Murmurations

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A friend posted these images of ‘starlings’ in flight on his Facebook page, and I was intrigued by their beauty.

So I followed the bread crumb trail of the photographer credit, and found out an unexpected fact about these images. Finally, I came upon the photographer himself, Alain Delorme, a French artist based in Paris.

When I requested permission to post his images here, he sent me a friendly word of warning about his Murmurations series that confirmed what I had discovered on my own: The images aren’t of starlings. They are composites of plastic sacks, in the configurations of starling flocks.

The images are meant to confound, to confuse expectations, to mingle beauty and dangerous debris that can take beautiful forms.

This week, the UNFCCC COP 19 conference has been taking place in Warsaw, Poland. This Climate Change Conference is the world’s key forum for discussing climate change, environmental issues, progress and solutions.

A large public-private initiative was announced that would oversee programs to alleviate deforestation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with funding pledged by Norway, the United Kingdom and (to a much smaller extent) the United States.

Good news, a lovely formation of proposals that take flight.

The initiative will be overseen by the World Bank, which demands reductions in greenhouse gases while continuing to support and fund the large-scale development of coal projects around the world. The World Bank track record on projects that succeed at both economic and environmental sustainability has been mixed.

(And in a nice ironic twist that did not go unnoticed by COP19 commentators, Warsaw also hosted the completely separate International Coal & Climate Summit at the same time, just down the road, and sponsored by the World Coal Association.)

Hm, maybe those aren’t starlings taking flight, after all.

For me, the level of global cooperation manifested in gatherings like the UNFCCC, however conflicted, still represents a major step forward in world governance just two generations after World War II.

Having said that, all major environmental groups staged a collective and resounding walkout of the Warsaw Climate Change Conference this week in protest against what they say is the one-sided, obstructive control of the conference by nations and groups not truly interested in climate change solutions.

According to this article on the science of starling flocks and their murmurations, their synchoronized movements “are best described with equations of ‘critical transitions’ — systems that are poised to tip, to be almost instantly and completely transformed, like metals becoming magnetized or liquid turning to gas. Each starling in a flock is connected to every other. When a flock turns in unison, it’s a phase transition.”

The Warsaw conference closes today. I’ll close with a short film of real starlings in flight, in the hope that real progress, and the positive, coordinated movement of groups and entities that are undeniably connected, will win out over something that looks like progress, but is actually something quite different.

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