Notes by an Eco Musician | Ashley Mazanec
Being from the sunny surf town of Encinitas, California, it’s no wonder that ecological themes have made a mark on my creative work. Encinitas is home to the world famous Surfing Madonna mural that reads, “Save the Ocean.” And in the interest of saving the ocean and the rest of the planet on which it sits, I set out to attend the inaugural Artists and Climate Change Incubator in New York City this August with an international group of artists and organizers. Thanks to a generous scholarship from Surfing Madonna Oceans Project, my experience in NYC endowed me with ample knowledge to influence beliefs and behaviors about ecosystems through the arts.
Blocks away from Times Square in the Theater District, incubator participants met daily for activities and conversation, including speakers on environmental humanities, civic engagement, visual and performing arts, and perspectives on climate change. One of our speakers -- NASA climate scientist Kate Marvel -- reinforced something that I had observed but hadn’t articulated. It was the very reason I released my first eco music album in 2016, and started the nonprofit EcoArts Foundation earlier this year. She emphasized that it’s not for lack of facts that people are not moving quickly enough to address our worldwide environmental plight. It’s for lack of motivation.
And here was this community of artists and environmental champions already hard at work figuring out how to inspire our culture to respond. Some of the twenty one artists encouraged lifestyle change, some took a strictly systems-based approach, others reframed the climate conversation to capture wider audiences (e.g. from health or national security perspectives), and many preferred to create emotional experiences through their work. Among participants were civic artists that engage international politics like organizer Chantal Bilodeau, public demonstrators like Eve Mosher, documentarians like Kirsi Jansa, and Jill Kubit -- who invites individuals to make promises to the future about climate change in her project Dear Tomorrow.
Behind these incredibly diverse approaches, we had surprising consensus on one topic in particular: the growth-at-all-costs economic paradigm at the center of U.S. policy is no longer serving humanity. This group felt that growth -- whether GDP or population driven -- is simply not representative of progress in the developed world. We agreed that other measures of quality of life such as health, happiness, education, leisure time, pollution management, sustainable resource use, and poverty reduction would guide policy decisions to be better informed of actual results.
There is little evidence in 2017 to show that GDP growth in the developed world is improving the quality of our lives and simultaneously addressing climate change and pollution? Despite unprecedented plastic waste and its presence in our food supply, we do not count recycled or reused materials into GDP; yet undesirable phenomena such as war increase it greatly. And the U.S. has been living outside of its ecological means since in the 1970’s -- emitting waste faster than it can be absorbed and consuming resources faster than they regenerate – so wouldn’t it be smarter to systematically emphasize living within our ecological means instead of “economic” growth? I can tell you for certain that the eco artists that met in New York would advocate living a quality of life within our environmental budget over an arbitrary growth imperative that no longer correlates with better lives. If this single policy change was embraced, it would have massive repercussions for our culture.
We take it for granted that we are incessantly marketed to, that we must work long hours despite technological improvements, and that harsh competition is the way of the world. Yet the mythology of trickle-down economics justifying growth has dominated the economics dialogue for the past half century, corresponding with greater disparity between fellow humans and between humans and other lifeforms to the point of unprecedented inequality, a nearly dead great barrier reef, and biodiversity loss unseen since the dinosaur extinction. Heck, most of us are moving so fast to simply keep the lights on that we just don’t have the time or money to integrate scientific findings into our lifestyle or voting choices. Refocusing on metrics that actually point to well-being and quality of life might reframe this entire narrative.
So where do we go from here? I can say with certainty that I will be collaborating with several new creatives from the Artists & Climate Change Incubator. Some of them I will feature in EcoArts Foundation programs. Others will use my music for their projects, or host me in their town. Some will become partners for gatherings here in Encinitas such as Conceivable Future, a project which views climate change as a reproductive justice crisis. You can expect the growth-at-all-costs conversation to be in the mix at EcoArts’ September 9 farm-to-table fundraiser. And I will be using a bounty of learned information on impact measurement and climate engagement in my academic work at UCSD, artistic endeavors, and to share with policy makers.
It is up to all of us to create new metrics, incentives, and ultimately a culture that encourages widespread respect for nature and our own quality of life. The motivation to respond to urgent discoveries is coming in artistic forms, challenging and transforming our culture at every level. According to Yale Climate Connections in July, “Climate-related art now abounds in galleries, on streets, in community centers – you name it, from sobering landscape photography, in-your-face murals, quirky graphic design, and ernest comics, to character-driven theater, classical music, and rousing dance.”1
When it comes to pollution and climate change, eco art has become a critical force like never before. I look forward to ushering more of it into Encinitas with original music, the Let’s Talk About the Weather podcast, Artists and Climate Change collaborations, the Water is Life Show Musical, and other EcoArts Foundation programs. After all, it truly does mean the world.
You can hear Ashley’s music and podcast at ashleymazanec.com and experience EcoArts Foundation at ecoartsfoundation.org. For more on Artists and Climate Change, please visit artistsandclimatechange.com.