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Wednesday, July 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 72.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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ARTS BEAT

Are we doomed?
Bill McKibben tells all at an environmental film festival

Bill McKibben, Fri. Nov. 2, Orpheum Theatre, 6:30pm
Bill McKibben, Fri. Nov. 2, Orpheum Theatre, 6:30pm
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Environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben doesn't mince words when asked whether it's possible for humans to mitigate global warming.

"We have a shot," responds McKibben, who'll give the keynote address for UW-Madison's free environmental film festival "Tales from Planet Earth." "It's not, all things considered, a great shot."

McKibben comes to Madison at an important time in his career as an environmental activist. Fight Global Warming Now, his new handbook on how to organize against climate change on the local level, has just hit bookstores. And the day after his Nov. 2 lecture at the Orpheum Theatre, he'll helm Step It Up 2: Who's a Leader?, a national day of action devoted to getting citizens and politicians to focus on the climate-change fight. He also appears in the new global-warming documentary Everything's Cool, which will be screened at the festival.

Between Nov. 2 and 4, "Tales from Planet Earth" will present over 20 films at the Orpheum Theatre, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and 4070 UW Vilas Hall. They range from the documentary Flock of Dodos, about the clash of evolution and intelligent design; to the love story Bhopal Express, set amid the 1984 gas leak in India.

Madison's history of taking on pressing social, political and environmental issues made McKibben's appearance at "Tales from Planet Earth" a no-brainer. The former New Yorker staff writer has spent the 18 years since the publication of his book The End of Nature raising the alarm about climate change, but he says the time for merely describing the problem is over. We need to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to global warming, and we need to do that right now. Getting politicians to work on a policy that tamps down the use of fossil fuels is key.

"The one thing people can do is organize politically," he says. "Our slogan at Step It Up is 'Change the light bulb, but then change the congressman.'"

McKibben is convinced that the world's climate is already going haywire, and he cites the recent forest fires in California, the current drought in the southeastern United States and the stressed water system out west as the most recent proof of the coming climate-oriented chaos. "It's not that climate change is the only problem," he laments. "The problem is that climate change is making every problem we have much, much worse."

So are we doomed? Not if we act today and act decisively. Referencing the much-publicized arguments of NASA scientist James Hansen, McKibben figures a catastrophic climatological "tipping point" is just eight years away.

"If we're going to burn much less gas and coal in eight years," he says bluntly, "we'd better get working on it."

Reality show

The late Aaron Bohrod is known best in Wisconsin for the "magic realist" still lifes he began painting after succeeding John Steuart Curry as the UW-Madison school of agriculture's artist-in-residence. But Bohrod had a significant career before coming to Madison in 1948, and the James Watrous Gallery's new retrospective show, "Aaron Bohrod: A Life and Still Life," traces his evolution from Chicago-bred realist documenting both the urban and rural landscape to a painter of meticulously observed objects and textures.

The show's curator, gallery director Randall Berndt, says the retrospective is particularly appropriate for a space that showcases Wisconsin art.

"He's a unique example of an artist who came to Wisconsin and made his mark here," Berndt explains.

Berndt highlights paintings from every phase of Bohrod's career. But he's also tried to get a sense of how Bohrod lived as a practicing artist in Madison. Although he received a stipend from the university, Bohrod really earned his living from his creative work. In order to show that side of the painter, Berndt has included wall texts quoting Madison collectors and Bohrod's family.

"We've brought in the human-interest aspects of his life so it wasn't just an exhibition of pictures."

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