Environmental Movement

Eradicating ecocide to make sustainability legal

This post comes to you from An Arts and Ecology Notebook

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“How can we move from a place of dependency to a place of interdependency? How can we create a world of peace?” 

Polly Higgins, ‘lawyer for the Earth’ at TEDxWhitechapel, founder of Eradicating Ecocide campaign, Feb. 2013

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“The environmental movement is a failure.

Whether its climate change or the health of our oceans, air, and soil, the planet is worse off now than it was 40 years ago, and rapidly declining. Yet, corporations have more rights than our communities or ecosystems and are doing just fine.

This is how we fix the situation.”

Thomas Linzey, lawyer, founder of US Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund organisation

This weekend I will be presenting a motion at the 2013 Irish National Green Party convention on ecocide; the post below explains why I’m trying to get the term ‘ecocide’ into the Irish political and public domains. If you are interested in measures against fracking and other environmental destruction, a law of ecocide and nature-based rights are developing in response. Please feel free to share this post.

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Could an ecocide law prevent environmental destruction?

One of the key concepts and terms in my PhD work  ‘Seeing and Tending the Forest: beyond ecocide toward deep sustainability‘ is – ‘ecocide’.

‘Ecocide’ is a term I kept coming across in my research and reading. In fact I first used ecocide almost without thinking. To me it so well conveyed the exponential accelerating ecological suicide that is occurring globally. Particularly the horrifying rate of destruction since World War II, that some are calling ‘The Great Acceleration’, that characterises our now globalised, extract-at-all costs, industrial growth society.

However, one of the fundamental principles in undertaking doctoral level research is that you fully define all terms and concepts. I had some years ago been alerted by one of my blog followers that I should look at the work of UK legal barrister, Polly Higgins. Polly Higgins’ work in organising high profile mock legal trials against corporate ecocide, her award-winning books on ‘eradicating ecocide’, her well received ecocide talks has developed quickly in recent years to become an international campaign; to have corporate ecocide recognised in international law as the missing 5th international crime against peace.

What is ecocide?

In March 2010 Polly Higgins proposed to the United Nations that Ecocide be the 5th international Crime Against Peace. This is the definition she proposed:

Ecocide is the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.


Screen Shot 2013-04-06 at 21.30.58Her website www.eradicatingecocide.com is a comprehensive resource for the history and current research into ecocide legal developments. It is also the site for the growing global campaigns to raise awareness of how we can all become involved in outlawing ecocide (taking part in the AVAAZ,  Wish20 Eradicating Ecocide and if you live in Europe  the endecocide.eu online petitions are a good place to start, you can also follow and share the posts from the Ecocide is a Crime Facebook Page too).

How can a law against ecocide work?

Polly Higgins and Thomas Linzey, a leading lawyer working in the US (quoted above), and growing numbers of leading international legal people and researchers, are arguing that in much the same way that slavery and disenfranchisement against women were perpetuated by seeing other races and women ‘as property’, that changing laws to overturn the erroneous idea that natural ecosystems be regarded as property, will powerfully and legally shift corporations away from committing crimes of ecocide.

This is not to underestimate that this is complex area (leading legal experts in universities,  particularly some University of London legal researchers, are working hard to address all the many legal details on this issue) and I have only briefly highlighted the key point here. Yet this key point, to extend a legal, enforceable ‘duty of care’ to ecosystems would be a paradigm shift for humanity, and the corporate world in particular.

Corporations are legally mandated to produce profits; this law would fundamentally change corporations actions and enforce eco-social responsibility and accountability. This will in turn legalise long term sustainability for the earth’s life giving ecosystems.

Ecocide legal frameworks already exist and has been enforced

Ecocide has since been recognised legally from the Vietnam war onwards, and some legal redress for victims of ecocide has and is occurring.

Oddly unsettling in my reading about ecocide, is that I found the term is exactly the same age as me.

I say this as the term evolved in the late 1960s from recognising the criminality behind the long term destruction and poisoning  of the forest and food ecosystems in the Vietnam war with industrial chemical herbicide agents such as Agent Orange (Monsanto/Dow Chemicals and other companies produced Agent Orange and an arsenal of other poisonous ‘rainbow agents’) used by the US military. Agent Orange in particular was noted for its disastrous long term residual poisoning of ecosystems and human populations with dioxins – lethal cancer and birth defect causing compounds, and other persistent effects of which health professionals and scientists are still realising and dealing with).

Ecocide law works: this is the card I have that gives me access to specialists doctors as my late father served and was fatally affected by the slow violence of Monsanto/Dow companies Agent Orange in the Vietnam war

Ecocide law works: this is the card I have that gives me access to specialists doctors as my late father served and was fatally affected by the slow violence of Monsanto/Dow companies Agent Orange in the Vietnam war

Ecocide since Vietnam is legally recognised in war situations

As I’ve mentioned before in a previous post, this affected my family as my late father was a New Zealand Vietnam veteran. It was through the hard work of the NZ Vietnam Veterans associations and the then Labour Government under former Prime Minister Helen Clark, that a Memorandum of Understanding sought acknowledgement, compensation and redress to the children of NZ Vietnam veterans by the ecocide caused by these long lasting poisonous herbicides. My sisters and I are now on a official NZ Vietnam Veteran’s Children’s Register (my NZ Vietnam Veteran’s Children’s card is pictured here) that gives some support to descendants affected by cancers/diseases attributed to Agent Orange and the millions of tons of poisonous herbicides sprayed across Vietnam and other parts of Asia in the 20 000+ US military air raids (see notes at end of article for more details on this NZ landmark case).

On a personal note, my father, a very quiet man, could never speak easily of America or its culture again and the destruction he witnessed to a beautiful country and the peoples of Vietnam. I grew up knowing him interested in these things; reading the paper, vegetable growing, his love of the wild forested West Coast of the South Island of NZ, horse racing and Labour Party politics. He often bribed us as children (with chocolate) to deliver Labour Party political leaflets in our local area and he would have been so moved that it was the Labour Party that worked hard to bring some compensation to his engineer army colleagues and their surviving families (NZ  sent 3,980 mainly non-combatant, engineer troops, to serve in the Vietnam war).

Nature-based rights development

Landmark nature-rights book, first published in 1972; now in 3rd edition, 2010, Oxford Uni. Press, USA

Landmark nature-rights book, first published in 1972; now in 3rd edition, 2010, Oxford Uni. Press, USA

While the NZ military situation above is an example of legal retrospective redress for gross war-time ecocide, developments since the 1960s to bring the crime of ecocide into non-military situations have evolved slowly. Surprisingly there was much talk and legal efforts in bringing ecocide forward as a crime in non-war situations in the early 1970s due to the huge public awareness of the situation in Vietnam (many scientists signed an international petition to try and stop Agent Orange use during the Vietnam war)  and the publication of Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring book alerted many to the long term environmental problems of pesticide/herbicide compounds. However such legal measures for non-war situations were stopped by several nations (see the eradicatingecocide.com website for more details). Even so, legal minds have for some decades further examined the idea of extending a legal duty of care to the non-human world, such as in the work and landmark book by US law lecturer and researcher, Christopher Stone, who wrote in 1972 Should Trees have Standing? – law, morality and the environment.

In recent years I have also noticed some nations in South America are leading the way for the ‘rights of nature’ to be legally recognised in their countries’ constitutional framework (for e.g Ecuador). Often such legislation is evolving with lawyers working with  indigenous peoples, peoples who have not forgotten their nature-centred worldviews that respects all life, fundamentally ensuring long term sustainability for all species. Also in South America, one of the most important cases against corporate ecocide is ongoing, the multinational petrochemical Chevron is facing $18 billion in redress to thousands of indigenous peoples whose livelihoods and waters were affected by Chevron’s disregard of the gross and poisonous pollution it was creating (see Amazonwatch.org for details of this case – Chevron has engaged 64 law firms trying to overturn this decision!).

An online book of my great Grandmother’s 1890s paintings of the New Zealand Whanganui River. A river ecosystem that since 2012 is now one of the first in the world to have achieved legal agreement that ‘recognises the river and all its tributaries as a single entity, Te Awa Tupua, and makes it a legal entity with rights and interests, and the owner of its own river bed.’

An online book of my great Grandmother’s 1890s paintings of the New Zealand Whanganui River. A river ecosystem that since 2012 is now one of the first in the world to have achieved legal agreement that ‘recognises the river and all its tributaries as a single entity, Te Awa Tupua, and makes it a legal entity with rights and interests, and the owner of its own river bed.’

And nature-based rights are developing in New Zealand. In fact, I was startled last August, while back in NZ to see that NZ’s third largest river, the Whanganui river, was granted legal standing from long years of work from Maori tribes and other river stakeholders. This river has a particular connection to my mother’s family as our Great Grandmother was an early European settler in the northern reaches of this river (I created a book on her paintings with my mother a few years ago – my great grandmother witnessed and painted both the beauty and the rampant deforestation by early European settlers way back in the 1890s near this river). Also last September I noticed online that the Green Party of England and Wales had invited Polly Higgins to their national convention and the Green Party of England and Wales unanimously adopted a motion to support a motion against ecocide. I made a promise to myself back then that I would at some stage attempt to bring it to the attention to the Irish and New Zealand Green Parties (NZer’s, please feel free to share this post) in a hope it would spread across the political and public domains.

Law against corporate ecocide and nature-based rights could prevent fracking, other ecosystem destruction

Land and water degradation – gas and coal extraction, sewage sludge, factory farms, massive water withdrawals, landfills, and more could be addressed

Over the last few months, I was busy with other aspects of my project but I was fortunate to come across a new book Earth at Risk (Dec, 2012)  from leading US author/activist/deep green philosopher Derrick Jensen. In it I read a fascinating interview by Derrick with US lawyer Thomas Linzey. While Polly Higgins has been tackling ecocide law at an international/UN level, I was excited to read Thomas Linzey also describe how modern law often legally enables ecocide and how despite the best of intentions, environmentalism has largely failed. I was even more excited to read how Thomas was working from the ground up, assisting grassroot local communities across the United States, to stop fracking and other forms of pollution or degradation in their areas etc by fundamentally changing the legal framework in regards to their local environments. Thomas Linzey is founder of the Community Environment Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), an organisation which since 1995 has been assisting and educating ordinary concerned citizens in towns and municipalities to fight for new nature/community based rights. In recent months, its been great to see on the eradicatingecocide.com website, both Polly’s and Thomas’s new legal ideas and work are beginning to influence local and international law. On the CELDF website you can also see how rights based successes are spreading across the US, with some communities having success in preventing fracking in their localities.

Here is a short video trailer from an upcoming documentary film from Thomas Linzey on the work that the CELDF organisation is undertaking (note, you’ll see the NZ Whanganui River rights case briefly highlighted in this trailer too). Thomas’ groundbreaking plenary 30 min speech from a US Bioneers conference is also worth listening to, see here) .

If you are involved in local politics, concerned about fracking or other types of environmental destruction, I would also recommend you watch the more detailed video below by Thomas on how this area of legal reform is developing swiftly across many US states.

Higgins and Linzey’s work acknowledges that ecocide is a crime and a move to install nature/community based rights are important and urgent. In my own writings I point out that ecocide isn’t just happening in the Arctic or the Amazon, that the slow violence of ecocide, in our culture and local environments, threads its way through our everyday lives. To me, short rotation monoculture tree plantations are a form of ecocide, leading to eventual soil fertility collapse and limiting severely resilient ecosytems from developing; the very opposite of an ecosystem thriving sustainably in the long term.  My work will continue to show alternatives to industrial forestry. Perhaps one day I might even fight for legal standing for the small forest in which I live, a living community that supports me and which I am interdependently connected to.

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I will be proposing that the following motion will be adopted by the Irish Green Party on 13 April 2013. My thanks to Carlow Law lecturer John Tully, former Green Minster for Equality, Mary White, Cllr Malcolm Noonan, Dr. Paul O’Brien, Martin Lyttle, Dr. Rhys Jones, Alan Price, Duncan Russell, Nicola Brown, John Hogan and others for enthusiastically supporting my proposing this motion.

‘The Irish Green Party supports the proposition that a crime of ecocide be created in international law, as a crime against nature, humanity and future generations, to be defined as ‘the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants (human and non-human) of that territory has been or will be severely diminished’; and that the proposed crime of ecocide be formally recognised as a Crime against Peace subject to the jurisdiction of  the International Criminal Court.’

Do take a minute to sign and share the petitions, click on the links above or the AVAAZ and also the End Ecocide in Europe (if you live in Europe) logos at the bottom of this page. If a million Europeans sign the End Ecocide in Europe it helps enforce an EU wide directive against corporate ecocide (170 000+ have signed so far).

Please feel free to share this post and comments are always welcome. Thanks for reading. (Please add the #ecocide hastag if you are reposting this article)

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Notes on redress for Vietnam veterans and their children in NZ

In December 2006, the New Zealand Government, the Ex-Vietnam Services Association (EVSA) and the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RNZRSA) agreed to, and signed, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) following the recommendations of the Joint Working Group, designated with advocacy for Veteran’s concerns.[7] The MoU provides formal acknowledgement of the toxic environment New Zealand Vietnam Veterans faced during their service abroad in Vietnam, and the after-effects of that toxin since the service men and women returned to New Zealand. The MoU also makes available various forms of support, to both New Zealand Vietnam Veterans and their families.[8] New Zealand writer and historian, Deborah Challinor, includes a new chapter in her second edition release of Grey Ghosts: New Zealand Vietnam Veterans Talk About Their War that discusses the handling of the New Zealand Vietnam Veterans’ claims, including the Reeves, McLeod and Health Committee reports, and the reconciliation/welcome parade on Queen’s Birthday Weekend, 2008, also known as ‘Tribute 08′.[9]

From 1962 until 1987, the 2,4,5T herbicide was manufactured at an Ivon Watkins-Dow plant in Paritutu, New Plymouth which was then shipped to U.S. military bases in South East Asia.[10][11][12] There have been continuing claims that the suburb of Paritutu has also been polluted.[13][14]

See more at Veteran’s Affairs (VANZ) Website for NZ veterans and their children’s welfare

Related and recent articles on ecocide

Note: Apologies for cross posting, this article was published previously on my research site www.ecoartfilm too.

An Arts & Ecology Notebook, by Cathy Fitzgerald, whose work exists as ongoing research and is continually inspired to create short films, photographic documentation, and writings. While she interacts with foresters, scientists, and communities, she aims to create a sense of a personal possibility, responsibility and engagement in her local environment that also connects to global environmental concerns.
Go to An Arts and Ecology Notebook

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Value

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

The increasing use of financial values for ecological things (trees, bees, etc.) is deeply problematic.

In Canada for instance PeterBorough’s Green Up and Urban Forest Stewardship Programme (as reported in the Peterborough Examiner) has been literally tying price tags to trees to highlight their importance to members of the public.  The value attributed is over 50 years and it does identify the different aspects of the value of trees,

“The tags list oxygen generation ($31,250), air pollution control ($62,000), water recycling ($37,500) and soil erosion control ($31,250) as a tree’s top contributions to a community.”

Whilst this at least acknowledges some of the complexity, English Nature reported that “Bees are worth £200 million”.  This was originally reported on the BBC at about the same time that Lehman Brothers collapsed with a reported figure in the region of $613 billion.

Dave Pritchard recently commented on the ecoartnetwork dialogue (9 April 2011),

“For a time, in the 1970s-80s, there was some of the kind of “reconsideration” you describe, with the “deep ecology” of Naess, Bateson, Berry et al. But if you analyse the evolution of the actual policy and advocacy discourse at 10-yearly intervals, for example from the 1972 Stockholm Conference to the 1982 World Conservation Strategy to the 1992 Rio Conference to the 2002 Johannesburg Summit (and then maybe in advance of the Rio+20 summit in 2012 look at the Aichi targets adopted last year), it has swung completely away from any ethics of “existence value” for the non-human component, to a forced justification (in adversarial arenas) in terms of “sustainable development”, “wise use”, “evidence-based conservation”, “ecosystem services” and (largely monetary) valuation of those services. The environmental movement (of which I am a part) congratulates itself on having found better ways of expressing the critical nature of ecosystems within broader mainstream audiences and processes, in this way. But this has all been done by becoming MORE anthropocentric and utilitarian; not less.”

Could the same narrative be written about both education and the arts (a.k.a the creative industries)? 

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.

Go to EcoArtScotland

The Art of Sustainability

Visual Arts Organizations and the Modern Environmental Movement

by Jessica Broderick Lewis

Published in the Winter edition of the CSPA Quarterly.  To view or order back issues, visit http://magcloud.com/browse/Magazine/38626.  To subscribe to the CSPA QUARTERLY, join us!  http://www.sustainablepractice.org/join-the-cspa/

‘The Green Museum,’ sited in this essay, is available at our bookstore!

The goal of this study is to assess the visual arts community‘s status in the process of becoming more environmentally friendly. If visual arts organizations use the strategies presented here and choose to walk a greener path they may be able to better engage existing audiences and attract new ones, cut operating costs, generate positive public relations, increase funding opportunities, expand programming and contribute to the world’s environmental wellness.

There are five main arguments for why visual arts organizations should do their part to save the planet: impact on the  environment, role as community leaders and catalysts for change, public funding for art, saving money, and the parallels between art conservation and environmental conservation.

IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT (General)

 There are general operations utilized in most, if not all, organizations that can be assessed as having an environmental impact. The most common source of waste in businesses is the overuse of paper products, not purchasing recyclable  materials, and the improper disposal of recyclables. Moreover, materials such as ink cartridges and batteries are bought new, used and then tossed in the garbage, while the alternatives of recycled ink cartridges and rechargeable batteries are ignored. Toxic materials, which can include cleaners, paints, copy toner, printing materials and more, pose another problem for businesses and can be harmful to employees.

The most obvious impact organizations have on the environment, and often the most difficult to change, is the consumption of energy, water and electricity.  In 2008, the Environmental Information Administration estimated that “buildings represented 38.9% of U.S. primary energy use and account for 38% of all CO2 emissions”.  Additionally, it found that buildings consume 72% of U.S. electricity and 14% of all potable water per year (United States Green Building Council 4). This can be a result of the certain needs of an organization such as heating, cooling and equipment, but is often made worse by wasteful practices such as leaving lights and computers turned on, using outdated equipment, and poor insulation.

Finally, the transportation of employees, customers and audiences is important to examine for any organization. Many businesses encourage people to carpool, ride a bike or use public transportation. Others take it a more proactive approach by explaining the advantages of green transportation on their websites and offering incentives, such as metro passes for taking public transportation or alternative transportation stipends that can be used for the purchase and maintenance of Smart Cars or bikes.

IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT (Arts Specific)

All of the business practices listed above can be viewed as universal to most organizations, but within the visual arts there exists additional and often unique obstacles that need to be overcome in order to reduce the impact on our environment. Museums and galleries must be aware of how they transport their collections for traveling exhibits or moving to and from storage facilities. Authors Elizabeth Wylie and Sarah Brophy of The Green Museum assert that “next to energy use (for lighting and climate control), crating and shipping are generally seen to be the greatest resource link for institutions caring for visual and decorative art and artifacts” (200).

The safe transportation of a traveling exhibition is a top priority for museums and the delicate nature of the art requires that crating and shipping are of the highest standards. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts has found that building crates that can accommodate a variety of objects in different shapes and sizes is cost effective, time efficient and better for the environment (Wylie and Brophy, The Green Museum 200).  On solution is to use Greenshipping.com, which offers       individuals and organizations the opportunity to purchase renewable energy in order to offset the carbon footprint created by your package (Green Shipping).  

ROLE AS COMMUNITY LEADERS AND CATALYSTS FOR CHANGE

Artists and arts organizations have been viewed as community leaders for decades and the choices they make often set the tone for how society approaches or reacts to certain issues and can often be a the catalyst for change. At a recent arts symposium Dr. Ford Bell, President/CEO of the American Association of Museums, offered up data that showed the ability of museums to “educate, inform and change attitudes and behavior” (Pain & Central Nervous System Week 525). The American Association of Museums feels so strongly in the power of museums to shape communities that they undertook an initiative in 1998 to explore possibilities for expanding and strengthening their presence in neighborhoods across the country. Among the many positive results was a change to the AAM’s Museum Assessment Program’s Public Dimension Assessment, a modification that holds museums to greater accountability for their image in the community (American Association of Museums).

PUBLIC FUNDING FOR THE ARTS

In an article provided by Americans for the Arts, author Anne L`Ecuyer opened her discussion of public funding for the arts by stating that “communities demonstrate their priorities and values in part by the programs and services they support with public funds” (1).  For many, the argument is that the role of a visual arts organization is to exhibit and/or collect art and to educate the public on its value – not to be leaders in environmental conservation, but how can an organization claim to serve the public, when their very policies and procedures could cause future harm to the community they exist in. If visual arts organizations desire continued funding through public dollars, they would do well to demonstrate an interest in the priorities and values of their community, which includes environmental responsibility.

SAVING MONEY

In these tumultuous economic times, a move towards green business practices can put more green in the pockets of     museums. Websites such as the U.S. Green Building Council and GreenandSave.com provide information on the initial cost of implementing green strategies, the time it will take to see a return on investment, and the dollar amount of that return, to help assess which changes are feasible for an organization. Energy is often the most costly part of operations, but there are many green alternatives that can save money over the long run. Solar energy can save an organization roughly $1,200 per year and initial costs can be recouped in only 10 to 16 years depending on appreciation of property value. Heating and cooling accounts for about 40% of an office’s energy cost – a number that can vary for museums depending on size and collections. Using radiant floors instead of a forced air system can save up to 30% on heating bills. Installing a plant-filled roof can cost about $8 to $10 a square foot, while a traditional roof costs $4 to $6 a square foot, but the green roof can save 20% on summer energy costs. Installing LED lighting requires 16% less energy and lasts 100 times longer. Additionally, there are grants and government tax incentives for making these changes (GreenandSave.com).

ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION AND ART PRESERVATION

There are many within the museum community who make the connection between the preservation practices in the visual arts and the preservation of the environment. In an article entitled “Keeping Art, and Climate, Controlled” from the New York Times, journalist Carol Kino discusses the problems being caused by global warming and how museum officials are responding. She asserts that conservators have observed one rule for over 50 years: “Keep everything in the museum at approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 55 percent relative humidity” and this has been made possible with the use of Heating Ventilating and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems, “which typically cope with unforeseen events by working   overtime”. However museum officials have had to rethink their approach to conservation due to the increase in energy cost, decrease in museum funding and the growing effects of global warming and climate change. Kino poses the  question; “Should museums add to global warming by continuing to rely so heavily on such systems in the first place?” a question that is beginning to be examined in places such as the recent International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works conference where a panel discussion was held to look at the relationship between art conservation and environmental conservation (Kino). By understanding the relationship between art and nature, organizations will be able to better perform their role as community leader, save money, and provide additional justification for public funding for the arts.

Over the course of my research, I have learned that while there are many environmental grassroots efforts taking place in visual arts organizations across the country, there is yet to be a truly unified, systematic effort from the field as a whole.  From the research I have conducted, I have singled out three recommendations for visual arts leaders; to create discipline-wide policy and best practices for the field, to market the field’s green efforts, and to collaborate across disciplines. 

DISCIPLINE-WIDE POLICY/BEST PRACTICES IN THE FIELD

The authors of The Green Museum support the implementation of environmental policies, asserting that it “institutionalizes behavior by providing vision and frameworks, defining process, identifying goals and evaluation methods, and delegating authority” (Wylie and Brophy, The Green Museum 200). This is the vital missing piece in the move towards environmental responsibility in the visual arts community at this time. Although many organizations are making commendable strides in green initiatives, there is no overarching understanding of what the visual arts should be doing. Of the organizations    surveyed, 29% have a difficult time in changing organizational culture, something that could be made easier if there were universal environmental standards in the visual arts. 

In order to better understand what environmental policies should mean to the arts, we can brake down Wylie and Brophy’s definition into four parts; vision and framework, defining processes, identifying goals and evaluation methods, and  delegating authority. “Vision and framework” puts everyone on the same page, letting people both inside and outside our visual arts communities know our stance on environmental issues. It provides a set of best practices that organizations can measure against and it creates a supportive community where ideas and obstacles can be openly discussed. “Defining processes” involves combining the efforts of galleries and museums, consultants and engineers, and other leaders in the industry, to create a collection of industry standards. This list of standards could be incorporated into the American     Association of Museums’ accreditation process and could serve as an outline for organizations to make changes to their operations. By “identifying goals and evaluation methods” for incorporating environmental standards into museum  accreditation there will be a consistent and objective means for evaluation “Delegating authority” empowers people to take responsibility and ownership over a project, plan or program. By designating a point person within the organization to oversee environmental policies it creates greater consistency in our operations and provides employees/guests a point of contact for questions regarding environmental strategies (Wylie and Brophy, The Green Museum 200).

Beyond the organization, authority on environmental issues needs to be delegated for the entire visual arts field. It is    logical that the American Association of Museums (AAM), in conjunction with the U.S. Green Building Council, would be a likely candidate. AAM is a well respected authority in the field and is called upon for leadership in many other areas of museum management. Their accreditation program is sought after by most museums and their recommendations are trusted by the field, perfectly situating them to unite the visual arts community in its pursuit for environmental  sustainability.

MARKETING OF GREEN EFFORTS          

According to “It’s Easy Being Green” organizations are not making enough of a statement about their efforts to be green; “In fact, many recent and planned art museum expansions incorporate high-performance energy-efficient mechanical,   ventilation and lighting systems yet their press materials don’t mention the operational cost savings and environmental advantages, and the average person is hard-pressed to know or find out about them” (Brophy and Wylie, It’s Easy). Brophy and Wylie attribute the silence to an organization’s belief that green strategies are not part of their mission. However,  marketing green practices demonstrates an investment in the future of the community and provides an opportunity to  connect the organization’s mission with the environmental strategies they are using. An organization can achieve this by creating signage that explains their environmental philosophy, developing programs around green initiatives such as building tours, and incorporating the information into their website.

COLLABORATION ACROSS DISCIPLINES 

Some compelling figures from the survey regarding resources and supporting the need for collaboration include; 91% (of organizations) need increased availability of funds, 33% (of organizations) want increased resources for understanding green processes and 22% (of organizations) want green consultants. Foundations such as The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Doris Duke Foundation that support both the arts and the environment would be invaluable resources in stewarding     collaborations between the arts and environmental communities. A database with resources including green consultants, engineers, funding opportunities and more, could be created and utilized by organizations across the country. By  providing organizations with a central location to research information on green initiatives, share experiences and        obstacles and interact with others looking to make a change in the way their organization operates would provide some of the support the visual arts community needs.

As an arts community we continue to make the case of “arts for arts sake” to our local, state and national officials. We  insist, with good reason, that the arts enhance our lives and contribute to the cultural fabric of our communities. I don’t believe we can in good conscious highlight the benefits we provide to the neighborhoods we exist in without addressing areas for improvement as well. Advancing the arts in America does not need to come at the expense of our natural world and by embracing environmental responsibility within our organizations we will ensure that the art we have worked so hard to create, conserve and exhibit will be enjoyed by many generations to come. 

Jessica Broderick Lewis holds a Master of Science in Arts Administration from Drexel University and is on the Board of Trustees for the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association in Alexandria, Virginia. This excerpt was taken from her paper entitled “The Art of Sustainability: Visual Arts Organizations and the Modern Environmental Movement”. For a complete copy of the paper, please visit http://www.library.drexel.edu/ or email jess_broderick@hotmail.com.

AN INTERNATIONAL SUMMER “ECO-FESTIVAL” AT EXIT ART: SEA presents ECOAESTHETIC and CONSUME



Edward Burtynsky, Oil Fields #13, Taft, California, USA, 2002

Sze Tsung Leong, Beizhuanzi II, Siming District, Xiamen, 2004

ECOAESTHETIC and CONSUME

June 18 – August 28, 2010
Opening Friday, June 18, 7-10pm

NEW YORK – ECOAESTHETIC is the first exhibition of SEA to be mounted in Exit Art’s main gallery. In keeping with SEA’s mission to present artworks that address socio-environmental concerns – and to unite artists, scholars, scientists and the public in discussion on these issues – ECOAESTHETIC, through the work of nine international photographers, approaches the mystery of beauty in the natural and built environment, which can be destructive or utopian.

ECOAESTHETIC will focus on photography of land where the tragedy of the image becomes the aesthetic of the environment, and not just the beauty of the landscape. The artists in this exhibition do not have a passive engagement with the environment; rather, they seek out beautiful and tragic images to emphasize the human impact on fragile ecosystems, to elucidate our relationship to nature, and to visualize the violence of natural disasters.

In conjunction with ECOAESTHETIC, Exit Art will also create a collective “artists terrarium” in its two ground floor windows facing 36th Street and 10th Avenue. For this project, artists have been invited to bring a plant and a photo of themselves with the plant to Exit Art, in order to contribute to a communal garden that gives a presence to the local environmental movement.

ECOAESTHETIC curated by Jeanette Ingberman and Papo Colo with Herb Tam and Lauren Rosati.

Susannah Sayler, Cordillera Blanca, Peru, 2008

David Maisel, American Mine (Nevada 1), 2007

The artists in ECOAESTHETIC are: Edward Burtynsky (Canada); Mitch Epstein (USA); Anthony Hamboussi (USA); Chris Jordan (USA); Christopher LaMarca (USA); Sze Tsung Leong (USA); David Maisel (USA); Susannah Sayler/The Canary Project (USA) and Jo Syz (UK).

* * *

Consume, a project of SEA (Social Environmental Aesthetics), is a multimedia group exhibition and event series that investigates the world’s systems of food production, distribution, consumption and waste. Consumewill be exhibited concurrently with ECOAESTHETIC, establishing a summer “eco-festival” on two floors of exhibition space.

With fuel prices fluctuating and climate change causing monumental shifts in weather patterns, we have been forced to rethink our methods of food production and distribution. Natural disasters have wiped out entire crop cycles (the rice supply in Burma and the wheat harvest in Australia) and experts are saying that a global food shortage is imminent. The prices for wheat, corn, rice and other grains have steadily increased since 2005, causing food riots and hoarding from Morocco to Yemen to Hong Kong. The New York Times recently reported an estimate that Americans waste 27% of the food available for consumption. What are some possible solutions to these mammoth problems?

Robin Lasser, Dining in the Dump, 2003

As more people change their habits, and as the government ratifies new regulations, we can make significant progress in the fight for food. The American public has shown awareness that the industrial-food system is deeply flawed. Expanded recycling and composting programs – as well as the growing local, organic and free-range movements – are indicative of a profound shift in the way we think about food. Consume will also include a series of public talks, screenings and workshops that confront and take up diverse food-related issues.

Jon Feinstein, Fast Food: 8 Grams, 2008

Uli Westphal, image of a lemon from the Mutatoes series, 2006-2010

Consume includes projects by Prayas Abhinav (India); Elizabeth Demaray (USA); Jon Feinstein (USA); Jordan Geiger / Ga-Ga and Virginia San Fratello / Rael-San Fratello Architects (USA); Sara Heitlinger and Franc Purg (UK/Slovenia); Manny Howard (USA); Miwa Koizumi (USA); Tamara Kostianovsky (USA); Robin Lasser (USA); Lenore Malen (USA); Mark Lawrence Stafford (USA); Laurie Sumiye (USA); Andreas Templin (Germany); and Uli Westphal (Germany).

Consume curated by Jeanette Ingberman and Papo Colo with Herb Tam and Lauren Rosati.

EVENTS
Wednesday, June 23 / 7-9pm

Raw Food Demonstration and Tasting: $20
Seema Shah – chef, health coach and chocolatier – will demonstrate how to prepare five local, seasonal and healthy raw food dishes for summer. She will also talk about her experiences with community supported agriculture and show us how to make more environmentally informed decisions about what we eat.
On the menu: Fresh Gazpacho, Colorful Kale Salad, Almond Butter Nori Wraps, Avocado Orange Salsa and Strawberry Rhubarb Pie. Cash bar. To learn more about Shah, visit www.simplyseema.com.

Thursday, July 22, 2010 / 7-9pm
Media That Matters presents GOOD FOOD, a collection of short films and animations about food and sustainability. Q and A to follow with filmmakers and representatives of Media That Matters. $5 suggested donation. Cash bar.

Thursday, July 29, 2010 / 7-9pm
Community Food Access with presentations by Just Food, Center for Urban Pedagogy and Green My Bodega, featuring information on CSAs, food justice, and increasing access to healthy food in underserved areas. $5 suggested donation. Cash bar.

Date TBA
SEA Poetry Series, No. 4
Organized by EJ McAdams of The Nature Conservancy. $5 suggested donation. Cash bar.

SEA (Social-Environmental Aesthetics)
SEA is a unique endeavor that presents a diverse multimedia exhibition program and permanent archive of artworks that address social and environmental concerns. SEA will assemble artists, activists, scientists and scholars to address environmental issues through presentations of visual art, performances, panels and lecture series that will communicate international activities concerning environmental and social activism. SEA will occupy a permanent space in Exit Underground, a 3000 square-foot, multi-media performance, film and exhibition venue underneath Exit Art’s main gallery space. The SEA archive will be a permanent archive of information, images and videos that will be a continuous source for upcoming exhibitions and projects. Central to SEA’s mission is to provide a vehicle through which the public can be made aware of socially- and environmentally-engaged work, and to provide a forum for collaboration between artists, scientists, activists, scholars and the public. SE A functions as an initiative where individuals can join together in dialogue about issues that affect our daily lives.

* * *

Announcing a solo exhibition by performance artist Rafael Sanchez,
winner of the 2008 Ida Applebroog Award

Rafael Sanchez:
The Limit as the Body Approaches Zero
June 18 – August 28, 2010

Opening Friday, June 18 / 7-10pm

PERFORMANCES ON SATURDAYS IN JUNE AND JULY. See full schedule below.

Rafael Sanchez, winner of the 2008 Ida Applebroog Award at Exit Art, will present a series of new performance pieces and documentation from the past ten years of his work in Exit Art’s ground floor project space. Sanchez’s performances often bridge the spectacle of street life with the meditative interiority of private rituals. During this exhibition, the artist will stage performances every Saturday that provoke questions about issues as diverse as masculinity, sexuality, gentrification, and bodily limits.

In deceivingly simple gestures and epic endurance feats, Sanchez uses his body to carry ideas about the performative conditions of daily life in the city and how it is inscribed with desire, pain, musical rhythms, absurdity and poetry. Sanchez demands that viewers make a “psycho-educational commitment to enhancing his or her own perception of reality.”

Performances are scheduled for the exhibition opening, on Friday, June 18, on Friday, July 9 and on Saturdays, June 19, July 10, 17, 24, and 31. All performances will be assisted by Jonathan Hyppolite. See the full schedule below for details.

PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE
Friday, June 18

URBAN RENEWAL
This piece questions the role of gentrification in impoverished urban environments. Does the process of urban renewal bury a neighborhood’s people along with its past?

OTIS LOTUS (Soundscape One)
Otis Redding’s voice will fill a space over a one-hour period. As the sound unfolds, the audience is asked to question the boundaries between harmony disharmony, order and chaos.

SAG THEM DRAWS FOR WHOSE APPLAUSE
A performance designed to question a certain phenomenon of street fashion.

Saturday, June 19 / 1-7pm
NTU THE STAGE (Part Two)
A celebration and invocation ceremony. Music by Kris Flowers of Flowers in the Attic and DJ Porkchop of SSPS and Excepter. Food provided by Verettables catering.

Friday, July 9 / 12pm – Saturday, July 10 / 12pm
SWIMMING IN THE CREEK
This performance uses interviews with over a dozen fathers and husbands to question the notion of masculinity as it changes with age. The artist will recreate the gestation stage of human development as portions of the interviews play.

Saturday, July 10 / 12-6pm
DANIEL GIVENS DAY
The artist pays homage to one of his creative mentors as Daniel Givens (poet, DJ, photographer and producer) restructures the performance space with collages, videos, and music.

Saturday, July 17 / 12-4pm
DILL PICKLE
In an allegory for sexual fantasy and voyeurism, the artist will climb a ladder and periodically slice cucumbers into a big tub placed under the ladder. During this process, music and soundscapes from pornographic films will play.

MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME
The artist will recreate 21 years of orgasms and the visual, auditory, and sensual stimuli that made these moments possible.

ROCK ME
A performance addressing the sexuality of the body as separate from sensation.

Saturday, July 24 / 12-6pm
SPEAK BOLDLY
A performance to honor the life of Julius Eastman, a minimalist African-American composer, pianist, vocalist and dancer.

WHAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN
A visualization of this physical and social law.

KANDINSKY’S PAINTED ON BOTH SIDES
Comparing process versus product, the artist becomes the canvas.

BEING AND NOTHINGNESS / MILK BATH
Using literature from the Négritude movement and Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness and Black Orpheus, the artist questions the subject and objectivity of blackness.

Saturday, July 31 / 12-6pm
CAN’T KEEP RUNNING AWAY
A performance piece about the defense mechanism of “avoidance coping.”

BAD BRAINS RE-ENACTMENT
Using performance footage of the Washington D.C. hardcore punk group Bad Brains, the artist mimics lead singer H.R.’s movements to bring immediate presence to vicarious memory.

HABIBI ABID
The artist will sit in a plexi-glass box, from which Sudanese wedding music will play. Sand will fill the box as the music plays and becomes louder. Once the sand reaches his neck, honey and ants will be poured over his head. While the ants wander through the honey, the music will become less audible and the sound of shifting sand will replace the music of celebration.

PERFORMANCE FOR THOSE LOVED
The artist will choose four people from various spheres of his life and create a performance as a gift to them.

DIAMOND SEA (Part Two)
A performance about Sonic Youth’s Diamond Sea.

ABOUT THE ARTIST
Rafael Sanchez (b. Newark, New Jersey, 1978) is a performance artist who often takes his work to the streets and other unconventional spaces. In his performances, Sanchez frequently subjects his body to extreme stress and pain to materialize ideas of memory, spirituality and endurance. In an early work titled Back to Africa(2000), Sanchez wandered around New Jersey in white face, carrying a suitcase and waiting for a bus that never arrived. In a more recent work, Calienté/Frio (2007) the artist traced the migration process of two women from Cuba to America during the 1960s. The artist, dressed in a light colored suit and hat and carrying a packed suitcase, submerged himself in a tub of water that alternated between near boiling and below freezing as interviews with the two Cuban women played in the background.

ABOUT THE IDA APPLEBROOG AWARD
The Ida Applebroog Award at Exit Art was established by Richard Massey, art collector and Exit Art board member, and Ida Applebroog, artist and Exit Art board member, to nurture outstanding artists at critical points in their careers. This biennial award was named after Ida Applebroog to convey both the spirit of her work and Exit Art’s mission, and to honor her for her accomplishments. For more than 25 years, Exit Art’s mission has been to support under recognized artists that consistently challenge cultural and artistic conventions. By establishing this award at Exit Art, Ida Applebroog wished to further that mission by providing a substantial monetary award to support such artists. The award includes a $10,000 unrestricted grant and a solo exhibition at Exit Art.

ABOUT EXIT ART
Exit Art is an independent vision of contemporary culture. We are prepared to react immediately to important issues that affect our lives. We do experimental, historical and unique presentations of aesthetic, social, political and environmental issues. We absorb cultural differences that become prototype exhibitions. We are a center for multiple disciplines. Exit Art is a 25 year old cultural center in New York City founded by Directors Jeanette Ingberman and artist Papo Colo, that has grown from a pioneering alternative art space, into a model artistic center for the 21st century committed to supporting artists whose quality of work reflects the transformations of our culture. Exit Art is internationally recognized for its unmatched spirit of inventiveness and consistent ability to anticipate the newest trends in the culture. With a substantial reputation for curatorial innovation and depth of programming in diverse media, Exit Art is always changing.

EXHIBITION SUPPORT
General exhibition support for all Summer 2010 exhibitions provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; Bloomberg LP; Jerome Foundation; Lambent Foundation; Pollock-Krasner Foundation; public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn; Exit Art’s Board of Directors and our members.

GENERAL INFORMATION
Exit Art is located at 475 Tenth Avenue, corner of 36th Street. Hours: Tues. – Thurs., 10am – 6pm; Fri., 10am – 8pm; and Sat., noon – 8pm. Closed Sun. and Mon. There is a suggested donation of $5. For more information please call 212-966-7745 or visit www.exitart.org.

# # #


Sustainability and Contemporary Art Symposium Budapest

Sustainability and Contemporary Art: Art, Post-Fordism and Eco-CritiqueInternational Symposium

EU Budapest 19-20 March 2010

Ralo Mayer, Multi-Plex Fictions

Ralo Mayer, Multi-Plex Fictions

The 2010 Symposium on Sustainability and Contemporary Art brings together artists, philosophers, environmental scientists and activists to explore the conundrum of capitalism’s remarkable ability to absorb criticism and adapt to new circumstances. According to post-Fordist theory, in the wake of the social upheaval of May 1968 capitalism was able to recuperate radical desires for freedom, creativity and personal liberation through the adoption of the principles of flexibility, horizontality and autonomy, and the shift from industrialism to immaterial labour.

Today, the energy and idealism of the environmental movement is arguably in a similar danger of being transformed into the motor of a green capitalist resurgence that threatens to rescue neo-liberal globalisation from the economic downturn. This symposium asks whether environmentalism is in fact now facing its own ‘post-Fordist moment’, in which the language and values of ecology are at risk of being turned into an ideology of bureaucratic control and a technocratic justification for sustainable growth. It also raises the question of whether the environmental movement has anything to learn from the strategies of resistance proposed by the theorists of immaterial labour and the exploration of these issues by contemporary artists.

In the wake of the debacle of the Copenhagen Climate Summit, the question arises whether there might be more to ecological crisis than mitigating the threat posed by climate change to the current global economic system, and whether the danger posed by the depletion of natural resources and the destruction of bio-diversity deserves to be a greater priority. The symposium will try to locate a sense of eco-criticality in the approaches of contemporary artists, and also consider the implications of an ecologically-nuanced, post-Fordist critique for the international art world.

The symposium on Art, Post-Fordism and Ecological Critique is the fifth in an annual series of events organised at Central European University by Maja and Reuben Fowkes of Translocal.org, the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, and the Centre for Arts and Culture at CEU. This year’s programme will include an afternoon of presentations and critical conversations in the main auditorium of Central European University on Friday 19 March, and a workshop event with symposium participants on the following day.

A small number of additional places are available for the workshop upon application.

Confirmed speakers include: Stephen Wright (art theorist, Paris), Igor Stokfiszewski(curator/critic/playwright, Warsaw), Branka Cvjeticanin (multimedia artist, Zagreb) and Ralo Mayer (artist, Vienna).

via Sustainability and Contemporary Art Symposium Budapest.

RSA Arts & Ecology – MA in Art & Environment: 2010

University College Falmouth
MA Art & Environment: 2010

For centuries artists have interpreted and represented the natural environment. It has provided materials and subject matter, as well as inspiration and knowledge. In recent times – particularly since the growth of the environmental movement – there has been a dramatic change in our understanding of the many ways our society impacts upon the Earth. This awareness has galvanised around the fact that the relationship between humanity and our life-giving planet is in a critical state.

This change in knowledge has been reflected in contemporary art practice. MA Art & Environment, at University College Falmouth, encourages a focused engagement with ecological and environmental issues. Designed to give students the skills, expertise and confidence to operate as a professional artist in this critical area of practice, the course will also enable them to develop strategies and practices that use art as a cultural agent – as a tool for knowledge, understanding and change.

Students on the course have opportunities to benefit from the Universtity’s relationship with Cape Farewell, The Eden Project and University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute.

For further information please
contact Dr Daro Montag
daro.montag[@]falmouth.ac.uk
+44 (0)1326 211077

Encouragement of the Arts

I’m wildly excited about two books, one coming out this month the other next year – both are radical insights about what environmental change means for the human relationship to the planet. One is Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto and the other is Timothy Morton’s The Ecological Thought.

What I find so vital in their work is that they are strongly against the misanthropy that seems to underpin much of the dominant narrative around the environmental movement. To my mind, the idea that humans are stupid, indifferent and deliberately destructive is not only an inadequate account of human nature it is heartbreaking. It is heartbreaking because it is debilitating at every level. At a time when we most need compassion and creative thinking the very sentiments that block these – pervasive cynicism and conservatism – are prevalent. (I’ve used too many words beginning with ‘c’ in that sentence, I’ll move onto the letter ‘R’ for a while).

What roots the rigorous accounts given by ecological experts such as Brand and Morton is that people are hugely capable of complex thinking, adaptive living, resilience and resourcefulness. We have created this situation of environmental change so now we must rise to challenge of transforming how we think and behave in response to it. And when I read documents like Peter Head’s Entering an Ecological Age, and see speakers at the RSA like Graciela Chichilnisky, not only do these extraordinary changes feel crucial they appear do-able.

Drawing on Brand, Head and Morton, I have written a short essay for the Copenhagen exhibition RETHINK: Contemporary Art & Climate Change.
Here’s a bit of it:  Art and ideas are not timeless, they are historically specific. The uneasy realisation of our current situation is that we are part of an ecological system that we influence more than we previously thought was possible. We are not outside observers, we are participants; we engage and affect systems whether we intend to or not. … we are the co-creators of our environment. Yet we do not yet fully recognise ourselves as such. This is a revelation awaiting to be fully explored through the arts.

It is the beginning of some work I’m developing for the Arts and Ecology Centre on what the arts may contribute  in moving us towards an ecological age.  Some of the ideas are controversial. And as part of this, writer Josie Appleton has been commissioned to write an essay for this website, as her work sets out to explore fresh thinking about human capability.The Challenge of Climate Change: Towards a New Human Consciousness – is a ‘thought experiment’, as she says in her blog – so comments are welcome.

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Robert MacFarlane on literature that inspired action

There was a great article on Edward Abbey by Robert MacFarlane in the weekend’s Guardian.  [I’m inclined to superlatives here, as MacFarlane generously bigged up the RSA Arts & Ecology Centre and our fellow organisations TippingPoint, The Ashden Directory and Cape Farewell in the article].

Anyhow, to the point.

MacFarlane writes about how Abbey’s gloriously rambunctious novel Monkey Wrench Gang became the inspiration for the Earth First! environmental movement in the US, who set about turning Abbey’s fiction into non-fiction through a series of direct actions. Climate change, suggests MacFarlane,  requires not just a technological and political shift but a cultural one too – which is what Abbey’s writing set ablaze for the American conservation movement.

But then MacFarlane starts to ponder where that’s going to come from in relation to climate change. American authors, from Rachel Carson, Edward Abbey, Bill McKibben, Gary Snyder, Cormac MacCarthy and others have produced significant passionate works which have indeed had a galvanising impact on environmental movements. But where, he wonders, are the British equivalents? The British equivalents, he suggests, have an emotional distance which doesn’t “kick your arse off the page” in the way that Abbey’s prose does. But there’s something else too:

Perhaps the key ethical principle of British environmental literature has been that making us see differently is an essential precursor to making us act differently. So it is that each new generation of British environmental writers finds itself trying to design the literary equivalent of the “killer app”: the glittering argument or stylistic turn that will produce an epiphany in sceptical readers, and so persuade them to change their behaviour. I used to believe in the possibility of this killer app, both as a reader and a writer. But I’m increasingly unsure of its existence. Or, if it exists, of its worth. At least in my experience, environmental literature in Britain gets read almost exclusively by the converted to the converted, and its meaningful ethical impact is minimal tending to zero. As Vernon Klinkenbourg noted with glum elegance last year, most documents of environmental literature are “minority reports – sometimes a minority of one. The assumptions, the hopes, the arguments [of such literature] are contradicted by the way the vast majority of us live, and by the political and economic structures that determine that lifestyle … sceptical readers so seldom pick up this kind of writing, or submit to its evidence.”

The point is that Abbey’s fiction was in many ways hackneyed, fed by the cliche’s of the western pulp novel, but it was great because of the scope of its passion and the sureness of Abbey’s vision. In comparison, are European artists and writers just trying too hard to be clever? Does this create a kind of parochial vision that hobbles artists, blunting their chance of having the kind of impact Abbey did?

One of the things that I hope Arts for COP15 will be able to produce is some idea of how effective the various events are at doing what they all, presumably, set out to do, which us change minds.

Illustration: Robert Crumb-designed sticker for Edward Abbey’s book (1985).

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Raise the Green Roof: Theater for the New City

TNC logoCrystal Field, the artistic director of Theater for the New City, is thrilled. Under Field’s direction, TNC has been a pioneer in the environmental movement for over 15 years, and she remembers when environmental issues were taboo. “When we wrote street-theater songs about organic food and rejecting genetically modified foods 10 years ago, people thought we were crazy,” she remembers. Today, her street theater focuses on environmental responsibility and climate change and the fact that here in NYC, “We may all be underwater while not having enough water to drink.”

Field is inspired by the fact that now there is technology accessible to help us address these issues. The issue is at the forefront of our minds, and now city and governments are willing to help, which Field says is “going to change everything. It’s not just going to be little cliques. It’s going to be well into the social fabric.” She adds, “Now we’re going to put some money where our mouth is,” and that’s just what TNC has been doing.

TNC green logoTNC has taken extensive steps to make its facilities and productions more sustainable, and they have ambitious plans to continue their sustainability efforts. TNC has already taken the following steps to green their theater:

  • They have replaced all the incandescent light bulbs in their theater offices and public spaces with compact fluorescents
  • In their lobby, which they use as an exhibition area and art gallery, they have installed a system that senses the availability of natural light and decreases electric lighting accordingly
  • Recycling of paper, plastic, glass, and metal has always been a priority, and they recently initiated a battery recycling program
  • Reusing show programs: TNC asks audiences to return their programs for reuse if they don’t want to keep them as souvenirs
  • Hosting Green Cabarets, which feature a variety of readings, dances, and musical acts, all inspired by green issues

Beyond these initial steps, however, an ambitious green renovation plan is in the works.  TNC is currently seeking funding from the Kresge Foundation, local businesses, and charity events; once a set goal is reached, the city of New York, which has become very active in green issues via its ambitious PlanNYC, will cover the remainder of the costs.  Features of the renovation are set to include:

  • Green roof diagramA green roof, the flagship component of the renovation, will feature vegetation and solar panels which will reduce their carbon footprint by gobbling up CO2 and releasing oxygen, insulating the theater (reducing heat/cooling energy needs), and generating power to run the theater from the solar panels.
  • Planting trees and shrubs on the sidewalk in front of the theater to increase visibility of their efforts
  • Installing more efficient stage lighting lamps
  • Complete renovation of the Chino Theater, including green lighting and mobile seats
  • Water-saving measures
  • Rennovating the scenic shop to make it more energy efficient
  • An audio/visual recording studio downstairs
  • All renovations will use sustainable wood and the most environment-friendly products possible, and they plan to reuse or recycle as much of the remaining material as possible

Field says that their emphasis on a green roof came about for three reasons.  Firstly, wanting to create an urban green space but without extra land of their own, they decided to turn to an unused space of their own: the roof.  The space will not only reduce their carbon footprint and improve the air quality in a crowded city, but also provide organic food for the community.  Secondly, they’re hoping that it serves as a model for other local theaters, saying, “If all theaters in New York City followed our example, the reduction of our collective carbon footprint would be extraordinary. “  Lastly, they realized that it would cut down on their long-term energy costs by reducing heating and cooling expenses, and might even help to prolong the operational life of the roof itself.

TNC’s plan is ambitious, and the obstacles to fundraising in today’s economic climate are many, but Field remains positive and determined to keep working towards a greener planet. She urges relentless perseverance and gradual change: “One small step and then another small step that is obtained with blood sweat and tears. But, you know, we don’t have slavery in this country anymore, right?” She believes Americans have the ability to recognize their mistakes and change their ways. She jokes, “We smoked, and then we got cancer. But then we gave it up. We learn.”

When asked what recommendations she would give to other theaters looking to go green, Field suggests that they start with green committees made up of staff and audience members, and that they address how the theaters can save money right away by greening their basic operations, from buying green janitorial products, to switching out lightbulbs, to recycling everything possible.  She advocates going online to learn about the basic ways to green a business and to start applying those practices. Lastly, she suggests that you “start talking about green on your own website. Put your plans on your website and people will start to contact you who want to get involved.”

According to Field, it is the theater’s job to be a part of the solution: “The theater is going to tell us that things can be solved.” She maintains that theater is good at reinforcing the message of going green to people who already support that cause – the converted. “The converted need inspiration to go on and do the work that needs to be done. Theater is of great value in that way.”

Links:

More information on TNC’s green roof via their website

“What is a green roof?” via HowStuffWorks

Greenroofs.com and Liveroof.com

ShareThis

Go to the Green Theater Initiative

Are green blogs failing to convince?

Commenting on the possiblity of creating a new .eco domain, Al Gore said this week:

We fully support Dot Eco LLC in its efforts to secure the .eco top level domain through the ICANN application process and look forward to working with Dot Eco LLC to promote .eco. This is a truly exciting opportunity for the environmental movement and for the internet as a whole.

Exciting? Really? Really?

Like Matthias Merkel Hess, who occasionally wrings his hands with regret at calling his admirable site, Eco Art Blog, I inwardly cringe at the word. Here at Arts & Ecology we are always pleased that we never fell for the single-syllable option, keeping the subtler, more powerful term “ecology”, with its implicit sense of connectedness. Why having it as a suffix creates anything more than an internet ghetto, I don’t understand.

Anyway, to the point. Meaghan O’Neill, the woman behind Treehugger.com and Planetgreen.com is perkily bullish about the future of green blogs in general, writing in an article in last week’s Guardian. In an age in which conventional media are shedding staff as fast as they can, she believes that blogs can and should take over the role of reporting on environmental issues:

Anecdotally speaking, the audience for green content appears to still be growing, even as budgets for green media outlets are cut.

If you look at what she says with web2.0 spectacles on, things look rosy. Green bloggers have formed a community which educates and reinvigorates itself. As Abi Silvester of hippyshopper.com says in a comment on O’Neill’s article:

One element of blogging that’s particularly relevant here is that as bloggers we treat the issues as a basis for dialogue rather than presenting them as facts in the way that mainstream media tends to do… I do understand why some are uncomfortable with the idea of unqualified bloggers spurious scientific “facts”on the environment or any other topic, but so is any blogger worth his or her salt. In my experience, the blogs that gain credibility and respect are those that don’t set themselves up as “experts” but as interested parties that want to get involved and explore solutions creatively. There’s really no better place to do that than online at the moment.

Which is why green blogs are failing to change minds. Web2.0 is a great thing. But it’s not an end in itself. .

O’Neill says her faith that growing green audiences is “anecdotal”. Silvester too is a fan of the anectotal: “In my experience, the blogs that gain crediblity are those that don’t set themselves up as ‘experts’,” she says .

We don’t really have to prove ourselves right because we have the moral highground. A community that talks hihg-mindedly to itself is of value, but not when faced by an opposing community of sceptics which is, frankly, making all the running. In fact, as the barbed comments below O’Neill’s article show, climate deniers retain a much more powerful voice on the internet given their relatively small numbers, and green bloggers don’t appear to be able to do anything to dent that. Last month, to the horror of green bloggers everywhere, the climate-sceptic blog wattsupwiththat.com was nominated Best Science Blog of 2008 by the Best Blog Awards, to the delight of denier-trolls everhwhere.

The thing is, if blogs are going to replace the mainstream media, they must start assuming their authority. And that means finding more ways to do old-fashioned research and reporting – what the old mainstream media regarded as its central role. Moral highground is cheap. A reputation for accuracy is much harder to come by. That’s happening, but still so slowly.

The web is, as we are so often told, only 5,000 days old.

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