Saturday, November 23, 2013

How Do You Say "Suicide Narcissus" in Chinese?

I was at the Suicide Narcissus show at the University of Chicago Renaissance Society two nights ago, and I was mesmerized.

In the notes on the exhibit, curator Hamza Walker says, "We flirt with extinction, an irrational provocation turned desire."

That flirtation makes no more sense than sitting still for the 28 minute video installation, Spatial Intervention I, by Nicole Six and Paul Petritsch -- though that's exactly what I did. "Although we know the end from the very beginning," says Walker, "the story is no less compelling to watch." A man, gloriously alone (except for his own reflection) on an ice-covered lake; the soothing pastel colors of the distant sky; and what seems surely to be a circle he is digging around himself with a pick-axe.

Solitude is something one seldom experiences in China -- or even the US -- these days, so it is at first jarring to imagine that Spatial Intervention I is a perfect parable of what is going on in both those countries today. And yet mesmerizing, self-absorbed species suicide is exactly what's going on.

The New York Times declares "U.S. and China Find Convergence on Climate Issue", but on closer inspection, the US and China "coming together" is nothing but dancing around the edges of the problem, like the man working away at his ice hole . . .
- Will some countries "win" and some countries "lose" in climate negotiations?

- Who will bear the cost of damage from rising seas and storms? ("loss and damage")

- How will steps taken to adapt to the changing climate be financed?

- What does a "fair" emissions reduction scheme look like?
This dodges root causes and reality:
The reality is we're on the cusp of everybody losing.

 The reality is we stand a better chance of scaring ourselves into action if we admit that "mitigating" rising seas ain't gonna fly.

The reality is that financing is a red herring. The minute we outlaw environmental suicide, lots of money will be freed up from old uses to finance new ways of getting power.

The reality is we need to manage this problem at its root cause -- the urge to consume -- and not just its ultimate symptom (emissions).
It's way, way too late to amuse ourselves with debates about who's more wrong in the climate destruction derby. (Plenty of "superpolluting superpower" badges to go around.)

The reality is that the US -- and now China -- need a revolution in consumption habits and attitudes in order to get anywhere near on par with the reduced impact on the Earth that is required to maintain a habitable planet.

The movement to stop the climate crisis is heating up as the UN Conference on Climate Change in 2015 in Paris nears. Will 2015 stand for a real solution? Or should we just start handing out pick-axes?

Related posts

I have begun writing about how the fate of the Earth is intertwined with the ability of BOTH China AND the U.S. to reverse their addiction to carbon. I think this linkage is so critical that it deserves its own word: "chinaEARTHusa".

(See China + USA = Planetocide)

Oil companies are valued by the market based on their reserves. The problem with this approach is that the total reserves claimed by the oil companies is FIVE TIMES what can possibly be burned without driving up the temperature of the atmosphere up by a catastrophic amount and, as McKibben puts it, "breaking the planet." How can the value of oil companies be a function of reserves that can never be used?

(See The REALLY Big Short: The Jig is Up with Oil Companies)

One of the really interesting things about looking at how Rachel Carson used her writing to wake the world up -- particularly with her prophetic Silent Spring -- is that we can then go back to some of the earliest parts of the Bible and see them as living and urgent. And reading Silent Spring as well as Biblical stories like the account of The Flood points to the urgency of changes that need to be made here and now in the way we all live our lives.

(See Looking at Rachel Carson (at St. Luke's "School for Prophets") )