‘Utopian Realism’ is an exploration of rural utopianism, idealism and industrialism in the North East of England and Mid Wales by the artists Mair Hughes and Bridget Kennedy.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Natural resources

Prior to our time in Wales I was reading a book called The Prometheans by Max Adams. I'd heard Max talk about the book at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle, the book tells of a group of forward thinking brothers from the early nineteenth century. These brothers are William, Richard, Jonathan and John Martin. The later brother being a well know painter whose works were on exhibition in the gallery. Any how there is a passage in the book that really struck a cord with me and got me thinking about the times we are living through now in relation to the era Adams describes so well in his book. The extract is below:

"In 1779 Abraham Darby built the first iron bridge at Coalbrookdale and a velocipede was seen in the streets of Paris. In 1780 British coal production hit ten million tons for the first time and the County of Yorkshire petitioned the government to reform its finances and put an end to corrupt political patronage. The following year James Watt patented his rotary steam engine paving the way for the next phase of technological revolution. For the first time a new source of power was available: to drive machinery that had previously been propelled by wind and water. Rotary engines could be built where ever coal could be supplied, relieving the dependence of mills like Cromford on water power alone."

I couldn't help thinking when I read this that there may be a point in time when we come to the exact opposite end of this technological achievement; I'm wondering how long it will be before we once again have to rely on wind and water for our major sources of power.

CAT have a great illustration of our use of the earth's resources, it's a timeline that spans the length of a wind turbine blade showing how our use of energy sources has changed over the ages.

Sopwith seemed to sense the significance of this switch to coal power, below is a quote from his "Stranger's Pocket Guide to Newcastle and it's Environs" published in 1838

"The copious amounts of smoke emitted by these, and other manufactories and engines on the banks of the river Tyne and Wear, present also a marked feature of the district, and in some particular lights the appearance is very curious, as regards picturesque effect. these clouds of smoke, stretching mile after mile across the coal fields of the Tyne and Wear, indicate at once the present abundance and rapid consumption of that most important and valuable of our subterranean products, coal, and suggest the propriety of adopting every reasonable economy in its use."

I wouldn't for a moment hold up Sopwith as an early environmentalist, he was as excited as the next man by the rapid pace of technological change and exploited it to his fully advantage, but the quote above does show he had the breadth of vision to reflect upon it.

CAT provides a place where people can reflect upon our current state of affairs in relation to the environment and our use of its resources, it also offers practical solutions and alternatives.

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