Art and the Environment- Strip Mining

Lang Cover
Credit: Bernhard Lang  A 30 story bucket excavator  cuts out more coal.
Credit: Bernhard Lang
A 30 story bucket excavator cuts out more coal.

I came across a recent collection of photos by aerial photographer Bernhard Lang. This collection is that of an aerial shoot above the Hambach Mine in Germany. This lignite open pit mine is the deepest (in relation to sea-level) on the planet, being 931 feet below sea-level. Currently the mine is about 35 square kilometers large with a planned ending size of 85 square kilometers, roughly the size of Manhattan. All of this in a country that plans to be 80% renewable by 2050 and currently is the solar energy capital of the world. Some argue this is a result of the shutting down of nuclear facilities after Fukushima, as well as a result of the way emissions trading schemes are set up in the EU. The mine is still open and churning out coal everyday. Lang has done an excellent job of showcasing it, much in the way Balog has represented glacial melt and the impacts of anthropogenic global warming. This is not the first time Lang has been up in the air, attempting to capture the scale at which our society operates, much of his aerial work has taken on an environmental twist. As I find more artists looking to use their talents and passion to raise awareness and enact change, I wonder what else we might see in the coming decades.

 

Artistic Expressions of Climate Change

james balog web

When photographer and climate scientist James Balog visited Dickinson College a few weeks ago, our community was introduced to a new way of looking at climate issues in a means expressed through art. Balog expresses his concerns of climate change in the best way he knows possible, through his photography. His work was so stunning and moving that the movie Chasing Ice was made to motivate society and create a sense of urgency in calling for action.

Furthermore, on Monday October 20th and Tuesday October 21st, the mosaic group spent time in Washington DC listening to many guest speakers with several different backgrounds. Our last speaker, Keya Chatterjee, of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) had a very optimistic and positive aspect on the direction that the climate change movement is headed. She mentioned the power of art and music in modern society and suggested that maybe if climate concerns were expressed though different forms of art that this might have a monumental affect on modern society.

The New York Times article, “Extreme Weather” Explores the Climate Fight As a Family Feud, by Andrew C. Revkin, talks about the play “Extreme Weather”. Play writer Karen Maldpede, uses  “theater to explore the clashing passions around human-driven global warming and our fossil fuel fixation” (Revkin). Included in this article is a video of author Andrew Revkin singing his song “Liberated Carbon”, listening to this song for the first time made me chuckle; the idea of climate change expressed though song is such a foreign concept to me.

A Week of James Balog

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Sunday: I spent the evening snuggled up in bed watching James Balog’s documentary Chasing Ice  on Netflix. Before watching, my expectation for the documentary was that it was going to be one of those “facts-down-your-throat” documentaries, but I was pleasantly surprised. First of all, the film was highly artistic due to the stunning way the film captured ice.  Equally as gripping was the storyline behind the Extreme Ice Project in which Balog deals with camera issues, family pressures, knee surgeries and life-risking ice photos. The photos powerfully depict the story of the individual glaciers demise and the diagrams interjected into the film highlight why these melted glaciers indicate climate change. These photos that Balog (at times) risked his life to photograph are effective mechanisms of documenting climate change.

James Balog

Monday: James Balog came to my Introduction to Soil’s class where my five classmates and I were able to openly ask him questions.  The class began with my professor, Ben Edwards, a volcanologist, presenting his current research to Baloag. He is researching the interactions between lava and ice which he demonstrated in his youtube video of lava being poured on ice. This captivated Balog due to his love of ice and wanted to learn more.

 

We then continued to bombard Balog with questions, ranging from: What school did you go to? – Why did you decide to be a photographer? – What job advice can you give us? I wanted to ask him a question of my own so I asked him if he ever took photos of indigenous groups and the changes to their society. He said he focused on glaciers and the people affected by glaciers were outside his realm of expertise. Although, lava and ice don’t exactly fall under the soil class’s syllabus, it was really interesting to spend the class talking with Balog.

James Balog in Introduction to Soil's Course

 

Tuesday: This time Balog came to a more appropriate class, our sustainability mosaic course. Interestingly enough the questions and conversation were very different from the previous day. Although there were questions about his personal life, the conversation was directed towards climate change and his film.  One overall message that I will remember was when Balog said something along the lines of: he cannot tell us what to do about climate change, but he can encourage each of us to find a voice and way of expressing our concerns. After a group photo and a selfie, we waved Balog good-bye with a lingering awe.

At 7pm, we attended his two- hour lecture that was focused on science and art components. I found the science part highly interesting for he presented interesting figures and evidence concerning climate change. In the art section of the lecture, he used poetry, music and photos he created a voice regarding climate change’s effect on glaciers that had never been done before.

 

Wednesday – Friday : After his presence at Dickinson College, there was a mull of student discussion about his unique talk and breath-taking documentary.  Whenever I was in the Library, I would get captivated by his glacier photo display and I would convince anyone who would listen to watch Chasing Ice. I was impacted by the multiple meetings with James Balog throughout the week and I was really glad that Dickinson was able to create this opportunity.

Chasing-Ice