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Apr 24, 2006

Super-Sizing The Reflecting Pool


You can boil down yesterday's lead NYT Week In Review article to one question:  How important is fear in mobilizing concern for global warming?

As it turns out, the April 3rd TIME cover (with the polar bear floating on a block of ice) seems to have contributed one of the central metaphors running through the recent anxiety-tinged environmental discussion.  The NYT piece, for example, has many references to polar bears, and even begins: "Polar bears are drowning."

Because I'm an advocate for the visual and for the planet, I would be hard pressed to argue for less affect when it comes to "enviro-images."  Still, there are emotional pictures and there are emotional pictures.  Frankly, I'm not crazy about the TIME/polar bear shot.  It locates the problem too far from home.  What I like far better are John Blackford's photo illustrations accompanying the story "While Washington Slept" in the latest "green issue" of Vanity Fair.  The specter of New York in the drink is compelling, but the most potent conceptualization, I thought, was that of water-logged D.C.

What is so symbolic in this mock-up is not Washington's physical vulnerability, however, so much as the political exposure.  If it seemed the environmental issue really could dampened a few personal prospects, one might expect action pretty fast.

(photo illustration; John Blackford/Vanity Fair.  photo: Jason Hawkes. p. 200-201.  Vanity Fair.  May 2006.)


That's a good photo/ill or is it an ill photo? Before reading the copy I thought, "I didn't know that happened."
The reflections on the water are nicely done.

It's good to use a phallic symbol when one is trying to make a point. doh.

Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the people who will be the most vulnerable will be the low-income residents of DC and New York. The wealthy and powerful will start quietly buying land in areas farther inland (if they haven't started already). Property values in the Midwest will start to go up. Everyone else in coastal areas will be left to fend for themselves.

Sorry, BAG. Stephen Colbert is right about bears, and if all the polar bears drowned this world would be better off. As a result, I've changed my opinion on global warming. If it's us or the bears, I'm with Colbert.

Help wanted: Person with experience dealing with slow-motion emergencies. Must have carpentry skills, animan husbandry skills and interest in building a very large boat.

I would have some respect for the global warming alarmists if they should any interest in actually dealing with the alleged problem instead of using it as an excuse for pushing their particular political agenda. Most of them are recycled from previous "global catastrophes" that didn't pan out (are you guys old enough to remember the New Ice Age scare from the 70s?).

Is this the entire picture? Because there's water all around there; just behind the Lincoln Memorial is the Potomac River, and just down the river a ways is Foggy Bottom (home of the State Dept and Watergate Building, among other things), which used to be swampland. It might be more powerful to show a larger area...

I agree that this might be a good symbol - a water-logged Washington - but I'm not sure how many people will feel a real emotional pull, since there are no buildings in this area, no people shown, etc. And even in the background, these are mostly federal government buildings (including the Pentagon across the river in Virginia), so even then, I don't know how much people would really care if they got flooded out. I'd worry about what's in the Smithsonian museums, but otherwise...

Katrina was a big rupture in the Spectacle, across a variety of axis's: race, class, climate change. But pretty soon the images on the television were reigned in. Remember that big national dialouge we were gonna have on race and poverty after Katrina? For about a week the inequalities in our society were shoved in the face of the viewing public. And then...nothing. A few short weeks later the narrative was the overburdening of social services and school districts in regions kind enough to take in Katrina refugees.

I dont think fake climate change images are going to be too effective when real climate change images can be so quickly tasked to the party line of the staus quo.

Yes, the reflections are nicely done. Also, a quick trip to Google Earth shows the base of the Washington Monument to be (currently!) 26 feet above sea level, just barely out of the reach of a 20 foot global sea rise. Wouldn't the water's salinity kill the trees?

AOG, just because Karl Rove does nothing without political calculation doesn't mean that such thinking is either widespread or acceptable when speaking for the common good. I don't imagine, were you and I driven to the same lifeboat, that we'd choose our oars based on our political agendas. There are many things way more important than the tics and reflexes of our current politics. And anyway, on a boat it's port and starboard, not left and right.

AOG: That "New Ice Age/Global Cooling" issue is trotted out these days by ideologues who have a political ax to grind. It's the new distractor.

The cooling trend we experienced from the 40's to the 70's was a short one, and anomolies of that sort do not give us the whole picture. One also has to recognize that databases of global temperatures were in the early stages of compilation at that time. A lot has changed in the past 30+ years in our ability to gather information and interpret it.

And I am not going to listen to any counter arguments that global warming is a short trend. This is the first time in human history that our planet has been polluted with so much poison so quickly with no end in sight. (Well, actually there is an end in sight, but it's not a happy one.)

And please, don't tell me you get your scientific news from Michael Crighton's novels. He's not a scientist, even if Bush thinks so.

Asta, aog obviously feels comfortable on the Poop Deck of a ancient baroque with " W" believing this a 20th century *Ship of State*, more delusions more nonsensical rants, I'm the skipper and I make the decisions.!
The Bag's link to the 'While Washington Slept' article while long is a must read.
On completion I imagined, "W's" hand picked scientist's, *as monks* he naturally the King

Merrily sang the monks in Ely
When Cnut, King, rowed thereby;
Row, my knights, near the land,
And hear we these monkes' song

With thanks to black dog barking, "And anyway, on a boat it's port and starboard, not left and right." For really nailing it, this is definitely *no-time for shipping oars* either.

jt from BC: I had to smile --

"Merrily sang the monks in Ely
When Cnut, King, rowed thereby;
Row, my knights, near the land,
And hear we these monkes' song"

A bit of ancient prose, with imagined company of the letter Y, doth prophesy bring.

You and BlackDogBarking are nicer people than I, in all truthfullness, because I probably wouldn't let AOG onboard. I would employ the Republican strategy of "I've got 400 million lifeboats but I'm not sharing. I'm gonna let them sit in a field in AR and rot while we fuss over FEMA guidelines."

The problem isn't where Bush gets his ideas, but where the rest of the ideologues get theirs: conservative "think tanks" (such as Heartland Institute) supported by big money contributors (some of whom are developers). They have a vested interest in land speculation, so the thought that people might be dissuaded from buying waterfront properties is anathema. And, of course, the energy complex doesn't really want Americans to conserve fuel, otherwise their massive profits would evaporate.

As to this image? The water detail is superb! I've "augmented" water before and it is a matter of great subtlety.

(If the direct link to the image doesn't get you there, go to Renderosity, under Galleries, search for my name or the title "Walking Into the Sky")

I lined the path, put it on a separate layer, filled with blue and white clouds, used a transparency gradient map as a mask, and a few other things to fudge it. This guy did at least that, plus ripples and reflections. Nice job! It is small details (such as grass and rock) breaking the surface which make images like this convincing. Also, the fact that the water doesn't cover everything helps. The uneven slope thai side of the monument looks right.

About the only thing to bring this issue closer to home would be a sign at Pennsylvania Avenue saying "Permanently Closed to Kayakers" with traffic officers wearing chest-high waders.

black dog barking;

But you make my point for me. It is the very fact that people are pushing political agendas instead of manning the oars is what tells me that it's not being taken seriously even by the activists. The best they could do was the Kyoto Protocol, which according even to its boosters would have made a barely detectable difference after 50 years or so for an enormous cost. That's not being serious.

P.S. I have never read a single Crighton novel, you'll have to find another straw man. Also, the New Ice Age isn't a talking point I picked up, but something I experienced first hand back in the 70s. I've been following climate issues ever since.

AOG, you say you experienced first hand the New Ice Age back in the 70's? Which 70's...the 1370's? It was kinda cold back then. Rained a lot.

Please clarify which Era of which you speak.

Meanwhile, I am off to view hauksdottir's artwork.

Hauksdottir: "Hippocampus" is marvelous. As a longtime user of Prismacolor, you have just opened my eyes to a whole new way to use this medium...oops, I should leave a comment in the other forum.

Oh, and BTW, all you others should register and take a look-see at hauksdottir's talents.

And you know what, "Hippocampus" is somehow appropriate for this topic. Click on to see the whole image.

I 'lived thru' the hype about the coming ice age in the 70's also. Funny thing, though, (one of) the main proponents of this theory was a former DJ and publicist for Yoko Ono. Hmmmm. However, the difference between normal and the ice age, if I remember correctly, is a mere 1-2 degrees in temperature variation. The super-volcano under Yellowstone could set it off overnight.

I wonder if VF thinks that this photo will get the attention of the congress, et al. D.C. used to be a real swamp in the early days with all kinds of diseases including malaria. It's still a swamp but now the pestilence is political bribery and corruption.

A few years ago, VF published a different, but real, photo of D.C., shot from the alley of a slum 17 blocks from the capitol building. It's quite stunning but I've not been able to find it online and VF has been no help since I'm just a peon. A similar shot by a different photographer can be found at:

aog was right about the mini ice age in the 70` was very cold here in northern illinois for three straight winters. high winds,little snow(snirt) and days close and below zero with -75 degree windchills. the media was buzzing about the mini ice age...then it warmed up and has been getting warmer every year since. i have no doubt that this planet is getting warmer and i have no idea if we can reverse the causes. sadly this will be up to my daughter`s and son`s generation to try to fix what the generations before them has done to their future.

if pictures can show how things will be maybe we can start to give them a future

Read Kim Stanley Robinson's "40 signs of rain" if you want a good picture of D.C. flooded...

I'm more interested in positive images. Where are the images of the escape route and the way out?

I think that I have some ideas that could be part of that picture. You can see videos of my latest solar experiments at and a vision of what a grassroots public ecological education program could be at


I don't think people have to register to just look, although it is needed for commenting. BTW, all of my thumbnails should open to a larger or different view. I treat them like windows: a peek is interesting, but walking outside is better. ;)

Hippocampus? Ah, yes. Delicate beauty on weak substrate... like the soaring bridges here in Northern California.

Hmm... prismacolor and other tools? This is why we artists are perhaps critical viewers of media photos and illustrations. Over at National Geographic, they edited the image to move the pyramid. We can just shift it *before* rendering and let the shadows fall correctly.

Just like theatre work... if you know how the magic is done, it is still appreciated even if belief is withheld.

Thank you for browsing!


Mark Spittle: "If it's us or the bears, . . ."

No, it's us *and* the bears. Begin with a premise based on fact and then proceed with an argument. Otherwise you have fiction. Good luck!


I meant that I lived through the hype about it, making it a personal memory and not a "political axe".

Interesting how silence falls when the talk turns to actual solutions instead of wielding political axes :-). I do not, however, that certain Greens are finally getting on board and re-thinking their opposition to nuclear power. Now if only Senator Kennedy would stop opposing that windfarm near his house, we'd be saved.

I agree with AOG. What are the solutions?

The Unbearable Whiteness of Polar Bears: Polar bears elicit almost universal sympathy (thanks to those great Coke ads? their curves?), and, by mentioning the drowning polar bears, I can get a conversation going about global warming and need for conservation and change in almost any setting.

Two generations from now there may be no polar bears except in some zoos. It's a real attention grabber.

Plus, "polar bears are drowning" fits the bumper sticker word limit.



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