Sunny Monroe

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How can we use art to build awareness of peak oil and start the public discussion on transitioning away from fossil fuels.

Peak oil is a tough message for people to swallow. Most of the people writing on it spin a tale of food shortages, economic collapse, and oil wars that our beloved technology cannot save us from. But there are things to be hopeful and curious about in a post-oil world. I believe that lowering our reliance on oil will force us to build stronger communities, produce less non-biodegradable plastic, drive less, move around more, and reconnect with the earth. I also believe there is an audience out there that is ripe for this message, but it must be delivered in a way that inspires curiousity, empowerment, and hope. How can we use art - public art, music, online, etc - to start this public conversation?

  • Feb 2 2012: I think there are at least two strands to this. One part is that art can be extremely effective at showing people what's wrong and needs to change in the world. I have the good fortune to be working on one of my favourite examples: Chris Jordan's Running The Numbers series:

    But the second part is that once we've hit people with that, we have a responsibility not to walk away, because despair can be so completely paralysing. This is where I think Jonnie's absolutely right: art can, and I think must, also show people possibilities. It can either be to show them how to fix the problems we're documenting [full disclosure: this is what I'm working on for Chris], or how to be open to palatable alternatives. I think in the peak oil space the former is about showing people how to rely on oil less, while the latter would be to show that a world in which the first mission failed would still be tolerable. On that front, the Dark Mountain Project is trying to use all media to portray a world without much of what we think of as modernity and civilisation, and show that it needn't be a dystopia:

    I think these are really all different ways of art helping people see what is out there but not necessarily easy to be open to.
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      Feb 8 2012: Eldan,
      OMG, as an artist, and a steward of this planet, I am out of thumbs for your links and response!
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    Feb 2 2012: Jonnie, I totally agree that the art would need to have a positive or at least neutral take on energy transition, but I'm not sure about "instilling belief." That sounds a touch like preaching. Ideally, the art would instill curiousity, so that people would be motivated to do their own research and come up with their own opinions. In my opinion, letting people make up their own minds is the best way to get them talking about peak oil.

    David, great clip! I wonder if solar furnaces could be used to forge art. ; )
  • Feb 11 2012: Great question sunny!
    I really don't have an idea to propose. Only a comment on "feeling" that it is already being done. And what is worse? It's being created on a "blank" canvas. Bear with me here.

    One of my favorite forms of public art is graffiti. It just seems so free. I am not condoning illegal actions or proposing it as right or wrong. Like so many things in this world it is just inevitable. Even more, it is often written in places of unwelcome. Which leads me to my story.

    The other night I was taking my recyclables to the nearest drop off. Before you get there you have to cross a railroad crossing. I never mind them for the fact of graffiti. Well low and behold a train with nearly every car covered with the stuff. Except one type of car... the oil cars. Now mind you I live in Kentucky and it was late at night, so it's dark. However with the dim amount of ambient street light I can tell that EVERY oil car had been recently painted. Or painted over. That leads me to wonder what was written? Maybe it turned some heads in a politically incorrect or corporately humbling way? I don't know. I do know there are many problems with our existing systems of energy (especially oil!). But it got me to think this kind of art will advise or suggest whatever it wants it's free to view and up in your face. But when someone commits a crime defrauding private property, the message is important to the artist. Or at least i hope so. They paint or "tag"wondering if anyone will even get to see their work. But I guess I found your question interesting because in this case it was the lack of art that got me thinking! Just food for thought.
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    Feb 9 2012: Sunny,

    A wonderful question can art heighten understanding of what peak oil means for each of can teach and inspire and plant seeds of change where numbers, charts and economic theory leave most conufused, bored, glazed.

    So what we first need are artists like you I guess who understand enough about peak oil to translate that into plays or movies for all ages that play out in story and narrative what will happen globally if we adopt a post peak oil economy that is still based on fossil fuel extraction and use or if we allow free enterprise to govern our forced transition to an economy based on renewable energy. There are a few on the "other side", including fellow Tedster Adriaan Kamp, Founder/Director Energy For One World who have both the hard truths of fossil fuel supplies and the humanitarian senisbility to be a wonderful resource fpr for any playwright, poet, scren writer or independent film maker

    .A visual artist who comes to mind is Jenny Holtzer who projects her "meditations" onto buildings, water surfaces, monuments etc. She would be a fabulous "messengner" .

    Your question invites a sort of dada 21 ( 21st centiry ) school in art..their whole movement was about disrupting the complacencies which they felt allowed World War I to happen..modern dadaists could do the same thing expressing disgust at our over consumption of petroleum products (plastics and texitiles based on petroleum like fleece).

    And of course music. ..but I am trying to think whether popular songs and music have ever addressed themselves to the actual economic content but there is plenty of material there to work with especially through humorous lyrics pointing to the absurdity of our own voracious appetite for petroleum

    Kinetic sculptures run on renewable, wind, tide ad wave? I think you are onoto something here

    Sunny.I would love to see any links to artists whose work you feel is already doing this. We eed to curate invite submissions!!!
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    Feb 4 2012: Brilliant point Leonard, I have to say I agree.

    I don't think Sunny and I were suggesting ALL art was like this (like you said), just the handful that wanted to make a difference and whether or not this would be a good way to raise awareness about peak oil and such. And perhaps you are right, that this might not be art anymore, but a tool to spread ideas.

    Perhaps what I really mean is - particularly from the music perspective - that I wish more people would care, especially if they are in a position of influence. I would never try and force it upon anyone - it does have to be ones choice - but I do wish.

    Perhaps a more personalised question for you Leonard might be "Is there a way to catalyse the recognition of artist whom wish to inform or highlight current issues through their work, so that important messages and pressing issue can be received through the means of an artistic medium?"
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      Feb 6 2012: I suppose an "art collective" with this agenda should exist.?? I would be interested to find out, If anybody knows any names or places ?
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        Feb 7 2012: Oh wow! Wouldn't that be exciting? Almost like a TED ART. Perhaps a good question to ask the TEDsters.
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    Feb 8 2012: Sunny,
    Great question!
    For starters, how about making art that doesn't use any petrochemicals (conventional paints, glue, plywood, etc.)

    Maybe involving the community in the making process would raise awareness and strengthen the resistance...

    Maybe you used the perfect terminology: BUILD awareness. Architecture is the "natural" environment of the majority of people today. How about beginning to mainstream GREEN architecture?
    Contrary to what glossy magazines might make you believe, environmentally friendly and efficient construction does not have to be expensive. Let's lead by example and build, expect, vote, and request green architecture!
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    Feb 7 2012: Hi, I share the process that I am busy walking and soon turning into my thesis for art-school

    ►2011 Art in Equality: Be your own Work of Art - YouTube

    It's based on the point of becoming the point of change that we want to see in this world. We advocate the Equal Money System which is an overall solution to stop the massive machinery currently existing in terms of 'peak oil' and fearing a future that is being impulsed because of greed/ capitalism and a system that needs extensive amounts of fuel to continue producing to obtain Profit.

    Thus, creating images with common sense can create a point of support to an actual proposal/ solution that can be in fact implemented, such as the Equal Money System - check out the links and if you have further comments, questions, please contact me. Thanks.
  • Feb 5 2012: I think it's very difficult to build awareness of peak oil when oil companies keep finding large new deposits.
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    Feb 5 2012: The Art is Easy - the exposure time and reach is imperative.
    Money. Art needs money. Artists too tired and poor to push the cause. Artists are notoriously selfish also - all that time they want to spend alone.
    There are artisits out there, many of them that address environmental issues.
    How many do you see.
    Need to flood the media and schools.
    What is earth's present bank balance?
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      Feb 6 2012: "Artists are notoriously selfish also - all that time they want to spend alone. " ?
      I've heard of artists work being self-indulgent (when it's self indulgent work)
      But to say they are "selfish" and work alone is absolute nonsense.
      The very essence of art is to communicate with and engage an audience (other people)
      How can this be a selfish act ?
  • Feb 5 2012: I am going to partly refer to a project for Government I proposed some years ago that relates to City 2.0. Our cities do not need to solely run of Fossil Fuels, they can happily operate using Rape seed oil (Bitter rape Seed), as t is the closest comparable alternative to the un-concentrated oils in Crude.

    It's not that hard to implement and what is worrying aside from my rather odd profile picture (need to change that), is that implementing a paradime switch of fuel resources is not only a practical option, but from the United States agricultural sparse patches of tree-less plains like those in Montana. These could be made into the Rape growing communities that fuel the United States into the near future. Oil is an important fuel, as it provides so much, But unless you can make it flexible to for-fill the needs of those who desire it's energy giving attributes, it's wasted and of little importance.

    In the United States there are independent innovators including one who has developed a method a recipy of sorts to make crud at it's worst form into Aviation fuel by changing the rules that are applied to the fuel and rather than making the Engines work of a dedicated fuel... As Rolls Royce among other Aviation Companies and manufacturers, they can just as easy buy a fuel that does not pollute in the same way as the Fossil based Aviation fuel and can in part stave off one element of Global climate change with a term called Global Dimming [Reductions in the Pan Evaporation Rates, a study noted during the 9/11 event's and cessation of flights across the USA, the Pan evaporation level increased quite substantially, until flights resumed]. It's not only easy but practical to change away from Fossil Fuels and use fuels like Methane (from our Sewage, garbage) to power our cars and out homes. I drafter a proposition that I truly hope has helped re-design London's Olympic torch Relay. A No added carbon easy solution easy to make and used worldwide. Greg Sully
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    Feb 5 2012: There is no such thing as fossil fuel. Oil and coal are produced by a natural planet formation and bacteria under the planet. oil is a bio fuel..we cannot run out... All of the potential oil would cover the planet fro over 21 miles thick.. no we do not want to burn this... Sorry to see so many buying into the false ideas from the oil industries.. I deal with these people all of the time and they say yes this is true.. Fossils are rocks and do not burn... coal is diamonds that hve been brought up close to the surface for over 10,000 years and have decompressed into carbon...
  • Feb 4 2012: Awareness is an intellectual condition; art is an emotional medium. Not a good fit. Perhaps the outcome you seek is for art to enhance, not awareness, but people's fears of the laundry list of catastrophes dominating the current "discussion", fears that will tear down their resistance to the policies that the virtuous want to enact.
  • Feb 3 2012: In lots of other countries they have government energy programs that are long termed and geared to renewable energy sources. Of course we do not have such a policy here...In fact during this economic downturn the subsides programs are being ended cutting back on renewable energy projects.. With the current negative feeling toward nuclear power you have to find something to replace the 20% of power currently supplied by nuke plants... We don't even have a program in place to take care of that problem.. Peak Oil is a tough sell even though all charts show the decline of production in all major fields. Instead we are sold the idea that Natural Gas and Clean Coal are the answer.. The pollution in production and use of these fuels will end their importance probably before the peak in those fuels.. The belief that Oh something will come along to fix this problem is the problem we face in getting the action required.
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    Feb 2 2012: Sure ok Sunny, I think you're right - the best way to teach is through example, not trying to force people into things. David makes a good point too, using celebrities and iconic figures in society to promote new ideas or raise awareness.

    I personally am very interested in the music industry, and earlier this month posted a question about the responsibilities of the popular music industry to use their influence for greater good. It was just, would there ever be a good trade where the labels take the risk, and the responsible artist make them the money. I personally think there is a huge gap in the market for this kind of music, because passionate people make good music and people want something to believe in.
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      Feb 3 2012: Ok..I'm not sure how popular this will be but I find it a little disconcerting when artists are deemed responsible for this kind of enlightenment. In some ways I feel it de-values art to think of it as a tool for communicating an agenda or a set of values, morals or facts. I accept that you are not advocating that all art should display this responsible position but it cannot be denied that the artist is termed as "responsible" if they do.
      I think moreover it is the responsibility of those people who wish to communicate an idea to find the best way to do it. It's not much use sitting around and hoping that an artist communicate what you want to hear but instead to create it, or at least implement this yourselves. After all there is no such thing as 'an artist' other than one who practices art.
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    Feb 2 2012: Electric Motorcycles being driven by celebrities... And....

    Combined with boilers or the efficient solar cells developed by NASA, this is what is going to solve the energy crisis.
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      Feb 5 2012: There is no such thing as fossil fuel. Oil and coal are produced by a natural planet formation and bacteria under the planet. oil is a bio fuel..we cannot run out... All of the potential oil would cover the planet fro over 21 miles thick.. no we do not want to burn this... Sorry to see so many buying into the false ideas from the oil industries.. I deal with these people all of the time and they say yes this is true.. Fossils are rocks and do not burn... coal is diamonds that hve been brought up close to the surface for over 10,000 years and have decompressed into carbon...
      • Feb 5 2012: A slight notation. whilst you are partly correct Larry. The Crude Oil's are not correctly described as Fossil fuels, but rather a Cruder rudimentary highly concentrated version of What is grown today. The Popular accepted term is Fossil fuel. However I have discovered in my past that the Crude it's self contains fossilised remains that have over time through various processes become entombed in the tar like soup that makes up Crude / Fossil fuel. Even Coal and Methane ice have particle masses that are fossilised creatures with-in.

        But my own experiences are different from the Normal casual observer. I have been afforded a unique opportunity to see what the fuel industry can do and quite often its greed over what is correct.

        I do however question your facts. One reason is the Quantity of potential oil... 21 miles thick, How did you come to this? Are you basing it on the THAT has existed example? Like there have been 56 Billion Human beings that have existed to date. I find your equations do not make sense.

        But anyway, Yes there is a lot of Naturally occurring oil's in nature that can be mad into fuel to supply our needs indefinitely, if we where to simply use the Pine apple growing fields in Hawaii, we could accommodate all the needs of Hawaii's demand for oil, be it Aircraft, Boats, Heating, Cooking, Transport, and the waste from the Bitter Rape Seed and other agricultural crops can be digested in Horizontal Digesters to make Methane to power our cars, heat our homes, Create electricity and so on. It's a easy step to undertake.

        I could not happen to notice where you reside. I am presuming you are or Know about the Oil revision that lies almost beneath you. In case you did not. Around Yosemite national park where during the Ice age great tears where created into the granite stone as the ice moved and the the ground moved... Great canyons where formed. In the northern part of California, There is Oil in them there hills!
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    Feb 1 2012: Hi Sunny.

    Can I start by saying, what a great question!

    I may not have an answer to what kind of art could help or is required, but I am pretty sure of one thing. No one wants to fight a losing battle. So for me, the primary objective would be to design the art in a way which was positive. Iconic, almost like a leader or a hero.

    I guess more simply, art that is designed to instill belief.