environmental literature top 5

Looking at the search topics entered to land at isite, the subject of environmental literature, movies, music and people features large. So starting a new mini series of environmental muses, I scanned my book shelf for what I would consider five of the more important environmental literature that has influenced my thinking over the years. Other topics will include music, environmental handbook or guidance texts, videos and people that have shaped my views.

Environmental Literature top 5:

Very much influenced by ecology, relationships with the great outdoors and connectivity with nature, these are not about climate change, about zero carbon or even sustainability, but fundamental to my understanding of how we approach environment and ecological issues.

Yvon Chouinard – Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman 

An autobiography that brings CSR firmly into business. Every time I have done the write thing for the environment I have made a profit write Chouinard, founder of the Patagonia clothing organisation. Any organisation serious about Corporate Social Responsibility should read and learn from this one.Not surprisingly Anti Roddick recommended this book for every school teaching business.

Henry Thoreau – Walden: Or, Life in the Woods 

The classic, often quoted, I first read this in-situ in New England in the late 1970’s after visiting Walden Pond, and remains a book that I dip into again and again. The notion of living simply in a cabin in the woods has always been appealing – but for me it would now be on the Isle of Skye with Internet access!

Aldo Leopold – A Sand County Almanac: With other Essays on Conservation from `Round River’ (Galaxy Books)

Aldo Leopold was an American ecologist and environmentalist, For me this contains a classic passage that still haunts me when I read it – reminding us of the connection we need to find between everyday life and nature.

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes—something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.

John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra: The Journal of a Soul on Fire 

A journey in which Muir makes connections with nature. In the UK The John Muir Trust is one of the country’s leading guardians of wild land and wildlife. The Sierra Club, which he founded, is now one of the most important conservation organizations in the United States. His writings and philosophy strongly influenced the formation of the modern environmental movement.

Robert MacFarlane The Wild Places

A tour through McFarlane ‘s Wild Places in the UK serves as a reminder of why we need wild places, and what wildness means to us, even if we don’t get to see them, and only view them from maps, TV programmes and sat navs. It is also a book that laments about ecological damage. It is about experiencing the wild places, some to be found in very unexpected places. And in the case of McFarlane, experience means sleeping wild, including on frozen Lakeland tarns – and swimming in wild waters.

Limiting this list to 5 was hard and had to leave out Jim Perrin one of our best current essayists – from his 1970’s essay on the Centre for Alternative Technology (within Yes, to Dance: Essays from outside the Stockade) to his current piece in The Great Outdoors and Roger Deakin’s Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees

What would you add? What are your environmental literature muses?

… on st georges day

Today being St Georges day I thought some typically english and traditional post would be in order, but that has relevance to our sector and the themes of sustainability.

I recently  heard a reading of Elliots East Coker, which may be a troubled peice of literature but the opening few lines stuck in my head:

In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots
And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto

Simon Jenkins, along with commentors  on Comment is Free, has interesting views on this peice, not least on East Coker in Somerset  “Here the southern tip of England’s great limestone scar peters out round the rolling flanks of Ham Hill, whose stone is the colour of biscuit sprinkled with gold, able to trap sunlight in day and release it at dusk. Ham is the loveliest stone in England, rendering the Somerset/Dorset borders a magic place hovering at the end of the rainbow. The rainbow touches in particular the walls of East Coker”

time for built environment transition?

We may now have a handbook for sustainability change in our sector.

When facilitating sessions on sustainability in the built environment, I often get delegates to ‘stand in the future’, 2030 is always a good date, imagine what buildings and our use of them would be like, and try to identify what messages they would send back to today. Often they talk of well insulated, 100% sealed construction, 100% renewable energy (which often drives the car), bright, vibrant, natural light and ventilated environments, and more in touch with the natural environemnt. They talk of more team work, long established supply chains from the local area and more use of natural material.

Interesting they very rarely describe the current approaches of today – ie Eco-Home, Code 6 or Passiv House, BREEAM or whatever. (Maybe through current lack of real understanding what these concepts are). What they describe, unwittingly perhaps is a post oil built environment, even a post carbon (ie post carbon being a driver or worry)

Rob Hopkins, architect of the Transition Movement, in his excellent book The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience takes a similar approach, also using 2030 – but sees the Passiv Haus as being the home of the future, (for our sector he predicts; in 2014 the Passiv Haus model became the standard for all new domsestic construction across the UK, 80% of materials are locally sourced, an explosion of local industry for clay and cob blocks and in 2017 the government initiated the Great Reskilling of construction workers) . In this, the central chapter, A Vision for 2030, looking back over the transition, Rob paints a picture of construction, of energy (UK nearly self reliant, based on the 2010 crash programme of 50% reduction in use and a 50% renewable scale up), of transport, education and the economy.

Central to the book are the themes of post oil and reslience (resilience being the ability of a system to continue functioning in the face of any change or shocks from outside). Littered with well placed quotations, tools for community engagement and learning, templates to use and a history of transition, it is in essence the guide to tranistion movement, but far more than that. I can see this aspirational book one I will read more than once, to dip into and to learn a lot from. Divided into the head (for the ideas) the heart (for passion) and the hands – (for action), it could be seen to be the activists handbook for community based societies and enterprises.

There is a sense of the tipping point concept running throughout the book – given enough direction and empowerment, communities and people will tip the swing towards sustainable environments. Here perhaps is one key to the future – one of communialism rather than the approach of accommadationism we are taking tat the moment.

If any feeling of ‘concern’ exists on reading the book, it is in the tools. Focused at social and communtiy enterprise thinking people they work exceedingly well. To engage main stream built environment companies into the post oil and tranistion concept, a new set of tools maybe required – sharper and aimed at business survial and resilience

The closing chapter is aspirational – Closing Thoughts – “Something about the profoundly cahllenging times we live in strikes me as being tremondously exciting” Rob writes. and closes with a quote from Camus, In the depth of winter I finally realised there was in me an invincible summer

A quick scan of reviews for this book indicate its potential importance: for example:

The newly published ‘Transition Handbook’ is so important that I am tempted just to confine this review to five simple words ‘You must read this book!’ But to do so would, of course, completely fail to communicate its message which is, I believe, so profound and inspiring that I want to do my very best to encourage its spread far and wide.

Wherever you are on the sustainable journey … Transition Handbook will be of assistance. It is on the one hand a very worrying read, on the other inspirational. Through out I kept asking myself is our design, construction and FM sector ‘resilient’?

Maybe it is time for the built environment sector to take on and learn from the transition movement, to reach the tipping point for change. It is encouraging to see Rob Hopkins is talking at the Think 08 event in May. Will this be the catalyst I wonder?

More information and discussion over at the Transition Culture web blog.

Enviroment Books – Silent Spring v Walden

George Monbiot in his recent Guardian article talks of  what he believes ” is the most important environmental book ever written. It is not Silent Spring, Small is Beautiful or even Walden. It contains no graphs, no tables, no facts, figures, warnings, predictions or even arguments”

I will let you follow the link to find out what the book is, but it did make me think of what the most influential environment peices of literature are, from Silent Spring to Walden to that passage in A Sand County Almanac from Leopold.  And importantly on this ‘built environment’ blog, what have been the most influential for our sector.

Do the lyrics to Big Yellow Taxi count?

It would be good to start a discussion here, but as blogs are not too hot on generating discussions, so, for those of you on Facebook I will start a discussion group there,  (“poke me” as they say for an invite), with maybe even the top 5 posted here?