Sunday, January 29, 2017

What It Means to Defund the NEA

Let's start with a fact.

If you're not sure what a fact is, here's the definition, according to Merriam Webster:
-Noun. A piece of information presented as having objective reality.

The fact is that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), an organization that funds art and art education in America, receives approximately $146 million dollars a year in federal funds. This might seem like a large number, but it is actually only 0.012% of federal spending. Wanna see where I got these FACTS from? You can see them here.

In contrast, in 2015, the U.S. Federal Government spent $598.5 billion (which happens to be 54% of the budget) on the military. You can see those facts here, or in the chart below.

Pie chart on discretionary spending from media.nationalpriorities.org
If our President, who constantly brags of his prowess in business dealings, was interested in balancing the budget, he would cut the bulge of the military's slice to even out the filling a bit. I am not suggesting we don't need the military, I am just suggesting that our spending is disproportionate. (I also notice that the portion of Veterans' Benefits is disgustingly small considering how much value we appear to place on military protection of our country).

So, let's make it clear, folks, that when the President says he wants to cut the NEA out of the budget he has an ulterior motive, unless I am to believe that the President does not know how to read pie charts (a possibility, considering that he does not read books or believe in science. But I'll give him the benefit of the doubt).

Art is, after all, a way to spread ideas, a way to communicate on a nonverbal level, a way to express thoughts, and, in some cases, a way to criticize.

No matter what he says, the President is not streamlining government or the budget. He is aiming to streamline voices, communication, expression, and ideas. Much like the book-burning practices of the Third Reich in Nazi Germany, our President wants to limit ideas as a way to reduce criticism, critiques, or questions about his crony government. The NEA isn't his enemy. The thoughts of the people are.

So, unless you are someone who, like our President, has a severe aversion to ideas and facts, I would advise you to arm yourself with a sense of fear, urgency, and despair over this proposed budget cut. Defunding the NEA won't derail the organization entirely, nor would it disable any individual from making art. That's not the point. The point is, our President sees no room for culture in his country, because culture threatens to dismantle the most powerful weapon he has at his disposal, the exact opposite of facts and ideas, the thing that helped him get elected in the first place: ignorance.

If you're not sure what that is, I doubt you really care about any of this, anyways.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What Do You March For?

Yesterday in Madison over 75,000 men, women, kids, parents, grandparents, and other concerned citizens showed up to march for equality. The march was part of a worldwide day of demonstrations stemming from the Women's March on Washington in D.C.

Maybe the day wasn't perfect. Maybe there wasn't enough diversity in the crowd, maybe some of the signs were a bit too inflammatory (if we shame Trump for his tiny hands how are we any different from him?) and maybe a few too many women forgot that not all women have ovaries. But the day was historic, and people got up and out of their homes and fought for something they care about. I was most impressed by the jubilant nature of the crowd despite the darkness of the times.

Let's not forget that this is just the beginning, and the rest of the work will take place in our communities. I'm ready to keep up the momentum! Are you?





Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Fear Makes Us Superhuman: Differing Views on Climate Change

This week I am diverging once again from art-related topics and focusing on my other favorite (or perhaps you could say least favorite) topic of climate change. Art has taken a backseat in the wake of the election as I focus on what I consider to be a more pressing issue.

To give a brief introduction, I realized in the past year or so that I was living with a debilitating fear of climate change, and it was affecting my sleep, actions, and approaches to life. I couldn't help but thinking of a line in Naomi Klein's book Capitalism vs. the Climate, which has become my version of a Bible since reading it:

"Fear is a survival response. Fear makes us run, it makes us leap, it can make us act superhuman. But we need somewhere to run to. Without that, the fear is only paralyzing. So the real trick, the only hope, really, is to allow the terror of an unlivable future to be balanced and soothed by the prospect of building something much better than many of us have previously dared hope."

She also points out that there are very few collective spaces in society in which to talk about climate change. In order to cope with my own debilitating fear, I started to wonder if anyone else lives in extreme fear like I do, and I wanted to provide a collective space to talk about that fear for the people who need it. I never even considered that it was possible to not be afraid of climate change, but as I collected responses I realized my research was unbalanced, and that I needed views from the other side as well. Below are the organized responses from people who I agree with and also people who I disagree with on the topic of climate change. I hope these responses challenge your views as they have mine. 

From bbc.com

Name, age, occupation (or other vocation/interests if not currently employed)
Keith Nelson, 40, Professional Art Bum

Are you afraid of climate change?
Not afraid, more concerned.

If yes/no, then why?
I'm not afraid because I don't feel as though I am going to be directly threatened by it in my lifetime. I am concerned about the quality of life for the next generations (like my niece, for example).

How does this fear or non-fear affect your actions?
Even though I am not afraid, climate change does impact the way I live my life, in that I try to mitigate my carbon footprint to the extent it is possible.

What are some ways you deal with this fear?
I deal with my concern by being very conscious of the choices I make in regards to my carbon footprint. I try to limit things like driving/flying, and not blindly consuming goods. The use of found materials in my art is partially because of environmental consciousness. Also, concern for the future of the planet is one reason I have chosen not to have children.

What, if anything, do you think our responsibility is as citizens to combat climate change?
As a citizen I feel it is everybody's responsibility to be aware of their carbon footprint and to mitigate it in any way possible. I'd like to say it's also important to express climate worries politically, but I fear governments are too corrupted by money to respond in the ways necessary. Personal action is the only sure thing to do.

From legal-planet.org

Name, age, occupation (or other vocation/interests if not currently employed)
Caitlin Buhr, 25, Certification Coordinator for Shelter Plus Care of King County, Washington, a federally funded rent voucher program for homeless people

Are you afraid of climate change? 
Yes

If yes/no, then why?
I’ve been thinking about climate change for a long time, ever since I saw the term “global warming” in a social studies textbook in 6th grade (2002 or 2003), and it brings me a lot of fear. The greatest fear comes with the clear inability of the planet’s greatest powers—country leaders and business leaders—to limit emissions. Putting aside the huge problem of climate change denial, as well as the lucrative influence of fossil fuel industries, those who do want to address climate change are putting forth these cream puff emissions cutting goals that climate scientists repeatedly say do not go far enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change. And that’s where the fear leads to ultimately—the worst effects will inevitably hurt the poorest, most vulnerable, people who already aren’t taken care of enough.

Unprecedented coastal flooding and erosion will lead to migration at rates even higher than we’re seeing now in response to violent crises. In my job I see the way the poorest among us are treated, and that’s what is most scary—that climate change will more adversely and more quickly affect the poor, especially those in small island nations, nations already prone to natural disasters, and nations along the equator.

How does this fear or non-fear affect your actions and what are some ways you deal with this fear?
I do very much believe small actions add up. So I try hard not to produce much waste, reusing as much as possible. I keep my apartment pretty cold and I don’t eat meat. I try to educate people who may not understand how climate change works and the difference between weather and climate. I try to provoke discussions.

Glaciologists and climatologists are telling us the climate is permanently changed. There’s an amount of warming that cannot be reversed. Though I think humans as a species will survive, the irreversible warming is upsetting because many individuals will not. For that reason, I don’t think I will ever want to have children.

What, if anything, do you think our responsibility is as citizens to combat climate change?
As citizens, our responsibility is to decrease our individual carbon footprints. We should each seek to simplify our lives by driving less, eating less meat, buying less stuff. We also must use the power of our voice in a democracy, to vote for representatives who have plans to address climate change. It’s important also to recognize the influence you have at the local level. Time and time again our national leaders have failed us in addressing climate change. The US never ratified the Kyoto Protocol because 1997’s Congress had a problem with the protocol’s requirement for “common but differentiated responsibilities,” or greater commitment required from developed countries. When Kyoto finally went into effect in 2005 (without US membership), former Seattle mayor Greg Nickels founded the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement with the goal to meet the terms of the Kyoto Protocol at the city level. Over 1000 mayors have signed on.

Michael Bloomberg, NYC mayor from 2002 to 2013, wrote in a recent issue of TIME, “If the new Administration withdraws from the Paris Agreement, as the chair of the Global Covenant of Mayors, I will recommend that the 128 U.S. mayors who are part of the group seek to join in its place.” Some of the emissions reducing actions mayors and other city leaders have taken include retrofitting buildings and increasing the availability of renewable energy for individual households. I don’t believe the demand for rooftop solar is going to decrease very much, even if federal subsides end, because people love having autonomy over their own energy. All of that is encouraging, and I will be watching what cities do to combat Trump’s anti-fact agenda. I think environmentalists will find themselves less depressed if they start following local initiatives more than federal gridlock.

From yesmagazine.org


Name, age, occupation (or other vocation/interests if not currently employed)
Chris Buckley, 24, Student.

Are you afraid of climate change?
No

If yes/no, then why?
Understanding the seriousness of humanity's impact on the environment does not cause me to fear climate change. It seems a simple question of what one wishes to leave for their children. Denying climate change, and subsequently progressing it, is a choice. I stand rather confused when humanity ignores science presented as loud and serious as a tornado siren. But I don't fear the future because I have to respect the choice.

How does this fear or non-fear affect your actions?
Ease of life often tempts me to use products which destroy my planet. If they don't care, I don't care.

What are some ways that you deal with this fear?
I take advantage of the modern day. I deal with the Ease/Guilt ratio by ignoring any future beyond myself.

What, if anything, do you think our responsibility is as citizens to combat climate change?
If the citizens of Earth want a decent future for their children, every individual must be conscious and educated about where the decisions they make will lead them. The government wants to save a little money by hoarding a poor education system (at least in America). This needs to change. I have faith however.

From greenleft.org.au


Name, age, occupation (or other vocation/interests if not currently employed)
Ruth Perret-Goluboff, 25, Alliance for the Great Lakes

Are you afraid of climate change? 
Yes

If yes/no, then why?
I’m afraid of climate change because I’m afraid of death. They’re both inevitable, but one expedites the other significantly and on a larger scale that impacts our whole species (and others). Plus, the effects of climate change will impact the planet and humans in ways that aren’t just limited to a clean environment. Resources will become scarce and there will be wars fought over resources, which means people will migrate. Mass migration means more refugees and more xenophobia. More xenophobia means more fear in general, which is how demagogues like Trump or Duterte are elected. Once demagogues like Trump or Duterte are elected, more of their type of policies will be passed – policies that disadvantage poor people, minorities, and the underrepresented in general – the very people who were already feeling the heaviest brunt of the effects of climate change. I think this will cause the wealth gap to widen even more quickly, with the have-nots having less than ever; less access to health care, clean water, suitable living situations, or the education to help them break out of their poverty.

How does this fear or non-fear affect your actions?
This fear affects my actions. I have two retirement accounts and put 15% of my salary into them. The rest of my money I spend on travel because I think a lot of interesting natural landscapes might not be there in years to come, plus I’m not confident we’ll be able to easily move through countries the way we are now if tensions rise over resources. Who knows. I’ve discussed children with my boyfriend (which would have happened anyway) and we’ve decided we don’t want any… that’s for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that we’re not sure what kind of landscape they’d have to live in. Plus babies seem like a pain. Also, I try to be more informed about the values my elected officials represent, though that might just be part of being a young adult. I work really hard at my job, which involves presenting complicated policy about environmental issues into attainable language for the public so that they may take action. I participate in on-the-ground restoration work like beach clean-ups and shoreline restoration. I donate money to organizations that help the aforementioned people who are already disadvantaged by the landscape climate change is creating (American Red Cross and the Chicago Food Depository). Through my organization I participate in programs that help educate the next generation about the importance of preserving our natural resources (specifically when it comes to fresh water). I try to keep my carbon footprint down, but I haven’t been very successful with that because of how much I fly.

What are some ways you deal with this fear?
I deal with the fear by reminding myself that as an upper middle class white person I probably won’t *die* from the effects of climate change, but at the same time I try to be cognizant of the fact that most people aren’t white upper middle class and I work to help them through my job or charitable giving. 

What, if anything, do you think our responsibility is as citizens to combat climate change?
Our responsibility as citizens is to stay informed and vote for people who will protect the environment, and if possible get into government on a local level. A lot of environmental work happens at the local level and it can add up to make a big difference. Green infrastructure like perforated walking spaces, grey water reclamation, public gardens, etc. often happens at the city or state level. Plus I think people should look into giving to organizations that support these initiatives. I know it sounds redundant after Bernie Sanders had been saying it for a year, but those small gifts really do add up.

Any other thoughts?
I think that humans have the ingenuity to engineer a world in which we can survive in spite of the late stage consequences of climate change. And I have hope that our species will overcome. But I think we’ve reached and passed the tipping point and we need to get to work right now.

From resourcefulearth.org

Name, age, occupation (or other vocation/interests if not currently employed)
Erica Jane Huntzinger, 47, Artist

Are you afraid of climate change? 
Yes

If yes/no, then why? 
Climate change may not be reversed. We are experiencing melting ice at the poles, increasing volatility with extreme weather, animal habitats shifting and many things we can't possibly keep track of. But the most frightening part about it, however, is that this studied proof and science has somehow been linked to being false by faux news and those who only stand to profit from not addressing it. We have become split as a country and have let these head figures reinforce their agenda thereby attacking our very connection and potentially our survival to and on earth.

How does this fear or non-fear affect your actions?
I speak out and up when I can. I read articles. I recycle. I talk about solar power and share ideas that other countries have instituted that would be beneficial in ours. I am basically ineffectual and I feel powerless to help change anything.

What are some ways you deal with this fear?
I beep at people when they litter, I pick up other people's trash when I walk, and I try to be aware of my carbon footprint with what and how I eat as well as how I deal with my garbage. I don't deal with it well, I suppose. I feel powerless to institute change except within my household and addressing/listening to ideas with family and friends.

What, if anything, do you think our responsibility is as citizens to combat climate change?
Well, I guess addressing these questions directly has helped me think more squarely about it. I feel as if I mainly try not to think about it because it seems so overwhelming. I guess my response is that if I can focus on one thing to work on or connect with a group that I feel passionate about then I will be doing my part in a small but more focused way. I think creating a dialogue as you have done and continued conversations with more people and linking to resources we can be more effective in this challenge.

From algore.com

Name, age, occupation (or other vocation/interests if not currently employed)
Chris G., 25, ESL Teacher

Are you afraid of climate change?
No (understanding fear hear to mean heightened state of alarm or anxiety)

If yes/no, then why?
Privilege. I understand climate change it to be a real and to some extent irreversible process, but it simply does not occupy my thoughts on a daily basis. Logically or conceptually when I think about it I foresee troubling circumstances for many, many people but do not consider myself one of them. I recognize this could be foolish, but I'm trying to be honest here, and this is how I *feel* (considering that as different than conceptual exercises). This is probably due to the fact that I personally do not feel in any meaningful way the effects of resource strain. I am well fed, hydrated, medicated and housed and don't foresee my access to these resources as being imminently threatened. I felt this way in Minneapolis and feel this way now as a visitor in Mexico City. In some ways, my reaction to climate change is similar to my reaction to Trump's election, insofar as that I feel conceptually worried for more vulnerable populations but not worried about myself. I consider myself an empathetic person but I also recognize that my (and I believe everyone's) paradigm is first and foremost self-centered and that until I feel personally threatened I won't feel *afraid.* I hope this didn't make me sound like a sociopath, I was trying to be as honest as possible. I am conceptually concerned but no, not emotionally afraid.

How does this fear or non-fear affect your actions?
Fear for me would be a result of mass disruptions to my society and my life directly. When the tap doesn't work or food prices soar or there's social unrest in my city because of resource strain or natural disaster I would feel afraid. My non-fear means it's life as usual.

What are some ways you deal with this fear?
I try to be reasonably conscious of my environmental impact and engage accordingly politically but unfortunately my current profession demands frequent air travel. What is one to do? Abandon my career plans as an unnoticed and scarcely effective sacrifice? Unfortunately an individual has little control over systems.

What, if anything, do you think our responsibility is as citizens to combat climate change?
I have honestly never felt a large personal responsibility towards combating climate change. As one of 7+ billion my day-to-day actions probably don't even blip on a radar. It's a systemic problem that requires systemic treatment, and to that end I try to engage accordingly politically. I believe corporations and energy politics did a fantastic job in the early days of the environmental movement of shifting the burden from the system level to the individual; I recall reading that the "Give a hoot don't pollute!" campaign was financed by corporate polluters as an obfuscation campaign to shift the onus to individual consumers. Not to say individual polluting is good - I am guilty of the occasional cigarette butt - but I do believe it is a sad person who puts the weight of the world’s problems on his or her shoulders. Part of my lack of fear stems from apathy: I'm just one person with very limited political and economic power and these systems are largely operating over my head, untouchable and without possibility for input. To the extent people are "consumers,” I think they're often as likely to be force-fed than to have choice in the matter by systems that require an individual act irresponsibly in order to survive or feel comfortable and dignified. Most people are just trying to get along in their societies, let alone feel guilt about existential environmental systems.

From miaturbo.net

Name, age, occupation (or other vocation/interests if not currently employed)
Luke Younggren, 27, Mortgage Fraud Prevention at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage

Are you afraid of climate change?
Absolutely. Terrified.

If yes/no, then why?
I believe it is far and away the biggest threat to the planet we inhabit (other than nuclear weapons which I didn’t really think about until that fucking disgrace of an “American” Trump was elected)… How much time do I have?

How does this fear or non-fear affect your actions?
I VOTE IN EVERY SINGLE ELECTION. I donate monthly to Environment Minnesota. I try to be as conservative with resources as I can (although I am not as good at managing my consumption as I would like to be). I would like to own an electric car (or bike everywhere)… I stay as informed as I can.

What are some ways that you deal with this fear?
Smoking. Drinking. Not reading about it. Then reading about it and getting depressed and angry and thinking I should donate more money. I don’t know. It’s a total fucking Oil Lobby based conspiracy to feed anti-science propaganda to the GOP base and convince millions and millions of people to vote against their best interests. I try and stay positive, but it is very frustrating. GO FUCKING VOTE PEOPLE.

What, if anything, do you think our responsibility is as citizens to handle climate change?
VOTE IN EVERY ELECTION. Do not endorse candidates who are anti-science. Read as much as you can. Challenge your viewpoints. And when you read enough (and start to get extremely concerned about the future of the planet) donate to whatever pro-environment charity/group you can. Stay informed – because there are hundreds or thousands of politicians who want you to stay not informed and read Breitbart and watch Fox News.

Any other thoughts?
Do not get discouraged. Have hope that THE PEOPLE will eventually have a voice. The majority of America (and the world) believes we need to proactively deal with climate change. The vocal ultra-minority is very loud at the present, but THE PEOPLE will have their say in the end. Do not become defeated. People need to stay strong and fight for this planet. We are one species among millions and millions. Remind people this is not just our planet. It is the home for millions of living beings that have no voice. Go watch Fern Gully. I say this because humans can do something about this. Carbon taxes. Federal tax credits for powering homes with solar. Federal funding for nuclear power. Federal funding for solar power research. Elon Musk. There are positives. Trump and his army of fascists might try and make it seem like there is no opposition, but there are millions and millions of people who would gladly pay 5% more a year in taxes to support green energy research funding and implementation. Do not give up hope. 

From ecowatch.com

Name, age, occupation (or other vocation/interests if not currently employed)
Joe Krivichi, 23, currently studying Environmental Science and Sustainable Design

Are you afraid of climate change?
I am not afraid of climate change.

If yes/no, then why?
I am not afraid for three reasons: 1.) Generally speaking, I don’t care for humans 2.) Like with most things, changing people’s minds/habits happens locally.  3.) Climate change is inevitable. If I think the issue through to the end, I always decide that the best conditions for Earth itself can only be achieved sans human existence. I find no pleasure in imagining everyone’s death, but honestly, how many people would you miss? On a more realistic scale, I believe a lot is already being done to mitigate our impact. Although it seems too late, what other choice do we have? Being a student of the environment has allowed me to see first hand the work that is being done. Take the City of Milwaukee, for example. I don’t exactly consider Milwaukee a pioneer of progressive city design, however, their comprehensive plan is almost entirely dedicated to sustainable design, good urbanism, public transit and walkability. Cities everywhere are following these types of practices. In Bellingham, most people go out of their way to act responsibly. It’s not an outlier, it’s becoming the norm. Finally, climate change is inevitable. I know deniers use this fact too, so I will clarify. Humans are absolutely having a negative impact on Earth’s environmental systems. That being said, it is inevitable that there will be some type of catastrophic event at some point in Earth’s future whether we cause it or not. Being afraid of the inevitable is pointless. I know you didn’t want facts, but I have learned definitively that it is impossible for humans to “kill” the planet. Our primary contribution is CO2, and there are not enough fossil fuels in the ground to change our atmosphere in a way that nothing could live. So if all we do is cause human extinction, eh, whatever.

How does this fear or non-fear affect your actions and what are some ways you deal with this fear?
I have devoted my life to the environment. I am passionate about it, I just don’t fear climate change. (4 & 5)

What, if anything, do you think our responsibility is as citizens to combat climate change?
Many of my peers and colleagues subscribe to some form of minimalism as their contribution to climate change prevention. I prefer to look ahead. Using your words, humans are clever. I plan on using what knowledge and skills I have to come up with better mitigation strategies than “use less.” That’s not to say that we shouldn’t throw down the shackles of consumerism…. We should, but that is a different conversation. But as far as living goes, I don’t care if someone wants to take a 30-minute shower every day or drive a truck. I think we can collectively come up with solutions that allow us to enjoy being alive on this Earth, but in a responsible way. The Earth is our home and we should take care of it in the same way we take care of our house. I think far more people agree than the media makes it seem. Additionally, I think the earth is far more resilient than we give it credit.

From mollylarkin.com

Name, age, occupation (or other vocation/interests if not currently employed)
Rachele, 26, Camera Refurb Lead at Retrospekt, Writer, Artist, and Silly Art Blogger

Are you afraid of climate change? 
Yes

If yes/no, then why?
When asking myself to actually analyze this question for the first time, it’s harder for me to answer. I know that I live with a crushing fear of it, but I don’t think I have ever sat down and picked apart this fear. Maybe it’s a multi-level answer. I think I am afraid for humans because we have become so out of touch with the very thing that gave us life in the first place…our planet. So, this gives me just a general fear for the future of humans, and what it means if we don’t even care about continuing to respect the thing that gave us our very existence. I’m not afraid of ruining the planet…the planet will be fine, eventually. I’m afraid that I am a member of a species that seems to be very shallow and only concerned about elusive concepts such as money. I am also afraid of wars over resources—not because I will run out of them myself but because I live by a Great Lake and could therefore be a target for those who are seeking water. I also fear that in my lifetime we will continue to plunder resources and I won’t be able to visit places that I consider to be beautiful, such as National Parks, because they will be gone. I don’t think there would even be any point to living if I could not escape to nature from time to time.

How does this fear or non-fear affect your actions?
I would go so far as to say that I have become so afraid of climate change that I have pared down my goals and ambitions for my own life in huge ways. I feel like I don’t want to get my expectations up because we are potentially facing an apocalypse. I also dread the thought of ever becoming pregnant and am entirely opposed to bringing new humans into this world. To me the future looks very grim and I would never bring a child into the reality I have crafted in my head. I do not even think my own goals are achievable because of climate change, so I could not even fathom bringing a new person into the mix. On a smaller and less apocalyptic level, I do try to do the small things that many people say are pointless, such as biking over driving, growing things, and making art and writing about nature and the environment. But these are things that I enjoy, regardless of climate change.

What are some ways that you deal with this fear?
I think this blog post is one way I’m dealing with it…gathering other people’s opinions so I’m not stuck in my own. As I said above I have made art about environmental issues as a coping strategy, and I also try to get out into nature as much as possible, because I find nature to be comforting.

What, if anything, do you think our responsibility is as citizens to combat climate change?
In general I think we are all responsible for having a reciprocal rather than extractive relationship with our planet—not because of climate change, but just because it seems like common sense. To be honest, I don’t think the average citizen can really do all that much, which maybe isn’t a great view to have. I really think the only truly green economy is one that is required to be by law.

Any other thoughts?
Everyone should read the book I mentioned in this intro, Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein.

Huge thanks to everyone who took the time to answer my interview questions! I hope we all continue to to contribute to a running dialogue about this issue in the "real world."