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"Artists, in a sense, are the antibodies of the cultural bloodstream. They sense trouble early, and rally to isolate and expose and defeat it, to bring to bear the human power for love and beauty and meaning against the worst results of carelessness and greed and stupidity. "

-- Bill McKibben, climate activist, 2009

Sometimes we cannot understand the science of what is in front of us until we feel it in our bones, and information that actually motivates us seems to travel into our thick, bony skulls only after it touches our hearts. Most of the time we head into environmental issues backwards because we want science to be what steers us away from our destructive paths. But science can be too intricate and complex to woo those not already in love with that form of beauty. Science is needed for solutions, but we need art to make us care, and therein lies its power. So much power, in fact, that tyrants throughout history have stolen or destroyed their enemies' cultural art and suppressed or abolished new expression during their own periods of power.

Diane Burko's solo exhibition, "Glacial Shifts, Changing Perspectives: Bearing Witness to Climate Change," at the Walton Arts Center's Joy Pratt Markham Gallery sent shivers down my spine first because of its beauty, and then, like thunder, because of its reality. The irony in all of that cold is that Burko has brought us glaciers so we can see and feel heat. The sculptured ice edges of continents, islands, mountains, inland lakes, fjords and rivers in her paintings and photographs look like mapped aerial renderings of our world until it occurs to us that there is nothing permanent about any of these edges. They were most likely already gone by the time her canvas paint dried. Her crackled medium alternately looks like floating ice or parched desert soil, a juxtaposition that at first confuses the mind before "aha!" hits. Then we can see the texture of the freeze-thaw cycle on our planet, its rhythm now askew as thaw outpaces freeze again and again.

This artist has followed the science and its researchers, studied their data and satellite imagery, leaned out of helicopters with her camera, and walked the glacial walk to artistically put us into landscapes that few will ever actually touch. She explains, "I believe that in order to persuade or educate, art has to be grounded in science and fact. I want to visually introduce those facts." Those facts show our planet is changing rapidly, whether we admit it or not, because of the crumbling of these pock marked and decaying ice masses, the canaries of our climate.

An open public reception for Burko, who will be joined by the Arkansas chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby, will be hosted at the gallery at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept.7. The evening will be an opportunity to walk among the artistry of glaciers and to learn about this nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots advocacy network that has 422 active chapters worldwide.

The climate lobby's preferred solution to decreasing fossil fuel carbon emissions is "a national ... carbon fee-and-dividend system, [which] would place a predictable, steadily rising price on carbon, with all fees collected (minus administrative costs) returned to households as a monthly energy dividend. In just 20 years ... such a system could reduce carbon emissions to 50 percent of 1990 levels while adding 2.8 million jobs to the American economy." A simple explanation of how charging fees for dumping carbon into our atmosphere can cut carbon generation is at:

This volunteer driven organization has spearheaded bipartisan solutions for those politicians who understand that climate change is indeed happening and not healthy for humans and other living things. Robert McAfee, co-founder of its Arkansas chapter, reports that a truly bipartisan U.S House "Climate Solutions Caucus" now has 50 members, half Republicans and half Democrats. Also, the Climate Leadership Council is a conservative climate solution organization with the mission of mobilizing global opinion leaders around the most effective, popular and equitable climate solutions. Central to their work is developing "new policy frameworks based on carbon dividends."

Climate activist and author Bill McKibben has observed, "When art of great worth and in great quantities begins to cluster around an issue, it means that civilization has identified it finally as a threat. Artists and scientists perform this function most reliably; politicians are a lagging indicator."

Our job as citizens is to loudly and clearly keep prodding politicians until they lag no more.

Commentary on 08/22/2017

Print Headline: Art of a different deal

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