So much of the debate about the big issues of today stays in the stratospheric realm of experts, pundits and spokespersons—out of reach of those of many of us who live on Earth. Climate change, the decline in biodiversity, health care and our addiction to oil, for example, are often framed with somewhat abstract language and terminology. Statistics are bandied about, trends are tracked and graphed and opinions clutter it all just as it all begins to make sense. While these issues are global in scope, they affect all life on Earth and their impact can be felt at a personal level.
A global issue can speak to a local audience. The debate within the scientific community about climate change is over. The problem now is getting politicians and the public to accept this and realize what it means.
While in graduate school, I designed a “self-portrait” for an art installation to in an effort to better understand the scope of the problem. Brad Pitt is somewhat responsible for giving me the idea. In 2005, according to Harper’s Index, he paid to have 1,700 saplings planted in Bhutan to counteract his personal CO2 production. I wondered how much I was responsible for. Using an online carbon calculator, I found that my CO2 emissions for 2004 were about 22,630 pounds—quite a large number. The amount I produced in a single day was 62 pounds, a weight I can pick up and relate to. The only problem was I couldn’t see it. To make it visual, I filled balloons enough air to be equivalent in mass to my daily CO2 emissions. I needed 540 balloons.