Ronnie Siegel’s environmental art project is circling the globe.
By Zach Mortice
The handheld globes the landscape architect and environmental artist Ronnie Siegel, ASLA, has crafted and sent around the world carry a lot of weight. Carry the EARTH, the project Siegel designed and launched in 2018, focuses attention on different aspects of the world’s ecology, with both hopeful and dire points of view. Some are cheerily expository, like her Rivers globe, where exaggerated river basins carve deep canyons across the continents. Many foretell calamity, like the Time Bomb globe, with a fiery lit fuse trailing out of the North Pole. But others are tentatively optimistic, like the Seeds for Change globe, where the Earth’s continents are transparent and the globe is filled with seeds of different shapes, sizes, and textures.
For Siegel, Carry the EARTH is “art as a plea for involvement,” she says. By circulating 39 (and counting) globes she and other artists have made, she’s started an international network to engage with the climate change crisis.
The process works like this: Once you receive a Carry the EARTH globe, take a moment to think through your most pressing environmental concerns, ideally with the Earth symbolically in your hands. Consider what you can do to mitigate these climate change issues, at any scale, small or large. You then document your climate change experiences and activism on a series of blog forums, each tied to a specific traveling globe. Finally, pass the globe on to someone new so they can repeat the cycle. (You can request a globe here.)
Siegel studied fine art and natural sciences at Colgate University, and later, combining these two interests, landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania while Ian McHarg was still teaching there. Carry the EARTH was born out of her long-simmering despair at the lack of climate change action. “We haven’t made much progress, and I’ve been really frustrated with that,” she says. After the 2017 ASLA annual conference, she realized the profession was grimly shifting toward matters of sheer survival: wildfires, flooding mitigation, and the scarcity of clean water. “Unless we address this issue powerfully and quickly I fear that there will be mass extinctions of plants and wildlife, large scale loss of human life, [and] an economic black hole that will suck up all our resources,” she wrote on the Carry the EARTH website. Having lost faith in the political system’s capacity to address this crisis, she started creating a grassroots platform for thought and action.
In November of 2018, Siegel created the first globes and began to circulate them, and since then, she’s made globes out of 3-D-printed polylactic acid (PLA) plastic, glass, wood, ceramics, cotton, and metal. The globes have since traveled to 15 nations on every inhabited continent except Africa. She calls Carry the EARTH a “participatory environmental art project.”
So far, what’s surprised Siegel the most is the diversity of people the globes have found their way to. “They don’t seem to be falling into the same categories,” she says. One person wrote about cleaning out invasive species (nettleleaf goosefoot and Russian thistle) at an ecological reserve in Southern California. Another committed to zero food waste for 10 days, concluding, “There are only so many of my daughter’s sandwich crusts I can eat.” But Siegel also heard from an ecotourism guide in the Peruvian Amazon who had to work his way through local extractive industries (like gold mining and logging) to pay his way through school.
Even if globe holders don’t take direct action, the blog is a place to share their own quirky interests and outlook on climate change. One participant recorded an “acoustic soft-rock” theme song for Carry the EARTH, while another took their globe for a ride on a camera drone, flying over the solar panels adorning the roof of their weather monitoring instrument factory. (The drone and globe were lost in the process, so Siegel made another one and shipped it out. A subsequent flight, with a dramatic soundtrack and a smooth landing, ended more agreeably.)
The structure and evolution of this art project mirror both the practice of landscape architecture and the fight against climate change. Like Carry the EARTH, landscape architects “give [their work] away and you just hope someone takes care of it,” Siegel says. “It’s not an individual endeavor. It’s a collaborative one.” And like the efforts to mitigate climate change, Carry the EARTH benefits from the formation of a decentralized network that can work across different cultures and geographies. It’s a platform for cross border testimonials and collaboration that takes all there is to be fearful and hopeful about and focuses it in the palm of our hand.
While Siegel is stepping away from her landscape architecture practice to focus more on Carry the EARTH, she doesn’t want to leave this community behind. “We’re at the forefront of dealing with climate change,” she says. “I’d love to have the voices of architects and landscape architects be a part of this project.”