Rock Me Like A Hurricane. Or a Tornado. Or an Impending Ice Age: the carbon cost of the LACMA rock.

Rock and awe: onlookers take in the rock as it sits in the middle of the road on Figueroa St., just north of Florence.

Like a lot of kids (or maybe not), I had a fascination with rocks when I was younger. That said, I was rather nonplussed by the idea of LACMA spending $10 million to put a granite boulder on its lawn. Thinking perhaps I was too cynical, I headed to Figueroa St., where the rock was parked just north of Florence, to see what everyone else thought about it.

The small crowd that had gathered there Friday afternoon seemed more impressed by the spectacle than the rock. A father that had brought his family from Commerce said he’d been tracking the rock like Santa, and talked excitedly about how this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A woman from Inglewood kept shouting, “This is crazy!” as she snapped photos and wanted to know why residents hadn’t thrown a party for the rock like they did in Long Beach. A resident of the area said he didn’t have much choice about coming to see it, being that it was parked in front of his house.

A grandfather from the West Side had brought his grandchildren to see it, feeling that the event was something memorable that they should see together. His 10 year old grandson, however, was more interested in the police car of one of the officers watching over the rock. He wanted to know if the spotlights on the front of the car were the kind that could see through the road and find criminals that were hiding underground.

“He plays a lot of video games,” the grandfather apologized.

“What do you think of the rock?” I asked the kid.

“The truck has 160 wheels!!” he shouted.

Actually, it had 196.

“How much do you think this thing cost?” asked a woman videotaping the rock. “You have to wonder…”

“Mmm hmm,” said another lady. “But I bet it’s really beautiful underneath that shrink wrap.”

I showed her the information card LACMA had given me with a sketch of the boulder.

“Ok, maybe not…But I hear you’ll get to walk under it once they put it up?” she paused. “How much did you say this thing cost?”

In dollar terms, LACMA estimated that the total cost was about $10 million. The tab was picked up by private donors, with the costs of staffing road closures — about $203,400 — picked up by Emmert International.

It also burned a LOT of fuel: according to Zev Yaroslavsky, the rig burned approximately 2,250 gallons of gasoline on its 105-mile journey.

According to the EPA website, the environmental costs of burning 1,575 gallons of gasoline could be the equivalent of any one of the following:

  • Annual greenhouse gas emissions from 3.9 passenger vehicles (or, as I like to think of it, greenhouse gas emissions avoided thanks to 3.9 cyclists)
  • CO2 emissions from 46.5 barrels of oil consumed
  • CO2 emissions from .264 tanker trucks’ worth of gasoline
  • CO2 emissions from the electricity use of 2.5 homes for one year
  • CO2 emissions from the energy use of 1.7 homes for one year
  • Carbon sequestered by 513 tree seedlings grown for 10 years
  • Carbon sequestered annually by 4.3 acres of pine or fir forests
  • Carbon sequestered annually by .198 acres of forest preserved from deforestation
  • CO2 emissions from 833 propane cylinders used for home barbeques
  • CO2 emissions from burning .109 railcars’ worth of coal
  • Greenhouse gas emissions avoided by recycling 7 tons of waste instead of sending it to the landfill

And, apparently, at least two palm trees had to be cut down so the rig could turn.

All for a boulder.

“It’s so big,” said a boy looking at the rock. “How did he make it?”

“Well,” I said, “he didn’t really make it…” and tried to explain how the boulder came from a quarry. The boy looked disappointed.

“I hear this is the route they are testing out for when they bring the Space Shuttle through,” someone offered. “Now THAT will be something to see.”

  • FailBlog

    How many Hipsters on their brakeless fixies would it take to tow the rock?  Of course your would then have to calculate the PBR cost. 

  • Seriously? Its frankly discouraging to read this article.  I feel like you’d complain about the carbon footprint of delivering raw materials to build an orphanage.

    Levitated Mass (the “Boulder”) will be around for longer then any of us will be alive.  It is inspiring and showcases the political and engineering triumph of coordinating this maneuver through dozens of communities across three counties, in a time of otherwise political stalemate.  It seemed like an impossible journey, yet slowly, and steadily, with careful planning, it went off without a hitch.  What a positive message for the children who witnessed this excited move!

    Los Angeles is a volatile, constantly changing community, and the rock will stand in the geographical middle of LA for thousands, maybe millions of years.  If LA burns to the ground in a fire storm or is shaken to dust in an earthquake, that “boulder” will be left sitting in place, a hundred miles from it’s geographical origins.  Future cultures will discover it and be confused as to why and how it got there, and will ponder the civilization that was capable of moving something so big so far, and then suspending it over a chasm.

    We shouldn’t be wasteful.  But I don’t think you’d be able to convince me or most progressives that art is a waste. Doing something that inspires and delights people, and our future generations is well worth the 33 barrels of oil that otherwise would have ferried another SUV up and down the block to the local fast food restaurant.

    I love Streetsblog, but this “commentary” seems nit-picky at best and downright negative about our future at worst.  Did NYC Streetsblog calculate the carbon footprint of the High-Line park? No, because it will give back infinitely more value over time then the initial investment.  So will this new installation at LACMA.

    I thought this blog and the people who write it were for making investments in our city that make our city better for PEOPLE.  Shouldn’t this qualify?  This is going to be a peice that helps draw people in to our Museum from all over the world.  It got many Angelenos excited and proud.  I’m sorry to ramble, I’m just floored to have read this dismissive article on Streetsblog.

  • I think a true assessment of carbon impacts of this 

  • Anonymous

    There isn’t an Art Museum closer to the quarry that could have hosted this piece? Riverside County could use an economic boost.

    Oh, hey look!

  • Anonymous

    That thing ran over the end of the Purple Line tunnel when it turned the corner from Western to Wilshire.  I hope Metro has been down to check that the tunnel survived unscathed.

  • Jeb Bush

    What does anything in your comment even mean?

  • In reply to TAPman:  Yes, it’s true there is a museum in riverside.  And what about all that coffee that’s grown in South America… don’t they have coffee shops down there?  Oh yes! But since people want to drink it here, it must be physically moved.  The donors and sponsors at LACMA wanted the peice and made it happen.  Museums aren’t one big happy conglomerate that just move art around, they are entities that must depend on donations and sponsors to get more funds, and LACMA had the donors to make this piece a reality.

    The point is, the movement of the rock itself is part of the art piece.  It’s part of the ritual that takes the rock and literally “elevates” it out of the ordinary.  The artist could just slap a plaque on stone in the middle of the desert, but that’s not the point.

  • FailBlog

    Jeb Bush obviously not a hipster. 

  • A little too concern-trolling for me. I agree with Ezra. 

  • Anonymous

    I agree with Ezra too, 100%.

  • justin

    oh Christ.  Did you fly this year?  Even just once?  Then stop writing this article, don’t even think about writing this article.  Christ.  We reallly need to give up the carbon-centric arguments. 

  • In reply to TAPman: I suspect that there’s a website with a shorter URL that you could’ve commented at.

    I personally expect that Levitated Mass won’t be my cup of tea… probably not worth the hype… but I haven’t seen the piece yet, just the hype.

  • sahra

    Don’t get your undies in a bundle, folks… I don’t have any judgment about its value as art–I am not qualified to do that. And the engineering feat is indeed impressive. And I thought it was very cool that families of all walks of life had come out to see this thing together. There is great power in that. But I was also interested by the idea of this piece as a legacy to our abilities and strengths as a civilization when I was hearing people in an economically disadvantaged part of town standing around the rock asking about costs and talking about budget cuts hitting schools and gutting arts programs, after-school programs, and other vital programs and services…things that may leave us weaker as a society. The questions people were asking had to do with whether the costs were worth the product… I don’t have an answer, but the question is an interesting one.

  • I don’t think Sahra’s point is that we should/shouldn’t do this sort of projects as a city, just that people don’t think about the true costs associated with this.  Zev released a bunch of numbers today about how great this was for the city, but there was nothing about cost because it was “paid for” by private funders of LACMA.  In truth though, there is a cost we all paid.  Personally, given the ripple effect of the press on this issue around the city and even world as people watched the thing, and the parade like atmosphere that followed it, I would say the cost was/is worth it.  But you can’t have a discussion about the costs without someone first figuring out what they are.

  • Davistrain

    We should differentiate between one-time special events and daily activities.  The amount of energy used to move the big rock (or objet d’arte, depending on one’s point of view) is a tiny fraction of what’s used every day in Southern California.  Nothing this big and unwieldy will be moved again any time in the near future (at least the Space Shuttle is designed to be moved).  It’s like the old question from the 1970s: “If we can put a man on the Moon, how come we can’t get him across town in a reasonable time?”  Once again, special events vs. daily activities.

  • calwatch

    Yes it is, but the public is not bearing any of the costs. The permits and the rock were paid for with private sources. Basically while running down the CO2 and fuel used is interesting, it’s ultimately irrelevant since we do a lot of things that are inefficient. I don’t want to discourage questions, but ultimately the end game of this train of thought is throwing us into some dystopic science fiction movie where there’s a lot of handwringing involved or some disembodied voice shoots down any time some inefficient decision is made.

  • Dino E.

    I’s like to call them out about exactly the source (s) of this 10 million.

     LACMA hasn’t hosted more  than 1 or 2  memorable  exhibits under Gavin’s helm.  They were embarrassed last year when they tried to close down the classic movies series, and they stopped sponsoring the great Modern Music Classical series a few years back. They also lavished over $500 million on an ill conceived five year construction project that angered many who were told that LACMA was in desperate financial condition and were drastically cutting back costs from employees to quality exhibits

    In the  90’s LACMA was a vibrant museum exposing LA to the likes of Van Gogh, Giordano, and a fantastic exhibit of Pompeii-to name just a few. Now, we get a rock from this Barnum and Bailey organization. 

    I recently cancelled my membership which I had for almost 20 years, and I won’t be renewing it anytime soon.

  • It seems like there’s some stuff in that comment that isn’t in the post–budget cuts, services, etc. 

    And when you write “All for a boulder,” that seems to be a judgement about its value. 

  • FartMan

    Too bad Superman did not bid for this job.  He could of moved this rock with a couple of bean burritos.  What is the CO2 calculation on that?  5 farts = .000005 barrels of oil.

  • Eric Weinstein

    Just think what $10 million dollars would have done for bike lanes in LA county.

    We really need to work on fund raising for bikes.

    It’s just a 25 foot sized rock. I also brought a nice rock back from Riverside once – only it fit in my pocket. It’s an expensive toy from people in the 1% wealth category. Couldn’t they have done something useful (for bikes) with that money?

    And I bet that LACMA won’t let you ride you bike on the speedway they build under the rock…where’s the fun?!

  • They could have done something useful for bikes with the money, except that isn’t LACMA’s mission. You might as well ask why LADOT hasn’t put on any good art exhibits lately. 


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