Justifying Bad Behaviour
From 25 September to 6 October 2008 I took part to an expedition to the Arctic of scientists and artists to raise awareness about climate change, organised by Cape Farewell, a London UK based organisation.
In the summer preceding the Cape Farewell voyage, I was questioning the meaning of our trip to the Arctic in relation to developing a cultural response to climate change, and my role of artist and engineer in this critical debate. I thus developed the idea of a project that would spark debate and highlight the controversies of our society: Justifying Bad Behaviour. I bought a cylinder of CO2 - one of those used in pubs to make fizzy drinks, and shipped it with a container full of scientific instruments to Greenland, to our boat.
29 September 2008
One morning I walked on the fresh snow with a gas cylinder in my arms, containing 6kg of CO2. I took it across a pristine ice field of the Jakobshavn fiord, home to one of Greenland’s largest and most active glaciers, losing 20 million tons of ice every day. I carried it until I found a wonderful place, overlooking a strip of dark frozen water in which majestic white icebergs were silently drifting out to the open sea. The sky was pale grey and cerulean with a yellow glow just behind the skyline, making the icebergs stand out in their spectacular ephemerality.
I though to myself: this is perfect!
I walked to the top of a small hill, I laid the cylinder down, got on my knees and opened the valve. The CO2 came out violently, freezing the air around the nozzle and producing an unpleasant whistle…
When I lowered the cylinder towards the ground, the snow blew off under the jet pressure, as if to symbolise the melting of the Arctic ice cap because of the direct effect of human greenhouse gas emissions.
When the cylinder was finally empty and I discharged its entire CO2 content, I reflected on my premeditated irresponsible act. It was actually not a harmful intervention at all. You see, I had previously offset the emissions generated by this CO2 release through an online Gold Standard Carbon Offsetting scheme.
This made my action Carbon Neutral.
This is great stuff… basically people can go about consciously polluting the world, wasting energy, abusing natural resources and generating large amounts of harmful emissions without feeling guilty at all. People, as well as organisations, can simply pay a small amount to compensate for their ‘bad’ behaviours and become Carbon Neutral!
Do they really think this is good?
Personally, I think this is lazy and inexcusable.
A lot has to be done before we can revert to Carbon Offsetting as an effective mechanism to reduce Carbon emissions in the fight against Climate Change. First significant changes in societal behaviour are necessary to reduce our environmental impact, encompassing the way we live, travel, eat, produce and consume.
The cost of Carbon offsetting is too low to drive change.
Urgent change is needed and must come from within us.
The performance was immediately published and discussed online around the world. I was astonished to see how the majority of the reactions to the piece on the press were centred around technicalities of the CO2 release, whether I shifted the CO2 simply from one place to another, about the carbon offsetting scheme chosen or the merits of Carbon Offsetting generally in tackling Climate Change.
Most of the discussions failed completely to address the fundamental moral issue of knowing that we are responsible for the severe changes of global climate, yet find excuses to justify our bad behaviour. This has confirmed to me that lots more has still to be done in raising awareness and collective sense of responsibility. Artists might play a critical role in steering the debate and provoking discussionon on the need of a global societal shift.
New Scientist - Environment, published 05 Dec 08
The New York Times Science Blogs, published 03 Oct 08
Royal Society of Arts, Arts and Ecology programme, published 30 Oct 08
treehugger.com, published 12 Feb 08
cape farewell, my blog, published 29 Sept 08
Herald Sun Australia, Andrew Bolt's column, published 07 Dec 08
Photographs credits: Nathan Gallagher and Francesca Galeazzi