People and planet combine for climate art show

Washington: Thousands of children in Mumbai will gather to form the shape of an elephant, throngs of Americans will stand in an empty riverbed in New Mexico and hundreds of Australians will hold flaming torches.

Such are the plans for a global performance art show beginning Saturday to decry humans` role in climate change by forming symbolic images that can be glimpsed, and photographed, from space.

Using human bodies as the main media, the show organized by US environmentalist Bill McKibben and his 350 Earth advocacy group runs November 20-27, just ahead of the start of UN climate talks in Cancun, Mexico.

"One of the things I hope this achieves is to remind people that we live on a planet. Just like Venus and Mars, we are a hunk of rock out in space and our future depends on, among other things, the gaseous composition of our atmosphere," McKibben said.

The name of the show, 350 Earth, points to the number of parts per million that most scientists agree is an acceptable upper level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Currently, that level is about 390 parts per million.

But McKibben said he was aware that technical terms can be weak when it comes to motivating people to change their behaviour.

"We realize that the human mind doesn`t only respond to bar graphs and pie charts, that art is an important part of how we take in the world and it can help us perceive things we wouldn`t otherwise perceive," he said.

"So it seemed important to get artists deeply involved, and it seemed important to do it on a planetary scale."

The ideas came mostly from local artists in various locations around the globe, McKibben said.

The plans for the US portions include a group of 1,000 people in Los Angeles who will form a giant "solar eagle" taking flight using solar photovoltaic film sheets.

One American artist will make a rooftop painting of the New York and New Jersey coastline after a seven-yard (meter) rise in sea level, and thousands of people in New Mexico plan to stand in a dried-up riverbed where the Santa Fe River should flow.

In Mumbai, schoolchildren will group together in the shape of an elephant, to represent the "elephant in the room" that is climate change, urging world leaders not to ignore it.

The Australian torch display will form the number "350," in a warning about the risk of more wildfires if global warming is not halted.

And in Iceland, artists plan to arrange red rescue tents in the form of a polar bear on the edge of a receding glacier.

Other mass art installations are planned in Egypt, Spain, China, with more locations and events yet to be announced, according to the organizers.

A Colorado-based company will take photographs of the art from above using a series of satellites.

World climate talks are scheduled to take place in the Mexican resort city of Cancun from November 29 to December 10, as part of the annual conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The UN forum has made dismal progress toward a global deal to reduce harmful emissions.

"I`m not very optimistic at all, frankly," McKibben said of the talks. "I think it is going to be a longer process than everyone has hoped.

"Our job is to organize a movement and that movement will take a while to win victories on a scale that we need to win in order to save the planet," he added.

Bureau Report

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