Nature's Balance, Man's Imbalance
Story and Art by Marnie Sinclair
The earth is warmer now 1 degree fahrenheit and in the last century there are more greenhouse gases,
CO2 and other, in our atmosphere than at any time in the past 650,000 years. Before the industrial revolution in the 1700’s, there was a natural balance of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere that was absolutely necessary for keeping the surface of the earth warm enough for habitation of all its species. Now with the excess burning of fossil fuels, CO2 put into the atmosphere is up 31% over pre-industrial levels. With this increase of CO2 the earth’s temperature will continue to rise, creating extreme weather patterns and catastrophic natural occurrences like fire, drought, and flooding. Climate Change depicts the greenhouse gases heating up the atmosphere: that added temperature heats the oceans, causing water to evaporate and rise as vapor into the atmosphere where it is moved by the Gulf Stream and other air masses around the planet. What goes up must come down: depending on the time of year, the vapors convert back to either rain or snow and fall in great quantities to the earth."
Getting down on all fours and crawling around observing nature has always been a curious drive for me. As a small child I have vivid memories of studying butterflies and ants as they went about their daily business of gathering sustenance. Being raised in the tropics was a perfect setting for observing the magic and mystery ever present in the lush Cuban landscape. I had the opportunity to raise all kinds of domestic animals, which I loved, and to closely observe the wild ones, like the scary hairy tarantula, who would crawl underfoot after a heavy rain storm. Following our flashlights, we could find a giant witch’s moth splayed on our exterior cement wall. I was very lucky to be stimulated, challenged, and inspired by my surroundings. Life in the rural countryside was full of adventure and never dull. Our place in the whole complex web of life was reinforced for me daily as I realized early on that we are just one of the myriad pieces that make up the whole earthly balance that is so essential to us all.
About the same time in another part of the world I had the great good fortune to be taught how to draw by the mother of a childhood friend. Not surprisingly, my first memory is of drawing a horse, which was quickly followed by all kinds of other creatures in nature. Being able to train my eyes to see and, by extension, interpret artistically what I was observing in nature, established a lifelong love of art and my commitment in one form or another to being an artist.
In 2010 I joined 11 other artists in the Boston area. We called ourselves “The Time Project” and would meet monthly to show each other our creations, give each other critiques, and provide support for the experimental art that we had all chosen to undertake. The idea was to create one piece of art a week for 52 weeks using materials we had never used before. What I experienced was a happy, exciting liberation away from making my commercial creations to making art without an agenda and for the sheer love of the process. What also happened was that I had the amazing experience of being in the flow for an entire year. This meant going about daily living while at the same time designing, in my head with the presence of the muse, the multiple pieces that were then created at the end of each week. We are still meeting 5 years later and my respect and love for my fellow artists continues to grow as we all push our artistic comfort zones in the name of experimentation. The first year of my commitment to doing one piece a week necessitated using easily accessible materials and a subject matter that was plentiful and interesting. I chose driftwood because I lived on Martha’s Vineyard and walked the beaches daily, electric wire because I was married to an electrician, and theater gels because my son-in-law was a lighting designer. My subject was the state of our environment with a special emphasis on Climate Change which was particularly compelling because it is so multi- layered. I decided to accompany each piece with a written story in an attempt to inform the viewer about the many dangerous aspects of this complicated story, while at the same time, luring them into a safe place through the aesthetic interest found within each piece.
"Excess Carbon Dioxide generated by man is now taking its toll on
the land and the sea. CO2 makes up 60% of all greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, being released from coal, gas and oil, a by-product of the fossil fuel industry. The darker shade of blue in the circle of this sculpture represents the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. A wire impression of a power plant is shown below releasing dark gray emissions of CO2 gases"
The following year we decided that the pace of one piece a week was too much and we would slow down the process to one a month. With that in mind I continued my idea of story and piece but this time I made them bigger and more complicated with a broader view of the imbalance created by man through poaching, pollution, loss of habitat, and general environmental degradation. These 12 sculptures accompanied a shorter series of 4X4 foot pastels of endangered species that I had done years before, but sadly were still relevant.
"Perhaps one of the most magical events in nature is the metamorphosis from a caterpillar to butterfly. The Monarch butterfly is even more amazing since, unlike other butterflies that only live a few days, this species annually migrates from Northern America thousands of miles south to Mexico or southern California. Miraculously, though it takes 4 generations, the genetically coded offspring eventually return within one year to the original location where it’s great- great- great grandparent was born! Slowly but surely our encroachment on their habitat has taken its toll on their survival. The added heat generated by climate change also weakens these tiny creatures threatening their chances to reach their northern home. In 2014 only 57 million Monarch’s made it back to their winter home in Mexico, a huge decrease from the billion counted just a few years ago."
As I looked back on the year I realized that I needed to get my work out beyond friends and into an occasional art show. After all I was feeling an urgency for the future of our planet. The more I learned about man’s influence on Nature’s natural balance the more horrified I was becoming.
"The oceans naturally absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. Unfortunately, recently the chemical imbalance has become more acidic as the saturation of carbon has increased. The effect is weakening and in fact will destroy the shells of shellfish. Another consequence of too much CO2 in our oceans is that it is killing the coral reefs around the world. The reefs are the safe haven habitat for tiny fin and shellfish. They also add protection to the land from the onslaught of the powerful sea. The three Krill with their shells in various stages of deterioration, found in this sculpture, are the bottom of the food chain. They are surrounded by screen sheets of CO2."
Around that time I joined the 350.org movement founded up Bill McKibben, an environmental writer and activist. He had presented himself through his books and talks as a humble man determined to wake up the populous to the consequences of excess carbon in our atmosphere. Around the same time I had the good fortune to hear a lecture by a very prominent and influential scientist, George Woodwell who had founded the Woods Hole Research Center to study the effects of climate change on our oceans. His curiosity was well founded following his many years as the chief scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Jerry Sullivan, a physicist from NOAA, was the third expert on Climate Change that influenced my life at that time. I met him on several visits to the Washington DC area and found that his work involved the satellite study of global temperature increases that take place within the 30,000 ft. layer of our atmosphere. His instruments did not measure the climate increase proportionate to what was being read on the earth’s surface and therefore he had doubts that the earth had in fact increased its temperature by one percent. In frustration he recalibrated the instruments on board the satellite, which then confirmed the increased temperature on the earth’s surface. He then was able to say with certainty that our planet was indeed getting hotter. I was upset to have this fact confirmed.
After becoming involved with these three experts I decided to pursue them in hopes of getting them to weave the climate change story for a video that I would make. I wanted to use my art to illustrate the many facets of this complicated story. All three were willing to do this and my recordings later became my climate change video, ‘Nature’s Spin through Art,’
Since completing the video in 2013 three things have happened. I now live in Maine instead of Martha’s Vineyard, my name has changed from Stanton to Sinclair, but most importantly, the CO2 in the atmosphere which was 390 parts per million, when I started this film in 2011, has now crossed the threshold to just over 400 ppm. This is an increase not seen for over 800,000 years!
Ironically, also in 2013, I was solicited by Al Gore’s group to become a climate change speaker. I flew to Chicago to meet the 1500 other volunteers, from all over the planet, who had come to participate in the training. I found the workshop difficult as the facts were overwhelmingly negative. I also found our future, without positive action, bleak. I couldn’t do the suggested talk as it was too depressing. I realized the best way for me to be involved would be to actually use my art to safely get the word out. I returned to my new home in Maine where I put together a group of environmental work, built a traveling display, and included my movie as part of the presentation. * I was able to speak at several venues. My idea of showing our impact on Nature’s creatures, rather than man, seemed to resonate with the audience.
"This 4X4 foot pastel of a Macaw eye tells the story of the burning rainforest in the jungles of South America. Development and farming are decimating the habitats of so many of the wild creatures from this area."
Still there was something missing. What I realized is the need to show how incredible Nature’s balance and harmony is without our interference. I began studying the plant world with the idea of looking for ways that plants communicate with each other. What I uncovered was fascinating. Scientists are only recently coming to understand the sophisticated communication and adaptation that is present in the plant world. Through my research I’ve discovered some amazing stories of how plants attract pollinators, fend off predators, warn same species of invasions, and recognize kin. The symbiotic relationship that plants have with their pollinators, and predators alike, is truly amazing! This has opened up a whole new world of exploration for me. A third body of work is now growing which includes my artistic interpretation of some of these magical plant stories.
"The Acacia tree is a drought resistant tree that is often the last source of food for the Kudu antelope herbivore, in Africa. When the herd flocks to these trees and begins to decimate the tree’s leaves, the Acacia have developed an amazing ability to protect its self. First they warn the other surrounding acacia trees through a pheromone gas, about the threat that is present, then they all increase their tannin production which already exists in moderate amounts within each tree. The tannin substance can be toxic if too much of it is ingested through the leaves. The end result of this increase in tannin is the culling of the Kudu herd to a manageable size which is proportionate to the amount of food that is available on the trees thus restored the natural balance that ensures the survival of the remaining Kudu herd and their all-important food source, the Acacia."
Nature’s perfect balance is far more compelling than man’s fractured attempt to control our environment. What continues to be affirmed is that we are not above nor apart from nature but instead, an integral part of this magical earthly puzzle. Her many voices demand our understanding, respect, and protection. The big question is, ‘Are we awake enough to hear her?’
"The Wild Tobacco plant only germinates after a fire, and can wait for hundreds of years
for that to happen. When it finally starts to grow the predators that it encounters are unfamiliar. In order to rid itself of the insects, it sends out nicotine through its leaves. This toxic substance kills all the insects except for the Horn Worm caterpillar that is immune. The Hawk moth from this caterpillar is the plant’s nocturnal pollinator. If there are too many eggs and larvae that hatch out and the plant’s survival is threatened then it produces a tri-cone sweet nectar that the baby caterpillars can’t resist. Unfortunately for them the nectar gives them a bad body odor. Their bad odor attracts the Big Eyed bug that flocks to the plant to eat them. If balance to the plant is still not restored, the plant will send out a pheromone, or volatile gas that attracts a ground foraging lizard whose diet includes the mature caterpillars. Amazingly, if all of the above still doesn’t restore the natural balance to the tobacco plant then it will change from a nocturnal plant to a daytime plant that has a completely different structure to its flowers as well as a change to its sugar content, making it compatible to the hummingbird as its new date time pollinator. This amazing transformation from a nocturnal to a daytime plant happens in just 8 days."
Artist/activist, Marnie Sinclair turns her distress over climate change into art that inspires and instructs. Watch her film ‘Nature’s Spin through Art,’ at www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cin1ptKguA&feature=youtu.be