By Romain Viguier
In November 2016, the Paris Climate Change Agreement was signed by more than 150 countries. Within the agreement, these nations set themselves the ambition of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5°C. How can this be achieved?
Just like any walk – it is one step at a time.
On 23 November last year, I invited university students and staff and members of the public to join me on a 15-minute “Carbon Walk” across Edinburgh, with each person transporting a 5-kilogram bag; the weight being equivalent to three and a half hours, or one morning’s worth, of the average carbon footprint in the UK. Why three and a half hour and why not a whole day’s worth of carbon? Well, because that would be 35 kilos!
Our walk began at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI) where each participant collected a carbon bag from the main yard. It felt like robbing the carbon bank! We finished the tour at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA), where the bags were used to create a thought-provoking art exhibition (more on that below).
The walk, which followed a route through Edinburgh City centre along Chamber Street then through the Grassmarket and up to the ECA’s Tent Gallery in West Port, was great fun for some and good networking for others.
Our participants deposited the bags at the gallery, where I then used them to create part of my Carbon Stock art installation, which was open to the public until early December. My thanks to everyone who took part and helped to create a highly visual metaphor for our carbon impact.
The exhibition itself comprised four pieces: Carbon Stock, Carbon Fields, Window Shopping, and Rai Stone.
This installation is made of one tonne of sequestrated carbon dioxide (CO₂), which is equivalent to one month’s worth of the carbon footprint per person in the UK. It would cost between £50 and £100 to decarbonise our monthly carbon footprint, by capturing CO₂ from heavy industrial processes and storing it permanently underground. Every tonne released in the atmosphere contributes to global warming and the acidification of our oceans – a cost all of our ecosystem has to face. In Europe, large emitting industries can buy the authorisation to emit one tonne of CO2 in the atmosphere: it costs them between nothing to €20. In most countries, there is currently no charge for releasing a tonne of CO₂.
Nine vertical paintings based on geological cross-sections of North Sea oil & gas fields. An underground landscape made of vast quantities of carbon, captured from the atmosphere by all sorts of life forms and sequestrated underground for hundreds of millions years. These fields are part of the Earth’s largest carbon reserve.
Window Shopping (prices in kilo of CO₂)
Prepared just in time for Black Friday, this piece comes from our need to know the carbon cost of the products we buy because spending or not spending is the only power we have as a consumer. Our food products have nutrition labels on them, informing us on fat, carbohydrate, sugars, proteins and salt contents – what we need are “carbon labels” to indicate the carbon cost of what we buy. This display showed the carbon cost of different items to help people choose between products and help shape the world we want to live in.
This sculpture was created from precipitated calcium carbonate, the result of a process that turns dissolved CO₂ into solid carbonate. “Rai Stone” is a reference to the stone money used on the Micronesian island of Yap, an ancient and now traditional form of money based on calcium carbonate. “Rai Stone” symbolises a new carbon currency. Every kilo of CO₂ captured from the atmosphere creates an environmental benefit that can be exchanged between us, turning an environmental benefit into an economic currency – a zero-carbon currency is a key component of a carbon neutral economy.
Romain Viguier was born in France and first trained as a sculptor at Ecole des Beaux Arts de Grenoble. Working principally with marble he was interested to learn more about the environment and decided to study life science and chemistry at the university. After a PhD in molecular chemistry he continued his engagement with art while pursuing a career in science and technology. He currently works for Scottish Carbon Capture & Storage at the University of Edinburgh.
Follow Romain on Twitter @RfhRomain
All photos: Melissa Viguier