I suppose many have read that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just published their Sixth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis and that very few have actually read it (it’s almost 4,000 pages) or perhaps have read the 42-page summary. For those who haven’t, here are two well done posts that summarize its main points, see Stacy Smedley on ‘my top 10 take aways’ and Martin Brown with his ‘Regen Notes – a regenerative newsletter special focused on the IPCC’.
This is the 6th report; the previous one, the 5th was from 2014 and formed the basis for the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris 2015, those of the danger and measures to contain the global average temperature increase below 1.5-2° C, do you remember? What are the changes, what does this new report bring to us? Well, nothing we didn’t already know, maybe just the fact that the situation is much worse than we thought (but even that is nothing new, we already feared the situation was worse than we thought …).
So, what? Now everyone will be shocked, terrified, impressed, worried for a while. Of course, the climate crisis is evident, just look at the fires this summer throughout Europe, or the floods devastating north of Turkey right now. But what will really change? Because now the situation must change, and radically, it is clear to everyone, isn’t it? And change means that someone (or everyone) will have to change his behaviour, approach, habits, actions, business. It means that someone will no longer be able to do what he did until yesterday or the day before yesterday. It means that someone will have to abandon his business, as it is now, because it depends, in part or in whole – but even this distinction now matters little – from fossil fuels.
Because it seems crystal clear to me that fossil sources can no longer be used. ‘Danger of death’. And we must act immediately and in a radical way. Do you have in mind when someone commits to quit smoking, and begins reducing the number of cigarettes, gradually, a little at a time, etc.? No, not like that, he just has to quit immediately, bury the pack of cigarettes (metaphorically), forget it, and try to get healthy again. Here and now, are we all willing and able to quit smoking? That’s the point. Because it is clear that many think “Ok, we have a climate crisis, but I will keep on doing (my business) same as usual”.
And half measures are no longer enough, this too seems evident to me. I am referring, for example, to those who deal with partially reducing the environmental impact of buildings … no, even that approach is outdated, obsolete, to be archived as a quite interesting, educational but (sorry to say) irrelevant experience. I know, many readers will think – how? now that I have learned to design and build in order to at least “do less harm”, you come to tell me that it is not enough and that I have to change job or rather, change – radically – the way I do my job?? – Yes, that’s right.
This independent 2018 report by Bionova (the company behind the One Click LCA tool) – ‘The embodied carbon review’ – already concluded that, out of around one hundred international green building certification schemes, only 2 (two) allow to fully decarbonise the built environment (which impacts for at least 40% of CO2 emissions, etc.): the Living Building Challenge and the Zero Carbon certification, both from the International Living Future Institute frameworks portfolio (I know, I’m biased … sometimes it happens to be on the right side).
So, to sum up, awareness is (almost) acquired, the problem is known, the solutions are there – cit. Greta Thunberg – (please notice, a radical, systemic, collaborative approach, not just technological, not only a miraculous solution that fits for all), but we also only need to – DO. Yeah, do it, here we go back to the point. Because, as a matter of fact, we are still lost within a complicated process in which we have to:
1. Acquire our personal awareness (done).
2. Acquire everyone’s awareness (first problem), i.e., convince everyone that the problem exists.
3. Convince yourself and convince your peers to change (big commitment, recall the issue with the Covid-19 vaccination campaign …)
4. Change (individually, and then everyone, and we’re 7.9 billion people and counting)
5. Wait for the effect of changes (yes, because the latest IPCC report also says that the positive effect will not be immediate and visible, we are basically trying to slow down – pulling it with more or less a sort of rope – a racing car launched at 300 kmph against a thick reinforced concrete wall).
6. I forgot: in the meantime, fighting all those who will try to wise up, the green-washing, those who say they are changing but are doing something opposite, those who do not want to change because they run companies with thousands of employees and unfortunately have fossil fuels as their raw material, obviously the oil companies, governments that still finance fossil fuels (and what about nuclear power?), the lobbyists, the climate change deniers, governments that will withdraw from their taken commitments, those who do not act consistently with the commitments they made, those who think they can solve everything with a definitive solution allowing them to earn a bunch of money, those who think that the war is now lost and that it is better to move all investments on resilience only, etc. (non-exhaustive list, by way of example).
Reading the list, I realize once again that it is a gigantic change management problem (a momentous change). Jonathan Safran Foer described it well in ‘We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast’ (2019). The book emphasizes the macroscopic environmental impact of nutrition and that essentially if we became vegetarians or vegans, we would solve the problem (not a new theory, certainly acceptable but, here again, when, and how?). But the most interesting part of the essay for me is where Safran Foer makes a comparison between those who at the beginning of the Holocaust knew what was happening and did nothing, and those not doing anything today. Jan Karski, a member of the Polish underground, came to the Jewish leaders in the US in June 1943 with news of the murder and persecution of Jews in Europe. The Jewish leaders, and particularly the supreme court justice Felix Frankfurter, didn’t act. “I am unable to believe what you told me” Frankfurter told Karski. History now judges Frankfurter as it will judge us.
This denial of reality, which leads to not acting to change it, is also the subject of Umberto Eco‘s works on the ‘conspiracy syndrome’ which goes to explain that the climate crisis is not real but the result of a media conspiracy (this ‘lectio magistralis’ of June 2015 on ‘About conspiracy. From Popper to Dan Brown’ is memorable – unfortunately only in Italian). The obsession with the conspiracy was perhaps born with the human being, as the philosopher Karl Popper recalls in ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies’ (1945), describing it as that “It is the view that an explanation of a social phenomenon consists in the discovery of the men or groups who are interested in the occurrence of this phenomenon (sometimes it is a hidden interest which has first to be revealed) and who have planned and conspired to bring it about”.
So, what to do, how to operate, from now on? And I appeal to all those who – architects, engineers, project managers, manufacturers, constructors, urban planners, developers, academics, educators, students, designers, sustainability practitioners, researchers, policy makers, public officers, community leaders – deal daily with sustainability of the built environment (word itself outdated)?
Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) said “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete“. Well, we have a new model. Look at this now well-known graphic from the International Living Future Institute. We know that from now on our buildings, products, companies will have to move rapidly onto the upper right part of the diagram. We have the knowledge, the expertise, and the technologies to do it. And if we don’t have them, we set up the necessary educational offers – such as with the first Living Future Europe 2021 Masterclass. Regenerative + Agile – (yes because it is not enough to be ‘regenerative’, we must now also be ‘agile’) to train the new generation of ‘regenerative change agents’. Practitioners, companies, workers of the 21st century capable of speaking a new professional language, and of mastering strategies, systems, solutions and technologies for a new generation of buildings, the ‘living buildings’. In the end, to make all of us achieve a ‘Living Future’.
Nothing will be ever the same again. Are you able to change?