The Power Grid is a 12-hour ambient video installation that assembles satellite imagery for each of the 8,521 power plants in the United States which, taken together, account for 5% of global CO2 emissions. By contextualizing such an abstraction within the physical landscape, The Power Grid provides a way to access the particularity of an overwhelmingly large scale system. Taking viewers on a journey inspired by Ray and Charles Eames’ Powers of Ten, The Power Grid traverses the physical landscape, connecting the abstraction of global climate emissions to the particularity of the sites that generate them.
Why has the climate crisis, despite the consensus of the scientific community, failed to capture the minds and mobilize the action of a broad base of the public? I believe that the answer lies beyond a consideration of the climate as a complex socio-technical system, but in asking how the climate and the planet become things of lived experience.
By journeying through these 8,521 sites, one starts to develop intuitions about the power grid in its totality, becoming familiar with the diverse faces through which it bursts forth from the landscape. One finds onyx black mounds of coal sprawling across open-air acreage, warehouses whose roofs are pixelated with solar panels, desert ridges with windmills sprouting like so many dandelions, dried out dams waiting for the rains to come, the inviting surf of oceanside nuclear plants.
The planet is known but perhaps not felt. Today data is inseparable from our understanding of the current anthropogenic climate crisis, and increasingly it is being marshalled as a way of forestalling the worst. It is through data we know. But data also obscures. The Power Grid asks if data be turned inside out, meant to inform other ways of thinking and sensing the world to address the breakdown in communication about climate change.