They are visions of a planetary collapse that the Earth is fast approaching.
A German photographer has provided a window into a future of extremes, one where technology provides a final redoubt for humanity’s survival of the global climate disaster.
Michael Najjar fused real images and art for his acclaimed ‘cool earth’ project, part of his thought-provoking look at what lies ahead for a planet under threat.
He envisages ice-free Arctic seas and rising oceans but also visualises how humans may use technology such as artificial rainfall and floating wind turbines to sustain life.
The post-destruction imagery is influenced by Najjar’s present day travels to extreme locations and the images he has captured along the way. The future Virgin Galactic astronaut’s visualisations include ‘eruption II’, where a raging volcano spews lava into the air.
Another, ‘posthuman waves’, shows a humanoid figure standing in front of jagged rocks after humankind has been wiped out by the climate apocalypse.
The ongoing project imagines a future where the tipping points in the biophysical margins supporting the Earth have been passed, leading to irreversible change.
Najjar, who is based in Berlin, believes that one reason why the planet continues heading into the abyss could be that the climate crisis appears as a ‘hyperobject’ — too complex for human understanding.
The images realise the different impacts in scenes that link back to our present existence and some of the emerging technology that may sustain life.
‘My new “cool earth” deals with our planetary future in times of climate change, and the role of new climate technologies,’ Najjar told Metro.co.uk.
‘It explores the far-reaching ecological, economic and cultural impacts of human-induced climate change which are leading to a redefinition of the relationship between humans and nature.
‘The work spans the arc from an impending dystopian future – which has already arrived in our present – to a technology-based decarbonised post-fossil world.’
Millions of people are already being impacted by changes in rainfall patterns, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, warming oceans and more frequent extreme weather, according to the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Global warming is likely to reach 1.5C above pre-industrial levels between 2030 and 2052 if it continues at the current rate, increasing the likelihood of heat extremes, rainfall and drought, according to the IPCC.
Najjar’s ‘arctic elegy’ touches this future while evoking present day images of crumbling glaciers.
An international research team led by South Korean professor Seung-Ki Min has predicted the first ice-free summer will fall in the 2030s.
The realism also speaks to the fact that Najjar went on an Arctic expedition to the polar pack ice and glaciers of Spitsbergen in May 2022.
His work links the current, unfolding climate disaster to a decarbonised, post-fossil world where only technology can support life.
His hybrid images take in the nine planetary boundaries in the Earth’s system: Climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, biodiversity loss, chemical pollution, acidification of oceans, consumption of freshwater, changes in land use and nitrogen and phosphorous pollution.
‘These boundaries define a safe biophysical margin of action within a stable and resilient planet is guaranteed,’ Najjar said.
‘If these limits are exceeded, we enter a high-risk area of irreversible change. Four of these limits have already been crossed.
‘Consequentially, if tipping points occur in many systems and places at once, the combined impact could lead to catastrophic feedback effects on a planetary scale.
‘The increase in the Earth’s temperature by over two degrees would activate such tipping points.
‘A hitherto stable system would turn into a chaotic one and endanger human civilization.’
One insurance policy for humanity’s survival can be seen in ‘arctic vault’, which shows the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a real facility located around 1,000km from the North Pole.
The building, only accessible to a few select people, is considered the richest storage place on Earth for agricultural plant species.
Najjar’s image shows the mysterious facility being threatened by the very climate disaster it was designed to outlive as it sinks into the misty sea.
Another projection of humans meeting the collapse is captured in ‘electric rainfall’, which visualises artificial rain falling over the Dubai cityscape.
Replacing nature is also the theme of ‘floating generators’, where the wind is harnessed by giant turbines suspended in mid-air in an idea that is been worked on at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The ‘cool earth’ images were displayed at the Ars Electronica Festival 2023 which took place in Linz, Austria, last week under the theme of Who Owns the Truth?
More than 88,000 visits were recorded to the festival for art, technology and society, with 1,542 artists, scientists, developers, designers and activists from 88 countries taking part.
Najjar’s work encompasses hope that the Earth’s present apex species utilise radical technology to avoid or weather the catastrophic impacts of climate change.
But the challenge is accompanied by an icy warning.
‘We need to combine our scientific understanding of the bio-physical limits of the Earth with transformative and sustainable technologies,’ Najjar says.
‘Otherwise, we shall never reach the saving shore.’
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