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Authors for #ClimateVisionaries project

Lauren Groff on our Climate in Crisis

An Essay for the #ClimateVisionaries Artists' Project for Greenpeace

by Lauren Groff

Artists are the blazing moral voices of a society. If our artists are focused mainly on the urgencies of thirty years ago, they are abdicating their moral responsibilities. We have been abdicating our moral responsibilities.

Lauren Groff, Author and editor of our #ClimateVisionaries Project

Lauren Groff, Author and editor of our #ClimateVisionaries Project

The church of my youth was antique and stern, shot through with light from the great stained-glass windows, its long plaster columns splitting when it reached the vast ceiling into arched ribs. Sundays were days when you awoke underwater into slowness and grayness; sitting through service in this ribbed white church was being swallowed by a translucent albino whale. It was there that I ignored the men who preached on the pulpit and instead read the King James Bible, where I felt its music seep into my bones.

I have been haunted in my life by so much of that strange book, the Bible: the wives made into pillars of salt, the seraphim, the begetting and the begotten. I am haunted now by Genesis, the moment when God, having made the stuff of this planet — the firmament, the waters, the lights, the animals — breathes into his new creation, we poor humans molded of clay, and says:

Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

I am haunted by this passage; this passage has long been haunting our planet. Our disintegrating climate, our rising seas choked with plastic, our dying trees, our extinct animals, can all be directly traced to a profound and devastating misreading of it. For dominion, men these past few thousand years have not read good custodianship, caregiving, a maternal nursing of the gifts we have been given: they have read domination. The whelp of domination is that nasty biting creature, supremacy. Where supremacy exists, there is always suppression. Where suppression exists, there is destruction.

We are here at the apex of the result of all of this tragic and intentional misreading of Genesis: every day, the news brings to us ever grimmer statistics. Any rational person would be running around screaming with their heads on fire about what we are doing to this gorgeous planet that has given us life; that, in killing, will kill us, also. But we look at our neighbors, our friends, even our buddies who are scientists, and they all are living their lives in relative calm. They do their laundry, they walk their dogs, they go to the movies; some even read books. And because they are not panicking, we do not panic. It is so painful to think about the widescale and intensifying destruction of our planet, that, so many Bartlebys, we prefer not to. It is easier to turn our eyes away. Despair fills our limbs with lethargy. Instead of acting, we sing ourselves to sleep with screens.

Mea culpa; there are times I have also been part of this. To imagine the world my own children will inherit is so painful that if I don’t ignore it, I walk through the world as though flayed, nerves exposed, leaving footprints in blood.

Yet, at the same time, I have long been frustrated — I have found myself, frankly, furious — that even artists in our society have been complicit in this vast effort of averting our eyes, of pretending that nothing is happening. Even now, it is rare to find a book or a song or a film or a statue deeply engaged with the work of describing, tracing the evil taproots of, thinking about the most urgent catastrophe in human history, the thing that will affect every other urgency, from pandemics to starvation to tribalism to air and water rights. Instead, we are getting art that would have seemed essential thirty years ago.

Artists are the blazing moral voices of a society. If our artists are focused mainly on the urgencies of thirty years ago, they are abdicating their moral responsibilities. We have been abdicating our moral responsibilities.

We can no longer look away. Today is the first day of 2020, and this is the year that we must focus on climate change with steady hearts and calm understanding and enough courage to make real and lasting change.

We need to act. All of us collectively need to act; all of us individually need to act.

Yes, it is sometimes hard to know where to start. We say: to make art, to write an essay, to draw, to take a photograph, to engage in a real and thoughtful way with climate change is one way we can all move forward.

We have asked some of the brilliant writers, artists, and thinkers we know to engage with climate change in whatever way that they could manage to do so: we are so thrilled to show you what they have came up with. For the next few days, we will have posts from them. Please share the ones you love and respond to. Please make your own art, write your own essays, and share what you’ve created with us.

It’s a start. Let’s roll up our sleeves. Let’s get going.

As we begin this critical new year in the fight against climate change, Greenpeace is giving over space on our channels to authors and artists working within the climate crisis. Acclaimed author Lauren Groff prompted artists and thinkers to write essays and art about climate change for us, and so every day this month we’ll have a new piece from that project that addresses, in some form, what it means to create in the midst of this crisis. The forces fueling climate change have the most powerful networks in history pumping out their devastating propaganda at unimaginable scale. It’s going to take everything we have from all of us – imagination equal to the task – to create the climate we’ll need to stop the crisis. We need these voices and these visions, but they won’t be enough. We need you, too. We encourage you to check back on the Climate Visionaries Artists’ Project every day to see what’s new, and to join the conversation by sharing your work on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and tagging it #ClimateVisionaries.


Lauren Groff

By Lauren Groff

Lauren Groff is the author of five books. Her two most recent were finalists for the National Book Award, Fates and Furies, a novel, and Florida, a collection of short stories. She lives in Gainesville, FL, with her family.

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