Quantcast

Dutch Artist Thijs Biersteker Gives Trees a Voice—in Lights

Climate
Voice of Nature β01 by Thijs Biersteker–Woven Studio. Thijs Biersteke

By Clara Chaisson

Dutch interactive artist Thijs Biersteker is something like a real-life Lorax—except instead of speaking for the trees, he equips them with the technology to speak for themselves.


Trees are among our most diligent and prolific data loggers (no pun intended), recording a wealth of information about the world around them in the growth rings they produce each year. Collectively these rings tell a detailed story about the events the tree has experienced over its lifetime—stories of drought, wildfire, heavy precipitation, pollution, extreme temperatures and more. Archaeologists use tree ring data to date artifacts; paleoclimatologists use the information encoded in these thin lines of wood to model past climates and inform our understanding of future climate change.

Long-term records, steadily accumulated over the centuries in tree rings (or ice cores or sediment), are crucial to science. But they take time—and as someone trying to cultivate a widespread sense of urgency about climate change, Biersteker can't afford to wait. His newest installation, Voice of Nature, uses environmental sensors and 1,600 data points to create a vivid visualization of the conditions a tree is experiencing, in real time.

Thijs Biersteke

Voice of Nature is Biersteker's effort to "speed up the process to a human pace," making our species' profound influence on the environment immediate and easier to grasp. Watching something as steadfast as a tree react in the moment, observers can tune in to the invisible forces that surround us at all times.

After taking inspiration from the seasonal changes of a tree outside his window in Amsterdam, Biersteker worked with the Netherlands' Delft University of Technology to develop the project for Light Up Bashu, a monthlong art festival in Chengdu, China, last fall.

Thijs Biersteke

His team rigged a Japanese cinnamon tree, which is protected in China, with sensors that measure conditions such as moisture levels, air quality, carbon dioxide, and soil temperature. When fed into an algorithm, these data calculate the tree's growth rate moment by moment and project it, in the form of expanding rings, onto a giant, auralike circular screen behind the tree. A slower growth rate corresponds with tightly spaced rings, while a faster growth rate sends out a steady pulse of visually distinct rings. Disruptions like PM 2.5 air pollution create uneven, textured lines—ironically, the worse the growth conditions are, the more complex and beautiful the design becomes.

Biersteker's technique has proved effective on audiences of all ages. "My mother says the tree gets angry if a lot of cars are smoking," one young viewer told the artist.

Thijs Biersteke

"Phrases like climate change or anthropocene feel so out of reach. What I try to do is make it tangible at that moment," said Biersteker. "In the longer spectrum, a lot of people don't connect to the issues because they become too big. I want to make them small again, so you have the idea that you can act. It's happening at your time, not the next generation."

In the words of the Lorax:

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better.
It's not.

Voice of Nature . βº1-version youtu.be

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Environmental Investigation Agency

By Genevieve Belmaker

Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.

Read More Show Less
Jessica Kourkounis / Stringer

The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.

"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.

The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."

The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.

"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."

Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.

Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

Sponsored
Pixabay

By Manuella Libardi

Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.

Read More Show Less
XL CATLIN SEAVIEW SURVEY / THE OCEAN AGENCY

Hope may be on the horizon for the world's depleted coral reefs thanks to scientists who successfully reproduced endangered corals in a laboratory setting for the first time, according to Reuters.

Read More Show Less

Last week we received positive news on the border wall's imminent construction in an Arizona wildlife refuge. The Trump administration delayed construction of the wall through about 60 miles of federal wildlife preserves.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
PhotoAlto / Frederic Cirou / Getty Images

Drinking water treated with fluoride during pregnancy may lead to lower IQs in children, a controversial new study has found.

Read More Show Less
National Institude of Allergy and Infectious Disease

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned Thursday of a drug-resistant strain of salmonella newport linked to the overuse of antibiotics in cattle farming.

Read More Show Less
A Greenpeace rally calls for a presidential campaign climate debate on June 12 in Washington, DC. Sarah Silbiger / Getty Images

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) voted down a resolution calling for an official, party-sanctioned debate on the climate crisis, ABC News reported Thursday.

Read More Show Less