Artists Respond to Climate Change In Creative Ways

Climate change is real. It is happening. We all feel it, we see it, and new evidence is published daily. Yet, still governments across the globe seem to rank the topic low on their list of priorities.

So low that many people still don’t know the difference between climate and weather, and whether humans are actually playing a role. The Guardian does a good job distinguishing the two, saying, that “climate, like weather, describes the state of the atmosphere in terms of factors such as temperature, wind and rainfall. But whereas weather describes conditions as measured in hours, days or weeks, the climate is average weather conditions measured over the longer term: months, years or decades.”

While it is true that humans are not the sole cause of climate change, we are definitely not helping by any means. To raise awareness, and get people thinking about solutions, a number of artists from all over the world are taking matters in their own hands.

This sculpture below is one of many of related works created by Isaac Cordal and one of my favorites. It shows that all of the bickering by politicians and the constant denial of climate change, in the end, is no match for mother nature. This sculpture makes me wonder how long will it take for the masses to open their eyes?

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Another artist, by the name of Simon Armitage caught my attention —well really blew my mind— with his  contribution of a poem that purifies the air. Yes, you read it right. Armitage’s In Praise of Air has been printed on a 10m by 20m piece of material which has been coated with microscopic pollution-eating particles of titanium dioxide. These use sunlight and oxygen to react with nitrogen oxide pollutants and purify the air, with the material said by the University of Sheffield, which devised it, to be capable of absorbing the pollution from 20 cars every day. (Allison Flood, 2014)

Simon Armitage's In Praise of Air, displayed outside the University of Sheffield. Photograph: Linda Bussey

Simon Armitage’s In Praise of Air, displayed outside the University of Sheffield. Photograph: Linda Bussey

These are just a few of the artists using their craft to inform people of the impact and consequences of global warming. You can view more amazing pieces here.

Cleo reading Tome II, 2009. Basia Irland makes giant books out of ice and releases them in rivers. The ‘text’ of each book is seeds from local plants; as the ice melts, seeds are released and the plants start to grow by the rivers

For The Lake Project, David Maisel photographed Owens Lake, once a 200-square-mile lake in California, which was depleted in the early 20th century to give water to Los Angeles. What little water remains has such a high concentration of minerals, and such bacterial growth, that it is now a deep blood red.

For Champs d’Ozone (2007) HeHe – Helen Evans and Heiko Hansen – overlaid live images of the Paris skyline with vibrant colours that showed the unseen pollutants in the air. Sensors placed around the city provided live data on air quality, and the colours in the artworks adapted to show real-time Parisian pollution

One arts and science blogger Johanna Kieniewicz questions whether artists can make a difference.

In her blog ‘Plos – where art and science meet’, she says in a blogpost on 25 July 2013, titled Art of Uncertainty’:

“Artists are not going to solve scientists’ problem of communicating uncertainty pertaining to climate change. This is something that scientists themselves need to do, perhaps with help from sociologists and innovative designers. But in so doing, scientists must recognise that in the communication of uncertainty, they must not just win minds, but also hearts. This does not necessarily come naturally. I suspect that there is a great opportunity for artists who are interested in collaborating with scientists to engage in this area.”

Whether artists solve scientist problems or not, they’re definitely making the conscious effort to begin to aid the earth, which many have not. These are some creative individuals. I would have never thought some of these pieces were possible. Do you think art will raise awareness? Or is it back to the drawing boards?

Pollution by Rémi Lanvin

Germany’s Green Revolution Falling Flat

A Nuclear Plant in a Small German Town by Trey Ratcliff

A Nuclear Plant in a Small German Town by Trey Ratcliff

When an entire country goes green you don’t expect for pollution to rise, electricity bills to skyrocket and carbon emissions to increase. But in Germany, that is exactly the case.

In an attempt to forgo nuclear power and run Europe’s largest economy on wind and solar power, chancellor Angela Merkel’s “Energiewende,” is hoping to turn Germany into an energy-efficient powerhouse by shifting from nuclear and fossil fuels to renewables.

In 2002 a law passed announcing all of Germany’s nuclear power plants must close by 2022. Revised by Merkel in 2010, she extended the nuclear power plants phase out by 2032. Then after the Fukushima disaster  Merkel decided to scratch that idea, closing eight nuclear power plants immediately and ruling that all would close by 2022.

But closing all these plants left a gap in energy sources, so in order to keep the lights on, Germany is turning to coal-powered plants.

Specifically, they’re burning lignite, a filthy fossil fuel, and large amounts of it. In fact, just last year coal-burning escalated to its highest level for more than 20 years.  More coal-burning means more gas emissions.

Last year Germany emitted 951 million tons of greenhouse gases, up 1.2% than 2012.

Confused? Me too. I get that coal is cheap, and thousands of jobs come from mining, but for a country priding itself in taking the green initiative, aren’t there cleaner, natural gas solutions?

And apparently, I’m not the only one lost at what exactly German is doing. American economist Mark Perry tweets, “Germany shows how NOT to push green energy. It fails the poor, while protecting neither energy security nor climate.

 

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It fails the poor?  Shouldn’t going green mean less money spent by the everyday citizen? While that makes logical sense in my mind, electricity bills in Germany are higher than any other EU country, and only rising. Even the government in Berlin admitted recently that already 6.9 million households live in energy poverty. This means that nearly 7 million households are spending more than 10 per cent of their income on energy.

Financial Times writer Bjorn Lomborg writes this is a result of the price for renewable energy. Between 2000 and 2013, electricity prices for households have increased 80 per cent in real terms, according to the OECD and the IEA, the International Energy Agency. This is quite interesting seeing that the Energiewende website states this transition is “affordable.”

While Germany’s attempt at doing away with fossil fuels, and nuclear energy is noteworthy, the price of current green technology is just too high to meet the country’s demand for dependable electricity.

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On the bright side, there are now 1.4 million solar photovoltaic installations in Germany and over 24,000 wind turbines, increasing the share of renewable electricity from 5.4% (then chiefly hydropower) to nearly 25%. David Scrimgeour writes the Energiewende has also created over 500,000 new jobs.

But overall it just blows my mind reading that wind and  solar power sources are not consistent and ironically need conventional backup power sources. Even more mind-blowing is the fact the more electricity created by wind turbines and solar panels the more expensive it becomes.

No country has pushed for going green more than Germany, and this country’s green dream, may just in fact be a nightmare.

 

Feature photo from: Pollution by Rémi Lanvin

 

Across Borders: A Parkour Generation

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Human motion need not be delimited by carefully-set sidewalks nor inhibited by obstacles. Leap over walls, swing from the rafters to get to your next destination via le method naturelle. The spectacle often leaves average pedestrians awestruck in the dust. Parkour enthusiasts, called traceurs, draw unique lines of approach to this sport of urban free-running and develop their philosophies from the spirit of it. The movements evoke practitioners’ primitive sides while the discipline places them vis-à-vis with moments of fear and truth about the psychological and physical limits. The conceptualization of parkour breaks down ideas of spatial and social confinement, which have restricted our harmony with our environment. As one enthusiast put it, “The idea that the only way to get to the second floor is from the inside of a building is preposterous.”

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The community’s consensus is that this adrenaline-pumped martial art was born in Lisses, France, where modern legends-in-the-making like Sébastien Foucan and Jérôme Ben Aoues expressed their free-flow style by jumping, flipping, scaling, leaping along their own paths with exceptionally acrobatic, and distinctly defiant, French flair since the 1990s. Here, skateboarding was not allowed and public playgrounds had rules against this type of play. They developed a sport that complemented surrounding architecture in creating alternate, and often impressive, routes of transit for the nonconformist traveler. The style quickly spread throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, and the Americas. Parkour Generations America started in 2005 with a runabout rendezvous – here is their showreel: http://youtu.be/lD3_Fn0erPw

 

The most spectacular stunts are done among rooftops, but fundamentals should be learned at ground level. Today, online organizations like ParkourGenerations.com and Monkeyspirit.org seek to inspire young French traceurs by providing tips, tricks, and testimonials from those who have become proficient in the art of creative movement. The masters teach use of fundamental and natural motions, mental rehearsal, and hard work to become fluid in the art of manipulating your horizon, because after all, “the art of moving is about hard training.” Exercise regimes challenge cardiovascular systems, build core strength and improve muscular endurance. The essence is in the footwork, the hand placement, the unique flow of the individual in their route and how they assess obstacles. Uncontested sensei Sébastien Foucan explains that, in his experience, “practice is best done alone…to be focused in yourself. When you are alone you’re a little bit afraid and you need to find why and the solution.” And Monkeyspirit.org urges hopefuls in its introduction not to put the cart before the horse. “The flow comes from years of hard work. Even apes and monkeys practice all the day long during their childhood learning from their parents.”
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Groups like UrbanFreeFlow and Freemouv display skill at international competitions, most recently this July in the French Alps and in August in Wisconsin, USA. Their talents have also been displayed in such recent films as 007 James Bond: Casino Royale and Jump Britain. Foucan recently helped K-Swiss develop the Ariake, the first freerunning and parkour shoe. Nikon and GoPro have contests to sponsor amateurs in creating parkour videos for the web.

To date, the writer has personally adopted many movements of Animal Planet in conquest of free-running basics. Visualize me at 25, meditating at dawn and practicing throughout Missouri’s karst landscape during my frequent hiking trips. I still get the urge to climb to the top of the playground tower and every other imposing structure I come across. As a novice, I hurt my ankle while leaping between platforms last month and haven’t been as spry since. I should have been wary of encouraging instructions that included the phrase, “various opportunities to jump off the roof.”

 

Ultimately, parkour is for hard-chargers, fast runners, young kung fu masters, trapeze artists, and those kids who grew up having the most fun on the school playground. It continues to be rapidly embraced by a generation of unprecedented physicality and philosophy: a parkour generation.

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“Verte” Mountains & “Limpide” Lakes

Switzerland has more to offer than the montagnes that surround the country. There’s chocolate, plenty of history and lots of lakes. The Swiss have recently taken a big effort to preserve their country by becoming more “verte” or eco-friendly.

Swiss Alps. Courtesy of Google Images.

Switzerland has passed a lot of legislation recently  to help prevent waste. One bill I found interesting charges people for trash pick up; trash can only be picked up if there is a sticker saying they have paid for pick up on the trash bin. Recycling, however, is free! This obviously encourages people to recycle and as a result, Switzerland is one of the top recyclers in the world.

Other organizations are also on board for the green movement. Some hotels such as Badrutt’s Palace offer discounts for customers driving hybrid vehicles. They also derive all of their energy from a nearby lake, reducing their carbon output by 80%. C’est chouette! Another way to travel is by train. Switzerland has an extensive rail system and busing options are also available. Both are more eco-friendly than driving cars. If you are driving a car, you’re encouraged to shut off your engine if you are waiting for a short period of time. Recent Swiss legislation proposed to abolish taxes on fuels that are produced from natural resources and lower taxes on fuels that produce fewer harmful emissions.

Several Igloo villages are making the effort to be carbon neutral, or have a zero net carbon output. The igloos are made of dome shaped pods

Some igloo pods overlooking the alps. Courtesy of Google Images.

that are designed to blend in with the environment. Some igloos, called Iglu Dorfeu, are made out of snow. How do you get to the villages? Put on your snowshoes or skis! Because they are in the alps and that’s the only way to get there! If you’re visiting Switzerland, you can stay in an igloo. At first that didn’t sound too appealing to me, but watch this video – it makes these pods seem like five star hotels!

Pourquoi? Why is it so important for the Swiss to be green? Well, they are surrounded by mountains and home to many glaciers. Global warming threatens Switzerland with landslides, flooding, and damage to the economy including a loss of tourism, damage to agriculture and ruining communities. It also has an impact on health, water quality and forests.

Global warming is a problem that not only Switzerland faces. It’s something that effects the whole world. I found myself asking: why doesn’t the U.S. borrow some of these Swiss ideas and initiate them in the U.S.? But would people be happy if the government only charged for trash pick up? Probably not. Also, the U.S. doesn’t have as big of an impact with melting glaciers or landslides ruining communities. That doesn’t mean it should be ignored though, because the U.S. will see effects of global warming eventually including worldwide climate change and rising water levels. I’m not saying we should all live in igloos, but reducing taxes on fuel from natural resources doesn’t sound so bad. If action isn’t taken soon, it might be too late, and we’ll be losing more than just the Alps.

(Shades of) Grün -The Bike-Friendly Country Getting Less Friendly?

Global Bike Production

Credit: Der Spiegel

Do you know that the global production of bicycles is over 120 million and almost three times the car production?

As biking becomes one of the main steps toward an environmentally sustainable society, Germany stands in the forefront of the movement. In addition to the environmental gain, Germans are also having fun with bikes. Entertainment vehicles known as Bierbikes appeared on the streets of German cities. Beer is served on the Bierbikes, which have four wheels and can take about 16 beer-bikers on it.

When the world tends to recognize Germany as a bike-friendly country, Germans seem to be getting less friendly on the city streets. Germans find problems coming along with its growing biking population. Bikers, drivers and pedestrians are competing for space on streets, with the intensity of the competition increasing.

Some bikers go the wrong direction or ride on the wrong side of the street. Some collide with trashcans that residents push onto the sidewalk. Other bikers don’t see people stepping off buses.

Obstacles are inevitable in any revolution, and the one on the wheels is no exception. My friend in Philadelphia was on her bike when a car door suddenly opened in front of her. It was just too late for her to brake. I saw her the week after the accident, and the bruise she got was the worst that I have ever seen.

bicycles and cars compete for space

Credit: Der Spiegel

In September, Germany rejected the carbon dioxide underground storage plans. Though largely generated in fossil fuel power stations, carbon dioxide emissions is always one of the dark side of driving cars. The rejection of the plan demanded the continuation of the bicycle revolution. The question left is, for a better environment and lifestyle, how people should deal with growing aggressiveness on the streets.

The New York City Police Department announced its support for biking in the Greenpoint-Williamsburg area, which has increasing “bicycle ridership.” It states that motorists must yield to bicyclists when making a left turn to side streets, and watch out for bicyclists when opening car doors. To promote safer streets for biking, walking, and driving in the area, flyers were also handed out to bicyclists.

As we are on biking, here is the MU bike rack map that can make your biking experience on campus better.

McDonald’s turns green in Germany

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Out with the ketchup-red. By 2010, all new McDonald’s restaurants in Germany will have its “golden arches” emblazoned on a hunter green background instead.

The reason? McDonald’s Germany wants to reposition the restaurant as a bastion of environmental friendliness, Der Spiegel reported.

“Simplicity and a focus on the essentials is the new design philosophy,” Holger Beeck, deputy head of McDonald’s in Germany, was quoted in the report.  All 40 new restaurants set to open in 2010 will adhere to the new design sensibilities. In addition, the façade of the new restaurants will include natural stone and wood. By the end of the year, more than 100 McDonald’s restaurants will be outfitted with the new design style.

“With the new appearance, we want to clarify our responsibility and relationship with natural resources,” Beeck said.

It’s a big move for one of the world’s most recognizable logo. So much so that some in the Twitter community thought it was a joke. A tweet from Twittizen23 wrote: “Erst greenwashing, jetzt greenlabeling?” Signs of green have already started appearing at its 1.4 million euro (US$2.1 million) flagship store at the Munich airport that recently opened. Some of their commercials have already started to spot the green logo too.

McDonald’s is “trying hard to distance itself from the competition (think Burger King) based on the theme of sustainability, and it fits with the recent developments in the market,” a German marketing blog wrote. Most Germans still associate McDonald’s with obesity and litter, according to Der Spiegel. A greener color can probably help change its image, the article suggested.

mcdonalds-koelnDesign-conscious Germans agree, with some calling it a “bold” move. Others begged to differ. One commentator on a German  design blog said it was a bad call and might cause the brand to lose its unique identity it’s built up over the years. Another said if the yellow and red was a reflection of its food (think fries, buns and ketchup), then the deep green in its logo made it look like it makes bad salads.

“Im Photo mit Kai erinnert mich das Gruen ein bisschen an das Gruen was sie in FIlmen wie Platoon benuetzen oder an schlecht gewordenem Salat… aber irgendwie nicht an was gesundem, ” commented Sascha.

The move didn’t quite resonate with an environmentally-conscious German blogger though. Suggesting that McDonald’s was being hypocritical about going “green”, he said the company should have done more to reduce its product packaging. “When I was with my wife and my 2 sons to eat there, this produces more packaging waste as regulated 3 days eating at home,” he wrote in German.

Not everyone agrees. Environmental campaigners Greenpeace, which has heavily criticized McDonald’s (and practically everyone else) for its food processing methods, lauded the logo change. McDonald’s has to be given some credit for trying to be more environmentally friendly, though much of what it has done to go green has taken place in the US. Last year, they opened their first “green restaurant” (in Chicago) for a new pilot program on green building and received the Gold LEED rating. In one location in North Carolina (opened last month), it has actually installed a charging station for electric vehicles.

This is not the first time McDonald’s in Germany has gone out of the way to align itself environmentally with folks of Germany, one of the world’s greenest countries and McDonald’s third largest market, behind the US and Japan. In March last year, the company went to the extent of redesigning the lids of its McFlurry ice cream lids to save German hedgehogs.

Do you think going the green way will cause McDonald’s competitors to turn green with envy? Or is going eco-friendly a moral obligation it has to fulfill? And if so, is the fast food chain doing enough?

Bye boycotts, carrotmobs are cooler.

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Forget boycotts. Over the weekend some Berliners queued, bought and chomped their way through a restaurant as part of a new movement to foster a greener environment.

Carrotmobs is a relatively new wave of environmental activism that spreading quickly in Germany. The concept is simple – and best phrased by TIME magazine: Instead of steering clear of environmentally backward stores, why not reward businesses with mass purchases if they promise to use some of the money to get greener? Put simply, it’s a reverse boycott.

Eve and Adam’s was the participating store in Berlin’s second carrotmob. The restaurant pledged to donate 45 percent of their profits that day into making their shop more energy efficient and hence reduce their carbon footprint. The theme this round: WIR STUERMEN DEN HEISSESTEN IMBISS IN MITTE – which translates literally into “We conquer the hottest diner in Berlin Mitte“, Berlin Mitte being one of the city’s well-known district/borough around the famous Brandenburg Gate. Berliner and many north Germans call their boroughs in a city ‘Kiez’. “Mein Kiz” means “my ‘hood”.

Some 500 turned up for the event and there was a good buzz on Twitter. Several bloggers including Hamburg-based Henning thought the concept was “an extremely clever idea, which should be supported”.

Organizers hailed the event as a resounding success and reported a total amount of €2334.34 (about US$3,500) spent at the store during the even – €300 more than the first carrotmob held in June. That works out to about just under US$1,600 that the store will set aside to make its business more green. The restaurant too made its largest ever turnover that day, according to Max Patzig, who tweeted on his page.

The first carrotmob in Berlin held earlier in June reeled about US$1,000 – the grocery store, Spätverkauf: Multikulti, only committed 35 percent of the day’s profits – and was spent on items such as energy-efficient light bulbs and a thermal protector. That in effect helps save the grocer 1454 kWh of electricity per year, and a reduction of 1152 kilograms of CO2. It’s not clear at this point exactly how Eve and Adam’s will spend the money.

Similar carrotmobs were also held in Munich and Bielefeld within the past couple of weeks.

This fledgling movement has its roots in the United States though. Started by Brent Schulkin, a San Francisco–based activist turned entrepreneur, the first carrotmob took place on March 29, 2008. Hundreds of green-minded patrons poured into a San Francisco convenience store after Schulkin solicited bids from 23 stores in the area to find the business that would promise to spend the highest percentage of Carrotmob profits on more energy-efficient lighting

“Traditional activism revolves around conflict,” Schulkin told TIME magazine. “Boycotting, protesting, lawsuits — it’s about going into attack mode,” says the former Googler and onetime game developer. “What’s unique about a Carrotmob is that there are no enemies.” The focus is on positive cooperation, using the power of the casual consumer to help save the planet.

Out of the total number of carrotmobs conducted, nearly half were done in Europe though. It’s little surprise given that the Europeans – particularly the Germans – have long seen to be more conscious of the environment.

An American college tutor who grew up in Germany wrote on his site saying that environmentalism is much stronger, if more abstract, in Germany.

“The abstract, big German environmental issues, such as the greenhouse effect, the ozone hole, energy saving, overconsumption, and garbage reduction are almost non-existent in American public debate.”

Environmentalism in the US is often very down-to-earth: getting industry to clean up a certain toxic waste site, protecting a particular endangered species, or preventing a particular piece of land from being developed, he writes.

“While all German political parties have embraced the notion that environmentalism is not detrimental to economic progress and in fact can spur technological innovation and provide job and export opportunities, most American politicians still see environmental regulations as a direct threat to jobs and to the competitiveness of US businesses.”

Carrotmob Berlin #2 from Andreas Förster on Vimeo.

Do you think this new movement will have harder bite in environmentalism? What would work in Germany that might not work here in the US when combating climate change?