At Sea: Climate Change is our responsibility

The research portion of my project has been the most rewarding experience I have had in a while. With this residency, I had a goal, to dedicate some time to learning about climate change, and a platform which which to contribute to the discussion in whatever way I chose. 

i started my research in the late summer of 2015. As I read articles and books, I also had one eye on the news. This summer in California, we had a record number of wildfires, due to the drought engulfing this state.

Photo Credit: CALFire.

These fires were particularly brutal this summer. Many homes were burned, including a beloved Napa Valley retreat center, Harbin Hot Springs, which I had been to many times and which housed dozens of people full time. Mark Morford, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about Harbin's destruction, "Where do you go for peaceful refuge from the storm, when the storm annihilates all peaceful refuge?" I

These fires were not part of a normally functioning ecosystem. Fires in the arid grassland are low, frequent and not as hot as these wildfires. These wildfires are symptoms of a land that is too hot and too dry and a ecological system that is suffering. This summer felt like our world in California was collapsing on itself. 

The drought was the main cause of the fires, but the drought is a symptom of changing global weather patterns. In California, we are required to restrict water use in our homes and landscape, which is a great thing. Water is a previous commodity in the west and it should be used with care. But I felt this summer that the talk of low flush toilets and replacing lawns with native plants was a red herring. The real issue is climate change, and no one seems to be talking about it. 

The second news item of the summer was across the Atlantic Ocean in the Middle East and Europe. Over the last 4 years hundreds of thousands of refugees have been fleeing the conflicts in Syria, joining the stream of refugees from Iraq and Northern Africa.



Even though this has been the largest diaspora since World War II, this news barely made the mainstream news in the US, until this summer. I fear that this is our new normal, as resources dry up and ecologies change, increased conflicts are on the horizon well as coming refugee crisis of people forced to move for ecological reasons as a result of climate change. The UN Refugee Agency calls this future "The Storm Ahead" and has been restructuring its focus to adapt to this coming crisis. 

I felt like I want to talk about climate change all the time. I feel like we all should talk about climate change al the time. Its such a huge issue, no one wants to talk about it. When I sat down to sketch out ideas for the garden plot, I felt like the issues i wanted to talk about were too big for art at first. I felt like art was useless next to this huge problem. Then I realized that big solutions aren't the things that will improve our world. Climate change needs to be everyone's responsibility. It calls for a global awakening and it calls for individual accountability. It calls for people to value others over themselves and awareness over consumption, these are things that will solve climate change and will make us all healthier people. It is an opportunity for everyone to find their voice, including myself. 

I thought of the refugees in the boats and the photos of these people as they landed in Europe. These strangers, forced to share a dangerous wooden ship in a gamble for a better life is a metaphor for our global community. We are in a boat, sealed into this planet by a thickening atmosphere, floating in an infinite void. We sit here, and what are we doing? Staring out at sea? Paddling? Fishing? Pushing each other over the edge? Singing sea shanties? 

My garden plot was a sea, and my idea was that the visitor was to have an immersive experience in a space that invited them to reflect on the environment around them. There would be a boat, occupied by us, floating on a sea, with objects lifting out of the sea to represent the potential destruction of our own lives due to climate change. 

Lora Martens