The bodies of about 50 students, faculty and Ann Arbor residents lay still on the floor of the Taubman Gallery at the University of Michigan Museum of Art for 11 minutes on July 27 as part of a “die-in.” The event, hosted by the Ann Arbor Climate Mobilization and UMMA, intended to raise awareness of climate change by mimicking death and highlighting the role time plays in the issue.
The die-in brought attention to the UMMA exhibit “The World to Come: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene,” which displayed effects of human activity on the environment. According to Morgan Barrie, event organizer and Ann Arbor resident, this form of protest has been used for a wide range of issues, though the UK based group Extinction Rebellion inspired this particular event.
“Die-in’s have been held recently for climate action, for gun safety, for a lot of things where people are trying to stress the urgency of an issue and what is at stake if no action is taken,” Barrie said. “…I do want to highlight that in the UK it’s often an act of civil disobedience whereas here UMMA’s been insanely cooperative about working with us. We approached them because of this show, which in and of itself is a call for action. There are many images showing the climate crisis, showing the environmental destruction, showing species extinction.”
During the 11 minutes, Barrie spoke every so often, explaining the reasoning behind the designated time frame and sharing information either about climate change or one of the pieces on display in the exhibit.
“We picked this duration because based on the most recent UN intergovernmental panel on climate change report we have about 11 years to drastically reduce carbon emissions if we want to avert the worst climate catastrophes,” Barrie said.
Meg Daupan, an alum of the School of Sustainability and the Environment, currently works in their DEI office and attended the die-in and the speeches following the protest on the steps of the UMMA. Daupan said she has been working on this issue and was invited to the event by one of her former professors.
“I currently lead a program on conservation for underrepresented groups of undergraduate students,” Daupan said. “ We recently watched the documentary ‘the Last Animals’… it’s really sad to learn how much damage humans have caused and so I thought I would come here today for the die-in and hear perspectives from different people.”
As she lay physically on the floor of the gallery, Daupan said she felt a stronger bond to the earth.
“The process of laying on the ground felt very connected to our planet and just being surrounded by images of how people are influencing our climate and species,” Daupan said. “It felt very powerful to feel connected to be aware of what’s happening.”
Following the die-in, a series of speakers from the University and Ann Arbor continued the discussion. Naina Agrawal-Hardin, a 16-year-old student from the Washtenaw International High School, started off the speeches. Hardin spoke of the urgency of the issue, especially for her generation.
“I work about 20 hours a week on fighting climate change,” Agrawal-Hardin said. “I don’t get paid. I write to representatives, I answer questions about getting involved from other teens… For us, this isn’t just a hobby or an extracurricular, this is the fight for our lives. We’re tired of fighting a fight that feels like such an uphill battle. We’re tired of getting people to choose the planet over profit. We’re tired of being told that we’re too young to make change.”
One of the other speakers included Matt Grocoff, an environmental activist known for rehabilitating the oldest home in the United States to achieve zero net energy. Grocoff also emphasized the need for action at this time.
“These are our storms,” Grocoff said. “The ambitiousness of this task is matched only by its urgency. We’re witnessing now a historic convergence — while fires burn in the arctic, our governments burn precious time… One thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, then hope is everywhere. Our house is on fire, let’s act like it.”