Michael Najjar’s latest work series “cool earth” deals with our planetary future in times of climate change, and the role of new climate technologies. It explores the far-reaching ecological, economic and cultural impacts of human-induced climate change which are leading to a redefinition of the relationship between humans and nature. In the Anthropocene era humans have become the major transformative force in the Earth system which is fast approaching its breaking point. Humans are now transforming nature hundreds of thousands of years into the future; the natural environment is being changed into a post-natural landscape; the technosphere is enveloping our planet and increasingly expanding into space. It now weighs more than the entire biomass of the planet. We are fast approaching a time when the technical will contend with the natural for the future shape of the world. Synthesis will determine the future of the planet.
Ever since Alexander von Humboldt we have known that the Earth is a complex self-regulating system in which everything is connected with everything else. Biophysical processes link the polar regions with equatorial regions; local weather systems interact with global precipitation systems; the oceans exchange energy with the atmosphere; biodiversity stabilises our ecosystems. Science has defined nine planetary boundaries in our Earth system: climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, the rate of biodiversity loss, chemical pollution, acidification of oceans, consumption of freshwater, changes in land use, nitrogen and phosphorous pollution. These boundaries define a safe biophysical margin of action within which a stable and resilient planet is guaranteed. If these limits are exceeded, we enter a high-risk area of irreversible change. Four of these limits have already been crossed. Consequentially, if tipping points occur in many systems and places at once, the combined impact could lead to catastrophic feedback effects on a planetary scale. The increase in the Earth’s temperature by over 2 degrees would activate such tipping points. A hitherto stable system would turn into a chaotic one and endanger human civilisation.
To prevent this from happening, we must completely decarbonise our energy cycle as rapidly as possible. Should the output of greenhouse gases remain at its present level, science tells us that we are heading straight to climate collapse. It’s not just about acting fast, it’s about thinking big and innovatively. We need sustainable food systems, economic cycle models, and emission-free transport and energy systems. But such a transition to greater sustainability in these areas can only be reached through technology and systems innovation. If we want to avoid triggering dangerous tipping points as Earth’s answer to anthropogenic impacts, we need to find new ways to achieve food security and growth in a fossil-free world without further damaging other life forms.
In view of the dramatic consequences of climate change for future generations, there is a need to set new perspectives in the ways we think about technology, aesthetics and culture. We must think beyond the principle of sustainability to the active restoration of our damaged environment. The greenhouse gases emitted in excess by industrialisation over the past 150 years must be absorbed and stored. To counteract the encroaching climate emergency and the existential threat to our planet’s ecosystem, scientists are increasingly weighing up the possibilities of large-scale technical interventions in the Earth’s natural systems, so-called climate engineering. The term refers to pin-pointed technical interventions in the Earth’s geo- and biochemical cycles, in the oceans, in the ground and in the atmosphere. Measures such as active CO₂ absorption from the air and subsequent carbonisation in the ground, injection of aerosols into the stratosphere to change the radiation budget, space reflectors, brightening of clouds, targeted modification of the weather, fertilisation of the oceans, artificial production of polar ice, modification of deserts, ocean farming, and large scale afforestation all belong to the instruments of climate engineering. Although many approaches are still theoretical in nature and we know little about the global impact of such interventions, in a world that is 2 degrees warmer, such tools may well prove indispensable.
The work series “cool earth” spans the arc from an impending dystopian future - which has already arrived in our present – to a technology-based decarbonised post-fossil world. It picks up on ideas already addressed in Najjar’s previous series of works “outer space” such as terraforming and the re-surveying of Earth’s systems from orbit. The political, cultural and technical means to deal with the climate crisis lie within our grasp, yet we continue to head for the abyss. Why do we hesitate? Perhaps because the climate crisis appears to us as a hyperobject whose complexity and temporal and spatial dimensions lie beyond our understanding. An artistic confrontation with this hyperobject could contribute to making invisible connections visible, to setting processes of reflection in motion, and to visualising post-fossil visions of the future. The works of the ”cool earth” series are a resonance body connecting scientific knowledge with aesthetic construction. The photos and video works open up a field of thought to viewers on how we can design a liveable, post-destructive world within our planetary boundaries.