August 14, 2013 —
Dialogue about climate change, once relegated to the arena of international conferences, chambers of government, and heated debates on TV and radio talk shows, has recently become a topic of ordinary conversation around the dinner table and the water cooler. People are talking about what they see around them: milder winters, earlier springs, the mounting frequency of extreme weather events in our own backyards or along washed-out roadways. The myth that climate change is not happening is increasingly impossible to believe. The evidence is in our faces.
In our own region, one can still see the damage seven weeks later from the extreme downpours of a storm that inundated many locations on June 27 and 28. The saddest story we heard about that storm was from a farmer along Dyberry Creek outside of Honesdale, PA: when five inches of rain fell in three to four hours, the creek jumped its banks, and the rushing water carried away most of his small flock of sheep. (Eight out of 11 were never found.) A nearby field of market vegetables was also washed away.
Here in the Upper Delaware River Valley, perhaps you’ve noticed that, in fact, spring does arrive earlier, about four days earlier according to the data; or that river and lake ice melt earlier, from one to two weeks earlier. Long-range predictions for our region include rising air and water temperatures, warmer winters with less snowpack, and more frequent, more intense precipitation events, along with weather-related power disruption and infrastructure damage.
Some of the predicted consequences of climate change sound pretty dire: rising seas along densely populated coastlines with the long-range potential to displace millions; impacts on agriculture (read, food supplies); economic disruption; wildfires; and the spread of unwelcome insects, invasive species, infectious diseases; damage to ecosystems, loss of species and more. No wonder many people find it difficult to deal with the subject. Sometimes when a subject is too frightening or too overwhelming, people simply withdraw from the conversation and from any efforts to address the problem. Feeling powerless to effect change, they give up.
Now comes a local theatre organization, NACL of Highland Lake, NY, that proposes to inject fun into the equation as a way to involve people and whole communities in a creative conversation that melds science and art. (Fun—even when it’s fun with a purpose—is admittedly more palatable than feeling powerless.) Led by project director Tannis Kowalchuk, The Weather Project has just launched a year long series of arts and science programs and just-plain-fun happenings about the weather, with the goal of raising awareness and engaging people on a completely new and different level. With any luck, people who have previously shunned or ignored the topic of climate change not only will join the discussion, but also begin to see that all of us can effect change by starting with small steps of individual and collective action.
Necessary work lies ahead for all of us to prepare for and adapt to climate change. Public understanding and participation are essential. Public support for strong adaptation policies is critical. Civic discussion about who shall pay for adaptation and mitigation is vital.
We salute NACL and its partner, the Town of Highland, and many other sponsors for their unique and creative way of bringing a challenging subject to the public through the arts and community building activities.
We salute the project’s other participants including Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development, Western Sullivan Public Library, Delaware Valley Arts Alliance, Delaware Highlands Conservancy/Eagle Institute, Heron’s Eye Communications, Catskill Arts Society, Eldred Central High School, The Homestead School, North School Studio, Strike Anywhere Performance Ensemble, Spiral Q Puppet Theatre, The Ottawa Stilt Union, Hospitality Green, Catskill Mountainkeeper, and a number of professional theatre and visual artists, as well as filmmakers Tina Spangler and Isaac Green-Diebboll, who are making a documentary film about the year-long project. And we must mention the National Endowment for the Arts, Our Town Grant, which is providing grant funds for the project.
By removing the conversation from the realm of international conferences, chambers of government, and polarizing debates on TV and radio talk shows, The Weather Project is doing us all a big service.