The anthropocene explained clearly – please watch this lecture if you want to really know about the impact we humans are having on the Earth.
In the news this week architects revealed their latest designs of homes for the future. Arup envisage buildings no longer as passive cells but more as a towering reactive organism complete with their own brains, skin and nervous system. Sounds strange on one level, but considering the advances in building technology, it is a logical development. Arup’s concepts include the engineering of the building’s facilities to respond to its inhabitants and the environment. The design harnesses algae as a biofuel as one power source, (scientists in Berlin are already investigating this notion), and photovoltaic paint as another – by catching the power of the sun. A specialist membrane on the walls converts carbon dioxide back into oxygen.
The tower block would also include an integral health and community centre plus shops. There were also transporter pods that attached to the building like a game of Jenga. This is all very futuristic, with some dynamic concepts worth developing, but as most of us hate tower blocks why build more?
The photographs below I took in 2012 when I was on a research visit to Chengdu. The Chinese have many sparkling new tower blocks on the main drags through their fast growing cities, but walk down a side street and turn a corner, and you find a different view of tower blocks.
This week I am researching ways I can visualise the concept of the Earth being our home and how that has the potential to reconfigure our perception of the planet. Professor Brian Cox confirmed this notion last week on his television programme ‘The Wonders of Life’.
On one of my local beach walks, with my dog Dill, I discovered several rusty mattresses – the sea had stripped the fabrics and abandoned the metal armatures on the shore.
The rusty tangled web of bed springs was highly evocative of home: a fragile nest symbolic of the natural home.
The photo shows a sample of the idea with a bird’s nest cradled in a bed spring.
The wonder of turning a corner and finding, without seeking, the joy of a natural composition.
Rare earths? Firstly, the name is a misnomer as they are not rare, but abundant -just difficult, and therefore costly, to extract. Rare earths are highly valued as they provide essential material for all the electronic gadgets we prize: the laptop I am writing this blog on, the phone I have just used, the television I watched last night and so on.
Most rare earths sit in the lanthanide section of the Periodic Table, gradually gaining attention as more countries realise the potential and significance of these elements. The growth and prosperity of a nation partly rests on the key resources it has or can get access to either through leverage or money.
Between 2008 -11 China exported around 90% of its rare earths. In 2011 China reassessed its position, and understanding that the finite supply of these precious materials would put it in a vulnerable position if it ran out, now only ships out 50%. At the same time the USA resented China’s grip on the market and their spiralling charges, and reopened some of their mines.
The European strategy is to salvage rare earth metals and reuse them. This month I visited Recycling Lives in Preston (all photos here are taken on the visit), one of the leading companies in the recovery and recycling of electronic goods. Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is the largest growing waste stream in the EU. Recycling Lives alone recycle 150-200,000 televisions every year. If the machines still work they are refurbished and sold on supporting the waste hierarchy of re-use. But all the redundant ‘fat’, plasma and LCD televisions are there alongside outmoded laptops and broken computers. It’s an amazing and startling sight: hundreds of televisions tumbling out of lorries, black and grey with the odd pink and green case vying for attention. Long benches of people systematically stripping the machines down to their constituent parts: working like machines on machines. Bales of grey and black plastic stacked high waiting to be sent to the polymer recycler for chipping, screen glass is crushed and recycled, circuit boards are graded and stored, metals are salvaged with copper, a prized treasure, being scrupulously saved.
Initially, this captures a wonderful scene of a modern nation sensibly managing its waste, and it is, but there is a dark side. Inside our favourite gadgets are dangerous materials that are difficult and expensive to safely dispose off. To handle this at Recycling Lives there are sealed areas in the warehouse that ‘manage’ the toxic substances present in all the electronic goods. Highly protected in specialist gear the workers remove and contain the hazardous materials such as phosphorus. It is then put into barrels and processed at a purpose built facility. To reduce both the level of hazardous waste and the costs incurred in safely handling it, it was agreed in Brussels only last month that LED bulbs should replace the phosphorus ones – LEDs do not contain mercury.
Each of us generates around 3.3 tonnes of WEEE in a lifetime and globally we create 50 million tonnes annually. The screens have captured both our attention and documented our lives and the aggregate of that engagement is visible in the huge piles of WEEE littered around the globe.
A tussle over green fuels – not so green after all
More or less – both actions have impacts and consequences
Land to grow biofuel crops does not equal power sources replenished.
…a break in the clouds…
Currently developing new sculpture in response to this article.
Below is detail of Book of Revelations: Fractured Air created 2012
A must read for any mind wondering why and how and where – believing and seeing explained – maybe.
10 April 2013
2.15 – 6.15 pm
Adelphi Lecture Theatre, University of Central Lancashire, Preston
To book your place at this free seminar telephone 01772 893210 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Beautiful Dystopias exhibition private view
After the seminar the PR1 gallery will be open till 7.30pm for a private view, and complementary refreshments to seminar participants, of Jac Scott’s exhibition Beautiful Dystopias.
The seminar and exhibition format promises to balance the dual purposes of presenting visually powerful imagery and intellectual critical analysis, to stimulate, provoke and create new dialogues.
Art and Science
The intellectual curiosity that both art and science share about the world is to be explored in the Art and Science Seminar: Hidden Dangers. The seminar aims to stimulate discourse between science and art through presentation and debate of environmental issues focusing on the dangers of the hidden impacts we humans have made on the planet.
“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious – the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science”. Albert Einstein
Art and Science Seminar: Hidden Dangers Programme
Presentations from: Richard Bright (Director of The Interalia Centre, Bristol), Professor Richard Hull, (Professor of Chemistry & Fire Science), visual artist Jac Scott ARBS and Professor Glyn Morton (Emeritus Professor of Microbiology).
Richard Bright Director Interalia Centre, Bristol http://www.interaliacentre.org
Keynote Lecture: Uncertain Entanglements? The renowned keynote speaker Richard Bright will unite the disciplines with his presentation Uncertain Entanglements? Richard Bright will reflect on thirty years of exploring and observing the connections and interactions between art and science, from the viewpoint of both an artist and Director of The Interalia Centre. He will ask, ‘Can creative understanding be extended through exploring and equating these diverse fields of knowledge?’ and ‘Are there hidden dangers involved?’ An understanding of their imagery and language might go some way in recognizing the similarities and differences between these two dominant forces in our culture.
Professor Richard Hull Professor of Chemistry & Fire Science
Lecture: Can scientists be trusted with life safety and the environment?
We are surrounded by new materials, structures and devices. Many have appeared so quickly we are unaware of any problems or hazards associated with them, let alone developed strategies for protecting ourselves and our environment. For example, our homes contain polyurethane foam furniture and environmentalists urging us to clad them in polyurethane insulation materials. Polyurethanes burn readily, producing a lethal mixture of thick smoke, carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide. To reduce the flammability, halogenated flame retardants (HFR) have been added; this makes it harder to ignite your sofa with a cigarette or a match, but when it burns the HFRs increase the toxicity of the smoke. Worse, some HFRs leach out into the environment where they are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT). On the other hand, unwanted fires do untold harm to the environment – they have been estimated to release a comparable amount of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to those from the diesel engines of lorries; they leave buildings contaminated with potentially carcinogenic soot; and fill the atmosphere with a cocktail of toxic effluents. We do not have the tools to decide which is the lesser of these two evils.
Life would not be the same without the luxury of affordable furnishings, warm comfortable homes and modern electronic devices. Fire safety is important, and the tragic loss of life has to be avoided. A robust, transparent methodology is needed to balance the long-term damage to the planet against the human loss and suffering of short term disasters, such as fires, and the overall cost of their prevention.
Jac Scott ARBS Artist-in-residence 2012-13 at UCLan http://www.jacscott.com
Lecture: ? = us + stuff + planet Jac Scott will talk about her sixteen-month residency, Beautiful Dystopias, in the School of Built and Natural Environment, UCLan. Working with scientists and geographers her research focused on the hidden imprints on the planet that our embedded sense of reality conveniently obscures. She investigated the complex labyrinth of the psyche being further skewed by the reconfiguring of boundaries of the scale of the issues. Geologists have issued compelling evidence that the ‘anthropocene’, a term conceived in 2002 by Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen, marks a geological age – a new epoch of a human related geological footprint. The strata will evidence such activities as: radioactive fall-out from nuclear tests, increased carbon dioxide levels, concentration of nitrates in the oceans, extensive plastic pollution, mass extinction of species, large scale mining, significant river damming and deforestation.
Beautiful Dystopias exhibition Jac Scott’s lecture is complemented by her exhibition Beautiful Dystopias in PR1 Gallery. The exhibition will showcase selected works from the Beautiful Dystopias Collection created in response to her residency findings. The exhibition is open to the public on weekdays 8-19 April 2013.
Professor Glyn Morton Emeritus Professor of Microbiology
Lecture: Microbial Apocalypse Soon? Microorganisms have a simple approach to life; they use whatever is available as a food source, attach themselves to practically all surfaces, multiply and build up biomass. Everyone is familiar with the phenomenon of rotting – the natural decay and recycling of materials by a wide range of organisms. This process is termed biodegradation and it is perceived as a beneficial process. In contrast, biodeterioration may be defined as “the deterioration of materials of economic importance by microorganisms”: it is perceived as a deleterious process.
This lecture will present an account of the degradation of a range of materials that occur in the domestic, natural and industrial environment. The presence of microorganisms on some materials is perhaps to be expected; but their ability to colonise materials assumed to be biologically inert, is often surprising: with negative effects on the aesthetic appearance of the materials and upon their structure and/or functioning. There are often considerable financial and health implications associated with biodeterioration. The control of biodeterioration and the problems that this can generate will be discussed.
Open debate Chaired by Director of The Centre for Waste Management Dr Karl Williams