The cost of doing business: A mosaic about destruction on the path to fossil fuel combustion

I know I have only just started exploring the solutions side of climate change, yet here I am already going back to the impacts. But I have a good reason! This piece was made specifically to take with me to San Diego for the Mosaic Art Salon at the SAMA conference. I wanted to do a piece that incorporated the graffiti paint layers so that it would have a connection to Dialogue, which will be hanging in the Mosaic Arts International exhibition in conjunction with the conference. As I played with the layers of paint, carving their surface, the resulting forms made me think of the colourful swirling you get with oil spills. And thus this piece was born.

(un)acceptable loss - paint detail 2

This mosaic is a sort of aside in the context of my Fiddling While Rome Burns series, in that it doesn’t deal directly with greenhouse gas emissions / climate change, though it is related. As I progress deeper into the series and also look to the future, I have started to think about leaving myself jumping-off points where I can branch out into new themes that will be connected to this initial series and create a cohesive overall body of work. “(Un)Acceptable Loss” is the first of these off-ramps. I might not end up circling back and taking all of these paths I’m setting out, but I’m enjoying this strategic long-term planning and the creation of possibility—it really reminds me that what I’m doing, and the issues with which I am engaging, are a life-long commitment.

(un)acceptable loss - side detail
While the point of departure for “(Un)Acceptable Loss” is an oil spill, this piece is about much more than that. My climate change work has been exclusively focused on the burning of fossil fuels and the impact on the planet—essentially, what happens at the end of the pipe—and the focus of the series will, on the whole, continue to be just that. But I thought it was important to at least acknowledge that there are myriad negative impacts throughout the entire process of getting fossil fuels to market and ultimately burning them. Oil spills are one, yes, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also (and this is not a comprehensive list): habitat fragmentation and destruction, wildlife deaths, air pollution, water contamination, shamefully high rates of energy and fresh water consumption, the displacement of communities and disruption of traditional ways of life, worrying health impacts, and an array of social problems that plague boomtowns.

"(Un)Acceptable Loss"
“(Un)Acceptable Loss” (2016), 11″ x 11″ — limestone, marble, unglazed porcelain, smalti, salvaged glass, graffiti paint layers

The name of the piece is a nod to the concept of acceptable loss, a term coined by the military to indicate a level of loss/casualty or destruction that is tolerable in order to achieve a desired outcome. The term has also been adopted by other disciplines, like medicine, politics, and business (as notions of acceptable risk, the cost of doing business, etc.).

In getting fossil fuels all the way from the ground to our vehicles, homes, and industries, both companies and society are prepared to accept a certain level of loss. Oil spills, like Deepwater Horizon, Kalamazoo River, and Cold Lake (to name just a few), and oil tanker explosions, like the disaster in Lac-Mégantic, are tragic and grab headlines for a time. But at the end of the day, this loss of life, livelihood, and environmental quality—not to mention profit, which, even when it reaches into the billions of dollars, is merely a blip on the balance sheet—is simply the accepted cost of doing business in our fossil-fuelled society. Which is (or should be) completely unacceptable.

(un)acceptable loss - full angle

(un)acceptable loss - over edge
Dripping over the edge


I follow your blogs with great interest Julie as it’s a subject im passionate about too. You write passionately and knowledgably! For those of us who are “armchair environmentalists” (without scientific knowledge) it is so wonderful to read and learn. Your show in Toronto was fabulous and im sure your work will have an even bigger impact at SAMA! Absolutely love what youre doing with those paint layers – we all want some. Ill be routing for u at SAMA!

I think you have a winner. Not only in the beautiful art you produce, but in educating the public and getting them talking about something that many ignore. Unfortunately Climate Change and it’s importance is not usually spoken about in day to day conversation. But by the way the artist meshed the two together you can’t help talking and thinking about it. It’s quite symbolic really……. In my opinion both Art and Climate Change are very different, but substantial subjects in their own right, but what Julie managed to do is interlace the two. This allows for new doors to be open, and a very well thought up concept that leads to learning, about each subject. I think the subjects come together beautifully, and would now find it very difficult to think of one without the other. Julie mission accomplished ! Congratulations

Thank you for such a lovely comment, Monica! It really means a lot and I’m so happy when people GET what I’m doing, bringing together art and science and policy and environmental issues in a way that I hope is engaging and lends itself to a conversation.

Let me know what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.