Part One – Michael Webber on Jamey Stillings’ Changing Perspectives

If the Sky Were Orange: Art in the Time of Climate Change

Part One – Renewable Energy: Michael Webber on Jamey Stillings’ Changing Perspectives  

Energy, nature, and landscape have always come crashing together in a conflicting collage of uplift and degradation. Energy is about extracting resources from nature—wind, sunshine, oil, gas, coal, peat, wood, dung, uranium, water—and converting them into something useful for human purpose—electricity, heat, motion, or light. That conversion distorts nature: twisting the land, spreading heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, or draining, polluting, and heating the waters. Is the distortion of nature a precondition for the betterment of humanity, or is there a better way?  

Jamey Stillings’ photographs capture the beauty and technological elegance of wind and solar power and illustrate a path forward that will be vastly less impactful than our historic approach to energy.  Our current approach to energy is dirty, profligate, and expensive.  While it has lifted millions of people out of poverty and advanced society, it also has consolidated power into the hands of too few and has left behind an expensive and sometimes toxic legacy of energy wastes that we will be managing for as long as we can imagine. We should do better.  We must reduce our impact and work with nature instead of against it. But, as these images also show, there is no such thing as a free lunch: even the cleanest options still can cast a long shadow.

Jamey Stillings, #2966, 25 June 2014, Heliostats, Crescent Dunes Solar project, near Tonopah, Nevada from the series Changing Perspectives: Renewable Energy and the Shifting Human Landscape, Archival pigment prints, 28 x 20 in., Courtesy of the artist 

About Jamey Stillings

Photographer Jamey Stillings has spent more than a decade documenting the global turn to renewable energy via aerial photography. Stillings’s work has been featured in The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, and Le Monde, in addition to numerous national and international exhibitions. Stillings lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Learn more about the artist at jameystillings.com.

About Michael Webber

Dr. Michael Webber holds the Josey Centennial Professorship in Energy Resources in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, where he teaches and conducts research on the convergence of engineering, policy, and commercialization. Webber has authored more than 500 scientific articles, columns, books, and book chapters, including op-eds in The New York Times and features in Scientific American. His book Power Trip: The Story of Energy (Basic Books, 2019) was accompanied by an award-winning companion series on PBS. 

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