The Deep Wealth of this Nation, Scotland
We were contacted as sometimes happens, on behalf of an arts center called The Barn, Anne Douglas and Mark Hope were wondering if we would come to Scotland and do a work, maybe addressing flood control or perhaps develop a Future Garden at The Barn.
We said yes, then maybe, then seeing that the Dee and the Don watersheds join at their outfalls on either side of the city of Aberdeen, and that the local farming had interfered with the floodplains of these rivers, we wrote back saying let us do a work for the Dee and the Don, and let the Dee and the Don tell us what to do. So as we often do, we requested a cessna flight over the rivers to really see these watersheds and photograph.
So the twin watersheds then became as a model for a larger vision we have developed called, The Deep Wealth of This Nation, Scotland. The guiding narrative for this initial largescale is a poem. As is typical for our work, it functions as an initial guiding metaphor for thinking and inspired the generation of this imagery.
The United Nations projects that by 2025, nearly two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions. Europe will not escape unscathed. By 2060, scientists expect a 20% decrease in river flows throughout Southern Europe due to climate changes. Combined with increased food demand, which is expected to double by 2050, Europe’s ability to produce its own food could face significant challenges. Given the tremendous stress on resources, the probability of civil strife is high.
What can art tell us about the possibility of adapting at scale to such conditions?
Saving The West
Decades of fire suppression and clear cutting in the western United States have produced forests overgrown with small diameter trees creating thickets that choke out biodiversity and act like a tinderboxes. This inflammatory mix results in forests in constant danger of mega fires, destroying property, wildlife and water supplies, and potentially devastating whole human and non-human communities.
We urgently need to restructure forested areas throughout the west by selectively removing the excess small diameter trees and brush and returning low burning, ground fires to the ecosystem. Fire is essential for forest health, cleaning up underbrush and helping seeds to germinate.
The Saving the West project is designed to promote ecological function by selectively cutting young, small diameter trees, restoring ground cover and leaving all the big old ones to preserve variable forest structure.
The Bays of San Francisco
If sea levels rise 8 feet, San Francisco Bay will become a 250,000-acre estuarial lagoon. As ocean waters rise and storms increase in frequency and severity, it is likely that storm surges will force waters from the expanded Bay(s) into the inland valleys toward Stockton in the South and Sacramento in the East.
We ask the question: How should we confront, value, learn from, assist, and benefit from this new set of circumstances at the scale at which they’re happening?
Tibet is the High Ground
Global warming and severe deforestation have endangered the 7 major and countless minor rivers flowing from the Tibetan Plateau, which nourish much of Asia from Pakistan to southern China. The wellbeing of almost 3 billion people depends upon reliable water draining from the world’s third largest icepack. China is now diverting waters from the Plateau, and conflict with other countries seems inevitable.
In 1992, at the request of the Dalai Lama, the Harrisons proposed a surprising solution.
Sagehen in the High Sierra: A Future Garden
Funded by the Annenberg Foundation
A Future Garden for the Sagehen Watershed in the Sierra Nevada is located in the 9,000 acre UC Berkeley Sagehen Creek Field Station. At this site we have tested a representative group of plant species at five different altitudes to see if enough individuals would survive to create what we call a resilience ensemble. This smaller ensemble would be the source to reestablish both the ecological regeneration and water-holding properties of the earth more rapidly than unassisted natural processes. The question we posed for the 8,000 acre Sagehen drain basin was, is there enough biodiversity in the species currently existing in Sagehen to survive when the high grounds of the Sierra experience rapid warming in the next 50 to 100 years?
A 50-year project, this work is still underway that began with the propagation of 12,000 plants from seed gathered in the watershed. In the third year of operation, we have a 25 percent successful survival rate of species in all plots, at all elevations.
Imagine an ecosystem following a glacier as it retreats. At Sagehen Experiment we are breaking ground to test a replicable, real-world creative response…
Why are we doing this? - Because The Force Majeure isn’t just another issue, it is THE issue. It overshadows everything else. If we don't do our part we are failing ourselves, our friends, our families and our society, as well as our planet.
Why do we care? - Because our very survival is at stake. This will affect literally everyone on the planet; hundreds of millions of people already live in low-lying coastal areas - we're talking about something that is going to immiserate millions, perhaps billions of people, cripple our ability to provide food for a rapidly growing population and disrupt the lives and culture of the vast majority of people on the planet.
Why Artists? - Why not artists? Art is the court of last resort – and our best hope. The evidence is overwhelming, and many people are, indeed, overwhelmed. But case after case that we have looked at all over the world, these issues have been looked at locally - we saw a crying need to find ways to talk about the problem at the scale in which it is occurring. That can be terrifying and discouraging, but for us it opens the door to creative possibilities…