On the State of the Planet

I have been creating art in nature for more than 20 years, both because of my love of great landscapes and from a desire to inspire people to protect the planet. For even longer, I have been attending environmental conferences, reading conservation reports, and supporting non-profit organizations who work to preserve the health of the planet. I have read and heard many great pioneers in their fields, and these designers, social activists, farmers, mycologists, oceanographers, and scientists are my biggest heroes. However, despite their intelligent, soulful, concerted efforts, things have been getting incrementally worse.

If you follow headline news it is hard to ignore the surge of deadly tornadoes, fires, floods, and soaring temperatures. These weather-related phenomena contribute to rising sea levels and acidification of our oceans. But they are only part of the issue, as it is even harder to ignore reports about the garbage patch twice the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean and the billons of micro-plastics outnumbering plankton in the water. Then there is the deforestation of the Amazon, expanding desertification, extreme overfishing, the extinction of innumerable species daily, and the rise of CO2 emissions resulting from our reliance on planes and automobiles.

Most of these problems are the product of vast overpopulation, as our planet was not intended to sustain so many of us at the current levels of consumption. Most large corporations are only concerned with profits, the afterlife of products is an afterthought, if even a consideration. Many world leaders and CEO’s of corporations who produce these products treat the planet as single-use, as if the depletion of natural resources and the ensuing effects of climate change did not affect them, their children, or grandchildren. Lastly, we are creating an unprecedented amount of trash and plastic waste that is meant to be recycled but for the most part ends up in landfills or oceans.

As for myself, I feel asphyxiated, desperate and angered by the way humans are recklessly using the planet as if it were disposable. And, as much as I try to be sustainable, I consider myself very much part of the problem. The recent protests spurred by young activists around the globe have produced a fantastic surge of energy in terms of raising awareness for the state of the environment. However, in my opinion, it might well be too late.

I recently began a series of “Burial Projects” because I believe that it might be time for humans to acknowledge that we have been mis-programmed, and that we might not deserve to be on this planet for much longer. The universe has several times produced epidemics or events intended to decimate us…it eventually might succeed, or we may do so at our own hands. In the meantime, I believe it is important to do the best we can in terms of at least trying to be sustainable, and then, when the end comes let’s exit in grace, knowing that we attempted our best.

My current project “Death by Plastic” is only one tenuous gesture toward drawing attention to the bigger issues. It might be hard to notice the disappearance of species unless you are a scientist studying them, or to ascertain the rising level of oceans unless you live on an island in the Pacific. You can observe a glacier melting only at high-altitudes, and the fact that sand is swallowing your home only if you live in a desert biome. The proliferation of plastic is perhaps the one issue that all of us face on a daily basis.

I write this from a spectacular site in Southern Colorado where four canyons converge. It feels as if the planet were pristine, unpopulated, and unpolluted. I am battling the mass of information in my brain telling me things are not as peaceful and pristine as they appear here where nature is seemingly untouched. I am trying to believe that enough of us are willing to shift our patterns of consumerism, but in the end, is that possible?

And if the future proves me wrong, all the better.

Anne-Katrin Spiess
October 2019