Climate Change: The Fatalism of Force Majeure?

A 'force majeure' refers to occurrences beyond the reasonable control of any human, such as a war, strike, riot, crime, hurricane, flood, earthquake, volcanic eruption, etc. It is the name of an ambitious body of work by Helen and Newton Harrison, and the title of a book that was just published.THE TIME of the FORCE MAJEURE: After 45 Years Counterforce is on the Horizon.

The Harrisons have added to the conventional examples of  'force majeures' one that is unique to the current era - the pressure of human-generated climate warming on the Earth's systems that are affected by rising temperatures, shrinking icepacks and changing in weather patterns - all of which are potentially catastrophic.

Newton explains why this force is major, "....the changes in the environment are both inevitable and happening. We have experienced at least 5 past mass extinctions related to environmental shock. Unless wefind effective ways to mitigate the impact of greenhouse gases and industrialization, the 6th mass extinction now in evidence will resist mediation."

The book not only chronicles the Harrisons’ 45 year-long career, it embodies their prolific output: it weighs 6 pounds and is 496 pages in length!The designed the book to be read backwards as well as forwards. This weight and length are symbolic of the scale of the artists’ mission – to solve environmental problems on as global scale.

The collaboration between the husband and wife is made evident in the formal dialogue that is included in their exhibitions and publications. Helen’s education in philosophy takes the form of the ‘questioner’. Newton often provides the ‘answers’. Then Helen edits the results, while he contributes as a producer and technician.

The Harrison’s established the Center for the Force Majeure at the University of California in 2009. The nonprofit addresses climate change by bringing artists and scientists together to design ecosystem-adaptation projects. Newton describes the urgency of this mission by stating, “…it is the heat wave that will consequently touch all things, combined with a water rising that will touch all ocean surfaces, and combined with the way we live—we take energy from all life systems, but we don’t give anything back. So, you’re looking at deeply stressed life systems, the probable death of the ecosystem and the rest of the ocean…..“See, it takes nature 10 million years to regenerate from a modest extinction, and 50 or 60 million to regenerate from a big one.