Michele Guieu

Sunnyvale, California, US

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“As a global civilization, as a species, we are sleepwalking toward collapse” Peter Kalmus, NASA Climate Scientist, October 2021.

Ruins in Prat-De-Mollo-La-Preste,
Eastern French Pyrenees, October 2021
4 Photographs

“Many authors who study collapse speculate that our civilization may be vulnerable to the same factors that resulted in the decline of earlier ones— including the buildup of debt, declining energy profitability (in our case due to fossil fuel depletion), and climate change. However, ours is the first truly global civilization, and the first to have serious global environmental impacts, including a mass extinction of species. Therefore, unless we’re able to make a rapid switch to non-fossil fuel energy sources, the result may be a far more severe collapse than that addressed in any of the theories we’ve just surveyed. This is certainly a fearful prospect, but it need not be a paralyzing one. If the chances of both ecological collapse and global civilizational collapse this century are significantly above zero, then we should explore what strategies could both reduce the likelihood and severity of collapse, and permit the best possible outcomes for all.”

Excerpt of “Collapse”, from the Think Resilience online course by the Post Carbon Institute.
2021
  • Michele Guieu

Paradox

Photograph, 2021.

Mojave, Mojave Desert, California. I just came back from the Mojave Desert. I spent time there during the last years, and I witnessed the rapidity of the development of windmills and solar farms. There is no way around transitioning to renewable energy, but how can it be done with a minimal impact on those rich, fragile, and unique ecosystems? “Wind energy is the leading renewable technology towards achieving climate goals, yet biodiversity trade-offs via land take are emerging. Thus, we are facing the paradox of impacting on biodiversity to combat climate change.” Vassiliki Kati, Christina Kassara, Zoi Vrontisi, Aristides Moustakas in “The biodiversity-wind energy-land use nexus in a global biodiversity hotspot” [Scientific paper] “Most of California’s renewable energy comes from utility scale solar energy and large wind farms in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, which are regions recognized as having exceptional solar insolation and wind resource values. However, California’s deserts are also one of the last great wilderness areas within the contiguous United States, containing thousands of square kilometers of intact, relatively undisturbed desert habitat. The desert southwest has been designated as a “hotspot” of endemism and endangered and threatened species occurrences, and desert systems are fragile and slow to recover once disturbed, due to their arid climate, delicate soils, and slow pace of ecological succession.” Sophie S. Parker, Brian S. Cohen, James Moore in “Impact of solar and wind development on conservation values in the Mojave Desert” [scientific paper - journals.plos.org]
2021
  • Michele Guieu

To a Regenerative Future

Ephemeral composition
Leaves from my neighborhood, map

Economic growth is proportional to the destruction of nature. We extract non-renewable resources and use the renewable ones at an unsustainable rate. We transform them, distribute them, discard them, and create exponential pollution due to the burning of fossil fuel. This infernal cycle is destroying the likelihood of a livable planet for most of the living species, including ours, in the very near future.
Transitioning to new energy is an absolute necessity, but the destruction will continue if we do not change our belief systems. The deep belief in infinite growth and progress associated with it, enabled by large amounts of cheap fossil fuels, is very recent in human history.

The future will look different, and not just because we are going to see more windmills. As we are about to transition to a world where sobriety must be part of the new story, it is our entire relationship to nature that we need to change in order to survive.

“Instead of seeing our destiny in the stars, we may once again come to see our role as serving nature rather than mastering it.”
Richard Heinberg, Think Resilience Course, Post Carbon Institute.
2021
  • Michele Guieu

At the Crossroads

Digital Collage

Renewable energies do not have the same characteristics as fossil fuels. Transitioning to a post-carbon era does not mean switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy and keeping the same type of energy consumption we have today.

The industrial revolution is extremely recent in the history of mankind and it was made possible because of the abundance of cheap and easy-to-use fossil fuel energies. They have revolutionized our lifestyles in new – but temporary – ways.

Now that the carbon era must close, how are we going to tame our ever-growing need for energy in a world where resources are limited? What is the next revolution going to look like? What does a societal structure not based on growth and consumerism mean?
2021
  • Michele Guieu

Now What?

Digital collage

The globalized Western civilization behaves like a terrible dissipative energy system, constantly creating more machines using more energy, changing the climate rapidly, and damaging the biosphere. What allowed this mismanagement was access to cheap and abundant fossil fuels. Now they have an increasingly low energy return on investment (EROI). This gradually limits the available energy for maintaining civilization’s complexity (i.e., economic activities and the number of machines working for the system 24/7). For a change to occur, we’ll have to change the way we live.

But accepting a simplification of the dissipative structures at the heart of the current techno-industrial civilization for decades will be a considerable challenge.

Crises (or ruptures) will therefore be suffered when the deficiency of the available energy manifests itself tangibly. It is about a “predicament” in which one-fifth of humanity, for more than two centuries of “progress,” has consumed more energy than the other four-fifths.

Richard Heinberg,
Think Resilience Online Course
2021
  • Michele Guieu

The genie is out of the bottle

Digital collage

[…] “By far the most serious example of pollution in the world today is climate change, caused by human-produced greenhouse gases. While other pollution may compromise the viability of local ecosystems, climate change threatens the entire global ecosystem. The main greenhouse gases and their primary sources are: one, carbon dioxide, released from fossil fuel combustion; two, methane, released by farm animals and by the natural gas industry (natural gas is basically methane); and three, nitrous oxide, released by agriculture and fossil fuel combustion.”

[…] Since the 1990s the United Nations has sought to rally the world’s nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. After 21 years of international meetings and failed negotiations, 196 nations finally agreed in December 2015 on a collective goal of limiting temperature increase above pre-industrial levels to 2 degrees Celsius—which is 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit—with the ideal being 1.5 degrees or less. But actual emissions have so far not been capped. Some of the difficulty in reaching consensus on action comes from the fact that most historic emissions have come from the world’s wealthy and politically powerful nations, which continue burning fossil fuels at high rates, while many poorer nations, which have less historic responsibility, are rapidly increasing their fossil fuel consumption in order to industrialize. Some of the very poorest nations are also the ones most vulnerable to climate change. All of this makes it hard to agree who should reduce consumption and how fast.”

[…] The stakes could hardly be higher. Climate change threatens not just our own species, but millions of others as well. If we don’t solve this single pollution problem, the fate not just of civilization, but of most of the planet’s species may hang in the balance.”

Richard Heinberg,
Think Resilience Online Course
2021
  • Michele Guieu

CO2 is (almost) forever

Digital photography

If we could stop the CO2 emissions tomorrow, it would take 100 years to eliminate 50% of the surplus of CO2 already in the atmosphere. After a millennium, there would be about 20% left, and after 10,000 years, there would still be 10% – which would be there almost forever.

Even if we could stop the CO2 emissions tomorrow, the climate would still evolve for the years to come because CO2 is very stable in the atmosphere. We do not have any technology (at scale) that can remove the CO2 surplus from the atmosphere.

That is why continuing to burn fossil fuels while assuming that these emissions are being offset by planting trees is counterproductive. The challenge is to both reduce fossil fuel emissions sharply and rapidly and, by planting forests, return to the land the CO2 emitted after deforestation
2021
  • Michele Guieu

Climate Change, Deep Dependency on Oil and Oil Depletion

Digital collage

Talking about oil when thinking about depletion seems counterintuitive, and I was surprised to see that the video on “Depletion”, part of the Think Resilience free online course by the Post Carbon Institute was pretty much entirely about the importance of fossil fuels – especially oil. Our modern society relies heavily on fossil fuels, especially oil. Oil plays an essential role in the extraction of resources, their transformation into products, and transportation (air, sea, land). With topsoils depleting quickly worldwide, fossil fuels also play an essential role in industrial agriculture, where they are used to make synthetic fertilizers. Whether we see it or not, oil is everywhere in our daily lives. Products containing petroleum are countless. Plastic is a plague, but it is also a fantastic product – can you imagine hospital equipment without it? The shift away from oil includes finding replacements [at scale] for all the products we are using daily.

Not enough seems to be changing right now to shift away from oil. Despite the growth of wind and solar as energy sources, 85% of our energy needs still depend on fossil fuels, especially oil. Wind and solar represent less than 5% of the energy production worldwide. CO2 emissions continue to grow. Shifting from oil is a necessary but daunting task. According to the Post Carbon Institute, as we move to lower quality fuels or ones that are harder to extract, the ratio of Energy Returned on Energy Invested (or EROEI) falls. In the early days of the oil industry, energy returns of a hundred-to-one were routine; in today’s petroleum industry, returns of ten-to-one are more common.

Because it is a non-renewable energy source, we will face depletion if we do not make the transition. So what will happen first: oil depletion or a radical and complex shift from our deep dependency on oil?
2021
  • Michele Guieu

Overshoot

Ephemeral composition
Painted wood scraps from a previous project
20” x 30”

Our planet is finite, this fact will never change. There will never be more minerals, metals, fossil fuels than what already exists. Population growth and consumption are correlated. Although there are immense disparities in the consumption levels around the world, humans are using resources and space exponentially, using resources faster than the Earth can regenerate them, such as forests and fish. We add more than 80 million people a year. This has catastrophic consequences on the rest of the living world. Wildlife and wilderness are both disappearing fast.

Here’s a thought-provoking video to watch on YouTube: “Facing up to overpopulation” by Jane O’Sullivan from the conference “Delivering the Human Future”.
2021
  • Michele Guieu

What will be the energy sources of the future?

Digital collage (photos taken in the Bay Area and in the Sierras)

Inspired by the Post Carbon Institute “Think Resilience” free online course. Lesson 2, “Energy”, is packed with food for thoughts:

“Our best bets are solar and wind, but these have very different characteristics from the energy sources that the modern industrial society was built around.”

“For 99% of our History, we lived entirely on renewable energy”

“The Fossil Fuel Age has lasted only one-tenth of one percent of our History as Homo Sapiens. Its last chapter is beginning to unfold right now.”

“Our future may well be slower-paced and localized.”
2021
  • Michele Guieu

Archipelago

Branches and repurposed yarn

It is time to experiment, slow down, reflect, let go, pause.
It is time to observe nature.
It is time to accept our fragility, mirroring nature’s fragility, because we are nature.
It is time to accept the messiness. Life is messy. Art is messy. All I am doing right now does not look all organized and controlled? Good!
It is time to connect with people to think together about possible – and immediate – changes. Changes are necessary and unavoidable. I see the period we are going through as a metamorphosis.
These challenging times are also the occasion to continue to question my practice, including the materials I am using. The art studio is not exempt from the extraction process upon which we built our civilization: the art materials come from “somewhere”. I really like the idea of modest art or temporary art. I like to do digital collages. It is possible I will never print them, and that’s OK.
2021
  • Michele Guieu

Planetary Limits

Ephemeral compositionMade of natural elements found during daily walks in my neighborhood.

At some point, there is the realization that everything we do has an impact on Earth. Even making art. Thinking about what we do and trying to minimize our impact is a powerful way to reconnect to nature. This is not something we learn at school, this is not the way our culture makes us think about our relationship to nature. Because we are raised with this idea that Earth will provide indefinitely. And we seldomly talk about the destruction that goes with the exploitation. Learning about limits, planetary limits and the limit I may want to apply to my behavior is in a way liberating.

I love what Corinne Morel Darleux says in her Presage Podcast interview “Faced with the drying up of horizons, the dignity of the present”:

“There are a lot of fights that we fight not because we think we are going to win them but because we think they are fair: preserve what can still be, slowing down the destruction of living things. Feeling that you are contributing to a larger movement is a powerful motivation.”

Corinne Morel Darleux
2020
  • Michele Guieu

When the sky is blue again,
Let’s not forget about this.
2020 is screaming at us
to rethink “business as usual

The photo was taken September 9, 2020, in Sunnyvale, Bay Area, where I live, as fires were raging through California, Oregon, and Washington.

The human predicament is a situation with no solution (but changes to the situation can be made) where environmental, economic, energetic, and equity issues are tightly intertwined and could lead to a systemic collapse of our civilization. We are in a trajectory of collapse because we are exploding the planetary limits. We need to change our economic system so that our carbon footprint does not exceed one planet (in the US, we use resources as if we had 4.7 planets).

How do we go from “we explode the planetary limits” to “we respect the planetary limits”?

Burning Fossil fuel creates greenhouse gases that change the climate, increasing the intensity of fires, drought, floods, hurricanes, and acidifying the ocean. We need to stop using them. But how are we going to do that? 80% of ALL our activities use fossil fuel (oil, gas, coal).

Let’s say we can replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, and we would not emit any greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Could we continue to destroy wild spaces, wildlife, on land, and in the ocean? Could we continue to destroy the Amazon forest to make room to grow the crops to feed the cattle? Could we continue to extract nonrenewable resources to make all the things we need and face an inevitable depletion for some metals? Could we continue to consume things endlessly?

We live in a finite world, and we cannot grow indefinitely. We need to put a brake on the exploitation of the living world.

Renewable energy is not as powerful as fossil fuels and cannot replace them. We can transition to a world free of fossil fuels, but it will not resemble today’s world. It could be a world respectful to the environment, equitable, economically sustainable, and using energy wisely. We need new imaginaries to build that world!
2020
  • Michele Guieu

Untitled

Digital photo-collage: California fires, face mask discarded in the neighborhood, Purple Air map

California, August 2020. Feeling Overwhelmed, experiencing a raging early fire season in the midst of heatwaves, and the uncertainty of how the pandemic will evolve, mixed with the possibility of losing our democracy. The outdoors (when accessible), the garden, keep me sane.
2020
  • Michele Guieu

Switchpoint

I believe it’s going to be difficult to change the way we live if we do not understand the Human Predicament.

[…] This human predicament goes by many names. The global challenge. The global problematique. Limits to growth. The end of the world as we know it. The prospect for civilizational collapse. All refer to the perfect storm of global biosphere and societal stressors interacting in complex and unpredictable ways.

Environmental stressors include:
– Climate change, sea-level rise, and changing weather
– Biodiversity loss at 10,000 times the normal level
– Toxification of all life, insect armageddon
– Ocean acidification, dead zones, plastics, and fish and plankton depletion
– Declining and polluted fresh water sources
– Depleted top soils
– Vanishing forests and many more
Social stressors include:
– Poverty, racism, and injustice
– Unsustainable economic growth and global debt
– Vulnerable financial systems, supply chains, and power grids
– Population overshoot, refugee migrations, and resource competition
– Uncontrolled technologies, including AI, biotech, nanotech, robotics, cyber threats
– Dysfunctional geopolitics, failing states, and outdated institutions
– War, terrorism, and nuclear threats—defense resources needed elsewhere, and more

Climate change is the greatest global stressor. But a single focus on climate change means other global stressors are underestimated. These stressors interact as force multipliers, increasing unpredictable future shocks and even potential civilizational collapse.
Most people don’t want to think about this. Yet the culture is filled with vivid imaginings of dystopias in books, films, television series, and games. Civilizational collapse lurks at the imaginal edge of collective consciousness. Yet mainstream media and “official” government institutions are largely silent.
[…]
Michael Lerner in “Resilience, the Global Challenge, and the Human Predicament”.
2020
  • Michele Guieu

Untitled

Photograph

I shared the MAHB concerns about the human predicament: “the multiple cracks in our ecosystems, our fragile fantasy-based economic systems, our unjust agricultural and food systems, neglected public health systems, education systems too often consciously designed to reinforce ignorance, inequity, and greed—to name a few of the stressors.”

All these stressors are interacting. At the same time. Each stressor can worsen at any time and start an unpredictable chain reaction.

I realized the scope of our predicament two years ago and it definitely started a journey for me. Not an easy one: talking about the human predicament is complicated. People are either informed or not. If they are, and if they went over the grieving period, they are ready for action. If they are not, they usually do not wish to listen.

As an artist, I am looking for ways to address the complexity of the situation. How can I address this problem systemically, transversally, and not “in silo”? How might I make people understand that it is not “just” about biodiversity loss, or resource depletion, or water scarcity, or possible wars?

It is our relationship with the living world that needs to be changed. The relationship between humans, the relationship with other species, the relationship with the land, the water, and the air.

We are not at the center.

Are we going to watch the convergence of all the stressors? Or can we, humans, envision a convergence, move and work together towards “reducing the threat of a shattering collapse of civilization”?
2020
  • Michele Guieu

Untitled

Digital photograph

In order to stay sane to face the collapse that has already begun, and to create a positive change, It is important to learn about the Human Predicament. Everything is deeply connected and one event can start a chain reaction that could lead to a systemic collapse. If we do nothing systemic collapse will happen, simply because our system cannot continue as it is. But knowing that it can happen, we can prepare and therefore we have a possibility to avoid it. Lucidity is key, not dangerous positivism.
2020
  • Michele Guieu

Shelter in Place Day 27

Sunprint, digital manipulation

This morning, listening to “Académie du Monde d’Apres” (Academy of the World After) “For the first time in my life, I am witnessing this reversal: the economy, the obsession with its growth, has jumped from its pedestal, it is no longer the measure of relationships nor the supreme authority. Suddenly, public health, the security of citizens, an equal right for all, is the only and imperative watchword.” Erri De Luca [Le Samedi de la Terre]
2020
  • Michele Guieu
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