Eco org Cape Farewell isn't saying goodbye to the earth just yet. It's more of a "take care." And soon, it'll also be "hello, Toronto."
The UK group famous for taking artists to witness ice-cap-melting, polar-bear-deficient climes warmed by carbon emissions has chosen T.O. as its headquarters for the whole of North America. Chalk that up to the power of our artsies - and to the fact that Cape Farewell has consciously adopted the C40, the climate leadership group made up of mayors from the world's largest cities.
Guess who chairs it? Our own David Miller. Along with Copenhagen mayor Ritt Bjerregaard, he's aiming to get 80 to 90 other mayors together at the Climate Summit for Mayors in early December to work on issues independently of the COP15 state-to-state meetings also being held there.
"The idea at C40 will be and has always been to prompt national governments to take action, and when they don't, or can't, cities will and are taking action," says Mayor Miller's spokesperson, Stuart Green.
It's also a great way to spread the word of C40's work beyond environmentalists and government types. The Copenhagen meet can actually be described as a C40+plus that's aiming to expand far beyond the 40 major cities in its ranks.
"Miller's doing a brilliant job,'' Cape Farewell's David Buckland told me at the Creative Places And Spaces conference a few weeks back. "You don't have to wait for huge, complex national governments." Cities, after all, account for 70 to 75 per cent of controllable emissions.
And the effectiveness of C40 hinges on the same crucial point as climate change action as a whole: not enough people know enough about it.
Eight years ago, Buckland founded the organization, struck by the way science was trapped in a communications bubble, unable to convey the startling evidence of melting ice caps. The group conceived a model for diversifying the channels through which climate change info enters the public consciousness.
"[Scientists] couldn't get an audience to hear what they knew, and that was really sad," says Buckland, sitting in a room at the MaRS Centre.
"What are they trying to tell you? It's such a silly thing - a 4°C. rise in temperature is petrifying for a climate scientist, but to everyone else it's meaningless," he says, adding that the same goes for a 60-centimetre rise in sea level, which can seem like just "a little wave."
"Artists are great seeding beasts," says the designer, artist and filmmaker. Cape Farewell's most visible efforts are its inspirational tours of threatened (mostly Arctic) locales on a 98-year-old steel-hulled sailboat.
Over the years, he's enlisted dancers, poets, filmmakers, singers, photographers and novelists and united them with researchers. The results of multi-day expeditions to remote places like Greenland's Disko Bay with artists like Jarvis Cocker and Feist are never conventional.
"Primarily, what the artists have done is start a human-scale conversation: ‘I was there. I witnessed this. This is what I saw,'" says Buckland. "It's extraordinary to be in front of a glacier. It's extraordinary to be in front of a glacier that's not there any more."
But what if artists do the trip and then get blocked when it's time to turn out the planet-saving art? Better not to create than to produce contrived eco paintings or ballads, right?
"If it doesn't come through, that's fine,'' says Buckland. "It's not like there's a contract. Getting engaged might mean you create something three or four years down the road."
That was the case with author Ian McEwan, who went on a 2005 expedition to Tempelfjorden, on Svalbard, north of Norway. Five years on, he's set to publish Solar, a novel dealing with global warming, in March 2010.
The NGO's next trip, to Russia's northeast passage, will involve artists and scientists from that country.
But Cape Farewell's expeditions aren't just about artistic expression. Researchers have used them to monitor temperatures and salinity in the Norwegian Current as a way to better understand its strength and size. The trips have recorded the lowest ice cover in the Arctic Ocean ever observed, and recently deployed high-tech oceanographic equipment to relay data on the central Greenland Sea.
Still, Cape Farewell can't be pigeonholed as a multidisciplinary science-art collaborative field trip. "Most of the work is done when we come back to urban centres like London and [soon] Toronto," says Buckland.
The group hopes to be up and running here in the next four to six months, says Beth Kapusta, associate director of Cape Farewell Canada.
"We're hoping [to organize] climate change events on the scale of the city," she says.
Meanwhile, don't look for the organization in Copenhagen. Instead of showing up at what will undoubtedly be a raucous affair, Cape Farewell is relying on C40 mayors to advance the planetary agenda in the special ways municipal governments can.
"Not only do they want to show nations that cities are doing work," says Green, "but [the C40] wants nations to step up and be as active as cities are."
In eight years of expeditions, Cape Farewell has introduced plenty of creative types to the perils facing the planet. Here are a few names you'll recognize.
Feist (left) and Jarvis Cocker (right)
The 2002 Man Booker Prize winner for Life Of Pi went on the most recent 2009 Andes Expedition not long after adding the Cape Farewell book Burning Ice to his weekly "What Is Stephen Harper Reading?" mail-out to the PM.
The man behind Pulp blogged his trip to Disko Bay and has since participated in all kinds of reflections on the 2008 voyage.
Leslie Feist went on the same Disko Bay, Greenland, expedition.
The British singer/songwriter was another high-profile musician on the Disko Bay journey. She probably never expected to play gigs in Ilulissat and Uummannaq.
The author of Atonement joined the Tempelfjorden, Spitsbergen, expedition in 2005, and his upcoming novel, Solar, deals with global warming.