“We Need Real Zero”

Once again Great Thunberg has shaken our thinking on carbon with her speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos. With our focus on “net zero emissions” “low carbon economy” and “carbon neutrality” are we cheating and fiddling around with numbers? are we “offsetting emissions” by just paying someone else to plant trees whilst we carry on as normal?

Another wake up call. Here is the full transcript of her remarks, taken from the New York Times, host of the WEF in Davos

selective focus photography of hands

One year ago I came to Davos and told you that our house is on fire. I said I wanted you to panic. I’ve been warned that telling people to panic about the climate crisis is a very dangerous thing to do. But don’t worry. It’s fine. Trust me, I’ve done this before and I can assure you it doesn’t lead to anything.

And, for the record, when we children tell you to panic we’re not telling you to go on like before. We’re not telling you to rely on technologies that don’t even exist today at scale and that science says perhaps never will.

We are not telling you to keep talking about reaching “net zero emissions” or “carbon neutrality” by cheating and fiddling around with numbers. We are not telling you to “offset your emissions” by just paying someone else to plant trees in places like Africa while at the same time forests like the Amazon are being slaughtered at an infinitely higher rate.

Planting trees is good, of course, but it’s nowhere near enough of what is needed and it cannot replace real mitigation and rewilding nature.

Let’s be clear. We don’t need a “low carbon economy.” We don’t need to “lower emissions.” Our emissions have to stop if we are to have a chance to stay below the 1.5-degree target. And, until we have the technologies that at scale can put our emissions to minus, then we must forget about net zero. We need real zero.

Because distant net zero emission targets will mean absolutely nothing if we just continue to ignore the carbon dioxide budget — that applies for today, not distant future dates. If high emissions continue like now even for a few years, that remaining budget will soon be completely used up.

The fact that the U.S.A. is leaving the Paris accord seems to outrage and worry everyone, and it should. But the fact that we’re all about to fail the commitments you signed up for in the Paris Agreement doesn’t seem to bother the people in power even the least.

Any plan or policy of yours that doesn’t include radical emission cuts at the source, starting today, is completely insufficient for meeting the 1.5-degree or well-below-2-degrees commitments of the Paris Agreement.

And again, this is not about right or left. We couldn’t care less about your party politics. From a sustainability perspective, the right, the left as well as the center have all failed. No political ideology or economic structure has been able to tackle the climate and environmental emergency and create a cohesive and sustainable world. Because that world, in case you haven’t noticed, is currently on fire.

You say children shouldn’t worry. You say: “Just leave this to us. We will fix this, we promise we won’t let you down. Don’t be so pessimistic.”

And then, nothing. Silence. Or something worse than silence. Empty words and promises which give the impression that sufficient action is being taken.

All the solutions are obviously not available within today’s societies. Nor do we have the time to wait for new technological solutions to become available to start drastically reducing our emissions. So, of course the transition isn’t going to be easy. It will be hard. And unless we start facing this now together, with all cards on the table, we won’t be able to solve this in time.

In the days running up to the 50th anniversary of the World Economic Forum, I joined a group of climate activists demanding that you, the world’s most powerful and influential business and political leaders, begin to take the action needed.

We demand at this year’s World Economic Forum, participants from all companies, banks, institutions and governments:

Immediately halt all investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction.

Immediately end all fossil fuel subsidies.

And immediately and completely divest from fossil fuels.

We don’t want these things done by 2050, 2030 or even 2021. We want this done now.

It may seem like we’re asking for a lot. And you will of course say that we are naïve. But this is just the very minimum amount of effort that is needed to start the rapid sustainable transition.

So either you do this or you’re going to have to explain to your children why you are giving up on the 1.5-degree target. Giving up without even trying. Well I’m here to tell you that, unlike you, my generation will not give up without a fight.

The facts are clear, but they’re still too uncomfortable for you to address. You just leave it because you think it’s too depressing and people will give up. But people will not give up. You are the ones who are giving up.

Last week I met with Polish coal miners who lost their jobs because their mine was closed. And even they had not given up. On the contrary, they seem to understand the fact that we need to change more than you do.

I wonder, what will you tell your children was the reason to fail and leave them facing a climate chaos that you knowingly brought upon them? That it seemed so bad for the economy that we decided to resign the idea of securing future living conditions without even trying?

Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fueling the flames by the hour. And we are telling you to act as if you loved your children above all else. 

Thank you.

books about a planet in peril

“I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and even imagine some real grounds for hope.”

Ursula Le Guin, 2014

FutuREstorative included a list of books that have inspired me along my sustainability journey. However since its publication in 2016, the world of sustainability has moved on, we now have recognition of a climate and biodiversity emergency, we are asking how, not why, we have IPCC, UN and UKCC reports, we have extinction rebellion, we have school-strike activists and record breaking protests demanding climate change action. We need and we have, an updated library of climate change sustainability texts and novels. Below is the wonderful text that appeared in the Guardian Review on the 5th of October, that promotes great writing on a planet in peril. Where, In Life Stories, Amitav Ghosh asks the question “How do we make sense of the Earth when it seems to be turning against us in revenge for its despoliation?”

Image result for fairsnape books
Companion books for a sustainability journey …

The very act of writing about the devastation can sometimes create a kind of coherence. Elizabeth Kolbert shows us how with The Sixth Extinction, where she focuses on a few of the million or so species that are dying out in what is now known to be one of the greatest extinction events in the history of the Earth. The closeness of the focus creates a powerful sense of empathy, not just with the vanishing creatures but also with the writer as she struggles to account for the horrors to which she is bearing witness.

MB: Elizabeth Kolbert Field Notes from a Catastrophe 2006 was part travel, part reporting and for me an early eyeopener to climate change, which. in 2006 was not recognised outside of the science community

Dahr Jamail’s The End of Ice is another unflinching attempt to grapple with almost incomprehensible realities. Jamail travels widely and listens closely to scientists, and to people whose ways of life are threatened by ecological breakdown. “The grief for the planet does not get easier,” he writes. “Returning to this again and again is, I think, the greatest service I can offer in these times.”

Our current predicament is both overwhelming and elusive, manifesting itself not in big events but in what the Princeton professor Rob Nixon calls a kind of “slow violence”, revealed in small but telling details. Such details abound in Annie Proulx’s Bird Cloud, a memoir of her experience of building a house in a very challenging location in Wyoming. Proulx has always paid close attention to landscape and this is no exception: it is the terrain that awakens the writer to the effects of planetary changes.

MB on my reading list …

A memoir of a completely different kind is Roy Scranton’s Learning to Die in the Anthropocene. Scranton served in Iraq as a private in the US army and he draws on that experience in trying to understand the implications of climate crisis for himself and his loved ones: the result is a book that is fiercely urgent and deeply poignant.

In The Mushroom at the End of the World, Anna Tsing goes in search of the much-prized matsutake mushroom, found only in certain damaged forests. The matsutake serves as both vehicle and metaphor for a giddying exploration of capitalism, networks of trade and the hidden lives of forests, ultimately opening up the possibility of salvaging meaning from an increasingly disordered reality.

The disrupted migration of monarch butterflies underpins a powerful human story in Barbara Kingsolver’s luminous novel Flight Behaviour.

MB Choosing the Monarch Butterfly as the symbol for FutuREstorative led me to reading and research, including a scan read (the sample kindle chapter I must admit) from Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, it has remained on my ‘to finish’ reading since

Published 2016

We need stories that can accommodate other kinds of protagonists, and there is no better example of this than Richard Powers’s marvellous The Overstory, a novel that gives trees a wonderfully vivid fictional life.

MB Currently half way through and its changing the way I think of trees, in particular the huge difference in time frames between us & trees, and how our stories are linked & eclipsed by the arboreal overstory

Many people have always known that emotions are not exclusive to humans. But what does it mean when someone says they can understand the inner lives of animals, trees, or even forests? Bruce Albert and Davi Kopenawa provide a vivid sense of this in The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman. The Yanomami of the Amazon, like all the indigenous peoples of the Americas and Australia, have experienced the end of what was once their world.

To this list I would add:

Climate Justice, Mary Robinson A Man-Made Problem With a Feminist Solution. An urgent call to arms by one of the most important voices in the international fight against climate change, sharing inspiring stories and offering vital lessons for the path forward, I picked up a signed copy after listening to Mary talk at Living Futures in Seattle back in May. Mary also has a wonderful podcast, Mothers of Invention with Maeve Higgins

This is Not a Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook. Extinction Rebellion are inspiring a whole generation to take action on climate breakdown. By the time you finish this book you will have become an Extinction Rebellion activist.

“It is worse, far worse than you think” the opening sentence to Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace Wells, is perhaps one of the best openers for a while. David Wallace-Wells brings into stark relief the climate troubles that await–food shortages, refugee emergencies, and other crises that will reshape the globe. But the world will be remade by warming in more profound ways as well, transforming our politics, our culture, our relationship to technology, and our sense of history. It will be all-encompassing, shaping and distorting nearly every aspect of human life as it is lived today.

No one is too small to make a difference. The history-making, ground-breaking speeches of Greta Thunberg, the young activist who has become the voice of a generation. With the cost of this being les than 1/2 pint of beer – its one to gift.

And, its not all doom and gloom, we can indeed imagine better. Recently received two read and review is Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition movement … What If, Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future We Want

A Promise of Declarations

What is the collective noun for declarations? An argument, (used to describe architects and wizards) sounds a good fit. But I like a Promise of Declarations.

Coupled with recent findings from the IPCC, the UK’s CCC Net Zero Report and inspiration from Greta Thunberg and school strikers, over 100 local authorities, have declared a climate emergency and / or committed to net zero carbon by 2030 or 2050. And within the built environment we have declarations from Architects (now over 500 practice signatures), Landscape Architects, Structural Engineers, Service Engineers, Creative Communicators and even Construction Supply Chains. Check them out:

And this is not just a UK initiative, there is also an Australian Architects Declaration at https://au.architectsdeclare.com.

And, if anyone is setting up, or knows of a construction sector emergency declaration, I would be more than keen to assist/support

Tell the Truth: The first objective of call of extinction rebellion is to recognise that a climate emergency exists and to tell the truth. The second is to Act Now. Now that these groups, institutes, practices and individuals have recognised a climate emergency problem exists, we can act, and now is the time to turn these commitments into actions.

Act Now – All of these declarations have similar, reassuring, commitments for faster change in our industry towards regenerative approaches. And in doing so recognising that business as usual sustainability (BAUS) has not moved the needle on carbon, global climate temperatures or biodiversity.

“faster change in our industry towards regenerative design practices”

Reducing Impact no longer cuts it
We need to move positive good of Regenerative Sustainability

Act NowReimagine carbon – the greatest contribution we can make in the built environment, given that we emit 40% of emissions, is to design, deliver buildings that store carbon.

Reimagine Carbon, Carbon is not the Enemy

Act NowDeclare: Only with greater transparency in respect of the products we use, can we address impacts our buildings have on human, biodiversity and planetary health. Declare is focused on taking toxic materials out of the Built Environment through fostering a transparent materials economy free of toxins and harmful chemicals.

3 Collaborate and going beyond silos, we cannot do this alone and will need the might of all good collaborative working approaches from the last 30 years. One powerful benefit of Living Building Challenge accreditation, in not awarding certification until design intent is proven over a 12 months continuous period, is the way in which design, construction, facilities managers and those using the building have to collaborate for sustainable success

RE:Sources

XR: The Extinction Symbol, Business and the Built Environment

The current use of the extinction symbol by Extinction Rebellion, is establishing the symbol as the image of climate breakdown akin to the (CND) peace symbol. In addition, the vision, messages and demands from Extinction Rebellion, (echoed by Greta Thunberg, the SchoolsStrike4Climate and David Attenborough’s BBC Climate Change: The Facts) is resonating with business and the built environment sector. And as I mentioned in a tweet this morning – XR has done more for climate change, climate breakdown awareness than the sustainability movement has done, with (as the Guardian reported) Support for Extinction Rebellion in the UK has quadrupled in the past nine days as public concern about the scale of the ecological crisis grows.

The symbol represents extinction. The circle signifies the planet, while the hourglass inside serves as a warning that time is rapidly running out for many species. The world is currently undergoing a mass extinction event, and this symbol is intended to help raise awareness of the urgent need for change in order to address this crisis. Estimates are that somewhere between 30,000 and 140,000 species are becoming extinct every year in what scientists have named the Holocene, or Sixth Mass Extinction. This ongoing process of destruction is being caused by the impact of human activity. Within the next few decades approximately 50% of all species that now exist will have become extinct. Such a catastrophic loss of biodiversity is highly likely to cause widespread ecosystem collapse and consequently render the planet uninhabitable for humans.

https://www.extinctionsymbol.info

Although aimed at the Government, we can learn from XR – their demands are very closely aligned to those seeking a regenerative built environment

Extinction Rebellion ‘Demands’:

1 ACKNOWLEDGE: tell the truth by acknowledging and declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with others to communicate the urgency for change

2 ACT: Act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025

3 COLLABORATE: create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

The recognition that the XR movement is ‘on to something’ is being recognised by business and the built environment – see for example An Open Letter to Business Supporters of Extinction Rebellion by Jim Bendell and It’s time to dump Earth Day and join the Extinction Rebellion by Lloyd Alter

We believed that we had time and techniques to reform this capitalist system towards something sustainable. It was a wonderful idea at the time, and even got its swansong with international agreement of sustainable development goals

Jem Bendell

Decarbonization by 2025 is a very tough goal, but …we have met tough goals before. We won’t get there by looking at bird photos and picking up litter on Earth Day once a year

Lloyd Alter

This mornings twitter conversation …

Neil Swift @NeilGSwift  Construction one of the biggest emitters XRconstruction could do good business?@invisiblstudio @FCBStudios @ArchitypeUK @fairsnape interested in your thoughts?

Martin Brown @fairsnape Indeed @NeilGSwift current activity @GretaThunberg @ExtinctionR #DavidAttenborough has done more to raise #ClimateBreakdown awareness than built environment sector has ever done, despite our products being (40%) of problem. We need a #XConstruction mindset urgently

Where to start? … ‘tell the truth’, … acknowledge a #ClimateEmergency exists and our built environment role .. and set zero carbon targets for 2025,

Martin Brown @fairsnape At the moment we are on track to fail our own industry strategy target carbon reduction 50% by 2025 … how will we explain that to next gen? #XConstruction

Whether you agree with Extinction Rebellion approach, or not, we need all means, advocates, media and approaches to raise awareness, tell the truth and starting acting.

USE OF EXTINCTION SYMBOL: No extinction symbol merchandise exists, and it never will do. The free use of the extinction symbol by individuals in their personal artwork or other forms of expression is strongly welcomed and encouraged, but any form of commercial use of the symbol is completely against its ethos and should therefore be refrained from. To reiterate, please do not use the symbol on any items that will be sold, or for any other fundraising purposes. There are no exceptions to this policy.