Where were you when the lights went out? If you are of a certain age and lived in the Northeast United States, you’ll remember at least one major blackout, with those of 1965 and 1977 perhaps the most indelible because normal life was disrupted for so many people across a vast region.
I was caught in a blackout in New York City in the early 80’s while on a research assignment in Brooklyn for Technology Magazine – the irony sank in sometime later. Fortunately for my co-worker and me, we were above ground when the power went out, not trapped in a subway car or skyscraper office. We, along with hundreds of others hit the streets, giddy with relief. It was late afternoon when we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, into Lower Manhattan and the Village. There, a party was in progress as restaurants who had lost their refrigeration, were turning out meals on make-shift charcoal grills and offering them, along with slightly warm beer, to whomever cared to take them up on their offer. Although that particular blackout would prove to be relatively local and short-lived, there was no way to know at the time. “It’s tempting to ask why if you fed your neighbors during the time of the earthquake and fire, you didn’t do so before or after,” writes Rebecca Solnit of the San Francisco earthquake in A Paradise Built in Hell: the Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster.
Eventually, I got my foot-weary self to the Port Authority Bus Terminal that evening to wait with other New Jersey commuters for the power and interrupted bus service to resume. Here, too, there was unusual cooperation and camaraderie. We riders of the DeCamp 66 and 33 who barely exchanged a word before, were talking, exchanging stories and phone numbers, discovering we were neighbors after all.
Earth Hour, 8:30-9:30 pm local time, when the Strip in Las Vegas, Times Square and the Eifel Tower intentionally go dark to raise awareness about climate change, was launched in Australia in 2007 by the World Wide Fund for Nature and has become a global movement. Getting millions of people to power down for one hour a year doesn’t seem like much to ask, even of the electronic device-addicted populace of our century. In our home, we mark the occasion with an hour of candlelight, a glass of wine, a ukulele, some songs, enjoying the respite from the mixed blessing of an always-on, always-connected life that we have embraced so wholeheartedly. Viewed in long-range or aerial images, Earth Hour is spectacular, and more than a little unnerving. I would like to think that this scale of community arts activism will help us wrap our heads around what is impossible to contemplate, even for climate advocates: a world without power; life as we’ve come to know it, unplugged.
Artists of all kinds have often taken the lead in making the invisible (under-appreciated or ignored) visible, because they can. Some are using their gifts to wake people up to the really wicked, society-transforming problem of climate change and a rising sea, e.g. The HighWaterLine project. The brainchild of artist, Eve Mosher, the HWL helps communities visualize the impact of climate change in our own neighborhoods and streets. Mosher began her work in 2007 in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, mapping areas predicted to be impacted by flooding during storm surges. After deep research into climate science and Google maps of flood zones, she spent six months using chalk and a sports field marker to draw the 10-ft. above sea level line in the streets and on the buildings. Yes, that was five years before Sandy. Click here for more on the HWL.
As residents of one of the states most vulnerable to sea level rise, Floridians are fortunate that Eve Mosher will be making a return engagement, this time in Palm Beach County later this month, chalking sea level rise for the HighWaterLine Delray Beach event. This day-long performance is part of the 2nd Annual Florida Earth Festival, a series of workshops and demonstrations that runs April 18 through 25, including a weekend of intensives at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Boca Raton, 2501 St. Andrews Blvd. Volunteers are needed for all kinds of tasks during the festival, and if you are able, I urge you to find what speaks to you and sign up. For this yoga instructor and lover of dance, it is the prospect of being in the grand finale of the HWL mapping: a ‘movement choir’ of dancers holding blue glow lights and moving to Neil Young’s new anthem: Who Is Going to Stand Up for the Earth.
I’ve also signed up for the Beautiful Trouble workshop in the hopes that it will help me hone my new-found voice as a spoken word artist (thanks Vagina Monologues!) into a poetry flash mob or open mic performance on environmental themes. In any case, it sounds like way more fun than climate advocacy usually is, Greenpeace Gorilla suits and the Raging Grannies notwithstanding. These trainings are intended to serve as “A Toolbox for Revolution.” Bring it on.