Climate Urgency and Action
Eighty citations, each sourced as an accessible reference for all to see, support an 1,800 word piece we regard as essential reading
for anyone who makes a living making shelter of any kind for any purpose.Or plans to. Or knows someone who does.
My Hanley Wood colleague, Architect editor-in-chief Ned Cramer, researched and wrote his tour de force, “The climate is changing. So must architecture,” during weeks in August and September that fed into the whirligig of late summer’s named nightmares, Irma, Harvey, Maria, and Tubbs–seastorms and firestorms a generation of us may likely never forget.
Unless, of course, their like continue to occur with ever-increasing frequency, intensity, and massive destructiveness.
Cramer’s intention, backed by evidence and fueled by a preternatural acuity that the moment to act is now–or maybe never, falls under two headings: Urgency and agency.
Ned Cramer, as one of our newly tapped Hive “deans,” will lead a conversation on climate change and housing as part of our upcoming Hive event, Dec. 6 and 7 in Los Angeles. (Space is running out, so register here now.) To spark urgency, Cramer’s manifesto cues up the discussion and lays out the stakes like this:
The effects of climate change are increasingly self-evident, and costly. Hurricane Harvey took some 70 lives when it hit the Houston area in late August, and Texas Governor Greg Abbott has estimated the damage at$150 billion to $180 billion. At press time, the 3.5 million residents of Puerto Rico remained without power after Hurricane Maria and many of them lacked access to fresh water. “The devastation … has set us back nearly 20 to 30 years,” Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón told the Associated Press. Across the globe, higher temperatures are contributing to record heat waves and droughts, rising sea levels, more intense storms, wildfires, and floods, and other extreme conditions [PDF]. A mass extinction is underway, thanks in part to climate change; a study in the journal Science Advances contextualizes it as “the sixth of its kind in Earth’s 4.5 billion years of history,” with vertebrate species going extinct at 100 times the historical background rate.
Even if humanity was to immediately stop releasing CO2, the climate would continue to change because the greenhouse gases that we have already dumped into the atmosphere could take millennia to dissipate. But that doesn’t mean we can throw up our hands and ignore the problem. The sober reaction is to pursue both mitigation, in order to minimize emissions, as well as resilience, to bolster cities, towns, buildings, and infrastructure so they can endure the storms to come. (The designers of Houston’s Buffalo Bayou Park explain how resilient strategies made a difference with Harvey here.) Skeptics should consider that innately risk-adverse institutions such as the U.S. Defense Department, giant re-insurer Swiss Re, and the masters of the universe at Goldman Sachs are planning accordingly. (Read the Washington state insurance commissioner’s take here.)
And if we don’t reduce CO2 emissions? Imagine, by the end of the century, a Hurricane Sandy–level flood inundating Long Island, N.Y., every two weeks, Dust Bowl–intensity drought in the Southwest that persists for decades, Miami largely abandoned and under water, and Missouri as hot as Arizona [PDF] is now, with 46 to 115 days above 95 F each year. Such catastrophic scenarios are not hyperbole, but probable consequences of inaction. Indeed, if there is a fault in climatological findings as a whole, it is that scientists have tended tounderplay [PDF] the threats.
So, there’s urgency for you. As Cramer notes, “Time is wasting.” The current path, without urgency and without agency, is a sure collision course with devastation and doom. In agency, Cramer writes, there is reason for hope.
Without too much imaginative effort, one can see such efforts coalescing into a heroic nationwide enterprise, like the all-encompassing mobilization of the U.S. economy at the start of World War II. Except this time the threat doesn’t come from overseas. It’s all around us: our dangerous way of living and building in the world. Rethinking the design, construction, operation, and dismantling of buildings in order to mitigate climate change and increase resilience toward its effects is the most important, and exciting, undertaking that architects of this era will likely experience in their careers. Architecture must change with the climate, and change now, in order for humanity to survive, and hopefully thrive.
It is hard to spark urgency and agency in other people. Trojan King Priam’s daughter Cassandra knew the future before it happened, but none believed her.
Author Kurt Dahl writes this of the challenge around kindling a sense of acknowledgment and connection in the face of growing risk and peril, noting:
(unabated) the current trends in climate disruption, peak oil, water depletion, and soil degradation, combined with a rapidly increasing human population, will soon result in a disaster of unimaginable proportions… Unfortunately, a crisis that unfolds in slow motion is easy to ignore. As each day comes and goes – peak oil, population growth, soil degradation, water shortages, and climate disruption all seem to be no worse than the day before. The vast majority of people never notice the gradual, yet inexorable deterioration of our planet’s life support system. For most, their short term problems overwhelm any desire to consider the long term issues.
Perhaps there are some people that are simply unable to grasp any long-term implications. And certainly most people are already fully engaged in their own day-to-day problems and have little time or energy left over to think about a problem that will not impact them for several decades into the future.
A recent Duke University Fuqua School of Business analysis by Ph.D. candidate Troy Campbell and associate professor Aaron Key looks at how ideological beliefs play a role in what we acknowledge or what we deny to be problems. It may, the co-authors assert, have to do largely with the palatability of the solutions that impact whether we see something as a problem at all. Campbell and Key write:
“Logically, the proposed solution to a problem, such as an increase in government regulation or an extension of the free market, should not influence one’s belief in the problem. However, we find it does. The cure can be more immediately threatening than the problem.”
The Duke study co-authors call this phenomenon “motivated disbelief.”
Ned Cramer claims that human-caused climate change is the “fundamental design problem” of our time. Resilience and sustainability are non-negotiables. To spark urgency and agency–the shared sense that we can and must do something now about the climate change problem–he asks that we suspend disbelief, motivated by the instinct–if not for us, then for our own children’s children–to survive.
Join us at Hive for the discussion.