Oct 16 2009

Blog Action Day 2009: Climate change

Blog Action Day is an annual event held every October 15 that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day with the aim of sparking discussion around an issue of global importance.

I remember as a child going to Man and His World (the site for Expo ’67, the 1967 International and Universal Exposition) in Montreal, and visiting all the international pavillions. I remember in particular the American Pavillion and always seemed to gravitate to it whenever we visited.  It was a huge, clear panelled geodesic dome structure that really stood out among the rest of the buildings.  It being so long ago,   I admit, memories are a little vague, but I have fleeting images of the experience such as the sun blaring through the glass.. vegetation lining paths on the ground level.. futuristic bits of art and culture.. stairs going up to a different level where screening rooms with films about acid rain, air & water pollution, the depletion of the ozone layer, etc. , etc, were shown.

Biosphere Montreal Expo 67I know I was young, but it obviously left an impression on me, because I still remember it.  The warning was clear that we should be very conscientious of how we live, how we treat the environment, and take care of the world around us, or the fragile natural world as we know it will be lost for future generations.

Despite what certain special interest groups tell us and want us what to believe, I think its naive to think that the climate change is not real and that we can keep on the way we have been.   Human activities might not be the only reason why global warming is occurring, but it is occurring nonetheless. The exponential growth of human populations and industrialization has had a huge impact on the ecosystem and has undoubtedly helped to expedite climate change.  We’ve known about it for a long time but denying a problem does not make it go away.   On that note…

Over the last few days, I’ve tried to think of how life at our studio might relate to the global warming. Thinking back, most of the changes we have implemented in the past few years were for economic reasons, but they have spinoff benefits that are releva for the  environment as well.  In the past 9 or so years, the cost of propane (we glaze fire in a gas kiln) has more than doubled and the cost of raw materials and shipping has gone up by at least 1/3.  Working smarter and more efficiently , obviously, has become all that more of a priority.

THE KILN

Nitride Bonded ShelvesWhen I think of climate change and how it relates to pottery, what first comes to mind is my kiln which uses propane.  A fuel burning anything is a potential area of concern when you are trying to reduce your carbon footprint.  One thing working in our favor is that  our studio and kiln are located on a treed 5 acre plot of land.  A friend yesterday reminded me as well that propane does burn more efficiently and releases less particulates and pollutants into the air than, say, a wood kiln or even a salt kiln.

So working with what we have, we have tried to make some changes to help it fire more efficiently and use less fuel.  A big change we made about a year ago was getting some of those new nitride bonded silicon carbide shelves which are much thinner (and lighter) than regular kiln shelves and take require less energy to heat up. (When you fire a kiln, you heat everything in the kiln.. the pots, the shelves, the posts… everything. Anything extra you have means that much more energy consumed.)  So anyways, we did that and replaced the flat top with an arch and I was delighted to discover that the firing took a fraction of the propane it did previously.  Something else that we just did this last firing is reduce the pressure at the regulator on the propane tank. Again, much less propane was used. Brilliant. More firings for less and what fuel we did use what burned that much more efficiently.

NATIVE CLAY

Like propane and natural gas, the cost of raw materials has shot up.  Thankfully we dig most of the clay we use locally. We do this for a number of reasons. Besides the fact that it is very responsive and throws beautifully, it being so readily available and so close to the studio definitely works in our favor. Since we process it ourselves, it is a little cheaper plus we don’t have the additional expense of shipping it down from places like Ohio, Atlanta, California, and some other such places where clay is commercially processed and distributed from.  The environmental impact?  Well, one benefit is there is one less truck on the road and therefore less emissions released into the atmosphere.

OTHER THINGS

We usually have to travel away to do art shows and fairs, so for a number of reasons, we’ve lightened up the weight of our show display so when we do have to travel, its a lighter load and hopefully less wear on the vehicle, less gas, and less emissions.

Shows, Quality not Quantity –  What with the economy, rising show fees and travel expenses,  and the uncertainty of shows, like  many craftspeople,  we have been forced to be a lot more selective about where we go and what shows we do. Consequently that often means travelling less and sticking closer to home.  The internet has also made promotion to a broader audience without travel possible.

At home, I am trying to make changes as well. I switched (mostly out of necessity) from a large SUV to a Toyota Corolla which helps consumption, and switched out all my light bulbs for flourescents or compact florescents bulbs. My gasoline and electric bills have both gone down considerably as a result.  There’s always room for improvement though. I started the summer with plans for a big vegetable garden, but this year with things that come up, as they seem to do, the more invasive weeds just took over. But there is always next year, when I hope to have better luck with planting in raised beds.

So no matter what your lifestyle or how small your operation is, changes to our lifestyle and how we work are possible. Even small changes can have a positive effect on the environment.


Jan 25 2009

Upcycling and A great damp cupboard

Old Refrigerator filled with pugged claySometimes the best tools are right in front of you.

Here’s a picture of an old defunct refrigerator that we use in the studio.  It still had a good seal on the doors, so instead of sending it to the landfill, we upcycled this one to serve as a receptacle for some freshly pugged clay.  Its not pretty, but it works brilliantly.

We also have another old fridge which is used as a “damp cupboard”.  It houses pots that perhaps we can’t get to right away to trim, carve a design into, or add attachments. A little cup with water in it, left in the fridge, does the trick keeping the air inside nice and damp.

You can make the unsightly outside of the fridge zippy painting it as wild as you like, and since its a giant magnet board, its also a handy spot for photos, calendars, etc..


Sep 28 2008

Sept 28 – Slow Sunday: Bake local, Think Global

Bake your own bread today – A simple, symbolic act for big change.

In today’s society, and actually since the beginning of the industrial age, we have been inundated (and programmed) from all sides as to what we must have, what we must buy, and how we must live.   “Don’t think, just get it bigger, faster, and more of it… NOW!  Get more and more stuff.  Keep up with the Joneses!”    ..but In the grander scheme of things.. why?

Fast food, convenience food, and processed food, not only take a toll on our health and pocket book, but our taste buds too.  Here in Alabama, the price of a so called “better” loaf of bread from the grocery store is over $3-$4 now.  You’re certainly not paying extra for flavor (of which there is little) or quality, but for the manufacturing, transport, packaging, preservatives, and convenience.   (it cannot possibly rival taste, texture, and nutrition value of homemade)

Slow Sunday, a day designated by Britain’s ecology magazine, Resurgence,  to encourage people to slow down.  Small actions done collectively, can speak loudly.  Baking bread today is a small act to defy consumerism and help the environment.


May 14 2008

Firing Smarter by Upgrading

When we originally built our kiln in 2000, we used all recycled brick and built it around the size of shelves we already had. It was a flat top, built mainly of stacked arch brick for the walls and a fiber (ceramic blanket) and heavy sheet metal roof. Not fancy, but we had a kiln and didn’t have to spend much money to put it all together.

Cordite shelves beside new flat nitride bonded shelfIt took at least 7 years of painstaking tweaking and firing before I really got to know its ways. About 5 years ago a dog we had knocked over the entire stack of old brick we were using for the kiln door, breaking most of them!! (..sigh) Long story short, it has been a struggle from the get-go to achieve reduction with any reliability, if at all.

As I think I mentioned in my last post, the old kiln as it was is no more. The flat roof – gone. The danger of fiber bits falling down into pots if you accidentally brushed the roof of the kiln with your head when stacking/loading – gone. The flat top was replaced with a retrofitted sprung arch and we finally were able to get new brick for the door. Extra fiber and roofing tin wraps the outer walls now as well.

The other exciting change made was replacing the old severely warped cordite shelves in favor of 6 new nitride bonded silicon carbide shelves. As you can see in the pictures, some of the old shelves were warped an inch and a half to two inches in places (I put one of the new nitride bonded shelves beside the stack of old shelves to show the difference in thickness and flatness). As with a wood or soda fire, loading typically involved painstakingly “wadding” each and every pot for the firing with a mix of 60/40 china clay to alumina hydrate. It was the only solution I could see to prevent warping. I have several potter friends who have those zoomy Advancer shelves that run about $100 a shelf in the size I was looking at. The nitride bonded are a step down from the Advancers, but are a lot less cost prohibitive, costing maybe $20 or so dollars more than a comparably sized cordite shelf.

Thin, flat, and light nitride bonded shelf

These new nitride bonded shelves weigh all of 11 pounds (the old cordite shelves in comparison weighed 44 pounds!), so loading the kiln takes a lot less of a physical toll on me and I can load it independently. I still do wad some – little teeny wads – (vs using kiln wash or sprinkling alumina hydrate on the shelves), especially on those clay bodies I might be firing that might be a bit tighter than our native clay to prevent sticking, Loading takes a fraction of the time as does the preparation of the wadding itself. Now that I have flat shelves, the wads can be glued on in advance as well.

The new arch in combination with the new flat shelves gives me at least, I am guessing an extra foot of stacking space. Not only that but the kiln now reduces and fires more efficiently using about a third less propane per firing. With the rising price of propane ($264 for 75 gallons this last delivery), the upgrades to the kiln and shelves couldn’t have come at any better time. (Better for the environment as well.)

As an aside, we got our new shelves and brick from Larkin Refractory Solutions in Atlanta. Wonderful customer service and knowledgeable staff.


Mar 24 2008

Earth Hour 2008 – Lights Out

March 29th, 2008 – 8 pm for one hour…

The World Wildlife Fund has organized a global initiative called “Earth Hour” to help raise awareness of global warming and inspire people to do something about it. Its amazing how much a difference we each can make by even small actions.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcHz6Jv4l-g]

Sydney this time last year:

2.2 million people and 2100 Sydney businesses turned off their lights for one hour – Earth Hour. If the greenhouse reduction achieved in the Sydney CBD during Earth Hour was sustained for a year, it would be equivalent to taking 48,616 cars off the road for a year.” from earthhour.org

To learn more about Earth Hour, please visit:
http://www.earthhour.org


Oct 15 2007

Blog Action Day October 15

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Today is Blog Action Day when blogs everywhere talk about one thing: the environment.

Potters tend to have a reputation for being frugal. Some stems from necessity, some stems out of principle. I started thinking about ways in which we here at the studio try to make a difference to the environment and recycle:

– Building: recycled wood & windows in building studio (reclaimed lots of waste wood from hurricanes which would otherwise be taken to landfill or burned).
– Plastics: We recycle grocery bags & use them for shows (people don’t mind when you tell them it is for the environment) as well as dry cleaning plastic which works perfect for covering pots & protecting controlling how they dry
– Paper: Newspaper and newspaper roll ends are used in the studio for a multitude of uses. Also excellent for packing pots away for/at shows
– Metal: We bought a can crusher and while they don’t pick up recycled items here, we take our tin/aluminum cans to the recycle depot when we are in town.
– Appliances: We have two defunct refrigerators & freezers make excellent damp cupboards and places to keep moist clay.
– Old Machinery: our clay mixers are 2 recycled old machines: one is made from an old WWII anti-aircraft gun and the other a 1915 dough mixer.
– Waste wood & pine needles: We get scrap wood cast offs from the local wood mill and use them to fire the wood kiln. Wood and pine needles burn much more efficiently and with less smoke at the temperatures we fire the kiln to, than it would in a burn pile.
– Cast offs: We use cast-off bisque ware (cracked and unusable) in holes in our driveway, and try to use as many of the glazed cast-offs as bird feeders, planters, dog bowls, etc.. Lots of other shards go to a friend who does mosaics. (We have also used waste oyster shells from the local fishery to fill holes in the driveway – smells a bit at first, but definitely organic)
– Our clay: Now that our clay mixer is operational again, we try to pay extra attention these days to recycle all of our scrap clay into a new batch of mixed clay and make it go as far as possible. A lot of the clay we use, we dig ourselves. The white and bubble gum colored clay that we like to use is considered waste clay to contractors (not good for road base) and they are quite happy if we cart as much as we like off.
– Organic Gardening: We try our best to garden as organically as we can. We have several neighbors with horses that are glad to part with their more than ample supply of muck.
– Commuting: Our little chunk of land houses both where we live and the studio, so thankfully I don’ t have to commute anywhere (except to shows, wholesale customers, and some of my suppliers, of course).
With a group of like-minded artists, we also started a small artist collective to hopefully open up more marketing opportunities closer to home and cut back on travel. Less traveling not only saves us expense, time, and wear and tear on our vehicles (and us) but also means less fuel consumed and less impact on the environment.

Coming from away, I couldn’t help but notice the absence of things such as public transit for commuters and carpooling lanes when I first got down here. SUVs are the vehicle of choice it seems here and its not uncommon to see a Hummer or 2 cruising up the road. No attention to carbon emissions on old vehicles either. Big cars, big boats and often big inefficient houses too. How do permits get granted to construct on valuable wetland? Always has baffled me how a place with so much sunshine has so few people taking advantage or even the slight bit knowledgeable of solar power. Welcome to the Alabama Coast. Consuming with very little thought of conservation. You used to be able to see to the bottom of Mobile Bay not 50 years ago, apparently. Not now though. Pollution from industry-friendly Mobile and other places upstream have unfortunately taken its toll. Its a pity.

Southerners are known to be resistant to change but hopefully they will sit up and take notice before it is too late.