Less oil, more courage: Energy and Art

Hard to admit, but I'm not all fun-facts all the time. Sometimes I even pay attention to things that aren't energy related. So, rather engineering geek-speak that dominates the energy efficiency professional’s lexicon, today’s post is about “energy art” as a counterbalance to the usual “art of energy” commentary. This is a subject I've been following for many years and it's inspiring to see what artists can do with solar panels, radiators, and flame.
 
Today, I'm particularly intrigued with a story of how the turn of a phrase can mean one thing to one artist, and inspire another to flip the words around and send a message to the world. Oil paint on a brush makes art. A good artist uses just the right measure of oil on the canvas. A good writer needs few words to convey the message. A good car needs less gas. A good building in Vermont needs little heating energy.
 
As inspiration for his 2007 art opening, Thai artist RirkritTiravanija mentions an invitation to an exhibit from another artist named Peter Cain. Cain's message to himself was “More Courage, Less Oil”. Tiravanija says of this “Taken in context, that message was clearly a note to himself about the dilemma of being a painter and the moral choices one faces in executing a painting.”

Tiravanija then turned the phrase around to create his own message: “Less Oil, More Courage.” He comments: “Today, in the present context, we face a different dilemma altogether. The question of courage and the thoughts facing our present condition come ironically from the turn of Peter Cain’s inspired message. Less oil more courage asks us to face our own desires in the making, and to confront and question them, even as we try to achieve them. How do we, as a society and a community, face our weakness with courage and find the place in our consciousness to redirect the course and path we have been traveling? We will travel to our moral end, but while we are on this road, perhaps a small detour off course can bring us closer, to face the facts and be inspired enough to change.”

It's been a few years since we've had a real winter, and we’re all enjoying a well-deserved respite from loading the wood stove or filling the oil tank. Don’t put off preparing for next winter for too long, though. The end of this past heating season was punctuated with a milestone for the world as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels crossed the 400 ppm threshold - the highest level in human history.
Don’t just take the message from me or the climate and energy activists, take it from science, take it from art, but take it to heart. There is only one Earth and the balance of life as we know it depends on keeping atmospheric CO2 levels fairly low. Lower than it is today. We are rapidly and uncomfortably approaching our “moral end”, but only if you think of it that way – otherwise it’s just “the end” and we let it happen.
My own “moral end” seems to be a moving target. I think I’m heading in the right direction, reach a road block, feel dis-empowered  then catch my breath and move ahead with new understanding. We do what we need to do to get by every day, every minute, and detours are always inconvenient.
Our planetary life support system is in trouble. We’re stealing our own future by maintaining the status-quo, and that’s an uncomfortable place to be.
It takes courage to stop a thief — it’s time out of my day, and it’s scary. But many of us gain the greatest feeling of freedom by pushing excuses and adversity aside to confront the things we most fear.
The small detour? Act on those things you've been putting off. Carpool, bicycle, fix the old thing before buying a new one, go solar. Put aside desire, starting with small things like the second cup of coffee. Consider, then reconsider, your habits seven generations into the future. Decide how you personally can use less material and live with greater conviction.
What we gain will be greater than what we give. Give it with courage.

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