Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What can an Artist with Disabilities add to the Global Warming Conversation?

When I was in sixth grade, I made a papier-mâché globe, glued garbage to it and used it as a visual aid for a "save the Earth" oral report. A few years before that, my Brownie troop painted metal drums and put them around town to encourage people not to litter. I don't remember a time in my life without recycling. I am practically an old lady now, and you would think if people my age grew up tending to the environment we would be in better shape.

Today is Blog Action Day. All over the world, bloggers are writing about this year's issue: global warming. I decided to participate because I am always excited when people find a way to use technology to make a better world and, as I've mentioned above, environmental activism comes naturally to me. On the other hand, I am not an expert on global warming nor am I a shining example of an environmentally-sound lifestyle.

What do I have to add to a world-wide conversation about global warming? As usual, I bring to the table my two traveling companions: chronic illness and creative activity. They have suggested to me three points to throw to the blogosphere:

Do what you can with what you've got.

"Do you have a studio?" asked a woman who heard I was an artist.

"No," I replied, "I have a corner of my living room."

I used to have a studio. A couple times a week I would go to my studio and paint. It was lovely. I felt like a real artiste. Those were the days when I had more money, more physical energy and more time. I had more physical capability, too. It doesn't serve me well to spend much time mourning those losses. I need to feel the sadness, but then I need to breathe it out and let it go.

Right now, I have a little corner, with a flat surface and some paints. My hands don't do what they used to do, but I can hold a brush and I can move paint around and doing it makes my heart sing.

We humans have already gone a long way toward trashing the earth. The damage is probably not recoverable. There may be fancy future technologies that will help us clean up our act. We don't know about them yet, so for now we have to do what we can with what we've got.

Years ago, I was a fan of Berke Breathed's Opus the penguin. Opus wanted to lose weight and was willing to try anything...except to exercise and eat less. Similarly we humans seem ready to do anything to avoid global warming, except make the behavioral changes that need to be made.

There are practical everyday steps we can take that will make a difference. Visit Common Sense on Climate Change: Practical Solutions to Global Warming and make a commitment to go further in three areas.

Work for systemic change (meanwhile, play by your own rules)

We need to make big changes fast. By "big" I mean system wide.

In my experience, there are two ways to do this. First, we can advocate for changes in legislation and regulation. We can work within the system to change the system. Second, we can do things in a different way en masse and force the system to scramble to catch up with our changes.

I remember writing "DDT" in marker on my papier-mâché Arctic Circle. One of the sobering facts I knew, at 12, was that overuse of the pesticide was so widespread traces have been found in the Arctic ice. Bald eagles were dying. I was adding my voice to the public outcry that led to most uses of DDT being banned in the US in 1972. It worked then. It could work now.

Tell President Obama that we want him to lead the United States in taking bold and significant action to reduce greenhouse gasses.

The art world is pathetically stuck in old-fashioned ways of doing things. Young artists are experimenting with new ways to connect to their audiences. Musicians are sending their work directly to their listeners. Visual artists are making their work available on the web without worrying about copyrights. Writers are publishing their own books. The system is broken, so these mavericks are creating a new system. Traditional media are trying to find footing in a new world.

What astonishing, out-of-the-box ways are people making changes in response to global warming? what grassroots solutions are out there that we might be able to get to trickle up? I just had a good time googling "out-of-the-box solution global warming".

Find and support one unusual idea to minimize global warming.

Keep playing, even though you're losing.

The effects of multiple sclerosis on my body keep increasing. Lately, I've been mulling over words to describe it: relentless, implacable, inexorable. Rolling these words around in my mind somehow throws a layer of insulation between me and my frustration.

Recently, I have noticed a lot of news reports along the lines of Newsweek magazine's It’s Too Late to Stop Global Warming. (interestingly, or perhaps sadly, the first page of Google results I received for "too late global warming" came from 2005-2006.) There is a danger that people will give up.

I have exercised fairly consistently since I was diagnosed 28 years ago. For a while, I jogged. Then I did yoga. I learned tai chi. When I could no longer walk, I exercised in the pool. Now, I use a strap stand to hold me up while I use light arm weights. Physical therapists tell me that doing what I could do helped delay the progression of the disease. I have no idea if that is true (and--shh--neither do they).

Here is what is true for me: exercising brings me closer to my body. I am more aware of its ups and downs. I have more compassion for it. Exercising gives me hope. There are days I do better with the weights and can imagine I am getting stronger. That little swoop of joy is worth the gurgling sadness of the bad days.

Maybe it is too late to stop all the effects of global warming. In doing what we can, though, we may draw closer to our planet home. We may find new ways to work together as a species. We may join in swoops of joy over every environmental triumph.

No comments: