Friday, September 20, 2019

Opening Comments for the Exhibit, Environmental Impact, at the Hofstra University Museum

Photo courtesy of the Hofstra Museum of Art.
I provided comments for the opening of the exhibit, Environmental Impact, at the Hofstra University Museum of Art yesterday. It's an amazing collection of images dealing with our impacts on the environment. The show runs through December 3rd. My comments are below.

Thank you all for coming and big thanks and congratulations to Museum Director, Karen Albert and the museum staff, for putting together such a great show.

This week has been an unusual one in the world of the environment. Leaders from all over the world are coming to the United Nations' headquarters in New York City to join with activists like Greta Thunberg to participate in next week's Climate Summit. At the same time, massive fires continue to burn in the Amazon and in Southeast Asia as those areas seek to develop more agricultural lands to provide food for the global market. And our president is trying to change rules for car emissions which will certainly exacerbate climate change.

Indeed, there has been an all-out assault on environmental rules and regulations in the United States which is impacting drinking water, surface and groundwater, public lands, health and safety, and even our food supply. Just yesterday, new rules on pork inspection were put into place which allows companies to conduct their own health inspections.

It would be easy to say that the issues are the problems of big industry, but they are all of ours.

From left to right:  Karen Albert (Director of the Hofstra Museum of Art,
artist Barbara Roux with one of her pieces, and me. Photo  courtesy of
the Hofstra Museum of Art.
We do a tremendous amount of virtue signaling around our own actions related to sustainability. Certainly I like to point out that I drive an electric car and pay for my carbon footprint by purchasing carbon credits.  Many of us do these things and more. They are good things and we should all continue them. However, we live in a society where we as a whole consume more than most people in the world. Our per capita energy, water, and basic resource use is higher than ever in the span of human history. Certainly those of us concerned about the environment do what we can, but at the end of the day our consumerist society is killing our planet.

We have been working on sustainability issues ever since the Brundtland Report was published by the United Nations in the 1980's. That report defined sustainability as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Since then we have developed all kinds of sustainability initiatives like green energy, environmental justice, and many more. Nevertheless, our planet is becoming less sustainable, not more sustainable as time goes on.

In many ways, we are living at a time of two sustainabilities. I call these surfing and suffering sustainability.

Surfing sustainability is the sustainability of the now. It is cool, hip, and young. It is the sustainability of electric cars, organic t-shirts, green economic development, and fair trade coffee. This type of sustainability is great and makes us feel good but it does not change the fundamental issue about our increasing unsustainability.

Suffering sustainability is the sustainability that is imposed on people. It is associated with a lack of water, food, and healthcare. It is the sustainability that deals with excessive pollution and with insecurity. How can we become more sustainable in places like Yemen or poverty stricken polluted areas of the U.S. Gulf Coast?

It is hard to see a way forward. Yet, we shouldn't just do nothing. We should be inspired by people like Afroz Shah, an attorney in India who has organized beach cleanups for over 200 weekends in a row. He is not only ridding the beaches of waste. He is also creating armies of activists. Then there is Greta Thurnberg who is inspiring a new generation of environmental activists through her commitment to confronting power to do more to address climate change. They inspire me and others to do more than be surfers of sustainability.

And then there are the artist's in this exhibit. They show so many things about ourselves. Alejandro Durán's pieces on plastic pollution make us consider how ordinary items become extraordinary in nature. And Daniel Beltrá confronts us with stunning images of pollution and how it has both local and regional importance. It makes us look at the wound we are creating. It leaves one making the choice of whether to continue to be a planetary sociopath or to change our ways to live a life that is gentler on the planet.

And Barbara Roux's work puts human agency front and center in contemplating our impact on the planet. Our beautiful Long Island is not natural. It is changed. And we are part of the change as our changing world changes us. 

It is hard to leave an exhibit like this untransformed. It asks more of us. As Greta Thunberg and other activists meet next week in New York City, we will be here considering what more we can do. I am certain this exhibit will challenge visitors to do more than just surf while the climate changes around us.


September 19, 2019

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