“In principle, coastal defenses could be built to protect the densest cities, but experts believe it will be impossible to do that along all 95,000 miles of the American coastline, meaning that immense areas will most likely have to be abandoned to the rising sea.”
Houston Ship Channel, smudge studio 2016
These words easily could be mistaken for a passage from J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World. But they appeared in a major article in the New York Times on March 30th, which details the (surprisingly) rapid breakup of the West Antarctic ice sheet:
With ice melting in other regions, too, the total rise of the sea could reach five or six feet by 2100, the researchers found. That is roughly twice the increase reported as a plausible worst-case scenario by a United Nations panel just three years ago, and so high it would likely provoke a profound crisis within the lifetimes of children being born today.
The long-term effect would likely be to drown the world’s coastlines, including many of its great cities. New York City is nearly 400 years old; in the worst-case scenario conjured by the research, its chances of surviving another 400 years in anything like its present form would appear to be remote. Miami, New Orleans, London, Venice, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Sydney, Australia, are all just as vulnerable as New York, or more so.
Media coverage of planetary change, much like the realities themselves, seems to have intensified. It’s becoming harder and harder to recall a recent day when headlines, at least in the New York Times, don’t include details of unexpected climate change speed and outcomes.
For the past three and a half years, we’ve been attempting to trace “the Anthropocene’s arrival into widespread human + nonhuman cognizance.” Our initial idea was to track this mindset change for five years
on the assumption that during that time, “humans will grasp the speed, scale, and material realities of planetary change events more concretely. Arguably, thoughts, dreams, actions and creative gestures that we humans make in response to our first inklings and shared experiences
of Anthropocene events will set the stage for their potential consequences.” We spend a lot of time considering planetary change in our daily lives and work. Still, we’re having a hard time keeping up, and we’re not the only ones
smudge studio, 2010
We recently had the honor of presenting our work at the Cultures of Energy 5 Symposium, hosted by The Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (CENHS)
at Rice University in Houston. The symposium’s schedule included a tour of the Houston Ship Channel, which serves the refineries that process 27 percent of the nation’s gasoline and 60 percent of its aviation fuel. During the tour we were surprised to learn about how incredibly precarious this region
and its infrastructures are to storm surge and rising seas.
smudge studio, 2016
Our ability to meaningfully process the March 30 report and our recent experiences in Houston will be assisted by our residency in the Rising Waters Confab
next month. The Confab is hosted on Captiva Island, FL by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. It will be made up of 20 makers and thinkers
whose lives and work address planetary change.
Two sentences the letter describing the Confab stood out for us: “It is inevitable that climate change will require a phased adaptation proportionate to humanity’s ability to reduce consumption. The focus will be on the idea of graceful migration…”
smudge studio, 2016
In light of the recent Times
article, these words resonate even more strongly for us. We’ve been writing and thinking about graceful actions
in response to emerging (and relatively extreme) planetary circumstances for several years. But recent studies bring realities of climate change-forced migrations very close to home. Though some humans might be willing and able to move as sea-levels rise, many others won’t due to economic, health, or deep, generations-long connections to place. And as a nation, we won’t be able to simply pick up and relocate immense and dense infrastructures we’ve built along coastlines around the world, such as nuclear power plants and their accumulating amounts of waste, which are currently reaching capacity
Our work at the Rising Waters Confab will focus on the specifics of Captiva Island and Florida, one of the locations in North America most vulnerable to inundation by rising sea levels. But we’ll also be considering how our home, New York City, figures into these realities, as well as other coastlines around the world. This expanded view is instructive. Of course we act/feel differently when our city is one of the many facing the apparent inevitability of mass migrations and evacuations. But we’re also affected by deepening realization that the sooner we take this prospect seriously, the more time we’ll have (something that’s, increasingly, a luxury) to imagine and invent graceful ways to respond and interact with one another as inhabitants of a dramatically changed planet.
smudge studio, 2010
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