“UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE” — Kevin L Miller Retrospective at Manchester University until Dec 4, 2013, about Life on Earth Imperiled by Climate Change

by Kevin L Miller

“The Flood,” 4x4 ft apocalyptic oil painting on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013

“The Flood,” 4×4 ft apocalyptic oil painting on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013

Deep in the Pennsylvania woods at the dead end of our dirt road, Robert Allen and I share a shabby old trailer house painting studio, a 150-year-old barn art gallery, and a hunting cabin slowly evolving into a cottage, on 12 wooded acres with a pond and stream. This is paradise and we love it. (http://tinyurl.com/nl6s9nm)

A few nights ago I dreamt that Robert and I were in a rowboat with our good friends Susan Finn and Jerry Lee Miller. We were all looking down through the water at the White House submerged below us. We were also congratulating ourselves on managing to procure our little boat, until we looked up and saw a mile-high wall of water racing toward us at top speed from the horizon. The End.

“Check,” lower left corner detail from “The Flood,” Kevin L Miller, 2013. I have grown impatient with subtler communications when it comes to climate change, because our window of opportunity to fix it is closing. Time’s up! So now I try to spell out exactly what my paintings mean. I hope this check does the trick.

“Check,” lower left corner detail from “The Flood,” Kevin L Miller, 2013. I have grown impatient with subtler communications when it comes to climate change, because our window of opportunity to fix it is closing. Time’s up! So now I try to spell out exactly what my paintings mean. I hope this check does the trick.

Robert and I both have one-man shows right now, across the street from each other at Manchester University, in North Manchester, Indiana. You can see my photo essay about Robert’s very popular show, “PLEASE TOUCH THE ART!” at http://tinyurl.com/mtyyrf5 .

"UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE -- Seven Decades Re-Imagined -- Kevin L Miller Retrospective at Manchester University, Gallery G, The Union, upper level, until Dec 4, 2013. Left to right: The Flood, Faucet Head, Magna Mater.

“UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE — Seven Decades Re-Imagined” — Kevin L Miller Retrospective, Manchester University, Gallery G, The Union, upper level, until Dec 4, 2013. Left to right: The Flood, Faucet Head, Magna Mater.

Over a year and a half ago we were invited to produce our tandem shows. I vacillated for a year about the theme for my exhibit. Finally I decided on Global Climate Change, when I realized that I have painted utopian visions and the great flood apocalypse throughout my life. That mile-high wall of water coming at us haunts me. Can’t we try to do something about it? There is still a little time. Isn’t there a moral imperative to save life on Earth?

“Hawaii,” 4x6 ft utopian enamel painting on clear vinyl, Kevin L Miller, c 1991

“Hawaii,” 4×6 ft utopian enamel painting on clear vinyl, Kevin L Miller, c 1991

The Earth is exquisitely beautiful, precious, special and rare. Astronomers and physicists searching the universe for other planets that might support life are telling us that worlds blessed with exactly the right narrow band of conditions for life are indeed extremely rare. Now our Earth-home is in jeopardy from human pollution, causing Global Climate Change. We live in peril of losing our habitat and our health, and endangering the lives of our children and grandchildren if we do not transition to clean energy quickly and stop four kinds of increasingly extreme removal and burning of fossil fuels:

  • Fracking for natural gas
  • Deep sea oil drilling
  • Mountaintop removal coal mining
  • Tar sands exploitation and piping
“Requiem,” 4x7 ft acrylic on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013 -- an apocalyptic painting including three quotes from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling.

“Requiem,” 4×7 ft acrylic on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013 — an apocalyptic painting including three quotes from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling.

Extreme extraction methods and fossil fuel burning are filling our atmosphere with CO2, now alarmingly over 400 parts per million, whereas our environment can only withstand 350 ppm without disastrous consequences, which are already upon us:

  • Earth’s polar ice caps and glaciers are melting at a catastrophic rate.
  • Greenland is melting and experiencing ominous internal seismic activity.
“Poseidon’s Prophecy,” 4x7 ft oil on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013. King Neptune brings apocalyptic news from the oceans to the utopian woodland spirits.

“Poseidon’s Prophecy,” 4×7 ft oil on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013. King Neptune brings apocalyptic news from the oceans to the utopian woodland spirits.

  • Our oceans are now 30% more acidic due to CO2 dissolving into the water. Coral reefs are dying. We are losing them as marine habitats and coastal flood control barriers.
  • 40% of Earth’s sea plankton, the base of our oceanic food chain, has already died. The food chain is fundamental.
  • Earth’s atmosphere is now holding 5% more moisture, and extreme weather and precipitation events are on the rise. We have “100-year storms and floods” every year now, like Super Storm Sandy a year ago. https://twooldliberals.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/mother-nature-sends-sandy-to-make-climate-change-a
“The R.L. Miller Farm,” watercolor, Kevin L Miller, 1966 (age 17,) depicts our family ancestral farm as it looked when I was a boy.

“The R.L. Miller Farm,” watercolor, Kevin L Miller, 1966 (age 17,) depicts our family ancestral farm as it looked when I was a boy, and when my father, uncle and aunts grew up there, just outside of North Manchester, Indiana, home of Manchester University.

  • The U.S. Midwest experienced the most severe drought in American history in the summer of 2012, and American food prices rose steeply as a result.
“Drought and Gathering Storm," Kevin L Miller, 2013, digital re-imagining of the R.L. Miller Farm, as it might have looked in the great drought of 2012, if the full-timber black walnut barn had not been demolished.

“Drought and Gathering Storm,” Kevin L Miller, 2013, digitally re-imagined version of the R.L. Miller Farm, as it might have looked in the great American drought of 2012, if the full-timber black walnut barn had not been demolished.

  • Biologists and zoologists tell us that there are no longer any climate change doubters in their ranks, as they are witnessing virtually all animals and insects moving north and to higher elevations in search of cooler climes.
“Firebird Visit’s the Elders,” 3x4 ft acrylic on canvas, 2-artist collaborative painting by Robert F Allen and Kevin L Miller, signed “Allen Miller,” illustrating both the utopian nature of Earth and the peril from climate change.

“Firebird Visit’s the Elders,” 3×4 ft acrylic on canvas, 2-artist collaborative painting by Robert F Allen and Kevin L Miller, signed “Allen Miller,” illustrating both the utopian nature of Earth and the apocalyptic peril from climate change.

Indeed, 97% of the world’s climate scientists and all 12 national academies of science, and the World Bank (http://tinyurl.com/k397rjf), and the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change, and Pope Francis I in the Vatican (http://tinyurl.com/kjwl2eo – the pope’s quote is at the end) are among a host of institutions raising the urgent alarm for action. 

“The Musician and the Tree of Life” 4x4 ft acrylic on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013, depicts the joys and burdens of an artist (in this case the Rev Jerry Lee Miller) coping with both the ecstasy of living in utopia, and the agony of expressing prophetic statements and art about the impending apocalypse, while making every effort to save the Earth for the children of tomorrow.

“The Musician and the Tree of Life,” 4×4 ft acrylic on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013, depicts the joys and burdens of an artist (in this case the Rev Jerry Lee Miller, musician and climate change activist) coping with both the ecstasy of living in utopia, and the agony of expressing prophetic statements and art about the impending apocalypse, while making every effort to save the Earth as a livable home for the children of tomorrow.

Time’s up! Now we really do have to transition quickly from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy and save the Earth as a livable habitat for all life forms. If we do not do so, what will we tell the children of tomorrow when they ask, “Why did you do this to us?” (lyrics from Jerry Lee Miller’s song, “Children of Tomorrow.”) What will you tell your children and grandchildren?

“Time’s Up,” marker poster on paper, Kevin L Miller 2012 -- responding to the July 19, 2012 Rolling Stone article, ( http://tinyurl.com/okyz2nc ) “Bill McKibben’s Terrifying New Math,” this poster was one of many created for the Lancaster, PA, brainstorming effort to form “The HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity” (See our FaceBook page) to take creative action and support all efforts to halt Global Climate Change.

“Time’s Up,” marker poster on paper, Kevin L Miller 2012 — responding to the July 19, 2012 Rolling Stone article, “Bill McKibben’s Terrifying New Math,” this poster was one of many created for the Lancaster, PA, brainstorming effort to form “The HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity” (See our FaceBook page) to take creative action and support all efforts to halt Global Climate Change.

Rolling Stone’s July 19, 2012 article “Bill McKibben’s Terrifying New Math,” awoke people around the world to the greatest survival challenge humanity has ever faced. http://tinyurl.com/okyz2nc 

  1. The Earth can only withstand 2 degrees Celsius warming without disastrous consequences, and we are almost there when the inertial rise built into the system is factored in.
  2. We can release a maximum of 565 Gigatons of CO2 into the atmostphere by 2050, but at our current rate, we will reach that ceiling in 2028 — only 15 years from now. 
  3. Companies and countries have already committed to extracting and burning 2,795 Gigatons of CO2 locked in proven fossil fuel reserves — five times the allowed limit.
Left to right: Firebird Visits the Elders, Hawaii, and Requiem are part of Kevin L Miller's retrospective at Manchester University, "UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE."

Left to right: Firebird Visits the Elders, Hawaii, and Requiem are on exhibit in Kevin L Miller’s retrospective at Manchester University, “UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE.”

The good news is that there is still a little time to turn this planetary crisis around, and there really are things that each of us can do. None of us has to save the world all alone. If all of us do our own little part — even if we do it badly — humanity will achieve critical mass for a change in consciousness and behavior, and we can leave a livable planet for future generations.

  • Can we buy an electric or hybrid car and use less fossil fuel? I know… Those cars are way too expensive for most of us…
  • Well, are we willing to become vegans or vegetarians? That’s one of the most effective things we can do to shrink our individual carbon footprints. But lots of us really love meat…
  • So, can we buy local products to reduce carbon emissions from shipping? That practice helps local economies, too.
  • Are we willing to write letters to public officials and call our congressional representatives? Or, if solitary action to speak truth to power makes us a little too nervous…
  • Can we join organizations like The Sierra Club, or 350.org, or Citizens Climate Lobby and support them with our resources and participation in their events?
  • Are we qualified to plan and facilitate community discussions on climate change? (http://tinyurl.com/lf3xdqm)
  • Are we willing to start our own local organization with friends? If so, here are some notes about how 13 of us started The HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity. (http://tinyurl.com/149g7lm)
  • Can we talk to institutional leaders about divesting from coal and other fossil fuels? If direct one-on-one talks with authority figures are too intimidating for some of us…
  • Are we willing to write letters to the editors of our local newspapers and urge others to do the same?
  • Can we start a climate change blog and open a larger dialogue?
  • Are we qualified to write poetry or plays, or to compose music, or dance, or paint, or make art of any kind about climate change? Art is a very powerful tool for transformation.
  • Do we know how to make a climate change quilt or bake a climate change cake, or create a T-shirt featuring “Don’t Frack Up the Earth!” as a slogan?
  • Can we urge our churches, colleges and universities and local or state governments to become involved?
  • What else are we willing to do to wake up the world and inspire everyone to take action urgently?
“The Revelations of Eve and Adam,” 16” x 20” acrylic on canvas, 2004, Kevin L Miller

“The Revelations of Eve and Adam,” 16″ x 20″, an acrylic utopian painting on canvas, 2004, Kevin L Miller

When we decide to take creative action on behalf of Mother Earth and the children of tomorrow, we find that we are not alone. Some corporations are beginning to realize, as I have been telling them for 15 years, that extinction is NOT good for profits! They are starting to take strategic action to save their bottom lines and ours. Even the Department of Defense has identified Global Climate Change as one of the greatest threats to U.S. security, and is transferring military operations to clean renewable energy sources, especially in the field. Nations like Germany and Spain and others are quickly getting off of fossil fuels and transitioning to solar, wind, geothermal and other clean energy sources. Cities, communities, and churches are taking leadership roles in creative action to save life on Earth.

“Woodland Spirit Guides,” 4x4 ft oil on canvas, 2010, Kevin L. Miller

“Woodland Spirit Guides,” 4×4 ft oil on canvas, 2010, Kevin L. Miller

There is a major benefit that comes with creative action to heal the Earth — It also heals us in the process. Fifteen years ago when I learned that the polar ice caps were melting due to climate change caused by humanity, I struggled with depression and nausea for a year. It took more years for me to discover that creative action is soul-healing medicine. Sometimes it feels like we have to choose between denial and depression. But there is a third way — creative action overcomes denial and depression and leads to fulfillment.

A display of Kevin's "Provence Style" landscapes is part of his retrospective. This style evolved out of his junior year abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France, and his studies at the Ecole des Beaux Arts there, as well as his interest in Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Picasso.

A display of my “Provence Style” landscapes is part of the retrospective. This style evolved out of my junior year abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France, and my studies at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, as well as my interest in Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Picasso.

Today I know that even spending a whole year making apocalyptic paintings yields nothing but increasing inner joy and peace. Rest assured that when you decide to take creative action, you will find that depression, denial, anger, fear and grief, will be transformed into fulfillment, clarity, peace, confidence and joy, and you will have the personal satisfaction of knowing that you have done the right thing, regardless of the outcome.

The Kevin L Miller Retrospective, "UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE -- Seven Decades Re-Imagined" is on exhibit in Gallery G, The Union upper level, at Manchester University, until Dec 4, 2013 (photo by Alison Stein)

The Kevin L Miller Retrospective, “UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE — Seven Decades Re-Imagined” is on exhibit in Gallery G, The Union upper level, at Manchester University, until Dec 4, 2013 (photo by Alison Stein)

“SAVING THE WORLD” — Confessions of a Reluctant Climate Change “Activist”

by Kevin 

"Utopia," 2013 digital illustration by Kevin

“Utopia,” 2013 digital illustration by Kevin

When people ask me what I am doing these days, I say as casually as possible, “Oh… I’m saving the world.” It’s meant to be a joke, of course… as if I could save an anthill!… But at heart it’s also a serious response to the question. I know I’m tilting at windmills (or perhaps oil rigs,) but I don’t think I have a choice. It feels like a moral duty to do anything I can to call attention to our potential mass extinction due to climate change, work with others to invent and push solutions for avoiding apocalypse, and then pray for a miracle. I just have to.

We do still have the actual wherewithal to save ourselves if we can find the courage. In other words, we have already developed the clean renewable energy technologies that can wean us off of carbon-based energy and give fossil fuel companies another way to get rich. All we need is the social and political will to implement these solutions and changes. If we human beings want to think of ourselves as a life form with “higher intelligence,” then let us prove that we can hold in our minds at the same time, the scientifically proven threat of apocalypse due to climate change, AND the vision of utopia built on our existing skills, technologies and creativity. This is very hard, but we can and must do it. The cognitive dissonance brought on by holding two powerful and opposite ideas in our heads at once will sometimes make us laugh and then suddenly weep and wail. That is natural and necessary. In order to fix this disaster, we must be willing to face and feel “eco-anxiety.”

"Global Warming Apocalypse," 2013 digital illustration by Kevin

“Global Warming Apocalypse,” 2013 digital illustration by Kevin

On April 19, 2013, exactly one year after Rolling Stone published Bill McKibben’s climate change bomb that went viral, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” Anna Fahey spoke at the Whidbey Institute Climate Conference and offered a roadmap for future hope and action. See http://insidepassages.com/2013/05/03/tappimg-into-dark-optimism-whidbey-institute-climate-conference/  Anna said, “Dark Optimism” is our capacity to face dark truths, while believing unwaveringly in our human potential, and I think we can harness that.” This is required reading for anyone who is concerned about Global Climate Change, especially if it overwhelms you and makes you feel powerless. Ms. Fahey points out that research shows that 10 – 20% of the population can sway the direction of history. This is truly possible. It is happening with marriage equality. Robert and I never expected to see legalized same sex marriage in our lifetime. It can happen for the survival of all life, too.

"Captain Agape," 4 x 6 ft actylic on canvas, by Kevin, in progress

“Captain Agape,” 4 x 6 ft acrylic on canvas, by Kevin, in progress

Robert and I live deep enough in the woods that we seldom hear anything but the wind, weather, and calls of the birds and other animals, including our own five dogs and a dozen parrots and cockateils. The 100 big koi in our half-acre pond only make noise when they breach the surface of the pure spring water and slap it with their tails – magnificent entertainment viewed from our deck on Buddha Hill. Even better with a glass of wine.

We love it here, more with every day of the past seven years. We feel so grateful and fortunate to have this golden time living in peace and love, surrounded by Nature. It is tempting to withdraw completely from the world into meditation, art and gardening. What could be better? But I can’t quite let myself do that… not yet at least. There may come a time when the tipping point has been so completely passed and the chain reaction toward devastation and mass extinction is so clearly underway, that I will feel justified in retiring to the woods to make my final peace with Spirit and prepare for the end. Just lately I have begun to suspect that such a time may be closer at hand than any of us had thought, because of the tragic news that the vast frozen arctic methane beds are releasing their store of gas that is 20 times stronger than CO2 in its greenhouse warming effect.

I am so grateful to Paul for his wonderful post, just prior to this one, entitled “What’s Important in the News?” in which he elucidated five worthy subjects in the following order:

  1. The Survival of the Earth
  2. Equality vs Inequality
  3. Help Those in Need
  4. Do No Harm
  5. Freedom (to Act Responsibly)

I especially appreciate the fact that Paul placed the Earth and survival of all life at the top of his list of priorities, where it belongs. After all, if we do not arrest climate change and prevent a catastrophic chain reaction from rapidly degrading the climate and our home environment, there will be a mass extinction event. If that happens we will not have the luxury of addressing any of the other long-term issues confronting humanity and the world. We will be done for a long time, until evolution brings us back again in a few million years. There is one final shred of hope, if all else fails – perhaps geo-engineers can succeed in the highest stakes science experiment in history, using the Earth as their test tube while all of life hangs in the balance. It would be so much better to reverse course now!

Using his paintings as illustrations, Kevin discusses Global Climate Change with a group of participants in "Healing Earth Pain Through the Arts" at Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster, April 20, 2013

Using his paintings as illustrations, Kevin discusses Global Climate Change with a group of participants in “Healing Earth Pain Through the Arts” at Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster, April 20, 2013

The upshot of all this for me personally, is that I accept speaking, facilitation, and performance gigs from groups that ask me to bring my large climate change paintings and talk about their apocalyptic and utopian themes, in combination with facilitating an ideation session, or presenting concerts with poets, musicians, performance artists and others. When I have complained to Paul that I would much rather stay home to make art and tend my garden, he generously says that he is glad I am willing to go out into the world and make these statements. When I ask, “Why me?” he points out that perhaps it is my karma. Maybe it is time to pay the world back for the money I made serving corporate America and Fortune 500 companies for nearly a quarter century, lending my art and facilitation skills to their efforts to invent new products and strategies. Paul is right, although sometimes continuing public involvement feels more like atonement for sins than fulfillment of karma. But that may be a distinction without a difference.

The other night I dreamt I was a student at university awaiting the results of my final project. I thought I had submitted a symphony, but when the pretty young professor returned my manuscript, I saw that it was a 50-page photo essay. It began with the words, “I have the right to be a nice guy. A rock in the stream has the right to enjoy the water passing over it…” Then there was a series of beautiful photos of a colorful rock just under the rushing stream water. The words of the essay melted into the colors of the rock and disappeared altogether. It became a wordless essay, but none of the meaning was lost.

I was sweeping the sidewalk when Professor Pretty surprised me by saying, “The judges have awarded your final project an ‘E’ – the highest evaluation given to any project in the last 50 years. You must prepare yourself for a strong reaction from the media and the public when we release this news.” I realized that to avoid the crowd, I could wade into the river, but there were already people standing waist deep in the water, waiting for me. So I waded past them into deeper water and allowed the river to wash me downstream, where I was once again alone in Nature. I was happy and everything was fine.

I don’t like having to bother people with bad news. I have the right to be a nice guy… So I spend as much time as the world will allow, enjoying life as a hermit artist in the woods, where words dissolve into colors, but the meaning remains evident. I would much rather sweep my walkway than face a crowd or the media. But I’ve learned that if I am willing to wade into the deep water, the river will wash me downstream and everything will be fine.

"Celebration of Life," 11" x 14" acrylic on canvas by Kevin, 2007

“Celebration of Life,” 11″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas by Kevin, 2007

I shall willingly produce the next event at Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg on June 12, 2013, 6:30 to 8:30, starting with “Theatre of the Arts,” then expert panelists will present, and finally I will facilitate audience interaction/ Q&A with the panel. Everything will be fine. I will do it for my unborn great-niece Samantha, who is expected to arrive into this world at any minute. I gave her the painting above, entitled “A Celebration of Life,” at her baby shower recently, hoping that she will live and thrive to enjoy the painting and her life.

I am an old man now – older than my 64 years. I have lived a long, fulfilling life. I have known true and enduring love, enjoyed fascinating adventures into the history of human art and thought and culture, created a significant body of art, communed with Spirit, and spent a very peaceful time in Nature. I am satisfied. But what can we say to the children and the grandchildren now? They will soon begin to ask us “Why did you not take care of the Earth? Did you forget that this planet is our home and we cannot live without it? What did you do to save our home after you set it on fire? What are you doing now?”  I wade into the deep water of the river because I want to be able to say to the children, “I am sorry that we were so greedy and careless and damaged your home. I am doing what I can to save it.”