The Drowning World @gideonmendel

Can the art inspire positive change? This week the UK parliament has declared a state of ‘Climate Emergency‘ as a response to widely held public protests catalyzed by the Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg. It is interesting to note that protesters held images by Gideon Mendel from the ‘Drowning World’ series he has made over the course of the past decade. Strong and effective images of people submerged by floods in the homes around the world brought the works by Gideon Mendel to wide international attention. In his own words, ‘Drowning World is my attempt to explore the effects of climate change in an intimate way, taking us beyond faceless statistics and into the individual experiences of its victims.’ (Mendel, 2019). Taken mostly with a analogue Rolleiflex camera these images have been shown at the Somerset House, Rencontres d’Arles Festival and have been shortlisted for Prix Pictet in 2015.

UK’s new and brave ambition is to make the country carbon-neutral by 2050. But how much is still to be done?

The CO2 emissions have been falling in the UK and Gross Domestic Product has been going steadily up, which would inspire some people to believe that things were improving a lot, but were they? Defra’s own research shows that if the so-called embodied emissions are taken into account the picture is not so wonderful. As a matter of fact up to a third of total emissions of the country have been outsourced to countries like China, which are now the production hubs of the world. This is exactly why the 24 subsequent meetings of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change resulted in positive change, which is however still not enough to reduce the global concentrations of CO2, which have reached 411ppm in March 2019.

The bold move by the UK Parliament is a much needed step that will lead to several important transitions: massive tree planting programme, which will make sure that the capacity to absorb CO2 in the UK matches the actual emissions, de-carbonization of the energy system and expansion of renewable energy, support of the high speed and electric trains powered by renewables, a gradual transition towards electric cars, and, most importantly, the increased role of walking, cycling and using public transport. Our research shows that there are great differences in the way cities are tackling sustainability challenges and we could learn from the leading examples around the world to make our societies more resilient (Shmelev and Shmeleva, 2018).


Francisco Lopes da Silva, Taquari District, Rio Branco, Brazil, March 2015 Image (c) Gideon Mendel, 2015


Gideon Mendel (2019) Submerged Portraits:

BBC (2019) UK Parliament Declares Climate Change Emergency

Committee on Climate Change (2018) Reducing UK Emissions. 2018 Progress Report to Parliament

Economist (2019) Carbon Neutral by 2050?

Shmelev, S.E. and Shmeleva I.A. (2018) Global Urban Sustainability Assessment. A Multidimensional Approach.


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