Margaret Wertheim, engulfed in the Föhr Reef, (Museum Kunst der Westküste, Föhr, Germany, 2012). A similar exhibition she co-created, called The Crochet Coral Reef, is on view the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery at UC Santa Cruz.

Margaret Wertheim, engulfed in the Föhr Reef, (Museum Kunst der Westküste, Föhr, Germany, 2012). A similar exhibition she co-created, called The Crochet Coral Reef, is on view the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery at UC Santa Cruz. (Photo: Courtesy of Steve Kurtz)

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All hail the Pussy Hat, the charming, knitted-or-crocheted pink cap, designed to raise awareness of women’s rights.

It’s hard to point to anything that has so captured the global imagination and sung the praises of needlecraft at the same time. An exception may be Crochet Coral Reef: CO2CA-CO2LA Ocean, an exhibition by twin sisters which runs through May 6 at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC).

Margaret Wertheim is a science writer. Her sister Christine Wertheim teaches at the California Institute for the Arts. They both grew up in Queensland, Australia, home of the the Great Barrier Reef.

Crochet Coral Reef is a massive collection of individual works of art: corals, anemones, sponges, and other colorful sea-life forms. The artists crocheted the pieces not just from yarn and thread, but also from a cornucopia of flotsam — plastic bags, ties, can flip-tops, videotape, ribbon, and tinsel.

The Crochet Coral Reef project has been exhibited all around the world over the past 10 years, at places like the the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York, and the Hayward Gallery in London.

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The materials the artists use to create the work may be soft in feel, but the reef sends out a strong activist message. “My sister and I started the project with the direct intention of bringing attention to the plight of coral reefs, which have been devastated by global warming,” Margaret Wertheim says. “You do get to have a conversation about what’s happening.”

Crochet may not seem like the most obvious medium to make a point about the devastating effects of climate change on reefs. But “hyperbolic crochet,” as discovered by Cornell University mathematician Daina Taimina, is a remarkably effective way to demonstrate mathematics as it appears in nature. Loopy “kelps,” fringed “anemones,” crenelated “sea slugs,” and curlicued “corals” all model algorithms.

The Crochet Coral Reef, by Margaret & Christine Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring, as installed at UC Santa Cruz, sponsored by the Institute of the Arts and Sciences in partnership with the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery.
The Crochet Coral Reef, by Margaret & Christine Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring, as installed at UC Santa Cruz, sponsored by the Institute of the Arts and Sciences in partnership with the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery. (Photo: Courtesy of Steve Kurtz)

A Collective Project

Part of the project’s continuing appeal is the community aspect. Wherever the Crochet Coral Reef travels, exhibition organizers wrangle members of the local community to crochet an auxiliary reef of their own. This includes Santa Cruz, where the exhibition is a co-production of the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery and UCSC’s Institute of the Arts and Sciences.

The gallery hosts a selection of what’s been created before in each city. The Institute is coordinating crocheting circles on campus, in downtown Santa Cruz and at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, where UC Santa Cruz’s “satellite reef” will be presented in May.

Almost 300 people have gotten involved so far, including the Santa Cruz Knitting Guild, The Fábrica, and Rachel Nelson, curator and program manager of the Institute. There are monthly workshops at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, and weekly workshops on campus. “I quickly had to learn, so I could help teach people how to crochet,” Nelson says, adding that community members have mostly relieved her of her teaching duties. “This is the first project I’ve been on that has had this level of community engagement.”

Detail of The Crochet Coral Reef, on view the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery at UC Santa Cruz. The Crochet Coral Reef is a massive collection of individual works of art: corals, anemones, kelps, sponges, nudibranchs, flatworms and slugs, crocheted not just from yarn and thread, but from plastic bags, ties, can flip tops, videotape, ribbon, and tinsel.
Detail of The Crochet Coral Reef, on view the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery at UC Santa Cruz. The Crochet Coral Reef is a massive collection of individual works of art: corals, anemones, kelps, sponges — crocheted not just from yarn and thread, but from plastic bags, ties, videotape, ribbon, and tinsel. (Photo: Courtesy of Steve Kurtz)

Mimicking Mother Nature

Besides fostering community and conversation, the “many hands” approach is meant to make a statement about Mother Nature. “It takes hundreds, sometimes thousands of people to build these community reefs,” Margaret Wertheim says. “That’s exactly how corals work. Each polyp alone has no power on its own. But collectively, they can build the great barrier reef. When we act together, we can really do extraordinary things.”

Margaret Wertheim says the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery is much smaller than the other spaces the Wertheims have worked with in the past. This forced the sisters to get creative. “How can we make something fabulous for this particular space?” Marget Wertheim says.

One idea the Wertheim sisters came up with was to use the aerial space in the gallery. Suspended from the ceiling, “The Midden” is a fishing net filled with four years’ worth of domestic trash. “Every bottle, every piece of wrapping that we used in our daily lives,” Margaret Wertheim says. The work is meant to be a reflection of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, seen from a “fish’s eye view.”  

Visitors explore an “undersea grove” of miniature coral “Pod Worlds” featuring plastic bottle anemones by Nadia Severns and Vanessa Garcia. These sculptures are sitting on a bed of plastic “sand” from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, gathered on Kamillo Beach Hawaii by Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Foundation.
Visitors explore an ‘undersea grove’ of miniature coral ‘Pod Worlds’ featuring plastic bottle anemones by Nadia Severns and Vanessa Garcia. These sculptures are sitting on a bed of plastic ‘sand’ from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, gathered on Kamillo Beach Hawaii by Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Foundation. (Photo: Courtesy of Steve Kurtz)

As global warming accelerates, “It’s now very, very clear that we are in deep trouble,” Margaret Wertheim says. “What’s needed is to keep on pushing, whether gently or aggressively, the notion that climate change is caused by humans. I think our project has done it, in a way that’s gentle and accessible to people.”

Q.Logo.Break

‘Crochet Coral Reef: CO2CA-CO2LA Ocean’ runs through Saturday, May 6, 2017 at the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery on the UC Santa Cruz campus. More info here.

To join one or more of the crocheting workshops, check out the schedule here.

The Unlikely Marriage of Crochet and Climate Change 6 March,2017Rachael Myrow
  • DiogenesDespairs

    Climate will do what climate will do as it has for hundreds of millions of years. Meanwhile, it is wise to base decisions and policy on hard fact.

    Here are some crucial, verifiable facts – with citations – about human-generated carbon dioxide and its effect on global warming people need to know and understand. I recommend following the links in the citations; some of them are very educational. And please feel free to copy/paste this comment wherever you think it will do the most good.

    The fact is, there has been global warming, but the contribution of human-generated carbon dioxide is necessarily so minuscule as to be nearly undetectable. Here’s why:

    Carbon dioxide, considered the main vector for human-caused global warming, is some 0.038% of the atmosphere[1]- a trace gas. Water vapor varies from 0% to 4%[2], and should easily average 1% or more[3] near the Earth’s surface, where the greenhouse effect would be most important, and is about three times more effective[4] a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So water vapor is at least 25 times more prevalent and three times more effective; that makes it at least 75 times more important to the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide[5]. The TOTAL contribution of carbon dioxide to the greenhouse effect is therefore 0.013 or less. The total human contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide since the start of the industrial revolution has been estimated at about 25%[6]. So humans’ carbon dioxide greenhouse effect is a quarter of 0.013, works out to about 0.00325. Total warming of the Earth by the greenhouse effect is widely accepted as about 33 degrees Centigrade, raising average temperature to 59 degrees Fahrenheit. So the contribution of anthropogenic carbon dioxide is less than 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit, or under 0.1 degree Centigrade. Global warming over the last century is thought by many to be 0.6 to 0.8 degrees Centigrade.

    But that’s only the beginning. We’ve had global warming for more than 10,000 years, since the end of the last Ice Age, and there is evidence temperatures were actually somewhat warmer 9,000 years ago and again 4,500 to 8,000 years ago than they are today[7]. Whatever caused that, it was not human activity. It was not all those power plants and factories and SUVs being operated by Stone Age cavemen while chipping arrowheads out of bits of flint. Whatever the cause was, it melted the glaciers that in North America once extended south to Long Island and parts of New York City[8] into virtually complete disappearance (except for a few mountain remnants). That’s one big greenhouse effect! If we are still having global warming – and I suppose we could presume we are, given this 10,000 year history – it seems highly likely that it is still the overwhelmingly primary cause of continued warming, rather than our piddling 0.00325 contribution to the greenhouse effect.

    Yet even that trend-continuation today needs to be proved. Evidence is that the Medieval Warm Period centered on the 1200s was somewhat warmer than we are now[9], and the climate was clearly colder in the Little Ice Age in the 1600s than it is now[10]. So we are within the range of normal up-and-down fluctuations without human greenhouse contributions that could be significant, or even measurable.

    The principal scientists arguing for human-caused global warming have been demonstrably disingenuous[11], and now you can see why. They have proved they should not be trusted.

    The idea that we should be spending hundreds of billions of dollars and hamstringing the economy of the entire world to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is beyond ludicrous in light of the facts above; it is insane. Furthermore, it sucks attention and resources from seeking the other sources of warming and from coping with climate change and its effects in realistic ways. The true motivation underlying the global warming movement is almost certainly ideological and political in nature, and I predict that

    Anthropogenic Global Warming, as currently presented, will go down as the greatest fraud of all time. It makes Ponzi and Madoff look like pikers by comparison.

    [1] Fundamentals of Physical Geography, 2nd Edition

    by Michael Pidwirny Concentration varies slightly with the growing season in the northern hemisphere. HYPERLINK “http://www.physicalgeography.net/fundamentals/7a.html” http://www.physicalgeography.net/fundamentals/7a.html

    [2] ibid.

    [3] HALOE v2.0 Upper Tropospheric Water Vapor Climatology Claudette Ojo, Hampton University; et al.. HYPERLINK “http://vsgc.odu.edu/src/Conf09/UnderGrad%20Papers/Ojo%20-%20Paper.pdf” http://vsgc.odu.edu/src/Conf09/UnderGrad%20Papers/Ojo%20-%20Paper.pdf. See p. 4.The 0 – 4% range is widely accepted among most sources. This source is listed for its good discussion of the phenomena determining that range. An examination of a globe will show that tropical oceans (near high end of range) are far more extensive than the sum of the earth’s arctic and antarctic regions and tropical-zone deserts (all near the low end). Temperate zone oceans are far more extensive than temperate-zone desert. This author’s guess of an average of 2% or more seems plausible. I have used “1% or more” in an effort to err on the side of understatement.

    [4 NIST Chemistry Webbook, Please compare the IR absorption spectra of water and carbon dioxide. ] HYPERLINK “http://webbook.nist.gov/” http://webbook.nist.gov/

    [5] Three quarters of the atmosphere and virtually all water vapor are in the troposphere. Including all the atmosphere would change the ratios to about 20 times more prevalent and 60 times more effective. However, the greenhouse effect of high-altitude carbon dioxide on lower-altitude weather and the earth’s surface seems likely to be small if not nil.

    [6] National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. HYPERLINK “http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/gases.html” http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/gases.html. The estimated 90ppm increase in carbon dioxide, 30% above the base of 280 ppm, to a recent reading of 370 ppm, equates to just under 25% of present concentration, the relevant factor in estimating present contribution to the greenhouse effect.

    [7] History of Earth’s Climate. http://www.dandebat.dk/eng-klima7.htm This account was written by someone for whom English was a second language and focuses on Scandinavia, but it draws together evidence from around the world, and provides insight into the challenges of judging temperatures in earlier geological times.[8] New York Nature – The nature and natural history of the New York City region. Betsy McCully http://www.newyorknature.net/IceAge.html

    [9] Global Warming: A Geological Perspective John P. Bluemle HYPERLINK “https://www.dmr.nd.gov/ndgs/Newsletter/NL99W/PDF/globlwrmw99.pdf” http://www.azgs.az.gov/arizona_geology/archived_issues/Winter_1999.pdf This article, published by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency, is drawn from a paper by the author in Environmental Geosciences, 1999, Volume 6, Number 2, pp. 63-75. Note particularly the chart on p.4.

    [10] Ibid.

    [11] Wikileaks: Climatic Research Unit emails, data, models, 1996-2009 HYPERLINK “http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Climatic_Research_Unit_emails,_data,_models,_1996-2009” http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Climatic_Research_Unit_emails,_data,_models,_1996-2009.

    See also HYPERLINK “http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1246661/New-scandal-Climate-Gate-scientists-accused-hiding-data-global-warming-sceptics.html” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1246661/New-scandal-Climate-Gate-scientists-accused-hiding-data-global-warming-sceptics.html and

    HYPERLINK “http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704075604575356611173414140.html” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704075604575356611173414140.html and, more diplomatically: HYPERLINK “http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/science/01tier.html” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/science/01tier.html. Et al.

    ADDENDUM

    What initially troubled me was the aberrant behavior of the climate research unit at East Anglia University, which had been the main data source for AGW arguments. They initially refused (!) to reveal their algorithms and data on the grounds that they were proprietary(!!). They responded to critics with ad hominem attacks and efforts to block their publication in scientific journals. Now, as I am sure you know, this is not how one does honest science, in which you PUBLISH your data and methodology and invite critical comment to ferret out error or oversights. It took the now-famous Wikileaks “Climategate” to pry loose the data and expose their machinations. Yet despite the devastating blow these revelations should have to their credibility, the AGW “cause” has taken on a life of its own.

    Fundamentally, the argument seems to rest on a logical fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc – after this, therefore because of this. We see a rise in temperature and a rise in (principally) carbon dioxide, and therefore conclude one must have caused the other. It does not necessarily follow at all. There can be other causes entirely behind both phenomena, and as you see above, almost certainly there are. Beyond that, I have encountered numerous assertions of fact that cannot add up given the physical properties of water vapor and carbon dioxide that go unchallenged. One-sided arguments proliferate and people arguing the other side are frequently denounced as being employed by business interests rather than rebutted on the merits.

    In sum, I have not come lightly to the conclusion that the AGW argument as it applies to carbon dioxide is largely untrue and certainly does not account for more than a very small, nearly negligible part of the phenomena we are seeing. The implications of widespread assertions of and belief in such an untruth are staggering, and potentially enormously destructive. It is unwise indeed to let oneself be stampeded in this matter, and stampede is clearly what many have been and are trying to induce.

    I can understand politicians behaving this way; a carbon tax or carbon trading regime would allow enormous revenues to fall into their hands. I can understand “Progressive” ideologues; it logically leads to enormous expansion of government power over industry, the economy, and the daily life of individuals, which they regard as a good thing. I understand the environmentalists; they want to shrink the size and impact on the environment of modern civilization. But responsible citizens need to put aside such considerations.

Author

Rachael Myrow

Rachael Myrow is KQED's South Bay arts reporter, covering arts and culture in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties. She also guest hosts for  The California Report and Forum, files stories for NPR and hosts a podcast called Love in the Digital Age.

Her passion for public radio was born as an undergrad at the University of California at Berkeley, writing movie reviews for KALX-FM. After finishing one degree in English, she got another in journalism, landed a job at Marketplace in Los Angeles, and another at KPCC, before returning to the Bay Area to work at KQED.

She spent more than seven years hosting The California Report, and over the years has won a Peabody and three Edward R. Murrow Awards (one for covering the MTA Strike, her first assignment as a full-time reporter in 2000 as well as numerous other honors including from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Radio Television News Directors Association and the LA Press Club.
Follow @rachaelmyrow