Sunday, October 02, 2011

CSU's 100 Views of Climate Change looks at the subject from all angles

Until John Calderazzo showed me his web site, I didn't know that there were 100 views of climate change.

That's the name of his site, 100 Views of Climate Change. It's an official Colorado State University site, one among hundreds at this place that started its life as Colorado A&M -- the big white Aggie "A" still lurks on the mountain above town.

John teaches in the CSU creative writing program which is part of the English Department. He is a writer of creative nonfiction which, put simply, means that he uses fiction writing techniques in his published books and articles and essays about volcanoes, rain forests, watersheds, etc. He takes his facts as seriously as he takes his technique. His book on volcanoes is fascinating. He once taught in China and had written extensively about Asia. Recently, he climbed his first big mountain, a 19,000-footer in Mexico. Pretty good for a guy who won't see 60 again.

I had a chance to visit with John when he was in Cheyenne for the Literary Connection put on by LCCC. He served as my first adviser when I went to CSU in 1988 as a thirty-something corporate dropout. We had a lot in common, including Florida roots, and he was only a few years older than me. We worked on several free-lance writing projects together. It's always good to see an old friend.

As is true with many Boomers in their sixties, John is not sitting in his office counting paper clips and marking off the days until retirement on a wall calendar. Well, he may be doing that but he's also bringing the climate change debate to CSU, Fort Collins, Colorado's Front Range and the Rocky Mountain West. He and his wife, Sue Ellen Campbell, are doing this together. Sue Ellen is also a published writer, professor and environmentalist. The duo has seen first-hand the depredations of climate change. They have written extensively on the subject.

When it was time to do something about it, they thought that they might as well start close to home. So many scientists at this university. Climatologists, soil biologists, ecologists, bioethicists, agronomists, water hydrologists and so on. And sometimes, to translate the work of these scientists, in come the artists, writers and performers.

No reputable scientist disputes the fact that global climate change is a real thing. However, the topic of "global climate change" sparks as many storms as a spring Rocky Mountain low pressure system. Policies that address climate change would affect almost all the ways that we've done business in the West for 100 years. They would affect coal mining, oil and gas drilling, coal-fired plants, transportation, infrastructure, home construction, and almost any other topic you could think of. Just the term "climate change" sends Wyoming Republicans into a tizzy. It's likely they work in the energy industry. It's certain that much of their election war chests come from EnCana and Peabody, etc. Many of their constituents work in the energy industry and make better money doing that than they would in almost any other endeavor. Local business groups and chambers of commerce welcome energy companies and energy jobs. The mayor of Gillette was just in Washington, D.C., telling a congressional committee to send more energy jobs his way.

So, it's not surprising that any hint of doing something about climate change causes berserkity to break out all over.

Chris Drury: "Carbon Sink: What Goes
Around Comes Around"
Here's a recent case in point from Wyoming's lone four-year university. A very talented artist, Chris Drury from the U.K., designed and installed a public art work on the UW campus. It's entitled 'Carbon Sink: What Goes Around Comes Around." It's made of real Wyoming coal and real beetle-killed trees from Wyoming forests. The burning of one of these things -- coal -- undoubtedly caused the warming planet which led to the pine bark beetle surviving winters which led to the killing of the trees. All of the parts will eventually return to the earth from whence they came, which is one of the messages of the piece. A giant circle of coal and wood spinning across a university lawn on its way back to the source. This also is our fate. The fate of humankind, of course, will be determined by the way we treat the planet.

Here's how the project was described on the UW Art Museum blog:
Chris Drury's Carbon Sink: What Goes Around Comes Around places beetle-kill pine and coal -- both natural resources in Wyoming -- in a formal structure derived from a mushroom spore, twisting into a vortex to suggest the natural process of decay, decomposition, and transformation.  Typical of the artist's work, who routinely connects natural phenomena from the macrocosmic to the microcosmic, the whirling deep, dark, and beautiful reflective properties of the coal play off the raw wood that has been charred so the materials merge at the center.
Some Wyomingites were not amused (snippets from stories about the installation from both the New York Times and The Guardian via Inhabitat): 
The coal industry immediately took offense: “They get millions of dollars in royalties from oil, gas and coal to run the university, and then they put up a monument attacking me, demonizing the industry,” stated Marion Loomis, the director of the Wyoming Mining Association.  
Two legislators also jumped into the fray -- Republican Representative Tom Lubnau and Gregg Blikre from Cambell County, site of the massive Powder River Basin coal mine. 
“While I would never tinker with the University of Wyoming budget – I’m a great supporter of the University of Wyoming – every now and then you have to use these opportunities to educate some of the folks at the University of Wyoming about where their paychecks come from,” stated Lubnau.

As it turns out, it was a tempest in a teapot. No coal-crazed Republican legislators attacked the UW Art Museum budget. But we'll have many more of these. Some will be a lot more serious.

Chris Drury is obviously a thoughtful man in search of meaningful discussion of a big subject.

Maybe UW needs a dose of 100 Views of Climate Change. CSU is right down the road...

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