Week 3: Movements, Members and Music

For our last full week of class, we focused on art’s ability to influence social movements. Art is extremely multifaceted, which makes it the perfect tool for communicating values, drawing interest, and motivating community members to take part or join a movement. A more simple work can easily and quickly communicate a paramount message. Complicated artworks can invoke fierce or profound emotions in a viewer and force them to look at issues, that they may have found trivial before, differently. The resources necessary to create art are practically accessible to everyone. This is significant because it grants people the opportunity to publicly question hegemonic ideals and guidelines.

The wide array of art forms give everyone with some form of expression or style; people of different interests, origins, ages, and values. With such a variety of approaches, art provides movements with a means of connection with outside communities. By connecting with these outsiders through art, movements can attempt to shift or transform the outsider’s frame of reference or analysis in which they use to look at a movement, view an issue, or feel about a social concern. This concept was highlighted in our course when Kathy had us take part in a group activity about music. Each class group picked a contemporary song that related to protest and wrote up three words that represented the primary focuses of that song up on the board. Every group chose a hip hop or R&B track, many of which had similar messages and intentions. The activity allowed us to physically see what social issues are dominating our society today and highlighted how art’s versatility provides movements with a means of granting people a greater understanding and accessibility to a cause.  

Week 3: HIV Tomatoes?

Okay, so this title clearly requires a bit of context but don’t worry it all comes together in the end. Let’s start by talking about GMOs. Yikes. But what exactly is a GMO? Dubbed as “Frankenfood” it undoubtedly has a negative reputation among most today. But what is it that incites so much fear in us about the idea of “genetic modification”?

Let’s face it: Colorado tomatoes are nothing to ride home about. That’s probably because they’re from Florida, or California and have been picked while they’re still green so they don’t over ripen on the truck ride to Colorado Springs. But being picked so early has its downfalls; theses premature tomatoes have failed to receive nutrients and proteins that make them flavorful.

At one point, scientists had proposed a clever way to resolve this problem. Let’s examine some background information first. DNA is transcribed into mRNA, which is translated into proteins, which perform a myriad of functions in cells. A long time ago it was discovered that plants had a pretty nifty defense mechanism against viruses: they are able to recognize double stranded RNA viruses and target them for destruction. Back to our tomato situation: fruit ripens due to a gene coding for the expression of ethylene. When you put a pre-ripe fruit next to a banana to ripen, it’s because the ethylene secreted by the banana will stimulate ripening. Scientists figured that if they could somehow slow down the expression of the ethylene gene in a tomato, it would slow ripening. This would allow tomatoes to be picked when they were riper and not over ripen before reaching the store. After the tomato transcribes the ethylene DNA into mRNA scientists engineered the tomato to make another mRNA from the same gene that would bind to the first mRNA. What do we get? Double stranded RNA, which will be seen as a virus and degraded. Bottom line? Less mRNA means less ethylene protein translated: slower ripening.

This idea seems pretty clever, plausible, and benign. Yet it was not taken quite as well. Double stranded RNA? They’ve put a virus in a tomato. HIV is an RNA virus right? Does this tomato have HIV?

Now I’m not saying all GMOs are completely harmless but I think it’s important to understand what something actual is before forming a definitive opinion. I guess my point is that GMOs and non-GMOs aren’t necessarily antitheses…maybe more like tom-A-to tom-AH-to.

Week 2: Gatekeepers, Bricolage, and Social Activism

This past week, we dove into the processes of how one enters and, more importantly, stays relevant in the art world. A variety of intricate social circles, firms, and gate keepers dominate the art world. To be a part of a movement, is to join and work in a specific stylistic group. To get one’s work out into the public, an artist must network their way to the top and strike a balance between following social conventions and being innovative. From there, it’s a constant competition to stay in front of the public eye in the overflowing realm of art production. Those who end up being the most successful are those that work with the market, not against it.

Kathy provided us with a prime example of what a superstar looks like by showing our class the film, Sing Your Song. The documentary follows Harry Belafonte’s journey to success. Belafonte networked his way to the top, introduced new styles of music while working with the market, and used his platform to promote social activism. He constantly evolves his art styles and strategies for activism, in order continuously do social work that is beneficial, and to push art and music into new waves.

The second primary focus of the week was the audience. The audience is who gives meaning to an artwork. Art communicates through symbols that represent universal ideas. Art, social groups, or movements begin to become powerful when they harness the power of symbols through bricolage, the application of new meanings or definitions to symbols that are outside usual social conventions.

The art world operates by a series of rules and is much more exclusive than it seems. I realized that the fundamental steps to becoming a successful artist should be applied to my life and can serve as key strategies in the development of my success. I also recognized that, without an audience, the art that society, my community and I make becomes pointless. Art is unable to stand alone, it must be understood by those who consume it.

Now we come to ask, “Do artworks and movements actually matter?” We’ll see what third week has in store.

“Movements don’t die because struggles don’t die.” -Harry Belafonte. Credit Amazon Prime

 

 

Week 2: Genes are Accommodating

While it seems logical to think that gene expression is a fixed, unchanging thing, like the Rosetta Stone of human biology this isn’t necessarily the case. Genes are often viewed as sequences written into our DNA that remain unaltered through our lives, yet today we spent the majority of class time disproving this idea.

As it turns out gene expression can be influenced by many factors, one of the main being one’s environment. Different stimulus in our surroundings can have a great impact on our genes such as causing one section of the genome with specific genes to be replicated multiple times, a phenomenon known as gene amplification. Think of it as a supply and demand type situation. Genes code for proteins, which perform specialized functions; as the need for a protein goes up, our bodies respond by supplying more copies of the corresponding gene. For example, when small mammals are exposed to heavy metal (not just the headbanging kind) there is a significant increase in replication of a gene coding for a particular protein that will remove metal from the bloodstream. Conversely, sometimes it may be desirable to prevent gene amplification. Take chemotherapy as an example. Chemotherapy is generally given in large doses. This helps to prevent cancer cells from undergoing gene amplification and subsequently being able to protect themselves from treatments aimed to destroy them.

So at this point in class we’ve firmly established that gene expression is malleable. But how does this idea apply to things that are more relevant to the general population (i.e. something other than disease treatment or metal exposure)? Well there’s another mechanism in the cell that can result in the generation of genetic material, a process called gene duplication. When there are multiple copies of the same gene this means that one copy could theoretically develop a mutation and the cell would still have one functional copy. As it turns out this is one way in which new genes come onto the playing field. It’s kind of like if you have your best player bat cleanup so top of the line you have more room to experiment.

Needless to say, by now I’ve become more than convinced of the incredibly adaptable nature of gene expression. Maybe if the human genome is anything like the Rosetta Stone it at least has some extra carving space and an eraser.

Week 1: A Peek into the Genome

Imagine a stack of textbooks, packed like sardines with words, and standing four stories high. Now think about being given the task to find not one page, not one paragraph, but one word. Seems like an impossible task. To some extent, this is comparable to the task scientists were charged with in the late 1980s while attempting to pinpoint the location of a mutant gene responsible for causing cystic fibrosis. When I initially heard this daunting analogy I could scarcely imagine any way in which one could accomplish this job. And yet in three hours, minus time for water and snacks, our professor was able to give us a pretty good idea.

Our DNA is made up of different bases abbreviated with letters, which are wound around proteins that make up structures called chromosomes. And incredibly, some three billion letters are all able to fit into 23 pairs of chromosomes, which reside happily in the cell of each nucleus in each cell. I find sometimes in class as we work through problems, attack complex scenarios, and delve deep into peculiar topics it’s easy to get caught up in minute details that demand your attention and forget the sheer vastness and breadth of genetics. But when I take a step back it’s pretty astonishing to me, even as a science major, that genetics can weave its way into nearly any subject imaginable. And I guess that’s obvious, I mean biology is the study of life after all, but its scope and relevance is pretty impressive.

It’s T-minus 5 minutes to the start of class and I’m anxiously filtering through yesterday’s information trying to make room for today’s. Class typically begins at 9:00 am and lasts until lunchtime. Rather than watching slides on a PowerPoint or reading from a textbook our professor engages us in often seemingly different topics which somehow always manage to come down to one thing: the gene, a pair of genes, or some combination of genes. From hypercholesterolemia to baldness to chocolate and yellow labs I usually manage to leave class with more questions that I came in with. But one week in and I’m trying to accept that maybe that’s the whole idea of genetics: to realize how much there is and how much is still widely unknown.

Week 1: Self Reflection, Hegemony, and Eating Chocolate in the Dark

On Friday I finished my first week in Kathy Giuffre’s Art and Society block and I can already tell that this block will be one to remember. On the first day, I wasn’t sure what this class had in store. As we moved through the week, we developed a definition for art, discussed art’s role in satisfying the subconscious, highlighted forms of propaganda, and designated what aspects are critical to the relationship between society and art. Everyday Kathy introduces a new perspective to our class that we then used to unpack the relationship between art and society. One of my favorite elements of this course is that for each key concept or issue we discuss, Kathy ties a physical experience to it. For example, we read an article last week, “He’s a Cripple an’ Needs my Love,” which discussed the latent impacts of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, an American opera that showed around Europe during the 1930’s. Our class listened to Billy Holiday, on vinyl, in the dark, while eating chocolate because 1. It was an experience that Kathy believes everyone needs to have and 2. It provided us with a clearer picture of what the audience we had read about that day may have experienced. We also visited the Fine Arts Center and have been consistently tying the works that we saw in the museum back into our class discussions.

I enjoyed being introduced to a series of new lenses last week through which I can now use to see the art world in different ways. I’m excited to see how our class uses these new perspectives to further dissect the relationship between art and society.

Farewell

As everyone else on campus prepares for Fourth Week, EC385 has scattered. The COP is over, though at the moment there is no formal rulebook (the entire point of the conference). While negotiators from throughout the world continue to work, everyone else observing the conference has left.

While most of my posts have had a negative tone, I would like to formally state that does not mean I had a bad time. Quite the contrary, while some moments were hard- it was an incredible experience to be able to attend such an international conference. We were told before we left that the COP would be an emotional rollercoaster, though it’s difficult to know what that means. A conference? You think, no way could that be emotional. And yet, being confronted with the realities of climate change for 10 hours a day, reckoning with the vast inequalities, trying to determine what is true in all the noise, and experiencing sensory overload is emotional.

My Freshman Year Experience class at CC was called: “It’s Getting Hot in Here: the Science and Politics of Climate Change”. I have been thinking about climate change since my literal first undergraduate class and that has not changed since. I think the first paper I wrote was called “No One Gives a Shit About the Environment: Why the Economy and the Environment are Uncoupled in the American Mind.” Yes I swore, yes that’s who I am as a person. I am now a double major in Economics and Environmental Policy because I do really believe that solving climate change stretches the boundaries of typical areas of academia. That belief was cemented at the COP.

I know that each other student on this course has such an academic and personal reason for wanting to attend as well, though I only know my own story.

It was hard for all of us to know how to move forward from this experience in a meaningful way. I think that all we can do is pressure the institutions of which we are a part to be better.

The Colorado College Student Government Association passed a resolution last week urging the administration to sign the “We Are Still In Pledge.” This is a group of businesses, higher education institutions, states, and cities that are committed to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, even as the United States has pledged to leave it. This is a good first step but we can do better as an institution- more meat-free meals in the dining halls, pledging to not only be carbon neutral but also fossil fuel free.

So what can you do? Plant trees, go vegan 2 days a week, write to your city councillor, ask your family to buy you carbon offset credits for the holidays. What you cannot do is give up hope, because as soon as we stop believing that we can have any effect, positive change stops. Stay hopeful. Stay vigilant. Stay angry.

 

Director of Sustainability- Ian K. Johnson. Photo by: Adam Holliday ’19

COP’s Representation Problem

This morning, I went to a panel in the #wearestillin pavilion regarding the U.S. midterm elections and how they relate to advancing the climate agenda. This was essentially about the ‘blue wave’ that swept the states one month ago, flipping the house from red to, well, blue. These elections were remarkable in many ways- there was the highest voter turn out in a midterm election since 1966, we now have our first muslim representatives-elect, and an unprecedented number of women and people of color won hard-fought elections to take the house. This panel was remarkable in a different way, all 5 panelists were middle-aged white men in suits. As they rode the blue wave, a wave of irony hit me– demographically, it was not them who won this battle, not their rights on the line every day in Washington, and yet here they were sitting pretty talking about how we could now advance a climate agenda in Washington.

The COP, as a conference, suffers the same problem. Climate change will affect disproportionately people of color, people of low socioeconomic status, and women. And yet white people and men fill the panels and the hallways. The United States is most represented country per capita here at the COP. This is largely due to the fact that the bulk of the non-governmental organizations badged at the COP are from Western Europe and North America. It costs a load to get here, Katowice is no international hub, and then even once the barrier of arrival is met, the accommodations are expensive. This is not to mention the lack of accessibility of language here, almost every event is in English.

This is symptomatic of the larger negotiating process, developed countries ask for clemency in their past emissions, and then continue to emit. Developing countries bear the brunt of climate change and are often, by lack of economic resource, denied as large a seat at the negotiating table as developed nations and their constituents.

Solving climate change cannot be done on the backs of the poor and disadvantaged. If that is what happens, it will simply continue the same structural catastrophe that landed us here in the first place. Solving climate change requires a reckoning with structural inequality and systems of power. The first step towards this is giving developing countries a seat at the table, sitting back, and listening.

 

 

Bad News From Katowice

Late last week our delegation was joined by President Tiefenthaler, Provost Townsend, and one of the Colorado College Trustees, Marc St. John. Their presence at the COP underscores the importance of climate change for CC. We had a wonderful time leading them around to events and chatting with them about our research projects. A hearty thank you to them for taking time out of their busy schedules to come to coal-y Katowice and attend this important conference.

You may be wondering what we do from day to day so I’ll give you a quick rundown. We wake up, hop on a free(!) tram to the venue, which is quite like a giant temporary airport, breeze through security, and start attending events. Events range from attending the technical negotiations of the Katowice rulebook (called Plenaries) to going to a wine tasting centered around the effects of climate change on the wine industry. In addition, there is an entire building filled with country and business pavilions, think Epcot for climate change professionals. Each country has a small area decked out with their flag where they hold events, providing seating for conference goers, and share their perspectives on climate change. (I am sitting in the Austria Pavilion right now where they have outlets (a rarity inside the venue) and free hazelnut wafers). We attend events for 6-10 hours each day.

The COP is an emotional rollercoaster, something I neither anticipated nor understood before coming. As all the countries argue about the technicalities of the Rulebook (which really feels like the last hope for combatting climate change on an international level), there are hiccups. On Saturday, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Russia stalled the discussions when they said they would not support a clause “welcoming” the UNFCCC-requested Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on the effects of 1.5 degrees celsius of warming. This refusal stopped an entire meeting and radically changed the broader mood around the conference from one of tentative hope to one of hostility and despair.

There is some hope yet, as the conference does not end until Friday so there will still be progress.

Water Bottle as Social Capital

As I walk throughout the conference venue, I am identifiably from the United States, probably for a couple of reasons. First, I smile at everyone I see, second my water bottle. 5 days into the COP and six people have commented on my beloved teal nalgene coated in climate-related stickers. It’s a great conversation starter and has earned me a few business cards.

Water bottles, at least at CC, are a way to make a quick non-verbal statement regarding your passions. It’s a powerful visual to represent your ‘isms’: environmentalism, anti-racism, veganism, High Mountain Institute-ism, and the list goes on. What the water bottle fails to do is bely any action behind its claims. Mine reads: “keep it in the ground,” regarding coal. But what am I doing to help keep it in the ground? I don’t know.

Being at the COP requires me, as an individual, and especially as an American, to reckon with how my actions contribute or detract from climate change. My wish for you, reader of this blog deep within the CC website, is ask yourself these same questions. How are you taking the messages on your water bottle and enacting them?