Several years ago I was in London on business and had a free afternoon. At the urging of my friend, the writer Pico Iyer, I visited the Tate Modern Art Museum on the Thames. My experience of the Tate was one of images of mechanization, mechanized warfare and psychological trauma. Within half-an-hour I couldn’t bear the image bombardment anymore. I left and walked to breathe deeply of the cool London air.
I thought of this experience at the Tate the other day when I was re-reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s monumentally important book, The Sixth Extinction. For readers unfamiliar with the book, it’s a penetrating account of the five life extinctions on planet earth that have preceded us, and a sobering look into what scientists are suggesting might be a Sixth Extinction, our own. I connect the Tate experience with Kolbert’s account of the findings of today’s climate scientists to make this point: the climate scientists of today are in many respects, like the artists of the twentieth century; they reflect the world as it is and what it may become.
Their canvases are masses of data, climate models, and the direct observations they make.
I have often wondered what it must be like to harbor the knowledge they have gained through their years of research and observation, knowing what they know as they have dinner with their families and visit their grandchildren.
Let us honor these scientists in the way we honor the great artists who illuminate our world. It has fallen on them to be the seers of our time.