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A Crossroads for the planet: A physicist and his wake-up-call of a show

Aug 21, 2023, 3:54 PM | Updated: 7:16 pm

LOGAN, Utah — A Utah physicist has been taking his show, “Rising Tide: The Crossroads Project“, on the road for more than a decade to warn the world about global warming and humanity’s impact on the planet.

Robert Davies initially studied quantum optics — not environmental science. When working at the University of Oxford he began going to lectures at the Environmental Change Institute there.

He saw a disconnect between what scientists were saying and what the public understood about climate change.

People didn’t, in the words he borrowed from French photographer-environmentalist Yann Arthus-Bertrand, “believe what they knew” to be true.

“We know these things, but we’re not behaving as though we know them or as though they’re true,” Davies said.

“You’ve got this scientist standing here telling you that in many respects, we’re on the very hairy edge,” he said. “You hear that message, you take it in, and you walk out into your normal life, which for many people I speak to is a pretty nice life. And so it’s difficult to feel like you’re on the hairy edge.”

Davies left Oxford for Utah State University’s Climate Center and devised a hybrid lecture-concert, featuring the photography of Garth Lenz, the art of Rebecca Allan, the music of Laura Kaminsky and Libby Larsen performed by USU’s Fry Quartet and, of course, the science.

“Turning to the arts to help tell a story in a way that connects us on a more visceral level,” Davies said.

“I sometimes say it wasn’t Berkeley sociologists that were connecting us to the changes of the sixties, it was 19-year-old musicians and poets and filmmakers and writers.”

Over more than a decade Davies has performed Rising Tide: The Crossroads Project across the US and overseas more than 50 times.

A picture of Robert Davies presenting during a Crossroads show. (Utah State University)

“The opportunity to employ my art form in service of moving this message further was exciting,” violinist Rebecca McFaul says. “It feels better to be engaged with audiences performing Crossroads than not. That would feel like giving up in a certain way. The sad part is that we’re still doing Crossroads and that the needle hasn’t moved nearly far enough.”

Ten years ago, she said, some people would walk out of performances. Today, that doesn’t happen, although, she says, the audience is self-selecting.

“But I think [we’ve come] a long way to just [admit] that we’re in this new reality. That’s very different than it was 10 years ago, [when] it was…risky to talk about it. You didn’t know how people would react,” said McFaul.

Violinist Rebecca McFaul on her long tenure with the project. (Peter Rosen, KSL TV)

At their 59th performance at a BYU Arts Partnership conference for educators in Saratoga Springs, teacher Melissa Cueva said she was overwhelmed by the show.

“This…was almost too much. Like my friends were saying, ‘that was really depressing,’” she said.

Teacher Melissa Cueva on the brutal and eye-opening effects of the show. (Peter Rosen, KSL TV)

“Yeah, it’s a harsh reality,” teacher Cristina Mendoza said. “It’s something that people usually tend to not think about. Because it’s easier to just ignore it. Sometimes you have to show the harshness of the situation in order for you to grasp the severity.”

Davies says he doesn’t think we should frame our response as hope versus despair.

“That’s just not a very useful framework. We need an emergency mindset.” Davies said. “You’re in a burning house, let’s say. You don’t hope you get out or despair that you get out. You just get out or you die trying.”

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A Crossroads for the planet: A physicist and his wake-up-call of a show