Art has always played a key role in social change. I remember singing “This Little Light of Mine” before I knew anything about the Civil Rights Movement. I still feel a tightening in my stomach every time I see “Guernica” and can’t avoid feeling a bit more hopeful when I see Shepard Fairey’s iconic Obama.
This November, 350.org is hosting the first planetary scale art show to try and get a new perspective on one of our first truly planetary challenges: global warming. Check out the new website here:
I’ve pasted a piece by Bill McKibben that introduces the project below, but I’m curious to hear from all of you. What role does art play in social change? What good “climate art” do you see out there? What’s the best chant or song you’ve heard, the best poster you’ve ever seen, the short film that got you moving?
The Globe as a Canvas
by Bill McKibben
The idea behind EARTH is simple—we wanted to remind everyone that we are dealing with the first truly global problem we’ve ever faced. What better way than to use that globe as a canvas, for the first truly planet-scale piece of art?
Sometimes we forget that we live on a planet. Venus is a planet, Jupiter is a planet—but earth? That’s our cozy, familiar home. But in fact our fate is just as determined by the gaseous composition of our atmosphere as Mars or Saturn. Right now, by burning coal and gas and oil, we’re pumping that atmosphere full of carbon dioxide. Scientists told us the bottom line three years ago this fall: any amount of carbon greater than 350 parts per million is not “compatible with the planet on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.” We’re already too high—our air is now 390 ppm CO2—and we’re already feeling the effects. Just ask the people flooded out of their homes this summer in Pakistan, or suffering as dengue fever spreads around the planet. Just ask the myriad species chased from their habitats by record temperatures. Nineteen nations set new all-time temperature records this year alone—how much longer are we going to wait to take action.
At 350.org we’ve already coordinated what CNN called the ‘most widespread day of political activity in the planet’s history,’ with 5200 demonstrations in 181 countries last fall. And this autumn we topped that—we pulled together practical minded people in 188 countries who staged 7400 ‘work parties,’ putting up solar panels or digging community gardens. But the practical and the political are not the only ways humans understand the world. We also respond to art, which is why we’ve always stressed creativity. And never more than in the week leading up to the next UN conference in November 2010.
This EARTH project is designed to spread a warning, around the globe. It’s designed to spread a message of hope, too—if we rise to our potential as humans, we’ll be able to cope with the most dangerous problem we’ve ever faced, and begin to work our way towards a clean, renewable future. All we know for sure is that it’s going to be big—thanks to our friends at DigitalGlobe, big enough to be seen from outer space.
In fact, it’s kind of fun to imagine some other intelligence peering down through their telescopes at our blue-white orb, trying to make sense of these giant images suddenly spreading across snowfield and desert and lagoon. What they’d seeing is the planet’s immune system coming alive—conscious, alert human beings doing their best to help safeguard the future. Art can’t do this job by itself—we need science and engineering and economics and all the functions of the right brain fully engaged. But humans have deep spirit too, and we’re counting on that to help.
We don’t know if we’ll win the fight against climate change—the day is late and the fossil fuel industry is a powerful opponent. We don’t have much money. But we do have beauty and meaning and passion, all of which will be on full display as November comes to a close. Thank you for helping