Tonight, I can say that I have attended – experienced – one of, if not the most intense, inspiring, amazing, and effective talk ever in my short life.
The above image is of the banner version of a giant poster entitled ‘The True Cost of Coal’, detailing the causes and effects of the coal mining industry. It was researched and illustrated by the Beehive Design Collective for two-and-a-half years, and now members of the Hive travel around the US and use this poster to talk about the issues surrounding coal mining (as well as other talks based on other posters that they have completed over the years).
I have to admit that when I first heard about this talk from Flora this afternoon, I did not think much of it. Firstly, I thought it was about a group of people that designed beehives. Secondly, even after seeing the epic poster on their website, I just thought it was going to border on a preaching session about the environmental degradation this planet is experiencing. Thirdly, the bookstore (Bluestockings) that was hosting the talk is one of those radical-feminist-stereotype-smashing-fair-trade-touting types. Not exactly my kind of place. But it had been wildly recommended by her friend, and I didn’t have anything important planned for the night, so I decided to go.
And I am so glad that I did, because my initial apprehension was misplaced (to say the least). I could not have imagined how intricate and deliberate this poster was; how it weaved a narrative that explained the entire history, inner workings, negative impact, and resistance against the coal mining industry. I could not have imagined how the speakers spoke so passionately about the issues and navigated the entire poster so effortlessly. I could not have imagined that the power of the poster lay not just in its complexities but in the wider implications of the effectiveness of this medium as a teaching tool.
The American coal mining industry seems far removed from Singapore. Yet, never have I felt so strongly about the environment – there were points during the talk that I almost wanted to cry at the devastation that extensive coal mining has left in its wake. The beauty of the work of the Hive is, as they explained, how they can literally illustrate how connected one particular environmental issue is to the rest of the political, social, and economic problems that are plaguing the entire world. We cannot deny that everything that America does will affect the rest of the world in a big way, and what happens in the Appalachian Mountains, in the Amazon… it is happening to all of us, right now.
I walked away from that talk a changed person, somehow – I’m not going to become a hippie, but I want to do something at least, even if it’s just swearing to buy local produce and nothing else, or separating out my trash for recycling, or buying less STUFF. This may all seem overly dramatic. But I knew that everyone in that room felt the exact same way. I looked at their faces and I knew that some of them wanted to cry too.
I saw people’s brains explode in that tiny bookstore tonight.