Carbon consciousness

By Camila Marambio, Bárbara Saavedra and Juan Pablo Vergara

Eco-cultural research into peatlands inevitably leads to the study of carbon cycles and to a careful reflection on our own carbon footprint.
carbon/o by agustine zegers

Carbon is an infinitely fluid element that threads through organic life. Its plasticity is due to its structure: a carbon atom is able to form four other bonds. This lends itself to length: creating short and long, open and closed carbon chains that touch life at every layer. A lot of these carbon chains are odorant, meaning that we can perceive them chemically through smell. Every leap of carbon along a chain and every addition of a different type of atom can alter a smell from category to category. Every addition of a hydrogen, or oxygen bond completely shifts its context, use, and personality.

Bogs are enormous terrestrial carbon storages, holding the petrified potential of entire worlds of smells. Within their carbon-rich depths is an invitation to imagine the world of carbon-based aromatics.

Carbon upholds life and, in its volatile forms, can give us somatic insight into atmospheric differences across time. In their friendships with sulfur and nitrogen, we can sniff hints of what earlier Earth smelled like. In times nearer to ours, they give us insights into the rampant extractivism that defines our Capitalocenic era. Burning and manipulating carbon storages (such as peat) yields odorant molecules that range from fuels like benzene and ethylene, which provide energy, to coconutty-citrusy aldehydes that live in our laundry detergents and commercial fragrances.

A lot of the solvents and aromatic molecules which are extracted from fossil fuels are already present in our atmosphere and throughout life-forms. Our exposure to them is more accelerated and mediated through anthropogenic intervention. Thinking about the manipulation of carbon and its forceful harnessing and release can help us appreciate the labor of peatlands as the archivists, degrowthers, and rhythm keepers of Earth that quietly contain organic heritage. It can help us reframe potentiality not from the perspective of productivity and profit, but rather from a place of measured appreciation, acidic maintenance, and slow stewardship.

To better understand the climate-destabilizing effects of our project’s emission of greenhouse gasses, we calculated our impact with the carbon calculator developed by Climate Gallery Coalition. This free online tool measures the main sources of emissions of art sector projects, including travel, shipping, transportation, energy consumption of exhibition equipment, printing, and packaging. Our estimated emissions for participating in the Biennale, determined through the Climate Gallery Coalition’s tool and other resources, can be found below.

The next step is to assume responsibility for our contribution to anthropogenic climate change. The transition to a low-carbon or zero-carbon energy future is an ongoing process which requires us to act differently and to implement protocols that will mitigate our carbon emissions. Because Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol is committed to the well-being of Patagonian peatlands and people, we will reduce our Biennale carbon footprint through conservation actions in Tierra del Fuego, and supporting the long-term protection of peatlands threatened by fire or invasive species. Additionally, the SphagnumLAB experiment will yield data as to the quantity of carbon that was captured by the living Sphagnum moss during the exhibition. And, when it came time to choose the install company to oversee the installation in Venice we selected Rebiennale, a collaborative platform that recycles materials from previous biennales through their Second Life project and looks to create a more sustainable exhibition culture in Venice.

Summary of Carbon emissions for Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol

Flights 51.09 (tCO2e) — 93.93%
Shipping 1.52 (tCO2e) — 2.79%
Energy Consumption 0.06 (tCO2e) — 0.11%
Travel (land and maritime) 1.44 (tCO2e) — 2.65%
Other 0.28 (tCO2e) — 0.51%

Total carbon emission: 54.39 (tCO2e)

tCO2e stands for tonnes (t) of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent (e). “Carbon dioxide equivalent” is a standard unit for counting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions regardless of whether they're from carbon dioxide or another gas, such as methane.

Download the full report here