Alaska Houses on the Shore 02

Alaska Houses on the shore 02480
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One Essay Response

  1. Lee Clarke | Rutgers University says:

    Many of Rachel’s pictures are simply arresting, making one pause in wonder. Artists can’t control how their work is interpreted. The pictures that most captured my imagination are ones that show people interacting with physical environments, or with environmental possibilities. I look at them and see beautiful scenes, as I’m sure Rachel meant them to be seen. But I also see things that Rachel probably didn’t intend her viewers to see. For example, I see Alaska—surely one of the most awesomely beautiful places in the world—with oil in the water.

    Serenity and beauty, these pictures show, are part of the human condition. So are their opposites. But we forget that simple truth and thereby increase our vulnerabilities to worst cases. We live longer and better, in rich societies, compared to our ancestors or the poor. This fosters hubris, one aspect of which is a sense of entitlement: that we’ll be safe, and that government can keep us safe. Hubris allowed New Orleans to be a city, once. It does the same thing for Los Angeles, Seattle, and Miami.

    There are almost 300 million people in the United States and more than half of them live near the seas. Eighty percent of Florida’s people live within 20 miles of either the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico. Around the world more and more people are moving to the shores, concentrating themselves as if to create targets for hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and worse.

    One reassuring message from disaster research is that people are remarkably resilient, able to bounce back from all kinds of calamities. New York survived 9/11, Alaska survived Exxon Valdez, and Florida survived some of the worst hurricanes on record. But we do not know the limits of social resilience because we’ve not thought deeply enough about how dependent modern people are on their physical infrastructures: What if half of oil production is destroyed? What if all of New York’s bridges are blown up? What if a monster hurricane creates a tsunami on Florida’s west coast and then east coast?