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June 4, 2009

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Apparently, the Earth Is Only Pretty When It's Empty

I think the conversation about “The Earth Is Hiring” sensitized me to this point: Watching the trailer for Home, I couldn’t help but think, “Oh, I get it. The beautiful shots are the ones without humans.”

And then, later on, the rapid-fire cuts of cities are supposed to be emblems of corruption and destruction. Except, of course, dense cities are better for the planet than other living arrangements. (I mean, come on. Look at that.)

This is all to say: I’m tired of the old visual tropes. I want some pro-planet media made with a more Worldchanging sensibility. Hmm… I guess the challenge is that stirring tribal music goes better with fly-overs of blue whales than cutaways of city-wide gray-water systems.

(Via @algore.)

Posted June 4, 2009 at 11:35 | Comments (3) | Permasnark
File under: Briefly Noted


This has been a deep gripe of mine since high school, ever since I wrote an angry essay appreciating Thoreau's poetics but denouncing his contribution on the American suburban and escapist aesthetic. I went to a school steeped in the aesthetic of the wilderness, and it seemed sometimes that our love of outdoor adventure didn't completely feed our commitment to environmental stewardship. Oddly, today was my last day with students at that same school, and soon I'll fleeing back to the city. The sprawl of McMansions that now looms between us and our mountain has only renewed my belief in urbanism. The cliche about about birds and butterflies is, "If you love them, set them free." For landscapes it should be, "if you really love them, leave them." You might say it's the central tension between loving the land and lusting for it.

Part of the problem is that we have a hard time looking and seeing what's really going on. A gorgeous, seemingly pristine ocean may be vibrating with American Naval sonar and permeated with microscopically degrading plastic, while a non-native, fake, overly landscaped urban forest might be doing valuable air quality work. When urbanism and industrialism is photographed with great beauty, it is rarely in reference to their maximum environmental potential, and there's rarely a way to make that totally obvious to the untrained eye.

This is where we want to combine photography with some more revealing media, I think. Illustration on top of photography--a way of peeling back the layers and seeing a representation of truths that don't exist in the visible light spectrum.

Somehow, we need to find a way to audiovisually convey the notion that cities are human hives... the natural, most efficient way for humans to live. "Observe the fascinating interlocking structure that they create, entirely from natural materials!"

(because ultimately, there are no UN-natural materials... cities are part of the natural world too.)

Posted by: Matt on June 4, 2009 at 10:28 PM

If it's to be sustainable, we're building economic institutions for the rest of human history. Much of the change will be as powerful and as boring as compound interest (i.e. pricing carbon). The Founders addressed that sort of problem with pomp, ceremony, and marble temples to the glorious new American Polis. Maybe the EPA or a carbon-trading market could get a LEED-certified equivalent (but more humble).

I think the new visual tropes will be all about data visualization. Already, ecosystems and terrain are wired to determine the scope of the problem. We will have to continue & expand the planetary surveillance to measure the efficacy of the solutions. More data, more processing power; cheap, ubiquitous, transparent near-realtime distribution. Google Earth (but bigger). See also Neogeography - IMO a candidate for a New Liberal Art, but I didn't read Snarkmarket when that discussion happened.

Worldchanging and its kin in the "101-things-YOU-can-do" genre frustrate me. A warehouse full of potentially-sustainable ideas is good, but there has to be a measure of effectiveness beyond warm fuzzies/liberal guilt. For that we need to work out the politics. Soon, I hope.

(What I *really* took away from this post was: Holy crap Yann Arthus-Bertrand is making a whole movie! I want to soak it up in IMAX!)

Posted by: Jake on June 4, 2009 at 10:47 PM
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