Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Ice Caps by Chris Wainwright

Burning ice, hot breath

Following on from Pi-Leau’s melting ice-cap production at The Stade, locally based artist Professor Chris Wainwright gave a talk, U-n-f-o-l-d, A Cultural Response To Climate Change, about his trip to Greenland with fellow artists and scientists to witness what is happening in the High Arctic.  HOT journalist, Zelly Restorick, attended his presentation about the Cape Farewell project.

Within the population, there are people who believe planetary conditions are changing, through to those who are sceptics.  We humans may not be solely responsible, but the way we live our lives is a major contributing factor.  The rate of population growth, increasing affluence in some countries, our desire to consume beyond what we need and the overwhelming rate of technological expansion and development combine to create a huge impact on our planet.

Most scientists agree that the ‘tipping point’ was reached back in the 1970s.  The government and armed forces agree that the biggest threat to our civilisation is not terrorism or economics, but climate change.  Therefore the question is not how do we reverse climate change, but how do we live with it?  The effects of rising sea levels will not only impact the Arctic regions, but will affect every species and every aspect of life on many different levels throughout the planet.

This challenge, Wainwright states, is of a global nature, but the answers lie within us all – as individuals and as local communities.  Change is imperative.

To promote the values and importance of a cultural response to climate change, in 2008, Wainwright joined a team of 40 artists and scientists on an expedition to the High Arctic, called Cape Farewell.  The creative team of musicians, poets, performers, playwrights, writers and artists were asked to respond to what they heard and witnessed on their journey.

One of their destinations, Disko Bay, on the west coast of Greenland, is home to the rapidly disappearing Jakobshavn Glacier, which loses 20 million tonnes of ice every day.

Although there is a certain irony involved in sailing an enormous ship to Greenland in order to creatively and scientifically explore the disastrous results of humanity’s actions, Cape Farewell’s well-intentioned goal is to increase awareness of what is happening in the region via an exhibition of artwork, U-n-f-o-l-d, and a film of their experiences, Burning Ice.

Sunand Prasad, for example, created the installation Greenhouse Gas, tethering four helium balloons at the end of a fjord now accessible due to a retreating melting glacier.  The balloons represent one ton of CO2, the average individual emission per person per month in the UK.

Other contributions include photos of semaphore signals : Here Comes The Sun, There Goes The Ice by Robin Hitchcock and Nathan Gallagher, singles recorded by KT Tunstall and Jarvis Cocker and Red Ice – White Ice, photos of icebergs by Chris Wainwright taken with a red or white flash to highlight, reflecting the dangers associated with the climatic changes affecting the planet.

Writer Ian McEwan writes of The Hot Breath of Our Civilisation.  That we are ’fouling our nest’ and we must ‘act decisively against our inclinations… He asks: ‘Are we at the beginning of an unprecedented era of international cooperation, or are we living in an Edwardian summer of reckless denial?  Is this the beginning or the beginning of the end?’.

As the ice melts, countries and businesses are already racing to plant their flags of possession into the now accessible oil resources.  Some members of the local community are all in favour of this development, hoping it will bring prosperity to their economy, especially now their traditional ways of life are disappearing.  Others see it as unnecessary exploitation.

Dr Simon Boxall, oceanographer and scientist at the University of Southampton states that ‘the key thing is the rate the Arctic Cap is melting.  We can’t save the North Pole, but if we don’t stop progress today, we’re not looking at small inconveniences, we’re looking at major disasters in the next 200 years’.

These disasters are already happening, just not yet in our own land.  Are we going to wait til the water is lapping at our doorstep til we respond and react?

As far as the planet is concerned, it has no doubt seen it all before.  The extinction and evolution of species has happened since time began.  Humanity, despite our arrogance and declaration of ourselves as ‘Number One’, is simply another manifestation of life in planetary terms.  Our own species survival is our own priority.

A recent article in The Times suggests that climate change creates winners as well as losers within the planetary eco-systems.  For example, due to a change of one degree in the temperature of the North Sea, black-headed gulls are now thriving on a diet of migrating crabs.  The gulls produce nutrient rich guano, which can encourage other species.

Microorganisms feed on the miles of floating islands of human debris and rubbish now found in our oceans.

One species’ disaster is another’s survival.

Even if the planet enters another ice age, life will continue.  Will humans be amongst the survivors?  This remains to be seen.  Life will, with or without us, go on.

Further info:
Book : U-n-f-o-l-d :  A Cultural Response to Climate Change
Website :
Film : Burning Ice

Posted 10:03 Monday, Jul 9, 2012 In: Green Times

Also in: Green Times

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