By Kristin Sander.
In November 2015, I spent a weekend in Paris with my family. It was a nice autumn day with still 15 degrees, the sun was shining lightly and the leaves from the tree where sinking to the ground when we were walking through the Park Montsouris. When we passed the park's lake we became aware of more than 30 blue sculptures standing in the sea. The installation showed naked, blue human figures arranged in an arc formation. All of them appeared to be the same and were looking in the same direction. But not every blue man was able to observe his environment with his own eyes, because they were submerged. It seemed that one figure was slowly rising from the water to observe us and than he sank in the water again. The installation called “Where the Tides Ebb and Flow” by Pedro Marzorati was built up for two months in Paris.
The Argentinian artist installed the land-art installation for the 21th Conference of Parties, also known as the COP 21, the 2015 Paris Climate Conference that was held in the capital city in the beginning of December. The aim of the conference was to achieve international agreements in particular on climate change policies. At the end, 196 parties to the UN adopted the Paris Agreement, which implied an overall global warming goal of under 2°C. To achieve this, the countries, firstly, have to reduce the greenhouse emission. And secondly, the world needs to find more options to avoid greenhouse gases (Focus Climate).
The increase of greenhouse gases affects the sea level as well. Since 1880 the sea level raised about 230 millimeters, this means a yearly raise of 3,2 millimeters. The most worrying fact of this, however, is not the increasing figure, but its forecast: The sea level is rising faster than 100 years ago and it will worsen in the near future (NASA). According to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate, the sea level will rise up to 60cm by 2100 (IPCC). It is mostly caused due to a thermal expansion of sea water when it warms. Then the ocean takes up more space. Secondly, there is additional water due to melting ice sheets. This procedure is negatively affected by freshwater from the surface, which supports the ice to slide fast. Furthermore, the ice loss from Greenland and West Antarctica are raising the ocean levels as well. All three factors are happening on the basis of global warming (NASA).
The rising water level has an impact on nature and the living environment of animals and humans. Firstly, it threatens numerous animal and plant species. In the north, polar bears are losing their habitat (for this paragraph: WWF). The ice is melting earlier each year and recedes later. It’s harder for them to hunt and the result is emaciated polar bears. They need to fasten longer and it’s harder to survive the summer. In the south, a similar situation occurs to the Adelié penguins, who are living in the Antarctic most of their time. Their main food source are krill. This crustacean breeds under the ice sheets. But since the ice sheets are melting, the food decreases. Moreover, snow leopards are losing their habitat slowly. Due to the continued warming their territory in the Himalaya will shrink. As the tree line will move higher not only the population of snow leopards, but also their prey will be affected.
Furthermore sea-level rise has a negative effect on the human settlement (for this paragraph: Nicholls, p.1518). The climate induced sea level rise has especially a tremendous impact on coastal zones. Coastal areas with a low height above the sea level, a dense population or low adaptive capacity are at highest risk. The coastal countries in South- and East Asia are severally threatened, as well as Africa due to a low level of development. However, the greatest danger of submergence is exposed to high island like the Caribbean, but especially to the small island in the Pacific and Indian Ocean. Low-lying island like the Maldives or Tuvalu could be complete flooded during the 21th century.
Turning back again to the installation by Pedro Marzorati, it appears that one of the figures are getting out of the water, watching us and then slowly disappear in the water again. Even if the sculptures can't move one can guess such a movement. Some of the figures seem hardly to breathe because their heads are already halfway under the water. This will also happen to people who are living in the Caribbean. The water makes them slowly to disappear.
But not only island are facing problems due to rise of sea levels. According to “Geochemistry & Other Planetary Perspectives," Bangladesh "is facing the problem of rising water, in consequence of extreme weather events, the rising water level and melting of the giant Himalayan ice rinks” (Biemann, p. 128). Especially the deltas has been deeply affected and the rising water level is affecting living conditions. The inhabitants need to rescue their community from drowning and to find a way to live on the water. They started protective measures by building mud embankments. This means manual labor of millions of inhabitants. But this collaborative spirit of working together shows a positive attitude towards our earth (Biemann, p. 129).
A different political economic attitude towards the earth can be identified in Canada. The Alberta Tar Sands is used to procure muddy and deeper layers of carbon resources, after the oil production has been peaked. To boil the black sediment they use water from the nearby Althabasca River. As a result, a toxic waste, a necessary by-product develops. As it disperse on its neighboring surroundings, it destroys the hunting territories and the living space of humans and animals (Biemann, p. 126). The Althabasca River is extremely important for the life of the inhabitants in North Alberta. But “in the last few years, due to massive industrial use, the water level of the river is sinking to the point where far away settlements can no longer be reached by boat” (Biemann, p. 127). But instead of improving the conditions and to make a significant contribution to the world we live in, Canada is recklessly unearthing fossil fuels (Biemann, p.129).
Global warming is expanding every year and causes raising water levels. It is no longer only an abstract concept, but already reality today. Coastal areas and especially low lying island are not only in the danger of being submerged, some are even endangered to disappear. The installation “Where the Tides Ebb and Flow” pointed out this problem. If we continue on this path, islands and even perhaps people will be submerged. Like the blue sculptures disappearing slowly into the water, the water will slowly flood coastal areas. Perhaps it will already be too late to act?
Biemann, Ursula. "Geochemistry and Other Planetary Perspectives."Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environment and Epistemologies (2015): 117-130.
Focus, Climate. "The Paris agreement summary." Client brief on the Paris Agreement 28 (2015). climatefocus.com/sites/default/files/20151228%20COP%2021%20briefing%20FIN.pdf
IPCC, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, S. Solomon et al., Eds. (Cambridge Univ. Press,Cambridge, 2007).
Nicholls, Robert J., and Anny Cazenave. "Sea-level rise and its impact on coastal zones." Science (2010): 1517-1520.
“Sea Level”. Global Climate Change, NASA, climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/sea-level/
“The Effect of Climate Change”. WWF, wwf.org.uk/effectsofclimatechange