For our second assignment I picked Topic 4: “How do we shape the natural world?” After skimming the other topics and their corresponding chapters, this one stuck out to me the most. Namely, the impact we as humans have on the environment. In chapter 6 “The Changing World” from the book How to See the World Nicholas Mirzoeff discusses climate change and the impact that it is currently having on our world and as well as its future impacts.
Mirzoeff talks about one way in how we try and show the visible changes that climate change is having on the Earth is through the use of comparative formats such as time-lapse photography (215). This type of photography for example shows how rapidly the glaciers and ice are disappearing due to the warming of the Earth. Later in the chapter Mirzoeff shows how we as a whole have let ourselves be anesthetized to the effects of climate change and have accepted them as normal. For example, George Wesley Bellows painting Forty-Two Kids (1907) shows a group of naked children getting ready to swim into the black water of the East River in New York. At the time of this paint the bodily waste of 6 million people living around New York Harbor was being piped straight into the water. Mirzoeff proposes that “the desire to live in the modern city was so great that it anesthetized the sense, or at least allowed people to disregard what they saw and smelled in the water” (234). The idea of our society being anesthetized to climate change never really occurred to me prior to reading this chapter, but now reflecting on our world I can see how it is a reoccurring theme.
One of the additional resources I chose was the video of a workshop led by Nicholas Mirzoeff: “How to See Climate Change.” I thought it would be interesting to see how he relates what he writes in his book to what he discusses in person. In his lecture, Mirzoeff brings up the idea of the visual commons and how it is a commons because nobody owns it, it is a common sensation or view. Visual commons is not abstract; it requires you to be there (perezartmuseum). Because of this visual commons we all have a mental picture of what Earth looks like from outer space. Mirzoeff is referring to the “Blue Marble” photograph of Earth that he also talks about in the first chapter of How to See the World. This is the most downloaded and reproduced photograph of all time. Mirzoeff refers again to anesthesia and how it was done with the black water in New York as well as the smog in London. People just accepted the change in the physical environment and expected it to be that way. I believe that we as a society will most likely always be anesthetized to the changing climate and the repercussions that brings because we want to be blind to the fact that it is all of our faults.
I also viewed the video by CEPImperial: “Climate Change in the Anthropocene.” Anthropocene is a word that I heard throughout Mirzoeff’s lecture but wasn’t able to grasp a concrete definition of until watching this video. Anthropocene is the new geological epoch that we have entered, one that is dominated by humanity (cepimperial). Similar to the idea of our society being anesthetized it is discussed that we now have a “new normal.” How the current dramatic weather events such as storms, droughts, and fires, all due to climate change are considered normal. I know personally that I don’t question when there is an earthquake or tsunami, I just assume these are part of Earth’s natural process. However, we are in fact altering Earth’s natural cycles so much that we have made a whole in the ozone layer. A solution given is that we all need to bear in mind both the current and future impacts of climate change.
I am looking forward to delving deeper into this topic and doing some outside research of my own as to how climate change is currently affecting Earth, how it will affect Earth in the future, and what we can actively do to save our planet.
Mirzoeff, Nicholas. How to see the world. Great Britain: Pelican, 2015. Print.
Perez Art Museum Miami, FL. “Workshop Led by Nicholas Mirzoeff: “How to See Climate Change”.” YouTube. YouTube, 21 July 2015. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.
CEPImperial. “Climate Change in the Anthropocene.” YouTube. YouTube, 22 Dec. 2013. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.