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INTERVIEW: Ian Garrett Compares the Culture of COP 16 and 15

by , 08/06/11
filed under: Art, Interviews

ian garrett, cop16, cancun mexico, un climate change conference, sustainable design, green design, Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts, eco art, environmental art

INHABITAT: How do you see the role of art in climate change as having changed in the last year?

GARRETT: How? I’m not sure. A lot has shifted. We’ve seen a number of resources go away. Various blogs are no longer updated, the RSA Arts and Ecology project is over. But Cape Farewell grows and Tipping Point seems to be going strong. Arcola is building a whole new space. New educational programs are solidifying like at University of New Mexico. So it’s definitely changing, but not in one way or another. I know, with the CSPA, it’s feeling a bit lonelier, but I don’t know yet if this is due to the mainstreaming of the arts in the sustainability discussion, or the refocus on the worldwide economy, or something else, or all of these things. Priorities have shifted, not necessarily away from art in climate change, but not towards it either.

INHABITAT: How has the organization of the conference in Cancun affected the culture of the conference, in your opinion? Last year you said: “We all pain to hurt the planet, but we’re coming here to save it. Hopefully we’re the medicine that makes you sicker before you get better.”

GARRETT: Ugh. I think Cancun, as a city, from what I’ve seen when I detach from the conferences, works pretty well. Many buses of different types, taxis for more direct transportation. It’s not the most pedestrian friendly, but it’s manageable. But the conferences are a different story. I understand the plenaries themselves deserve some separation, but everything else is so inaccessible. There are the limited shuttles to the Cancunmesse, access is controlled to most of the content associated by putting it behind the security of the Cancunmesse. And there is the Villa del Cambio Climático, but it’s in a really in-between space: not as far as the Cacunmesse, but not close enough in to be immediate without the use of a car, or a taxi, or a collectivo (if you’re lucky) to get there. Even worse is the Kilmaforum10, which is only accessible by either taxi or their poorly organized shuttle. The “peoples climate movement” is out in the woods away from the people! For everything, there are events and forums in other towns without real shuttle service and the listings on the websites are minimal and non-descriptive. Most things you only have a title to go on.

At the most basic level, this conference is a bit of a farce, since the infrastructure to support it is perhaps the opposite of what you’d think would be an intentional sustainability! Putting it in Cancun was one thing — a coral reef and tropical wetland turned into a resort town is bad enough. But, then making it not work with the city and engage it as a community, even given that security will be second only to the TSA, makes it that much worse. They could have just skyped everyone in — everyone who doesn’t need to be in the plenaries watches from a screen anyway.

INHABITAT: Any other thoughts?

GARRETT: Well I’m looking forward to seeing what the talks actually come to this year. Not that I wasn’t last year, but it’s what I’ve got to look forward to instead of the reification of a movement or the coalescence of a worldwide desire, it is just about the talk this year. So I hope those go well (yes, I know there is a lot of talk of them not doing much). And I look forward to Durban, a place I’m completely unfamiliar with. Bringing the next two COPs to Africa and Asia — essentially engaging the developing world more directly — is exciting as well.

+ Cop16

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