This is the final entry in my “42 Historical Objects” series. I thought long and hard about what to choose for the final article, and after much contemplation I picked this painting. It’s called Somewhere Over the Rainbow and it’s by Australian artist John Forrest. As you can see it’s a stunning and thought-provoking piece of art, melding environmentalism, popular culture and reaching into our past as well as provoking questions about our future.

The picture is pretty straightforward. Dorothy, depicted as she was in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, stands on the Yellow Brick Road, seemingly bewildered by a hazy, smog-choked, overheated urban landscape. There’s no Emerald City, no magical creatures, and we can’t see where the road is going. There’s only the grim reality of environmental disaster…but note she’s looking not at the disaster, but ahead, possibly to a brighter future. To me this suggests that there’s still hope.

I knew the final entry in this series had to have something to do with climate change. Climate change is, I believe, the single most serious problem the human race has ever encountered in its history. It’s possible that this problem may actually end our history–I hope not, and I believe we can address it and adapt somehow, but certainly no person on planet Earth, regardless of who they are or where they live, will not be affected by climate change. Global warming is a problem that mankind has created, and it’s a problem we have very little idea how to solve. Politicians are acting far too slowly. Corporations don’t want to address it. Astonishingly, some people don’t even believe climate change is happening, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that proves beyond all doubt that it is happening, and that human beings are causing it.

Given the failure–indeed, the paralysis–of the world’s political and economic structures to deal with this, mankind’s biggest and most insoluble problem in its history, what other response can we have but a cultural one? Artists, writers, musicians, philosophers and great thinkers are reacting to climate change, even if governments and corporations are not. Creating a painting or writing a book about climate change will not magically absorb CO2 from the air or stop the rise of sea levels, but it is far from a futile response. Perhaps cultural responses such as these will eventually galvanize the action needed to deal with climate change. We, the human race, do have a choice. But only one choice that we have is responsible, rational and worthy of what we’ve achieved as a species.

Somewhere Over The Rainbow was exhibited in January and February 2012 at the Metro Modern Art Gallery in Victoria, Australia, in a special exhibition showcasing art about climate change. Since the exhibition the painting was sold for $25,000 Australian dollars and is presumably now in a private collection.

This has been a terrific series of blog posts. Thank you to everyone who has shared, commented and enjoyed them!

The photo of Somewhere Over the Rainbow is owned by the Metro Art Gallery © 2012 and the painting is copyrighted by John Forrest. I believe my inclusion of it here constitutes fair use.