Hot Trends: Bruce Sterling on Global Warming in the Glossies

By Sterling, Bruce | Artforum International, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Hot Trends: Bruce Sterling on Global Warming in the Glossies


Sterling, Bruce, Artforum International


CLIMATE CHANGE isn't a vogue, because vogues go away when they get boring.

Vanity Fair, along with Vogue and Elle, discovered climate change this season. These are three very trendy magazines, but climate change is no mere trend. Global warming has been two hundred years in the making, much older even than the time-honored survivor of that group--yes, it's older even than Vogue.

Climate chaos has been stealthily creeping up on us for two centuries. Now she is here in spades and she won't go anywhere but worse. Global warming is the dirty little sister of nuclear Armageddon, and she requires no validation from Time magazine or PBS specials, even though she's getting those tributes, too.

Noted thespian Julia Roberts appeared on the cover of May's Vanity Fair, clad in an ultraearthy haute-green getup that strongly suggested Titania, Queen of the Fairies, in a midsummer night's swoon over leftwing politicians. But Vanity Fair's "Special Green Issue" will soon lose its specialness, as will Elle's and Vogue's, because a massive change in climate is news that stays news.

Let's be entirely clear: From now until the end of your lifetime, no week will pass without news of some freakish weather calamity. Since I first considered typing up this article in April, there's been a hundred-year flood on the Danube, a hundred-year-drought in Queensland, a calamitous dust storm in China and.... Oh, let's just consult Google: Wow, look, fifteen inches of rain in southern New Hampshire!

Next week it'll be something weirder. We're not "averting" or "preventing" climate change; we are soaking in it. The mission was never accomplished--the moment has passed--so now it's All Katrina, All the Time. Yes, even for the party people. The rain falls on the cool and the uncool alike. It falls on the multitudes. Global warming is the epitome of globalization.

Henceforth, we won't be allowed to ignore our disrupted atmosphere, any more than noted climate skeptic Senator Trent Lott could dispel the high winds when his Mississippi home blew over during Katrina. No amount of political spin can stop a spinning hurricane. Seven emergency experts have been offered the plum job of head of FEMA under Bush since the hurricane that killed the Big Easy. Not a one of them has taken it, precisely because they know better than to run inside a building while it's collapsing.

Now, Vanity Fair, of all publications, rather aptly points out that when and if the seas rise midcentury, Washington, DC, will become a salt marsh. The NOLA poor will have company in the low-lying southern marshes: the United States Congress. Vanity Fair, much to its credit, beautifully displays that fact with a digital simulation generated simply by using the government's own environmental data, as supplied by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Vanity Fair commissioned and publicized such geology studies because the current administration never tells anybody anything important about anything. Not anybody--not even rich people. According to another simulation in the issue, the good folk of the Hamptons, those keystone consumers of such VF advertising standbys as Omega watches, Prada bags, and top-end fragrances, are also severely menaced by our planet's rising seas. So is Martha's Vineyard. And San Francisco. Even the 9/11 memorial site is a potential marsh.

Fashion wants to do something. And why fashion? Because nobody else dares to try.

Supposedly, environmentalists handle this sort of issue. Of course they haven't, and they still don't. Their catastrophic and comprehensive failure to forward the mission of conserving the environment speaks for itself. With the possible exceptions of Commie Reds and Nazi Browns, Hippie Greens are the least effectual reformers in history. The fashionistas couldn't possibly do any worse than they have. …

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