In part three of our special series, Fritz Haeg looks at environmental issues and the US presidency
Tomorrow morning, the United States will go to the polls to vote for their 44th president, choosing between the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and the Republican candidate Donald Trump. This election cycle has been more divisive and toxic than any other in living memory in the US; it has widened old conservative and liberal fault lines, and created new, even more dangerous ones with the potential to effect not just the US, but the whole world.
This entry, from Fritz Haeg, is one of a seven-part frieze.com series that has been published throughout October in anticipation of tomorrow's vote. The remaining entries, considering key issues such as education, gender, Brexit, race, paranoia and class, are available here.
Most of my work as an artist has been focused on ecology, the way that humans relate to plants, animals and their environment. This work has been partly symbolic, but mostly about modest, direct, visible action; what we can all do everyday, at home and on the streets. But the bigger picture of meaningful action on global climate change overwhelms me. Small bottom-up actions are hopeless without top-down policy, so this US presidential election is a decisive moment to confront it head on.
We have already begun to experience the effects of human-initiated climate change and rising sea-levels. A slow motion global environmental catastrophe is accelerating in countless forms, hour-by-hour, year-by-year, decade-by-decade. No big news. It’s founding father is the US, and the decisions in the coming years by the three branches of it’s federal government (executive, legislative, and judicial) will determine the quality of the air, water, dirt, food, climate and life we will be passing on to our descendants. The November vote will affect all three branches, so you would assume that this election might be particularly focused on this most fundamental topic. But anyone with the stomach to actually pay attention knows that it is rarely even mentioned.
Until recently, the election appeared to be a referendum on one man, who I’ll simply refer to as a deranged ‘climate denier’ demagogue, appealing to our most base, hateful, greedy and destructive impulses. (Conspiracy theories that his candidacy is not even real, that it is somehow engineered by his opponent who is actually rigged to win, are almost as dangerous as those who believe in what he says.) Lately the focus has devolved more specifically into a tawdry exposé of his (alleged!) escapades as a serial sexual predator. Many on the far left and right have dismissed this as a debauched side-show diversion from what’s really important. And yet to me it actually boils the issues down to their absolute essence. The sort of man who believes he has the right to do whatever he wants to any woman’s body, also believes he is entitled to take as much as he can get away with, trashing what he doesn’t need, leaving nothing but wasted remains in return. This is the central equation of human behaviour that has lead us down this path of environmental destruction. And this is the essential attitude driving a plundering patriarchy who have brought us to this precipice, on display for us all to inspect and consider. Progress in our environmental policy will be in direct proportion to it’s unraveling.
Turning our proverbial ship around while the patriarchy unravels should involve highly visible activists, innovators and scientists on the front lines, a robust trustworthy free press to broadcast their activity, and an educated citizenry demanding change, while also willing to trust, compromise, and work together at the grass roots. But none of this activity will count for much without bold nerdy policy-wonk politicians doing what needs to be done from the top, while being held accountable. This is starting to happen, but the unfortunate irony of our global condition is that it will often be those countries and communities who contributed least to the crisis who will be the first to fully experience the repercussions. And understandably, for the most vulnerable, with nothing to lose, a gradual evolution will be unacceptable. Violent revolutions, a dismantling of all systems, cries to burn it all down will be inevitable if change does not come fast enough.
It is my hope that on 8 November we Americans will not just defeat, but vanquish, a fascist dictator-in-waiting and the destructive and divisive attitudes he promotes. And then it’s back to streets, continuing to resist, fighting and working for meaningful change. Great though our constitution, bill of rights, melting pot, and dream of a ‘more perfect union' are, the office of the President of the United States is an inherently compromised and even corrupt position, leading a country that continues to inflict great violence while exploiting and degrading more than our share of the global environment. Yet from that office there is also the unique capacity to make powerful executive decisions in the next few years (including the likely nomination of almost half of the nine seats on the supreme court) that will affect the course of global climate change and the quality of life on this planet. It’s difficult to fathom how any single human could be worthy or capable of taking on such a challenging role today. But we do have Hillary Clinton, a highly intelligent, vastly experienced, steadily pragmatic, public servant, ready to serve.
A few days after the infamous Access Hollywood tape came out, there was a stark contrast as she gave a little noticed, but remarkable, lengthy and detailed speech about climate change while introducing Al Gore in Miami, where sea-level rise is already affecting daily life. Replanting native oyster beds! Turning landfills into solar farms! Porous pavement! 500 million solar panels! I know she was pandering to the millennials who will be inheriting this mess, but she was saying the right things and speaking my language. She had me at ‘rooftop gardens.’
A profound and intense personal hatred for Hillary agitates both extremes of the left and right, that can not be fully explained by all of her misdeeds, dealings, and flaws. There is overt and at times latent misogyny: ‘What is she hiding?!’ Of course, a woman in the White House is not the answer, but it is a start. She is not the immaculate, charismatic revolutionary of my dreams, but I do believe that Hillary is the relentless policy nerd willing and able to seriously take on the environment, and all the more when the people demand it.