Building the new economy, 16-17 August 2016, Sydney – and Janet Laurence’s Deep Breathing: Resuscitation for the Reef

I’m very excited to be giving a keynote speech on Tuesday 16 August at the conference ‘Building the new economy: activism, enterprise and social change’. The conference runs for two days in Sydney’s Glebe Town Hall and there’s an impressive lineup of speakers, including economist Richard Denniss, lawyer Dr Michelle Maloney (Australian Earth Laws Alliance), Dr Anne Poelina (Managing Director Majala Inc, Deputy Chair of the Northern Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance) and David Ritter (CEO Greenpeace Asia Pacific).

In the spirit of my last blog post, in my talk I’ll be imagining a new sort of economics: an economics that puts the earth and its living systems, including humans, first. This is part of my attempt to think, to feel, to imagine, an economics beyond the language of accounting and capital, remembering that the word ‘economics’, like ‘ecology’, derives from the Ancient Greek word for house, or household. Maybe I’ll invoke the Chooky Dancers. I hope to see you all there. The details are:

Building the new economy: activism, enterprise and social change
When: 9.00am-5.00pm, Tuesday 16 & Wednesday 17 August 2016
Where: Glebe Town Hall, 160 St John’s Road, Glebe

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In other news, it seems everything leads me back to the Reef. Last Thursday I was at the Australian Museum for the opening of artist Janet Laurence‘s extraordinary installation Deep Breathing (Resuscitation for the Reef), her response to the devastating impact of global warming on the Great Barrier Reef. This is the Australian premiere of an installation which was first shown (in an expanded version) in Paris last November for the 2015 Climate Change Conference. Laurence says of Deep Breathing: ‘The actuality of science is transformed through art into a metaphoric healing process for this marine environment.’

In a beautiful and moving opening speech, environmental historian Professor Iain McCalman reminded us that the Great Barrier Reef is a single organism, the only one that can be seen by astronauts from space. He spoke of our violently altered times, when humans have become forces of nature—rather than just forces tossed around by nature. We call these unprecedented times the Anthropocene.

McCalman said that Laurence asks us to ponder, to participate and to act. This artwork is four things: a laboratory for expert scientific analysis; a hospital; a hospice; and an alchemical lab. We’ve transmuted nature into something entirely different. The question is: do we like the result?

Laurence’s work shows specimens in extreme trauma. The Reef is visible and invisible, local and global. One of the most extraordinary threats humans have ever faced is to stop the Reef from being destroyed. It takes an instant for the Reef to bleach, and two or so weeks to die.

The questions its dying raises are too complex for us to deal with. Janet Laurence has materialised the symbiotic relationship between polyp and algae, which is like a solar panel building a fortress in the face of the extraordinary force of the Pacific Ocean. We have no idea why a temperature rise of a mere 1.5 degrees above normal generates a crisis in multicoloured coral which ends with the algae leaving the polyp and swimming away. Because of the rise in ocean acidity, some corals now appear deformed, they grow more slowly. What can we do about something like this?

Janet Laurence at the Australian Museum

Janet Laurence at the Australian Museum

Laurence said she put the corals around Lizard Island on homeopathic treatments. ‘I want the work to feel like a treasure. The Reef is being so abused and destroyed by our governments. In Paris they cared so much about the Reef, even the Minister of Environment wanted to talk about it. I wish we could generate that here. But I’d better not talk about it.’

That broke my heart. To hear an artist speak at the opening of an art work which weeps and bleeds over the heedless murder of one of the earth’s most beautiful living beings, and one of the most critically important systems for all life on earth—and then silence herself. But here, nevertheless, is what she said:

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This entry was posted in Economics, Other news and marginalia, poetry, The Earth and environmental activism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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