The Endless Summer

 

Are we just secretly yearning for an endless summer? Perhaps. Imagine a constant, moderately hot climate when we have harnessed, and now endlessly enjoy, the energy of sun, waves, and wind. Never mind winter sports, or hell in Cambodia. Imagine a whole continent modeled on the permanent California dream. Forget the wild fires, or growing homeless populations. Imagine the tropical renaissance of Southern Europe, and the ever-better quality of life of winterless Northern Europe. Ignore the severe drought outside tourist-ridden cities, or a few crazy storms like they used to have in the Caribbean. Picture ever-fizzling burgers by a luscious, constantly recreated, J.G. Ballard-like seaside. Dismiss what was once the Netherlands, or the wind turbine-crowned offshore walls restraining climate refugees. Envisage the perpetual holidays provided by artificial intelligence and a few massive twists of geo-engineering. Disregard the unexpected consequences of more fiddling with the planet’s surface. Visualize a pleasant, fully operational, Internet of things-driven endless summer. Never mind that it is just for a few of us. You win some, you lose some. Are we to blame if we secretly wish for a technologically ensured, corporately maintained endless summer?

The endless summer is a seminal surf movie, a 1994 Donna Summer compilation, a genetically modified tomato, a total of 2,940,000 hits on YouTube, and a 2005 episode of SpongeBob SquarePants on the effects of global warming[i] —reminding us of how the unconscious of children and teenagers is now fed on brutal issues through TV series and franchise movies. Think Pixar’s Wall-E for the effects of overconsumption, waste, pollution, the sixth extinction, and an endless summer looking for a new planet to inhabit.

More tellingly, “The Endless Summer” is also one of the first mainstream essays on the greenhouse effect, published thirty years ago in Discover magazine.[ii] What has happened since NASA’s James Hansen first alerted the US Senate to global warming? Terminology has evolved, and we now feel the multiple torching effects of climate change. And yet, climate change denial is on the rise. By March 2017, the Politicowebsite reported how Twitter-President Donald Trump’s Department of Energyforbade the use of the term.[iii] A talk show host snappily suggested using the expression “endless summer” instead. Perhaps uncomfortable facts would then disappear.

As scientists, philosophers, and others have noted, one of the greatest difficulties in dealing with climate change resides in the ability to effectively communicate its phenomena and effects to a non-specialist audience. Information is readily available. The subject has been widely covered in the media. People are in fact bombarded with partial evidence of climate change on a daily basis. And yet, climate change, and its widespread ecological consequences, does not seem to register in people’s minds.

When researching last summer, I confronted what appeared to be my own ignorance on the theme —only to realize that I had already come across most of the information, and had readily forgotten it. Over the years, I had read about greenhouse and carbon-burning effects, multi-species extinctions, weather disruptions, ocean acidification, extreme forms of pollution, environmental poisoning. Naturally, I had come across the array of disastrous impacts of human activity on the surface of the planet, which is now trendily aggregated under the geological label of “the Anthropocene.”

However, as with practically everybody else, I had encountered these phenomena as fragments scattered in several reports and news pieces. I had never confronted the isolated evidence —and the reflections upon it— as a part of one overall, massive phenomenon. Out of this dispersion —and out of a very human, psychological need to postpone the signs of coming disaster— I, as anybody else, tended to dismiss the subject’s darker dimension.

The idea of Eco-Visionaries as a multi-partner, curatorial endeavour arose precisely as an attempt at a more complex, overarching, and yet audience-driven take on the diversity of issues surrounding today’s ecological global transformations.

Art, architecture, and new media practices have increasingly reflected on diverse aspects and outcomes of human-induced planetary change. Yet, the expression of this interest in the exhibition realm has been mostly narrowly themed, and again fragmented in nature. The collaborative publication that accompanied the exhibitions —which appeared over the span of one year at MAAT, Bildmuseet, HeK, and LABoral— offers, by contrast, a broad and up-to-date view by juxtaposing four different curatorial perspectives.

Thus, we envisioned connecting the views that have emerged from ecological art to architects’ investigations into the depletion of resources, or to interactive designers’ imagined adaptations to a new reality, but also to how media artists are delving into big data to offer much needed critical perspectives on the perceived state of the planet’s distressed ecosystem.

Together with the new essays published in the project’s book, the glimpses into the multiplicity of points of view gathered in Eco-Visionaries give you a broader picture of the incremental, interrelated aspects of the climate and ecological changes affecting us today.

The project started from the optimistic premise that we need alternative visions of the future if indeed we want to face up to such changes. Our research revealed much more pessimistic scenarios, and the need to also embrace critical visions that may bare what often remains hidden. As Linda Weintraub unveils when she probes into the history of eco-art’s pioneers, this duality has been present since the sixties.

Yet, it is surely no coincidence that, even if not tagged as ecologists, more artists and architects have recently felt the need to share their investigations into the overwhelming issues of ecological change. Why?

As a New York Timescolumnist put it back in 2012, “the climate has changed, and the only remaining questions may well be: a) how bad will things get, and b) how long will it be before we wake up to it.”[iv] Perhaps it is finally the time when more people need to wake up to it. Perhaps it is finally a question of survival that more people absorb, remember, and act upon the multiple impacts of the endless summer we are entering.

Lisbon, March 2018

 

[i] It is perhaps no coincidence that SpongeBob SquarePantsis created by a marine biologist, Stephen Hillenburg.

[ii] As reported in a landmark statement from June 23, 1988, “James Hansen of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies testified before a Senate committee that he could state with ‘99 percent confidence’ that a recent, persistent rise in global temperature was occurring, and had long been expected.”See Andrew C. Revkin, “Special Report: Endless Summer—Living with the Greenhouse Effect,” Discover (June 23, 2008), http://discovermagazine.com/1988/oct/23-special-report-endless-summer-living-with-the-greenhouse-effect.

[iii] See Eric Wolff,“Energy Department Climate Office Bans Use of Phrase ‘Climate Change,’” Politico,29 March, 2017, https://www.politico.com/story/2017/03/energy-department-climate-change-phrases-banned-236655.

[iv] As Mark Bittman concluded at the time, “the only sane people who don’t see this as a problem are those whose profitability depends on the status quo.” See “The Endless Summer,” The New York Times, July 18, 2012, https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/18/the-endless-summer/.