Author Archives: Lewis Hyde

The Drowning Man Festival

We propose an annual festival whose goals are

•  to educate about sea level rise
•  to shame and ridicule climate change deniers
•  to have fun

The Drowning Man festival will be held in coastal cities and towns threatened by sea level rise. We suggest beginning with sites on Florida’s east cost such as Miami.

The focus of each year’s celebration will be a large, effigy figure representing a current and well-known climate-change denier. The figure will float off shore until the final night of the festival whereupon it will be sunk into the sea.

The drowning of the Man will be a spectacle in the spirit of Burning Man, but instead of using fireworks, the Drowning Man will come alive through fountains, mist and other water propulsion and hydraulic technology in a grand celebration of water and its life-giving properties, that at the same time expresses the destructive power of water and the dangers of sea level rise.

Through an open call, artists, designers, engineers and other creative makers will be invited to make proposals for the Drowning Man.  Strict design guidelines for the creation of the Man will pose a significant and important challenge that will inspire and encourage innovation in sustainable technology.  For example, in keeping with the environmental mission of the Drowning Man Festival, the figure must be made of materials that are either biodegradable, easily recycled, non-damaging or even beneficial to the ecosystem. For example, parts of the structure might be designed to sink and become habitat for fish, oysters, coral or other marine life.

Participants in Drowning Man will be encouraged to bring or create art works that in some way reflect on climate change.  Projects that demonstrate fun and sustainable ways of living on or near the water or revitalize the sea and its shores and wildlife will be encouraged and supported (for example, a floating home that explores small-scale human or water-powered living or an initiative to re-forest mangrove habitats).   A jury will select the best of these works and their creators will have the privilege of sinking ‘the Man.’

The festival will have an educational component. There may be lectures by climate change specialists, documentary films, pamphlets, etc.

The festival will also be festive with music, performance, and the general, relaxed goofing off that comes from taking a break from energy consumption. It could be held at any time of the year, but the weeks in March when most colleges have their spring break may be ideal.

Drowning Man will have ritual constraints that mark it as time outside of time. There might be an emphasis on gifting rather than market exchange. There might be a moratorium on the use of fossil fuels and artificial light—no gasoline, kerosene, coal, natural gas, or propane, just humans, horses, dogs, solar panels, wind, and falling water; no electric light, just the sun, the moon, and the stars.

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A Dividualist Creed

Talking to the “Rising Waters Confab” group on Monday I introduced the idea of dividualism as opposed to individualism. Here’s a bit of what I had to say.

Some years ago we got the results of the Human Microbiome Project which had set out to catalog all the bacteria, fungi and otherwise non-human stuff that live in the human body–that live there usefully, helping us digest food, absorb vitamins, fight diseases. Here are a few surprising numbers: counting these organisms one by one, each of us is host to about 100 trillion non-human life forms. In each of us these organisms taken together weigh between two and five pounds.

As one microbiologist put it, human beings are like coral: “an assemblage of life-forms living together.”

The word ‘individual’ means ‘not divisible’; so conceived, an individual is assumed to be the elementary particle of social life, the atomic unit from which other things are made. In the Human Microbiome Project we find a neat example in science of the way that assumption can be called into question. In what sense, exactly, am “I” an in-dividual if I couldn’t live without the scores of other species that make my life possible?

Or let’s move from biology to social science. Anthropologists in recent years have shown an interest in splitting this individual atom, speaking now of a dividual self.

Working in Melanesia, for example, anthropologists find that persons are thought of as having the complexity of the social world inside the self, not just outside. By this notion, your friends, your family, your setting in nature, the animals you live with, the god or gods you worship…, all of these things are not just around you, they are inside of you as well; they are part of what makes you the person you are and if they were to disappear you would disappear (or, at the very least, you would not be your old self).

We are a nation that celebrates individualism, of course, though that has not always been the case. There have also been times when dividualism was valued just as much or more.

In 1630, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, preached a sermon called “A Model of Christian Charity” and famously imagined, in an phrase lifted from the Bible, that Boston might be “as a city upon a hill,” a shining example for all to come.

If you read the sermon as a whole you will find that it has nothing good to say about individualism. Here is just one Winthrop sentence: “We must delight in each other, make other’s conditions our own…, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes…our community as members of the same body.” For Winthrop, that was a religious creed; it is also a dividualist creed, the demand being that we live for and in one another, not just for and by ourselves individually.

Boston Living with Sea Level Rise

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Turns out that Boston has a “living with water” organization.  “Over the last three centuries,” they tell us, “Boston has confidently filled in marshes and tidelands creating new neighborhoods and increasing the city’s footprint by over fifty percent…. In the last century, water levels have risen almost 12 inches. Today portions of Boston’s waterfront flood monthly during the “wicked”, or astronomical, high tide when the sun and moon align. With the Boston Harbor sea level predicted to rise as much as five to six feet by 2100, over thirty percent of Boston faces chronically salt water flooding.”

Living With Water recently sponsored a competition looking for plans that could help Boston accommodate flooding linked to climate change.  Some of the results are here and here.

Statues of Brave Heroes of Climate Change Skepticism

Foot Skeleton

We propose the creation of life-size monuments to politicians who refuse to accept the established science of climate change.  Each statue will be fabricated with a water-soluble body supported by a durable metal skeleton. The bodies could be made of salt, for example, and the skeletons of marine grade stainless steel.

Statues are to be located in ‘rising water cities’ where periodic flooding will eat away the body and reveal the skeleton.

  • In Miami, statues could honor Governor Rick Scott (“No … I have not been convinced.”) and Senator Marco Rubio (“I don’t think there’s the scientific evidence to justify it.”).
  • A statue of New York’s Representative Lee Zeldin (“I’m not sold yet on the whole argument ….”) could be placed on the Hudson River waterfront in New York City.
  • Louisiana Representative Steve Scalise (scientists “are raising major questions about the global warming theories”) could be placed in the 9th Ward in New Orleans.

In mild cases of sea level rise, only the feet of skeleton will be revealed. In most cases the entire skeleton will eventually become the monument.

Human Skeleton