In the battle against the impacts of climate change, does it make sense to fight fire with fire? Or more specifically, given that perhaps technology got us into this mess, will more technology – such as wind and solar power, electric vehicles, new battery technology, carbon capture, and geo engineering – help us to get out of it?
I grew up believing technology could solve any problem. In my life, advances in science and technology have extended life expectancy by 10 years and enabled our Earth to support 8 billion people. I’ve been lucky enough to witness first hand incredible advances in information and communications technology that has changed our world.
But also in my lifetime, population has grown by 5 billion people, global temperatures have risen by almost 1 Celcius, and global land use has expanded by 12%, and we’ve lost an estimated 60% of all mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles. It’s a depressing thought, and for me at least, I am experiencing a crisis of confidence; has it all been worth it? Do other people feel this way?
For my latest artworks, Reclamation No 1 and Reclamation No 2, currently on exhibit at the SPAO Centre Gallery, I’ve imagined a future in which people are confined to a virtual world, i.e. the Metaverse, while Mother Nature slowly reclaims the Earth, thereby alleviating the impacts of climate change. Following this line of thinking, within a scant 100,000 years or so, CO2 levels would return to ‘normal’ and any signs of human civilization would be just about gone.
The idea was inspired by a TED talk which asks: What would happen if every human suddenly disappeared? To create these images, I took photographs of LeBreton Flats and then replaced the buildings in the images with computer boards to provide an abstract representation of enormous server farms. I used LeBreton Flats for the images because large swaths of land have remained untouched for decades.
Of course, the idea is ludicrous. But my point is this: while technology exists now, or in the relatively near future, that could help to address climate change, in reality much, much more is needed, likely fundamental changes to our economic, political and societal systems. And let’s be real: while there are agreed upon targets, there is currently no clear path forward. So, as individuals, what can we do?
I once asked a monk if he worried about things like the rest of us. His response was, “of course I worry, I just don’t dwell on it!”
Perhaps that’s good advice for all of us: stop living in fear and do something: use less energy, buy less stuff, fly less, eat less beef, eat more locally grown vegetables, use transit, walk, cycle, vote, whatever. Set an example. But don’t just wait for the magic of technology to solve the problem.
For this work I gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the City of Ottawa.
I gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the City of Ottawa for this project.