is that the exhibit is specifically designed to engage the masses. In the words of Schmidt and Wolfe, the show's aim is to “present the science of climate change to the general public in ways that were both accessible and informative.” Economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, who wrote the forward to the book and also directs the Earth Institute at Columbia University, which funded the project, claims that “Gavin Schmidt and Joshua Wolfe have teamed up to produce exactly what we need. The book is fantastically accessible, it's beautiful to look through and it opens up in a way that I don’t think exists in any other text.” Other reviews from the book’s website state that the project is for “anyone seeking a layman's understanding of the science of global warming” (Popular Mechanics). And that “Schmidt and Wolfe ... provide lucid, informative discussions of the key issues in climate science and policy” (Nature Reports Climate Change).

If the exhibit’s intent is to inform the public, we can safely assume that someone, somewhere, has been informed. If the exhibit’s intent is to get the public to care, we can safely assert that this exhibit is a failure.

This is not just a problem facing Schmidt and Wolfe; this is a problem facing the green movement as a whole. The green movement is boring. And it is boring precisely because people like Schmidt and Wolfe do their darnedest to make it as factual and uninteresting an experience as possible.

Why? Perhaps they believe beauty and emotion are distractions from empirical evidence. Perhaps they believe truth is most persuasive when sterilized by technicians in a laboratory. What this exhibit does best is clarify why the movement is not achieving what it should if the earth is, in fact, in its final days.

Overall, the green movement has grown considerably in the past few decades and done much to raise public awareness about our damaging habits. It seems you can’t listen to an advertisement these days without hearing the word sustainability. Just recently, several world leaders met in New York for what New York Times UN bureau chief Neil MacFarquhar called the “highest level summit meeting on climate change convened.” Environmental reform is on the agenda.

But so are drugs, poverty, crime, healthcare, privacy, terrorism, torture, racism, abortion, education, Iran, North Korea, the economy, gay rights, animal rights, immigration policy, national debt, gun control, stem-cell research, the federal budget, dependence on foreign oil, and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The point: environmental issues must compete for attention.

When it comes to competing against Times Square, the green movement is losing. Al Gore is the movement’s Saint Paul, and he has traveled far and wide preaching the bad news via PowerPoint presentation. What Gore lacks, along with Schmidt and Wolfe, is the excitement of buying a new pair of shoes, the passion of a Broadway show, the pull of an adult-video store on a lonely Friday night.

The green movement needs a devoted congregation committed to more than just recycling Pepsi bottles or turning off their television set when no one is in the room. The movement no longer needs an informed public – it needs spiritual converts.

Across the street from Climate Change: Picturing the Science, on the Times Square side, is a billboard for the film 2012, which is about global calamity, the death and destruction of billions of lives. The tagline simply reads in bold white font against a black background: “YOU WERE WARNED.” The budget for the film is reported to be somewhere around $200 million. Why do people willfully pay to see the annihilation of civilization – of themselves – on screen, rather than pay to prevent it? Walter Benjamin once wrote that humanity’s "self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.” The earth may expire because the green movement is void of the beauty people crave.

Prophets have been warning us about the end of the world since the beginning. Most people didn’t believe them then, and we still don’t believe them today. If we have not renounced our sinful ways after centuries of urgent appeals, we need to ask ourselves: do we deserve to be saved?

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.