The tiny, precious, pale blue dot we call home.

Nothing like some global perspective and a bunch of good quotes to start the new year off with:

“In outer space you develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that, you son of a bitch.”

– Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut

edgar-mitchell

image from zenpencils.com

 

Earth

Earth-moon

Earthrise- Apollo 8. image: Wikipedia

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“If the earth improves because of our presence we will flourish, if it doesn’t then we die off”. -James Lovelock

And it’s as simple and as difficult as that – keep the Earth’s ecological systems healthy and functioning and we will ensure the continuation of human civilization. The key to evolving our technologies and developments in a way that increases the health of our ecological systems is to study nature in detail; study how sustainable solutions have evolved over 3.8 billion years and apply that knowledge to everything we create. In a word – Biomimicry.

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Uuuuuuuh climate change…. sigh.

Uuuuuuuuuh climate change…. Will we ever reach a consensus on you? So many talks, so many conferences (including the recent UN Climate talks in Durben) and still no decisive actions to be taken. Frustration is an understatement.

Al Gore’s 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” really got the ball rolling on this topic for a lot of people, sparking renewed and intensified public concern about the state of the environment and our future in it. Frightening predictions are made about the impacts of current human behaviour, warning that coupled with exponential population growth we are looking at a high potential for ecological disaster and mass species extinctions, maybe including our own.

It’s fair to say that in the 6 years since then a lot of green initiatives have been set off, and a pretty widespread moral shift has happened regarding our role in ruining the planet. The architecture industry has followed the public demand for sustainable buildings, as inhabitants start demanding healthier environments, tenants see the economy of passive design features and developers see profit in the green building market. Green building councils have been set up and green design rating systems implemented to assure that progress in this area is recognised and encouraged and standardised.

“There is enough peer pressure within the culture of architecture now for architects to be uncomfortable with, if not ashamed of, being associated with the more obvious examples of energy profligacy or material waste”.

But the total inability of the global political community to take decisive action on environmental and climate change issues is so disappointing, and my frustrations are running high at our supposed ‘leaders’. From what I can figure, there seems to be three main reasons why they are still in stalemate…1) Inability for global political collaboration and compromise, 2) underlying fear of economic loss from changing the status quo, and 3) the complexity of the science behind climate change.

Al Gore put forward a lot of persuasive graphs and charts illustrating the scientific evidence that human actions are thickening the layer of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, enhancing the ‘greenhouse effect’ and leading to global warming and the variety of natural disasters this would cause.  Since then there has also been a huge amount of information  put out that contradicts this ‘science of global warming’. Whether this is legitimate data and scientific discussion or oil company propaganda is pretty unclear to non-scientists, and this confusion has made it very easy for change makers to put off making change until it is clear.

This  infographic from the marvellous informationisbeautiful.net, attempts to clarify both sides of the argument.This is a fascinating video that solves the whole issue for us as an exercise in logical reasoning and risk management. Greg Craven asks the question ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’: The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See – YouTube. Would you rather global economic collapse or global environmental collapse? Well it’s not really that simple, holes have been found in his theory since the time this video was made (which Craven explores on his website).

My personal view on this topic actually has very little to do with the science and politics of it all.1) I love and treasure the beauty and function of the natural environment, 2) I feel the direct effects of breathing smog and pollution everyday on my health and I don’t like it, 3) As a designer, I believe if that if there is a better cleaner way of doing things that supersedes old damaging patterns, then bloody do it! For a civilization that loves progress it’s incredible how unwilling some sectors are to change to the new and improved methods.

Anyway, now that I’ve vented some of my big picture frustrations, and before i get totally dis-heartened by the scale of it all, I’ll remember my mantra ‘small flowers crack concrete’ and get back to work.

¹ Bennetts, H., Radford, A., and Williamson, T. Understanding Sustainable Architecture.

10 ways the world could end and what i’m not going to do about it

image from newscientist.com

I found this talk on TED a few years back, and it really got me thinking in new ways about the mortality of the earth, and the  precariousness of human life on it. Stephen Petranek outlines the 10 most likely ways he foresees the world coming to an end. The humour and intelligence of this talk is a refreshing take on a subject that has mainly been tackled by hollywood sci-fi movies, doomsday prophecies and media hype. Although it is now almost 10 years since the talk was given, the points are still relevant, and the solutions he presents still need to be implemented.

Watch it here: TED Blog | 10 ways the world could end: Stephen Petranek on TED.com.

10 ways the world could end suddenly:

# 10: We lose the will to survive.

#  9: Aliens Invade Earth

#  8: The Ecosystem Collapses

#  7: Particle Accelerator Mishap

#  6: Biotech Disaster

#  5: Reversal of the Earth’s Magnetic Field

#  4: Giant Solar Flares

#  3: A New Global Epidemic

#  2:  We Meet a Rogue Black Hole

#  1: A Really Big Asteroid Heads For Earth

It’s an overwhelming list, especially having a look at it again now, when Asteroid 2005 YU55 (a 400 meter wide asteroid) is passing between the earth and the moon tomorrow afternoon, and extreme sun spot activity is lighting up the magnetic fields and aurora’s above my head most nights. I try to keep my eyes open to the big picture of life, I like the perspective it gives me and the way it can clarify personal decision making and priority setting. However as someone who is also bent on solving problems, it can be a double edged sword. It’s easy to feel disempowered by the scale of these threats which are highly complex problems with no simple answers.

I think that #10 on that list should read ‘We lose the will to survive and we lose the will to fight the good fight’ because when we are faced with these kinds of global catastrophes, does saving a few litres of water or recycling that plastic bottle or adding that green roof to a building really matter? And when we can’t see the direct rewards of our efforts, it gets even harder to stay motivated. In my moments of despair and exhaustion at the challenge of making a positive impact I try to remember that

“we cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once”- Calvin Coolidge

photos by timlings

As useful as it is to see the big problems in their fullness, the power of small cumulative actions shouldn’t be underestimated either. Small steps lead to big steps, and when growing numbers of people take these steps, big change can happen. So I’m going to keep taking my little steps towards solving #8 through my particular line of work and study. But I’m also going to keep my fingers permanently crossed that we don’t encounter a rogue black hole, practice gratefulness for everyday we don’t get fried by a giant solar flare, and maybe even look into the logistics of building an underground bunker….