Did you know the American South is a leader in renewable energy? This blows my mind.
Besides haunted stuff and racism, what do you see when you look at the American South? Are you picturing diesel engines, denim, and banjos?
There’s a slacked cultural identity tied to nostalgia for coal because of that diesel engine so central to the American mystique — life on the open road, on your own terms — like America is a Ford truck commercial; I imagine this levels the need for new energy sources with an aversion to switching out grit for slick. Slick is a lie, it’s designed more like the human body — not all these guts hanging out — these wires everywhere. You can’t see inside or how the sausage is made and what kind of person are you if that’s your environment and now that’s what you’re made of?
“People don’t understand that everything is made from oil,” an oil worker from the South told me at a hotel bar in D.C. last May. I thought to myself that while this is true, why not still look into alternatives since it seems like the planet has reached its capacity to tolerate its effects? You’ve got to keep it moving! Did he mean there is literally no possible alternative and humans will die off without fossil fuels? I should have asked.
My anxiety about the climate has led to a healthy dose of bargaining and denial but I’ve been Googling and reading about ecologist disaster recoveries like the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland that became so polluted it caught fire. Now it is fêted as one of the most intensive ecological recoveries, winning the River of the Year award in 2019 (aawwww). I learned the South is rising again, this time with renewable energy technologies. There’s geothermal energy in South Texas; Texas is not just oil country, but the leader in wind energy! Onward toward the proper South, you get lower wind speeds and it’s not ideal for wind energy there, but in Wilsonville, Alabama they have the National Carbon Capture Center!
WHAT IS GOING ON?!? WOW!
How do I commemorate something so surprising to me? How do I capture my hope for a beacon such as the National Carbon Capture Center and toward what that could lead? As the technology develops, it is going to get better, cheaper, more efficient and precise.
Thomas Hart Benton — regionalist painter and teacher to Jackson Pollock at the Art Students League — the government paid him in eggs to paint an homage to our energy machines back around 1930 with a huge egg tempera painting, “Instruments of Power” that today hangs in the MET in its own red room along with 12 other panels making up what is the total of Benton’s panorama series America Today depicting life in the 1920s.
Inspired to update Benton’s vision, I started smaller with a two-foot canvas a few days a week for an hour on my lunch break during the month of May 2022 in the Larry Poons class at the League. Basically it can’t hurt to visualize miracles for the world becoming healthy again, but that vision has to translate into actualized changes and system overhauls, and the visualizing needs to lead to action; your brain guesses its way to the outcome when you see your intentions in color pictures every day.
All the best,