28 May 2010


28 May 2010

Some days pass with hardly a thought of it. Other days are literally oppressed with the weight of the oil and gas pumping into the Gulf.

Our real Gulf crisis has begun. Perhaps it will be the first sea to die. Completely.

And the sight of the various guilty parties sputtering denials and accusations makes me think of teenagers caught red-handed at some obnoxious prank.

Hearing Tony Hayward (CEO of BP) say, "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume," makes one either apoplectic or catatonic (depends on the day). The insight here into total corporate control of the regulatory process and government is a discussion of its own.

Three things confound in this situation:

-Corporate arrogance, greed, and short-sightedness

-Our blundering non-understanding of the natural world, its complexities and frailties

-Public indifference

The first two are to be expected, but the indifference of the public is staggering. We have managed to totally divorce action and consequence in our minds. Every time we start a car, every plastic bottle we buy contributes to this disaster, but like true schizophrenics, we do not connect cause and effect. We wring our hands in concern about the oily birds and beaches, and then wash our hands with soap from a plastic pump dispenser.

We are the problem, not BP, not the US Government, not the MMS.

And of course, the long-term battle of hearts and minds has already been lost with BP’s clever application of vast quantities of dispersant and tight control of media coverage coming from the battlefield. Corexit broke up and sank the oil, so the impact on the Gulf Coast beaches will be a fraction of the reality. The undersea flora and fauna, however, will never recover. The Gulf, already severely wounded from the phosphates pouring down the Mississippi, is really a large bowl, with a circular current fed from the Atlantic. As those submerged oceans of oil swirl around and sweep past Florida, they will be caught up in the Gulf Stream, and ultimately be deposited in the Georges Bank, thus finishing the decimation of the world’s greatest food source.

But the public won’t see it, thanks to the dispersant and BP’s adroit image control, and this will drop off our radar like all the other clarion calls warning of the imminent collapse of the natural world that sustains us.

Drive on.

12 May 2010

Exposition at Spedition

12 May 2010

I knew Bremen as a town of beer. So, when asked to do an exhibit and symposium there, the answer could only be yes. Preparation for a large production in a foreign land is always stressful, and this one was par, but methodical and successful. Arrival to find the venue in some disarray from a previous production, but not worryingly so; and the combination of good preparation and a crack production team at the “Spedition” led to an under-budget, ahead-of-schedule event, thus allowing for final interviews, exhibit catalog production, etc.

Locomotive Turntable at Bremen Station

Spedition is an old industrial space, adjacent to the train station, which has attracted a variety of artists and crafts people, being home to exhibits, music, and theater productions and in this case, a symposium with students. The German alt culture has always been fascinating, and it’s not surprising that the society which produced Mozart, Durer, Marx, and Freud would produce some interesting unorthodoxes. Spedition is a wonderful fusion of these people, living and working in this large reused complex in the center of town, contiguous with the train station, that has become the edgy cultural space in Bremen.

Planning and preparation for this production have been proceeding for years, with Nicolai Burchartz of Koeln and Gregor Straube of Bremen doing the heavy lifting.

The mission was to put up a show of new work, all large murals, themed “What happens because of the things we buy.” The exciting new aspect of this exhibit was the inclusion of an interactive component that explains each mural with maps, satellite images, establishing shots, and information. These pictures can be seen on so many levels: aesthetic, documentary, political, that viewers demand explanation, and providing that information is a challenging enterprise. Working with several classes of German high school students would explore the cross-cultural impact of the images and the interactive program.

Gregor Straube, Senator Reinhard Loske, & JHF

The team at Spedition was relaxed, efficient, and thorough, so the exhibit went up like a balloon and looked fantastic, done in the unique “Spedition style.” The vernissage was quite the success in spite of the rain, boasting the senator of the environment, among many.

Talking to the students from the Wilhelm Wagenfeld School, and the other people passing through was the most rewarding part. The students were thoughtful, aware and curious, and gratifyingly intrigued with the interactive.

Environmental issues are making the world a frighteningly small place, and these teenagers would be the ones to bear the first major impacts. As estimates of the volume of oil spilled in the Gulf had grown too large for the brain to grasp, we discussed the root causes.

Middle Europe is colder than normal, and many Germans bemoaned the cold and rain. One wonders if the weather is the result of the volcano or other weather pattern alterations.

The Starbucks in DeGaulle Airport is surrounded with large backlit images, most of beautiful exotic animals, the others of beautiful exotic women in beautiful exotic vacation spots.

Meanwhile, the waste generated by just this one small franchise in one airport defies comprehension. The Starbucks in Köln/Bonn Airport at least offers the option of using china mugs, thus saving a good bit of paper cup waste…

Of course, the intrepid eco traveler never goes anywhere without his own air-tight mug that goes right in the bag. And who would throw away a good cup of java just for security, knowing the cost?

04 May 2010

Up the Lazy River

5 May 2010

The Ruhr River area is one of the oldest and most concentrated industrial areas of the world. It has been the hub of German industry, and the foundry of their might, both military and economic. Concurrently, it is one of the oldest toxic areas in the world, and the patient reader knows of this writer’s fascination with such things. Having photographed other environmental issues in Germany over the years, a compulsion to study the Ruhr became stronger with the passage of time, and so arrangements were made for the lovely German spring of this year. As most people might know, gambling on bluebird days in middle Germany is like betting on the good sense of the American voter, but one must have faith, and so I found myself at a small airfield on the border with Holland, shaking hands with a taciturn expat Brit pilot.

WDR, the Deutsche television station was interested in documenting the process, so as Mark and I chatted about the flight plan, Cordula and Jurgen attached cameras to the struts of the plane.
After many takes of "spontaneous" greetings between Mark and me, we finally took off for real and headed toward Duisburg, one of the most industrial German cities. The industry there seems like a vision from a world gone mad, and perhaps it is. Beauty and nightmare intersperse so fast one forgets the difference, and the smokestacks and heat from the industry make flying and photographing difficult. Mark and I had a fantastic communication, though, and rarely did I even need to give directions as we swooped around cooling towers in our search for pandora’s secrets. Germany is generally better about containing contamination than the USA, but some things cannot be occulted, and my old friend coal ash is one of those. Every coal-fired power plant produces quite a lot of it (about 325,000 tons a year in the USA, probably more in Germany as they burn a lot of brown coal and it is nasty stuff (see previous posts.) We found it in spades, and Mark did an excellent job putting me where I needed to be. Very interesting the absence of TSA obsession here; in the land of the free (note the sarcasm) the TSA, police, FBI, and various other enforcers of the regime are all over you if you look twice at a power plant (or even photograph a public building for that matter), whereas here, nothing is said.

Germany has opted out of the nuclear game (though that is being unfortunately reconsidered) and is heavily reliant on coal like the USA. Meanwhile, there are these powerful rivers taking energy down to the sea that could easily light all of the cities in the area. And of course the German energy giants are digging up the country, displacing thousands of citizens, razing towns, and releasing tons of carbon, all to power their digging machines and light the bulbs of middle Europe.

As I write, the USA EPA has just released revised "suggestions" about coal ash. In an unsurprising Orwellian development, this toxic waste of the coal combustion process will continue to be "beneficially reused" in sheetrock, fertilizer, paint, carpet, etc. The list of ways how this toxic waste finds its way into your life goes on. Did i forget to mention that it is laden with lead, mercury, uranium, arsenic, cadmium and more?
Can we get smart about this?