I find talk of climate change seemingly everywhere I look. Yesterday more than a 150 of the world’s most popular music acts contributed to the worldwide concert, Live Earth. Twelve locations, seven continents, an audience of two billion. I have a difficult time wrapping my mind around something that large in scale. I wonder if that is not, in fact, part of the point.
Last month, on June 2nd, the Cool Globes project opened on the Chicago lakefront. One hundred and twenty-six five-foot globes have been set up as a public art display throughout Chicago, most of them along the lakefront in front of The Field Museum.
From the organizers:
“CoolGlobes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet,” [is] an innovative project that uses the medium of public art to inspire individuals and organizations to take action against global warming. … [The globes are] displayed along Chicago’s lakefront from The Field Museum north and at Navy Pier. Artists from around the world, including Jim Dine, Yair Engel, Tom Van Sant and Juame Plensa, designed the globes, using a variety of materials to transform their plain white sphere to create awareness and provoke discussion about potential solutions to global warming.
Last year, in January 2006, Al Gore found a powerful vehicle to convey his message about global climate change: the compelling documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, was presented at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. On February 25, 2007, An Inconvenient Truth won the Academy Award for best documentary feature. The companion book of the same name has been on the New York Times bestseller list since June of 2006. Gore has continued to tour the world presenting his keynote address, “the slideshow”. Shortly before the film’s general release, the Associated Press contacted more than 100 top climate researchers and questioned them about the film’s veracity. Most of the scientists surveyed had neither seen the movie nor read the book. That should not be surprising, the film was not out yet. But all nineteen climatologists who had seen the film or read the book said that Gore got the science right.
These are just three, high-profile examples of climate change talk in the media. News stories abound, tracing links between various phenomena to elements of climate change: from Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees, to the summer wildfires of the west, to the lake in southern Chile that went missing in June.
I am convinced there is truth here—that this is not hype or exaggeration. The scientific evidence is dramatic, powerful and compelling. The anecdotal evidence—while certainly less trustworthy—serves as effective emotional confirmation. Growing up in Colorado, my family and I spent fifteen to twenty weekends a year in the mountains. We went year-round. In the summer we would go backpacking and mountain climbing. In the winter we would go cross-country skiing—and on several occasions we spent the night in caves we dug from the snowpack above timberline. I learned at an early age the principles of minimal impact: take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints.
In the three decades since my first trip to the mountains, I have tried to maintain an eye on that principle in my daily life. And maybe that is why the seemingly sudden and powerful interest in climate change strikes me as curious. I’m not suggesting a universal lifestyle of absolute minimum impact. I do not believe that to be either sustainable or realistic. But I do believe in divorcing ourselves from the false idols of comfort and convenience to a degree. My wife believes that the defining factor of climate change is population. I agree that is a contributing factor—an exacerbating catalyst—but hold that the primary factor is selfish sloth. Doing what is right is harder. Doing what is right requires more work. Doing what is right demands paying attention to more than selfish interests.
It is a simple lesson. It is the same lesson I learned as a child in the Colorado Rockies—only writ large, writ the world over. Clichés are plentiful: “reduce, reuse, recycle” seeks to replace “reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic.” And so, in order to get the message across, we have turned towards what is sexy—entertainment, music, film—to sell what is essential. Perhaps that has become necessary, and perhaps there is nothing wrong with that. The message is what is important.
The Blue Man Group globe, “Give Me Five,” challenges its audience to commit to making five changes stop global warming. Each of the hundred and twenty-six different globes lists at least one possibility.
Don’t tell me there aren’t a few that you can do today. Start with listening.