Above, a satellite image of glacial recession in the Ilulissat Icefjord
In the center of Cancun, amidst circus shows, live bands and baby rent-a-cars, there's an installation of powerful photos. They're satellite images of the ravages of climate change, documented by UNESCO. In them, Venice is flooding. Glaciers are dissolving. Water levels and temperatures are rising. Right there, in your face, a reminder of our fragile planet and the discussions attempting to preserve it. They are not what you would expect to see while eating your cotton candy, but fascinating nonetheless. Read on to learn more about this urgent installation.
Each panel is free-standing, with images on either side, and text in English, Spanish and French. They’re arranged in a semi-circle around a central square downtown. Rather than disrupting the space, they act as dual-purpose fencing. Between the circus performers and the live band. Between the kiddie cars and the souvenir stands. Framed in dark black, the panels document loss of permafrost in the mountains of Altai, coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, and hurricane threats in Cancun, among other steadily-eroded places. UNESCO touts the use of satellite imagery as a way of documenting World Heritage Sites, a major focus of the organization. Now it seems the World has become a . . . World Heritage Site. In the middle of cotton candy and toy cars.
Cancun is full of cultural contradictions. The major climate change conference that it is hosting is way outside of town, causing, ironically, giant traffic jams. Central Cancun, with its narrow streets and crumbling sidewalks, is a stark contrast to the polished Hotel Zone, which has itself undergone extensive beach restoration following the hurricane damage documented by the photos. It’s fascinating to watch people look up from their cell phones at the changes happening on our planet. Maybe soon this kind of contrast will be less jarring.
Images © UNESCO