I would not call myself an environmentalist. I do have a combined 10 years in different universities specializing in visual arts, architecture, and philosophy, but I have no background in the green movement, and no education that would qualify me to design an artwork specifically about climate change. I think of myself as average, in relation to my understanding of these issues. That is why, when met with the task of designing a large-scale artwork on climate change and the arctic nature for the Ranua Wildlife Park in Finnish Lapland, I spent the next six months studying the effects of climate change to arctic areas, and, specifically, what might be my role as a typical citizen of the 21st century, in helping turn things for the better.
Firstly, let me tell you it is not fun to read, in close detail, about these things. Avoid it if you can and just take it from me: The science is clear. If we don’t change the way we consume this planet, it won’t be here for long – not as we have been used to having it, anyways. Still, it was clear for me from the start, that I don’t want to build an artwork that spreads despair.[i] For as clear as the science is on the effects of climate change in case we don’t do anything to stop it, the ways in which we can affect it, are, for the most part, widely agreed upon too. Now all it lacks in many ways is the action, us choosing to make the changes we need to make to have a positive effect.
It is so so so SO easy to think, “Well, my actions are just a tiny drop in the ocean, it’s not going to have an effect in the bigger scheme of things.” In a way, that is true. Now, one of the best ways of thinking about this paradox I got from my sister: “Do you vote in elections?” (She is a lawyer specialized on environmental issues, and also the person responsible for lifting me up from near despair as I was deep in study related to these questions.) Well, sure, I vote. “Why? You only have one vote, it won’t matter.” Touché. There’s no point in voting, and I still do it, why? To be honest, I vote because of a feeling of integrity I get from it. It’s like saying “This is what I think, and I’m just going to do my part and say my truth, even if it doesn’t matter.” It is a conscious choice, against the odds.
This line of thought around choice came to be the guiding light of this work. I choose to believe that my actions matter to the next generation, and I choose to care about their wellbeing, even if I don’t know them. I choose to recycle or buy green electricity, not because I think this alone will change anything, but because I feel like it is the decent thing to do. I choose to do my small part like I choose to be kind to people I don’t like. Because I think that in tiny ways, the whole world will be a better place for it.
And I fail. I fly from place to place, I buy things I don’t need, and fail to check the background of the companies whose products I buy, ending up supporting destructive policies. And I feel guilt for it, as we Finns are prone to do. Still, saying “Ok, I can’t live up to these standards of green living, I’m just going to forget about it”, is not something I want to do either.
It’s not black and white, it’s not either or. It’s not about being an environmentalist, or quilting people who don’t see themselves that way. Instead, for me, it is a practice. A practice in seeing myself trough my actions as part of humanity, of this generation and the next. A practice in belonging in this world and caring about it, in a wider sense. A practice in taking responsibility, where and when I can, with the knowledge and options I have.
Failing. And trying again, because I choose to.
[i] Which works best, climate hope or climate fear - an interesting article on communicating climate issues: