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Art, The Natural World and A Crucial Moment for Civilization

Permanent Linkby RichardDevine on Mon Jun 02, 2014 10:24 am

I love to paint. I love to create paintings of nature’s beauty – of elk standing on a rise on a crisp autumn morning, its breath crystallizing in the cool air of a mountain valley. I love to paint sandpipers scurrying about a beach in search of lunch. And I love to capture my grandchildren on paper, enjoying themselves on a cold winter morning playing in the snow. I’m terribly afraid that we are slowly leaving those experiences behind as we rush headlong into the future, indifferent in our greed for more, to how we are degrading the world around us - consuming more, depleting our world of its beauty and natural resources and replacing it with pollutants that will leave our grandchildren with only paintings, photographs and distant memories of its past beauty.
On May 9, 2013, for the first time in human history, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 ppm. That was higher than it’s been in at least 3 million years. It only remained above that historic level for a day. But, this year it has remained above that milestone for all of April and into May. Within a few years it will remain above 400 ppm all year – on its way up to 450 and 500 ppm. It will not fall below 400 ppm again for centuries! It has been relentlessly increasing since the dawn of the industrial revolution, and with it, the average global temperature has risen one and one-half degrees. The last time carbon dioxide surpassed 400 ppm, the temperature of the earth rose more than 6 degrees higher than today and sea levels up to 131 feet higher.
We’re on a path that will take us to those same conditions by the end of the century. My home state of Florida and the fabulous Florida Everglades, home to an astonishing array of wildlife – and the inspiration for countless wildlife paintings – will cease to exist if that happens.
And that seems to be the path we are on now. We have now passed a tipping point – a point of no return – the irreversible collapse and melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet that will eventually drown much of the Florida peninsula, as well as many other low lying areas around the globe. That cannot now be stopped. The current warming is making natural weather events more extreme. Wildfires are beginning earlier in the year and lasting longer. Droughts alternate with record downpours and flooding. Devastating heat racked Australia during the winter of 2012 and the U.S. in the spring and summer of the same year. Deadly heatwaves killed more than 35, 000 people in Europe in 2003 and 15,000 in Russia during 2010. Thirty million people were displaced in 2012 because of climate related events. 2013 was the 37th consecutive year with temperatures above the 20th century average.
As polar ice melts, many low lying areas across the world and in the U.S. become vulnerable to rising seas. Higher sea levels reinforced storm surges from hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Sea levels are rising four times faster than the global average from Cape Hatteras to Boston. Three 1,000 year floods have occurred in Minnesota in the last 8 years. Three fourths of Florida’s population lives near the coast. The Florida Oceans and Coastal Council, in 2009, published a report discussing coastal vulnerability and predicted that the expected 40 inch sea level rise this century will submerge more than 9% of Florida’s land area, jeopardizing an infrastructure worth more than 2 trillion dollars.
Insurance companies are paying out more claims due to the increased risks of storm surge. The World Bank, in 2012, warned that if we don’t alter the path we’re on now, one that will likely take us past six degrees, we threaten to “make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today”. The International Energy Association (IEA), in its 2012 Energy Outlook stressed that no more than one third of proven fossil fuel reserves can be extracted and keep the world from heating more than 3.5 degrees, but, in its Mid Term Report, it described a world ignoring its moral responsibility.
We’re so focused on becoming more energy self sufficient that we ignore the fact that not only are we destroying the world around us, we’re accepting the human toll it’s costing us. On our present course we aren’t engineering a better world for our grandchildren, we’re condemning them to a hellish new one.
Climate change is not a political issue, it is a purely scientific one. 97% of scientists knowledgeable of climate science agree that the climate is warming and humans are causing it by burning fossil fuels.
So, what should we do? We must convince our elected officials to force producers to pay the real economic costs of oil, coal and natural gas production by eliminating subsidies, enacting a carbon tax on their extraction and passing the taxes on to the public. In addition, two thirds of known reserves must remain in the ground. Leveling the playing field will allow clean, renewable energy sources to become a major part in our energy needs. Then, we must learn to conserve, repair and recycle in order to protect our diminishing natural resources.
I want to continue painting scenes of natural beauty – and I want my grandchildren, and their grandchildren to be able to do the same. I don’t want to leave them a world where wildlife and natural beauty can only be found in paintings left to them by their grandfather.

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