Driving from Lion’s Head to Toronto the other day I had three marvelous hours to reflect on rural Ontario, and my roots, and to indulge in CBC radio.
As the snow drifts and freezing winds of the hinterland faded in the rear view, replaced by the apartment towers and smog layer of the big city, Sunday Edition brought on a large format photographer named Edward Burtynsky.
His exhibit, “Manufactured Landscapes” is winding up at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and it is all about his photographic explorations of our interactions with the planet. Rather than shooting landscapes which are plush and green, Burtynsky focuses on that which we have despoiled.
Nickel tailings washing out to sea, abandoned hulls of forgone machinery, and strip mines are his inspiration. It was a terrific interview, which left me inspired.
I would point to the AGO’s website, except I looked it up once online and it’s one of those technology laden pieces of junk that doesn’t show you anything, or reinforce the artist’s vision. It appears to be more about corporate sponsorship and neat web tricks than art.
But Burtynsky struck me as brilliant. He talked about starting in the waste stream, and pushing his way back to the sources of oil and energy to begin with. He referred to abandoned fifty five gallons drums of oil and rusty spent machinery as “bookends” for our lives on this planet. He was remarkable.
I had just spent some time on Energy Balance for the fuel we make. My brother Glen wanted to include the embodied energy of our refinery, but I purposefully left that out, since so much of it is done out of scrap.
It struck me that my own journey into biofuels started when, as a metal sculptor, I was knee deep in the waste stream, with vessels and valves and motors flowing past daily.
Almost our entire setup has been fabricated out of post consumer wasteóincluding the back porch of the abandoned doublewide which we call home. It’s hard to calculate the embodied energy of such. There is some, for sureówe had to drive to retrieve it, we had to power the plasma cutter, etc., but because our operation has been largely plucked from the waste stream, I elected to leave its embodied energy out of our energy balance equation.
An interesting aside is that you can subsequently put the capital costs at Piedmont Biofuels into a thimble. Which means we do not have to be slaves to capital. Large scale biodiesel production is so capital intensive that you have to run 24/7 or you can’t keep up with the cost of the money which has been deployed to the fuel making process.
Burtynsky’s remarks struck a major chord within me. In my travels from scrap metal sculptor to backyard brewer to small producer, I have journeyed from “bookend to bookend,” from the wasteful output of our ingenuity to the source of energy that makes all of our destruction possible.