R SCOTT WRIGHT
When I was a kid, I grew up with the forests, mountains, and streams of Connecticut as my playground. I poured over books about first ascents in the Himalayas and first descents to the bottom of Pacific ocean trenches. At that time, the Earth seemed boundless; the moon had only just been marked with human footprints. It’s true that the Cold War loomed over us as we learned to duck and cover under our desks at school. Yet few people I knew actually thought humanity would be crazy enough to instigate mutual self-destruction, or nuclear winter as it was referred to then.
The first time I heard about climate change was in the late 1980s; at that time it was called Global Warming. By the 1990s, scientists figured out that the danger was not from a uniformly warming world, but from a scenario where too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would lead to a greenhouse effect where weather systems would break down chaotically. Some areas of the globe might see cooler temperatures, while others might suddenly scorch. Some regions might see strong storms, micro bursts of rain, and damaging floods, while others might desertify. The biggest predicted change was the melting of the polar ice caps, along with glaciers and the permafrost on the tundra.
A recent Nova documentary entitled Earth from Space put this process in perspective for me as I learned that icebergs sequester large amounts of fresh water, in turn making the oceans around them saltier. These saltier seas slowly sink to the bottom of the ocean, and their descent triggers a life-supporting, continentally scaled conveyor belt-like waterfall of nutrient rich ocean water that undulates and warms and cools as it traverses the globe, loading the food chain and directing the main weather incubators such as the gulfstream. Fresh water from melting icebergs is less dense and does not sink, interfering with the global conveyor belt. The important point here is: if the icebergs melt, the whole system malfunctions.
Superstorm Sandy was a dramatic event for me. It was a devastating climate induced phenomenon that happened in New York on my home turf; in the neighborhoods where I had been living and working. The effects of a changing atmosphere are not going to happen somewhere else – and in the distant future. They are happening here – everywhere, right now. Artists are in a unique position to reach out to people and stir our collective consciousness to the need for action.