The Artist & The Scientist

Kim Anno & Christine Metzger

At the UN Climate Change summit in Durban, South Africa

I thought it might be instructive to attend the US pavilion’s dept of defense presentation to see what was said?
Anyway, the pentagon beamed a defense undersecretary’s report from washington, and dry and witty Rear Admiral David Titley gave the most comprehensive explanation about how climate change was effecting US defense and strategic allies defense. He spoke alot about the opening up of the northwest passage over the northpole and what this is going to mean to both Singapore and Iceland. He talked about how all the ships that would deluge this passage and how this would have a huge impact on trade. People seem to feel this is a side benefit of climate change, that trade will be good, however the environmental impact of ships deluging the area and the impact on the indigenous communities was not discussed. Trade always makes lots of people excited and happy, until the environmental impacts descend. It was very revealing however to see that these people were actually the progressive wing of the navy and the military, that Obama’s administration has had some effect on giving the green light to this wing of military thinking. The military also drives innovation in technology so i was not suprised to see its green engine up close. Of course there all kinds of complicated questions to keep asking.

Here are some photos of rear admiral titley, the Pacific island nations delegation reporting out, the minister of climate change issues in Mali

What this also means, is that 300,000 green jobs based in south africa will become actualized. This is big news. This also supports the railroad industry, because transport is by train and bus.
When one supports the transport industry this is infrastructure support which is huge.

South African government has announced today that all government purchases of vehicles, canned goods, power pylons, clothing textiles, footwear, and leather products, set top boxes. This will be the first wave of committments, and it is based on a large amount of research, this will be part of a bigger and broader effort for the nation, and only represents the first wave of procurements….This will require vendors to have competitive prices, and if we see this as the case, then they can undesignate those who are spiking prices, these will be normal returns, not abnormal payments from the state. The South Africans believe this will support manufacturing in South Africa, but also will be greener business. So the limiting of importing is the goal.

What does this mean for those of us living in California? What this means is that the government is setting an example to BUY LOCAL, SUPPORT RENEWABLE ENERGY IN ONE’S OWN COUNTRY. There will be a succession of countries to take these steps. energy efficiency is important, they delivered what they said they would deliver which this is the date, the date corresponding with the cop17 conference.
This is exciting news to see governments taking steps.

leadImage.jpgIf you are reading this from Durban, check out this in-process yarn-bombing!  You can even get paid to knit…


So sad to have missed this!

Some photographs of the exhibit hall where our side event was held…

I’ve made it home after ~32ish hours of travel (45 minute taxi to airport, 9 hours from Durban to Dubai, 3 hour layover, 16 hours from Dubai to Los Angeles, 3 hour layover, 50 minutes to San Francisco, 40 minutes on Bart, 10 minute taxi to home).  Kim remains in South Africa (lucky lady) so she will take over posting photographs and thoughts, and I will be attempting to keep up with news posts as the negotiations heat up.

Thank you for reading and for sharing this project! 


Kim lucked into finding a sweet and accommodating taxi-cab driver—he even accompanied her up four flights of stairs in a soccer emporium in her search for balls for her video project.  Sipho hasn’t minded dropping me off at the ICC and Kim off at the BAT Centre every morning, so I asked him if he would be willing to take me to Hillcrest, a town about 30km away from Durban, and where I could find Wool n Weave, one of the only yarn stores in the KwaZulu Natal province.  

It was completely worth the trip.  I had been in contact with the owner Liz and was excited to see the local yarns they stocked.  Liz quickly showed me around the shop, highlighting where I could find the locally grown, spun, and dyed yarns.  South Africa is the world’s largest producer of mohair (from the Angora goat).  The United States, mostly Texas, is the second largest.  

Angora goats produce only one coat unlike many fiber animals which often have coarse outer hair and finer undercoat.  This is photograph from Wikipedia:


I was able to find this information from a mohair farmer in Australia about the sustainability of mohair production:

"From a land care perspective mohair production is not only sustainable in its own right but may make a significant contribution to the sustainability of other farming enterprises. Trials conducted by the Department of soil and water conservation have shown that goats are the preferred species to use in fragile landscapes. I have personally used angoras to control briar, blackberry, variegated thistle, lantana, and a range of woody weeds and timber regrowth. It has been my experience that where goats are not overstocked and pasture is allowed to regenerate at strategic times, considerable improvement in pasture composition and production may be obtained. I have found a mixture of angoras and cattle to work very wel,l with each species complementing the other in grazing preferences, while at the same time giving a degree of internal parasite control."#mce_temp_url#

Wool n Weave stocks mainly acrylic, cotton, and mohair yarn.  It is summer in South Africa so understandably they don’t carry much wool and warmer fibers like alpaca, cashmere, or silk.  Also, knitting is still very much in the realm of grannies in South Africa, although the ladies at the shop tell me it is undergoing a renaissance here.  (In the US this happened about ten years ago.)  

After making several yarn piles of various colors, weights, and fibers, I chatted with Liz about knitting, Durban, and the climate conference.  It turns out she used to be a computer scientist, and her husband is a geologist (like me!).  When she retired, she decided that she would fulfill her lifetime goal of buying a wool shop.  (In commonwealth countries, all yarn is invariably referred to as “wool” regardless of fiber type.)  We talked about how climate change both affects and will be dealt with by the people, not the governments.  She told me about a solar field project that her daughter is involved in.  Typical mechanized solar arrays in South Africa are problematic because the electrical bits and bobs wear out very quickly in the heat and humidity and the arrays are very expensive.  (The arrays need to be able to change orientation to track the sun.) This new project is replacing the electronics with manual parts that have to be set and moved by people.  Liz explained that this is doubly beneficial: no electronics to break down, and much needed jobs are created.   I find it interesting that many of the solutions to address climate change are lo-fi and human-powered technology!  Liz also said that she had recently heard someone say that “There’s nothing wrong with South Africa that can’t be fixed by what’s right with South Africa.”  I have seen great examples of this many times at this conference.    

There is also something wonderful about being part of a global community of hand-crafters—being a knitter has brought a lot of joy and kinship into my life.  

Sadly I couldn’t laze away the day there because I had to get back to the conference for my last day at the CCA booth.  I finalized my purchase (my first four-figure yarn purchase but it was in rands so not quite as heart-attack inducing!) and Liz gave me a stack of local knitting magazines to take home with me.  She made me promise to come back, and I told her, truthfully, that I am already looking forward to coming back to Durban and South Africa.  This trip has been far too short, yet so full and busy!

We were meant to be sharing a booth with a group called Beyond War, but they didn’t end up coming to the meeting.  They sent someone with a group called the Rights of Nature—we don’t know too much about that either since we only saw her the first day.

Your hostess with the mostest, showing a slideshow about sustainable fashion at CCA:

WaterWorks mini-exhibit:

A wealth of CCA-related information:

Showcasing the work of Kim Anno and Lauren Elder, both CCA faculty:

Kim and I having a hard-earned glass of wine outside after a long day:

I was interviewed a few days ago by Climate Change TV.  I totally sound like I know what I’m talking about!  

UNFCCC COP17 Side Event

Kim Anno will be showing her short experimental film, “Men and Women in Water Cities.” In Durban, Kim has been working with young adults from local townships for this ongoing work.

Friday, 9 December 2011


Blyde River

A description from the recent exhibition at Flux 2011 in Atlanta:

This two-channel video projection addresses post sea level rise society and mankind’s attempt to adapt to a watery world in port cities. Filmed in northern and southern California, the work is influenced by Robert Long’s Men in Cities painting series, and it features people going about common activities amidst the difficulties of a rising ocean. This piece is also meant to call attention to the issues in climate change that will become irrevocable. The work also includes ambient sound, narration by Rachel Carson from her book The Sea Around Us, 1951, and slide guitar is by Anne Seeman of San Francisco. This is an on-going work.”

Today in the booth I am showing the trailer for the film Chalo, made about current and former CCA students working at the Pratibha Syntex knit manufacturing plant in India. 

Two delegates from Mauritania and Benin stopped by and questioned what the connection between an arts college and climate change was.  It has been a common question, although some visitors “get it” right away.  The Pratibha Syntex project illustrates this connection in clear, moving way. While Pratibha Syntex is one of India’s leading socially and environmentally responsible garment manufacturers, wastes from cuttings, rejects, and ends of runs currently run at 30%.  These students (Annie McCourt and Lauren Biggs) and alumna (Karina Michel, now the creative director of PS) talk about the challenges and benefits in designing ecologically conscious clothes.  Annie and Lauren, both wonderful, talented women who I have had the opportunity to work with and teach, spent five weeks living and working in the factory, designing clothing out of post-industrial waste.  By using wastes that would end up in a landfill or burned, fashion designers can have a direct impact on reducing industrial contributions to climate change.

In the booth, we also have a poster of a piece that Karina made while a student at CCA.  It has gathered lots of attention, and will be the cover photograph of Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose’s upcoming book, Fashion and Sustainability: Design for change.  (Lynda is a faculty member in Fashion at CCA.)

Fashion Sustainability cover-1.jpg

An undercurrent to the side events at COP17 seems to be the sense that relying on top-down science/policy dissemination isn’t going to translate into real implementation.  Rather adaptation to climate change will occur from the bottom-up, from the level of the people.  In several talks, I have heard about re-thinking the “lens” we envision implementation of change occurring through.  Art and design are one of many possible lenses or filters for making science and policy real and actionable.  

There is something that has been made abundantly clear to me in our short time here so far:

In our government’s waffling on whether climate change is real or not and on how much we should or should not do, the US has been left behind. While the US has been navel-gazing and excuse-making, the rest of the world has gotten down to business.  In two days, I have learned about many amazing projects: Bottom-up community workshops aimed at helping African rooibos tea growers weather climate change. The complete re-envisioning of Cape Town as a sustainable city, with conscious design and useful features.  Honeybush tea farmers adapting to cycles of drought and flood.  Researchers in Madagascar tracking lemur populations wiped out by cyclones and, ten years later, still diminished.  I even spoke with representatives from a town in Taiwan whose posters featuring a kawaii cartoon of their lady mayor riding a bicycle.  (I said, “I love that cartoon!”  And they said, “That’s our mayor!” and showed me a picture of this 60ish Taiwanese lady rocking a cruiser.  Ladycrush! They gave a me an awesome grocery bag, some literature, and a cell phone charm in the shape of Taiwan!)

Africa (and elsewhere), I’m sure, would love the opportunity to pretend climate change isn’t happening.  But they can’t.  Future climate change is a misnomer.  It’s already happening, and real people are having to enact real changes to address vulnerability in the hopes of adapting and responding to climate change.  Real people—many of them poor or living in marginal environments—whose lives and livelihoods depend on their ability to adapt are making these changes, and yet our government continues to wring its hands.

When the youth activists at the Climate Action Network International awarded the US a second-place “Fossil of the Day” yesterday, I felt ashamed that we are represented by such a wishy-washy politico (Jonathan Pershing) who equivocates to blur the real issues.  (Canada “won” first place—surely a coup to be more scorned than the US.)  ”Fossil of the day, fossil of the day,” they sang, “All the blame, all the shame!” (Their logo is the T. rex head from Jurassic Park, by the way.)  Why did we get this dubious honor?

A little background: The Kyoto protocol regulates only 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.  The US and China, among others, are not part of that 15%.  Canada, Japan, and Russia are threatening to pull out of Kyoto, which would leave only the European Union and only regulate 11% of the GHG emissions.  Kyoto, if it had any legs, is far diminished from its original inception. 

When asked about this potential breakdown in the meeting (on DAY TWO of a meeting that is two weeks long), Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing said,  “The US is not party to the Kyoto Protocol so we will not weigh in on the debate.” That, sir, is what I call missing the point. The US has a population of 300 million people and contributes more greenhouse gases per capita than any other country [except for Australia, I learned today, 2 Dec], but let’s use a legalistic loophole to say, “Nope, not our problem!”  Then Pershing finished with a classic: “we want to know more about such an agreement [a legally binding climate regulation] before we commit.” The US insists that it is a world leader in everything (USA! USA!) and yet on this most pressing of global issues, the US doesn’t think they should get involved and wants to wait for more information.  The amount of data and information available in support of climate change is so overwhelming that I can only see it as willful ignorance to continue to bleat for more. 

The rest of the world has been watching us, to see what we would do.  I suspect that the rest of the world is about to get on with what they are doing because there is real work to be done, and the US will not be providing leadership there.  The US will kindle no revolution here, which is devastatingly sad and yet completely predictable.  On one hand, I despair.  On the other (much freakishly larger) hand, I am so buoyed by all the good, hard work that is being done, in many communities, for more or less money, on big and small scales.  

Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing, you may have a fancy title, but you are doing us a disgraceful disservice. 


[This post is of course the opinion of me, Christine Metzger, and should in no way be construed as the opinion of anyone else or CCA.  Except for maybe my cat—I get all my best advice from her.  And Kim says, Ditto times a hundred.]