London is entombed in ice, New York submerged underwater and Paris burnt to a crisp. Giant violet-green toxic clouds float through Asian city-states, forcing the privileged survivors to wear respirators while traveling outdoors. African warlords pay mercenaries by the liter and kilogram; water and bullets are the only currencies left on the continent.
This is the type of imagery that surrounds the speculative discourse of our planet's impending ecological disaster – a litany of possibilities that all point toward complete social and economic breakdown.
Such a provocative collection of futurist anxieties might compel and inspire the art world to critically examine our situation, its causes and potential solutions, yet artists have largely remained silent and seemingly disinterested.
The most obvious reason why artists have glossed over the issue comes down to the current state of the market. Crisis or no crisis, business has never been better and art has become the ultimate form of conspicuous consumption.
A shining example of this philosophical disarray is "For the Love of God," Damien Hirst's platinum-dipped human skull, outfitted with 8,601 flawless pavé diamonds. At once an ironic jab at what art has become and a calculated attempt to manipulate his own self-worth, Hirst reportedly sold the skull for a $100 million, cash in hand.
Although the skull is not without its obvious ethical complications, its creation and success reflects the nihilistic disposition of the art world's newest and most influential players – the business elite. Hoarding art not for art's sake or personal fascination, this newly dominant breed of collector views a work in the same vein as tradable stocks – appreciating assets that conveniently double as potential conversation pieces.
So how can today's artists escape the vacuity of a culture corrupted by financial speculation and reassert their position as civilization's radical reformers?
Groups like No.9: Contemporary Art & The Environment point us in the right direction. A curatorial agency that holds the belief that contemporary art can stimulate positive social and environmental change, No. 9 produces artistic projects aimed at inspiring public discussion on global warming. One such project is "Icelandic Love Corporation: Dynasty" – a series of photographs and video that imagines a near future where cold weather has become a luxury, prompting rich tourists to travel to Iceland in order to experience the world's last bit of melting winter.