Saturday, September 12, 2015

Revisiting in 2015 Bill McKibben's 2005 and 2009 clarion calls for climate art to reflect climate issues facing humankind

by staff writer
Ten years ago, in 2005, climate activist Bill McKibben published an important essay in Grist magazine headlined ''What the warming world needs now is art, sweet art,'' calling for novels and movies about climate change issues. The term 'cli-fi' did not exist at that time, so McKibben did not use it in his piece, but he is aware of it now his personal assistant told me in a recent email.

But in 2005, the year Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, climate change issues ''had not yet flooded into fiction," as Irish journalist Stephan Phelan put it in a recent article about the cli-fi meme.

Scientists in 2005 were still wondering if and when the worlds of art and literature would ever collide with the overheating planet that they saw in their projections, Phelan noted.

McKibben, in his famous clarion call in Grist, asked: "Where are the books? The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?”

McKibben's theory, according to Phelan? We still weren't quite scared enough in 2005.

''The problem was too big, too diffuse, too complex to provoke a visceral response," Phelan opined.
It hasn
t registered in our gut,”
wrote in in 2005. “It isn
t part of our culture.”

​Four years later, in 2009, McKibben wrote a second essay for Grist which revisited his 2005 piece. The new ne was headlined "Four years after my pleading essay, climate art is hot" and the activist noted: ''That pleading little essay I wrote in 2005? It was probably the last moment I could have written it. Clearly there were lots and lots of people already thinking the same way, because ever since it’s seemed to me as if deep and moving images and sounds and words have been flooding out into the world."

 And lots and lots of people were thinking the same way as McKibben, including British nature writer Robert Macfarlane, who also in 2005 penned a popular essay about the need for climate art, titled "The Burning Question."

McKibben says now in 2015 that via some kind of undercurrent of global climate awareness there is now "a torrent of art" about  global warming. His 2005 essay, along with Macfarlane's piece in the Guardian newspaper, raised the alarm and artists and novelists answered it.

In fact,
the climate change opera that McKibben
​was humorously calling
​ in 2005 was mounted in May of 205 at La Scala opera house in Milan, Italy. Titled ''
'' the opera was di
rected by Giorgio Battistelli and inspired by Al Gores documentary
​ ''​
An Inconvenient Truth
Today in 2015 McKibben says he's too busy organizing climate protest actions for his group to get much new writing done, so he has no plans to revisit his 2005 Grist essay for now. However, he told Phelan in an intervew that artists are a vital part of his projects and that he sees them as "the antibodies of the cultural bloodstream."

​Recent climate art projects "help people p
icture meaning in their minds,
​ told Phelan​
Nuclear explosions were relatively easy to imagine, because we always had the mushroom cloud. But here we have the explosions of a billion pistons in a billion cylinders every second.

​cKibben also told Phelan that ​
​realy ​
​that yet ​
another treatise from himself or some like-minded polemicist would
move the needle all that much
That said, a really good metaphor is probably as useful in the
​[climate awareness] ​
fight as a new kind of car engine.
​he added.​

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