Loss doesn't matter unless you care.
Andy Goldsworthy talking about his "Walking Wall" at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO in an interview with Jeffrey Brown on the NEWSHOUR 8/30/2019
Our ideas about climate change are evolving rapidly; we are more knowledgeable. Or perhaps we've hit the tipping point and cascaded like a waterfall. In larger numbers, we've moved from acceptance to panic to action in just a few short months. Maybe it was the photos of Katrina, or Puerto Rico, or Haiti, or the Bahamas, that finally pierced the scrim of complacency. Or the deepening sensation of constant threat, a clock ticking, or a loved one, or acquaintance, or a friend of a friend flooded and homeless. We join a rescue team, fill sandbags, cook soup, donate money, take in a family member, canvass for politicians who care about the future.
Because all writers live in heightened awareness—whether there is a crisis or not—we need only review the oeuvre of our favorite authors to find a roadmap from past to present, even to the future. Jonathan Franzen is a novelist but he is also a birder. Read his nonfiction pieces from three, four, five years ago, and weep. Read Dickens' descriptions of London blighted by coal, a fossil fuel. His stories were more than entertainments; they were warnings about industrialization and callous government.
All art is protest, all of it. We create because we care, we feel the losses, celebrate the accomplishments and joys. We may have agendas of one sort or another, or unconsciously tap into the political discourse, but our stories are documents, collectibles of a certain time and place. We know that polemical screeds are less affective and effective than stories even if they are angry or demanding, so we write in the active voice and always remember that we are telling fiction—or nonfiction—stories.
Art and writing about climate change and environmental conservation and degradation are all around us now, everywhere and ever present. We need only step into it to remain in balance with ourselves and with nature as we decide what one small action we can do to help. At the "Composed to Decompose" site-specific installations at the Unison Arts Center in New Paltz, NY, I felt both elated and repulsed by the artists' visions, as I am sure they intended. I went late in the summer when the weather had cooled and was taken round by Helene and Stuart Bigley, co-founders of the center. Much had already shifted in the landscape, the leaves beginning to turn, the water drying in the stream. The sculptures were also transforming in their embedded locations, ruffled by wind, pelted by rain.
My favorite was a "living quilt" by Maria Lupo. Created from discarded tea bags and seeds, and being a tea drinker myself, I was drawn to this piece. It was just there, hanging from the branches of a tree, in the same way as we were just there standing on the wood chip path. I could walk up to the quilt and touch it, or turn to Helene and Stuart and ask a question or two, or not. There was no barrier or guard rail, no instruction, just a contemplative space to think about our connection to the natural world and one another.