In the midst of mounting weather crises, deluges of water causing flooding, absence of water resulting in drought and fires, contaminated water leading to illness, I’ve been thinking about new norms. Five years ago I had the pleasure of meeting John Moran, a photographer who has been documenting natural springs in Florida for over 30 years. His hauntingly beautiful exhibit, Springs Eternal, juxtaposes the pristine waters he visited in his youth with the murky conditions, algae clumps hanging in water, found at those same locations today. People that visit for the first time, however, see it as a pristine environment, he told me. His theory is that by comparison to what they’ve experienced before, it IS clear. This made me wonder, who sees the trash on the side of the highway, in a park, or on the sidewalk, if you’re lucky enough to have one.
A year later, I visited Crystal River and Springs to experience the waters myself. On my first dive, the place lived up to its namesake. What I observed was a crystal clear environment, until my dive partner pointed out that the brown algae on the river grass had gotten worse. I hadn’t even seen it.
Now I’m wondering, at what point is a torrential flood, pounding hurricane or blazing wildfire no longer a disaster worthy of national relief and recovery funding? There is a new weather norm, but at what point does the culture shift around it? And in what way?
I recently read Dark Age America by John Michael Greer. If you’re up for a somber projection of the collapse of North America, based on the historical fall of other societies, I recommend it. It’s pretty doomsday…much of my reading is dark, or some might say realistic, these days. In the final chapter, Greer eschews the idea that technological solutions will save us, continuing to enable our carbon and material intensive lifestyles. Individual action, he postulates, might be your ticket to survival.
Alexis Frasz, a writer and researcher who looks to artists as drivers for change around environmental issues, agrees and goes further. “The root of our environmental problems isn’t actually technological or scientific. It is cultural — our beliefs, values, social norms, worldviews,” she says. “If we want to change the structures and systems out there, we have to change ourselves in here.” I could not agree more.
When it comes to climate change, we often feel paralyzed in the face of the immensity of the problem. Movement gets us acting…doing, when we might otherwise feel like what we do doesn’t matter. But everything we do counts. As does everything we don’t do. This is considered in a recent article by KCET about the Future Currents: LA River project.
Art helps us make meaning and sense of the world around us. It can also be a driver for change. When we move, we feel. When we feel, we understand what needs to change. Dance produces sensation and is thus uniquely poised to create change simply because it enables us to feel, to sense ourselves and the world around us. I work a lot with modeling both what exists in the world (hurricanes, floods) and the world I want to live in, one that is co-created, diverse and dynamic. By working physically with others, this extends the doing even further, as we are investing in creating empathetic understanding. And this is certainly something that’s needed today.