Features and Occasionals

A Little Help from Our Friends

By Sophie Silverstone

Performance science brings the conversation about climate change home to our hearts at this year’s Intermountain Sustainability Summit.

There is a fundamental disconnect, believes Robert Davies, associate professor of physics at Utah State University, between what people know and understand about climate change and how they act in response to that knowledge. “[I’ve come] to believe,” he says, “it’s not that people weren’t getting it, they just weren’t feeling it.” The missing element, he surmised, might be creative expression: art, music, soulful engagement. “Just look at the 1960s with the [Vietnam] war,” says Davies. “The people connecting us the most effectively to what we all felt were 19-year-old musicians. I think the issues we’re dealing with today need something like that.”

Enter The Crossroads Project, a “performance science” project involving the creative talents of Utah musicians, visual artists and scientists. The project, which brings together an orchestral movement with projected images of oil paintings and nature photography, tied together with a TEDx-style talk addressing climate change, was conceived of four years ago by Davies shortly after he returned to Utah from Oxford, England to take a position at Utah State University’s Utah Climate Center. Today, The Crossroads Project has played almost 35 times throughout the United States, Mexico and Brazil and on Wednesday, February 28 it will play for a home audience at Weber State University’s Intermountain Sustainability Summit, in Ogden (February 28-March 2).

Professor Davies, whose life’s work requires continuous traveling to various climate conferences around the globe, is accustomed to giving presentations on the subject. And this won’t be his first time speaking at the Sustainability Summit (Davies has presented multiple years). But what Davies and The Crossroads Project bring to the conference this year, with their 75-minute program, Rising Tide, will be something completely new. “Rob Davies is a fantastic communicator,” says Alice Mulder, Summit director, “and while he is a professor, this is not a lecture.”

Rising Tide is made up of five vignettes, the first four about the way the natural world is put together, and the fifth, called “Re-imagine,” about our current mindset surrounding climate change and how to move forward in addressing it.

The music, an original score by Laura Kaminksi, is performed by the Fry Street Quartet — Robert Waters (violin), Rebecca McFaul (violin), Anne Francis Bayless (cello), Bradley Ottsesen (viola) — who co-created The Crossroads Project. The Fry Street Quartet has earned praise from the New York Times, performed from Carnegie Hall to London, and recently earned the Grand Prize at the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition.

In addition to The Crossroads Project’s performance art/science project the week-long Intermountain Sustainability Summit will host over 20 sessions and workshops covering topics relating to clean energy, electric vehicles, green buildings, climate change, urban water and more.

This year’s keynote speaker is Naomi Oreskes, a distinguished Harvard professor and co-author of the award-winning book Merchants of Doubt (2010) — an investigative nonfiction that exposes how a handful of scientists allied with powerful politicians have worked through the decades to undermine the broader scientific community’s warnings about tobacco, acid rain and climate change.

Other speakers include Kate Bowman, Solar Project Coordinator from Utah Clean Energy; Zach Frankel, Executive Director of Utah Rivers Council; Chamonix Larsen, Building Science Consultant at Morrison Hershfield; and Prof. Robert Davies who, in addition to performing with The Crossroads Project, will co-lead a Friday “Climate Change Communication” Workshop with Dan Bedford and John Cook, author of Climate Change: Examining the Facts.

“The quality of people they put in front of the audience is just great,” says Davies, reflecting on last year’s keynote speaker, Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland and an advocate for environmental and women’s rights. Certainly the Intermountain Sustainability Summit is committed to a multi-dimensional approach. Each year it brings together the business community, scientists, nonprofits and government and this year is especially acknowledging the role of the arts.

“We have more than enough scientists and science communicators doing a great job,” continues Davies. “What we don’t have is enough people connecting to this important work. This conference is key to creating that awareness.”



This article was originally published on January 31, 2018.