“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.”
– Marshal Ferdinand Foch
In Fall 2011, I attended the Design Futures Council’s Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design, and was impressed by the number of thoughtful, committed architects, designers and builders who are determined to create a more sustainable future in American cities. At the Summit, our mantra was “you must stand for something, or you will fall for everything.“ Never has this been more true than in addressing the risks of climate change, and identifying ways to counteract this dangerous warming of our earth.
I have long been a believer in the “power of one,” the power of each individual to stand up, speak out, and make a difference. Now is the time to do so.
Summer 2012 has been a dangerous season for heat, drought and wildfires, exemplified by the blazes that scorched parts of Colorado and blackened hundreds of thousands of acres of New Mexico wilderness. The August issue of Food, Nutrition & Science called this summer’s dry heat the worst American drought in nearly 50 years. Corn crops have been hit particularly hard; their decimation reminds us how fragile our environment really is.
Missouri has been hit hard by drought, as seen in this withered stand of corn.
(For an excellent discussion of the perils of wildfires throughout the U.S., read Timothy Egan’s opinion piece from July 2012 in the New York Times here.)
Even on the island of Nantucket, fire walls are being built, and the Nantucket Conservation Foundation is working on a Wildfire Risk Reduction Program, including brush cutting firebreaks and scheduling prescribed burnings. The goal of this effort is to identify land management strategies that will reduce “fuel loads” of highly flammable vegetation on Foundation properties, especially where they occur in close proximity to homes.
Photo courtesy of Jim Lentowski and the Nantucket Conservation Foundation.
In a world where people still debate the concepts of climate change and global warming, in spite of overwhelming evidence of steadily increasing temperatures, I turn to James E. Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) for a clear-eyed view of our future. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, he received the Heinz Environment Award in 2001 for his climate research. Research at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) emphasizes a broad study of global change, addressing natural and man-made changes in our environment — from one-time events such as volcanic explosions, to seasonal and annual effects such as El Niño, and on up to the millennia of ice ages — that affect the habitability of our planet.
In an opinion piece he wrote for the Washington Post on August 3, 2012, (Climate Change Is Here, and Worse Than We Thought), Hansen discusses a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which reveal a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers. He is emphatic that the analysis shows that for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is no explanation other than climate change.
On June 20, 2012, BusinessInsider.com published a list of 23 ways the earth has changed in the 20 years since the first “Earth Summit” was held in Rio de Janeiro. (Read more here.) Among the trends they’ve identified are:
- There are about 1.5 billion more people in the world, an increase of 27%
- The average person eats 20 pounds more meat each year.
- Carbon dioxide emissions increased 36%, from 22 billion tons to 30 billion tons.
- The ten hottest years since records began in 1880 all occurred since 1998.
- Artic sea ice has declined 35%.
Who’s Taking Action?
A movement called Architecture 2030 is underway, driving a national grassroots movement to foster private/public partnerships to create sustainable urban growth. The 2030 District Model brings property owners together with local governments, businesses, architects and planners to provide a solid business model for urban sustainability. First established in Seattle, today more cities are joining the effort. This month, Pittsburgh joined Cleveland and Seattle by launching a Pittsburgh 2030 District.
2030’s mission is to rapidly transform the U.S. and global Building Sector from the major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions to a central part of the solution to the climate change, energy consumption, and economic crises. Architecture 2030’s Edward Mazria will deliver a lecture titled “The Next Built Environment, Today” on Monday September 10th at Carnegie Mellon University. Read more about the movement here.
What Can You Do to Help?
The scope of our activities that generate carbon dioxide emissions are great, including driving our cars, turning on a light, and heating or cooling our homes. But you can make a difference by taking action:
- Plan your errands to make fewer short car trips. Cars emit the most carbon dioxide when the engine is cold.
- Properly inflate your car tires to prevent excess fuel consumption.
- Turn down the heat or air conditioning a fraction. Even moving the thermostat up or down a degree or two can make a huge difference.
- Recycle whatever you can.
- Take shorter showers.
- Switch off appliances not in use at the wall. Anything connected to an energy source uses standby power that can consume unnecessary energy.
- Before buying anything, ask yourself, “do I really need this?” Rampant consumerism plays a huge role in carbon emissions.
As James Hansen says, “This is the world we have changed, and now we have to live in it…There is still time to act and avoid a worsening climate, but we are wasting precious time…The future is now. And it is hot.”