Quantcast

As Miami Battles Sea-Level Rise, This Artist Makes Waves With His 'Underwater Homeowners Association'

Climate
An underwater marker in front of Cortada's studio helps predict how many feet of water needs to rise before the area becomes submerged. Xavier Cortada

By Patrick Rogers

Miami artist Xavier Cortada lives in a house that stands at six feet above sea level. The Episcopal church down the road is 11 feet above the waterline, and the home of his neighbor, a dentist, has an elevation of 13 feet. If what climate scientists predict about rising sea levels comes true, the Atlantic Ocean could rise two to three feet by the time Cortada pays off his 30-year mortgage. As the polar ice caps melt, the sea is inching ever closer to the land he hopes one day to pass on to the next generation, in the city he has called home since the age of three.


"It is with incredible pain that I say I know my city is doomed by climate change," said Cortada, who is the artist in residence at Pinecrest Gardens, a recreation center a few blocks from his home in South Miami. "But as a Miamian, my job is to do everything I can to help us through this chaos."

Xavier Cortada

That explains the big sign in Cortada's front yard. In watery blues and greens, it displays the property's elevation with a bold number 6. It's also why the artist has invited other residents of this upscale district to join his wryly named Underwater Homeowners Association project. Across the community, elevation markers designed by Cortada are now standing in front of his neighbors' homes and businesses—a colorful, albeit painful, reminder of what's at stake.

"The underwater markers are basically me trying to let people know that Antarctica is coming to town," said Cortada, who has traveled to both the southernmost continent and the North Pole to witness the rapidly melting glaciers that are contributing to the rise of ocean levels around the globe. In a converted laboratory in Antarctica and on the pitching deck of a Russian icebreaker in the Arctic Ocean, he created more than 100 paintings out of glacial meltwater mixed with paint and sediment from Antarctic mountain ranges.

Cortada wants to use the elevation markers to get neighbors talking about the changing climate and its effects on their lives and homes by mapping the destruction and chaos in advance. "The residents of Florida are at ground zero when it comes to sea-level rise," he said. "Unfortunately, our politics and mind-set don't reflect that we need to do some serious problem solving. I wanted to create a way of helping us understand that, by making the invisible visible and just a little bit strange."

The Underwater HOA project launches this month during Art Basel Miami Beach, an annual festival that draws art lovers from all over the world. Miami is already feeling the consequences of sea-level rise in the form of widespread flooding during storm surges and seasonal king tides.

"The reason I know we can do something about this is that we've done it before," he said. "Everybody from Miami could tell you their hurricane stories, when neighbors come together like they never have before. That sense of community and purpose when there's a problem in front of us—it's something we know how to do. With sea-level rise, it's an existential problem."

As part of the artist's multifaceted project, high school students have painted huge versions of Cortada's elevation markers on the pavement of intersections along Pinecrest's main thoroughfare. At Pinecrest Gardens, the artist will also be exhibiting a selection of 60 his "Antarctic Ice Paintings" that have never been seen before. He made these haunting abstract compositions with ice samples from the Ross Sea and fragments of earth gathered by climate scientists nearby in the McMurdo Dry Valleys.

"A-01: Antarctica" from Cortada's "Antarctic Ice Painting Global Coastline" series.Xavier Cortada

The combination of community activism and striking artistry is typical of Cortada, said Barbara Matilsky, curator of art at the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Washington, who has included his work in two exhibitions. "The 'Antarctic Ice Paintings' are a beautiful idea—they physically embody the continent, so that we have a remnant of Antarctica in the museum—but they are also very beautiful visualizations" to look at, she said.

Matilsky also admires how Cortada's projects have raised awareness and galvanized action on climate issues. For his Reclamation Project, launched in 2008, he persuaded merchants in Miami Beach's trendy Lincoln Road district to care for mangrove seedlings grown in planters outside their shops. After being on public display for a month and a half, the mangroves were transplanted by volunteers along the shore of Biscayne Bay, where they act as natural barriers against storm surge. The project was such a success that it was adopted as an ongoing program by Miami's Frost Museum of Science. So far, eight acres of mangrove swamp have been created.

The artist hopes he'll reach even more people with Underwater HOA but says he isn't concerned with the actual numbers. "At the end of the day," he said, "I'm just trying to get this conversation beyond a whisper."

"A-07" from Cortada's "Antarctic Ice Painting Global Coastline" series.Xavier Cortada

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter


georgeclerk / E+ / Getty Images

By Jennifer Molidor

One million species are at risk of extinction from human activity, warns a recent study by scientists with the United Nations. We need to cut greenhouse gas pollution across all sectors to avoid catastrophic climate change — and we need to do it fast, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This research should serve as a rallying cry for polluting industries to make major changes now. Yet the agriculture industry continues to lag behind.

Read More Show Less
Edwin Remsburg / VW Pics / Getty Images

Botswana, home to one third of Africa's elephants, announced Wednesday that it was lifting its ban on the hunting of the large mammals.

"The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism wishes to inform the public that following extensive consultations with all stakeholders, the Government of Botswana has taken a decision to lift the hunting suspension," the government announced in a press release shared on social media.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pxhere

By Richard Denison

Readers of this blog know how concerned EDF is over the Trump EPA's approval of many dozens of new chemicals based on its mere "expectation" that workers across supply chains will always employ personal protective equipment (PPE) just because it is recommended in the manufacturer's non-binding safety data sheet (SDS).

Read More Show Less
De Molen windmill and nuclear power plant cooling tower in Doel, Belgium. Trougnouf / CC BY-SA 4.0

By Grant Smith

From 2009 to 2012, Gregory Jaczko was chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which approves nuclear power plant designs and sets safety standards for plants. But he now says that nuclear power is too dangerous and expensive — and not part of the answer to the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
A lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Brett Walton / Circle of Blue

By Brett Walton

When Greg Wetherbee sat in front of the microscope recently, he was looking for fragments of metals or coal, particles that might indicate the source of airborne nitrogen pollution in Rocky Mountain National Park. What caught his eye, though, were the plastics.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Gabriele Holtermann Gorden / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

In a big victory for animals, Prada has announced that it's ending its use of fur! It joins Coach, Jean Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani, Versace, Ralph Lauren, Vivienne Westwood, Michael Kors, Donna Karan and many others PETA has pushed toward a ban.

This is a victory more than a decade in the making. PETA and our international affiliates have crashed Prada's catwalks with anti-fur signs, held eye-catching demonstrations all around the world, and sent the company loads of information about the fur industry. In 2018, actor and animal rights advocate Pamela Anderson sent a letter on PETA's behalf urging Miuccia Prada to commit to leaving fur out of all future collections, and the iconic designer has finally listened.

Read More Show Less
Amer Ghazzal / Barcroft Media / Getty Images

If people in three European countries want to fight the climate crisis, they need to chill out more.

That's the conclusion of a new study from think tank Autonomy, which found that Germany, the UK and Sweden all needed to drastically reduce their workweeks to fight climate change.

"The rapid pace of labour-saving technology brings into focus the possibility of a shorter working week for all, if deployed properly," Autonomy Director Will Stronge said, The Guardian reported. "However, while automation shows that less work is technically possible, the urgent pressures on the environment and on our available carbon budget show that reducing the working week is in fact necessary."

The report found that if the economies of Germany, Sweden and the UK maintain their current levels of carbon intensity and productivity, they would need to switch to a six, 12 and nine hour work week respectively if they wanted keep the rise in global temperatures to the below two degrees Celsius promised by the Paris agreement, The Independent reported.

The study based its conclusions on data from the UN and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) on greenhouse gas emissions per industry in all three countries.

The report comes as the group Momentum called on the UK's Labour Party to endorse a four-day work week.

"We welcome this attempt by Autonomy to grapple with the very real changes society will need to make in order to live within the limits of the planet," Emma Williams of the Four Day Week campaign said in a statement reported by The Independent. "In addition to improved well-being, enhanced gender equality and increased productivity, addressing climate change is another compelling reason we should all be working less."

Supporters of the idea linked it to calls in the U.S. and Europe for a Green New Deal that would decarbonize the economy while promoting equality and well-being.

"This new paper from Autonomy is a thought experiment that should give policymakers, activists and campaigners more ballast to make the case that a Green New Deal is absolutely necessary," Common Wealth think tank Director Mat Lawrence told The Independent. "The link between working time and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions has been proved by a number of studies. Using OECD data and relating it to our carbon budget, Autonomy have taken the step to show what that link means in terms of our working weeks."

Stronge also linked his report to calls for a Green New Deal.

"Becoming a green, sustainable society will require a number of strategies – a shorter working week being just one of them," he said, according to The Guardian. "This paper and the other nascent research in the field should give us plenty of food for thought when we consider how urgent a Green New Deal is and what it should look like."

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice held a press conference after the annual shareholder meeting on May 22. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice

Amazon shareholders voted down an employee-backed resolution calling for more aggressive action on climate change at their annual meeting Wednesday, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Read More Show Less