How do you persuade naysayers that Climate change is real, that the earth is fragile and needs protection? How do you call people to action to forestall an environmental collapse, before more of the natural world dies?

Tall trees

American architect and sculptor Maya Lin's latest effort comes into view as a mighty attention-getter: an installation of 50 Atlantic white cedar trees, each some 40 feet tall – all defoliated and dead, ravaged by extreme weather – looming over Madison Square Park in Manhattan like a warning. She calls these trees Ghost Forest.

Bare and bunched they look cadaverous.

Hyperallergic magazine quotes Lin from her statement about Ghost Forest: “I wanted to create something that would be intimately related to the Park itself, the trees, and the state of the earth.” The installation will stand through Nov. 14.

Ghost Forest

Gothamist, a website about New York City news, cites a press release about how Ghost Forest got its name, saying it comes from forestland laid waste not only by extreme weather but also by the rise of sea levels and infiltration of saltwater. Lin obtained the dead trees from New Jersey's Pine Barrens.

Signs of life

Wait there’s more to this project. According to Gothamist, besides the dead trees to ponder, people who enter the park will hear a “soundscape” created by Lin with assistance from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

What people hear will take in bird calls and sounds of animals that once lived in the New York area and are now extinct, as well as what endangered animals sound like. And, in collaboration with Carnegie Hall, park visitors will also get an earful of meditative music. Then, as a finale to the project, 1,000 native trees and shrubs will be planted in parks throughout New York’s five boroughs.

Bare minimum

Given the visual power of Ghost Forest, it’s likely to stay in memory long after it’s removed. Brooke Kamin Rapaport, deputy director of Madison Square Park, credits Lin’s ability to call attention to environmental concerns with “a minimal visual language of austerity and starkness.”

Lin is good at austere and stark imagery.

You may remember that she won a national design competition for her Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington D.C. near Arlington National Cemetery. What can be more stark and austere than a stretch of the black marble wall, partly buried in the earth and inscribed with the names of the dead and missing? As Lin saw it when awarded the commission: “I had an impulse to cut open the earth, an initial violence that in time would heal. The grass would grow back, but the cut would remain.”

Read it and weep!

But here’s the thing. Trees lost to climate change won’t grow back. What will remind us when the memory of Ghost Forest fades? Perhaps Maya Angelou’s poem can prod us. The poem I’m thinking of describes the aftermath of an environmental calamity that begins with the line, “When great trees fall, rocks on distant hills shudder.” So should we.