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.