We all know the COP21 'major outcomes' and new climate initiatives to be those aspiring and long-term agreements between heads of states. Like many others, I remain ambivalent to these supposed goals of strengthening climate actions and enhancing transparency. The 21st century world that we live in has left me jaded but Friday night's discussion gave a little hope that smaller scale efforts being made by the individuals on the panel and their comrades can perhaps still impact change.
The most discouraging speaker of the night by far, was Andrew Revkin. Although his segment was somewhat morose, I salute him for his honesty as a writer and reporter on science and the environment. It is his occupational integrity that has allowed many people to truly understand the gravity of the world's climatic condition. In a world of fast information and technology, we need more truthful writers like him to cloud the lies and misinformation on the internet or in print. However, seeing all of those charts about global levels of energy use, emissions, temperatures, and the 'target levels' for 2050 was still extremely disheartening given that the targets remained far beyond the acceptable levels for the earth's survival. Indeed, Revkin was right in saying that this was either the "most momentous time in our history" or the "oh shit time". This is the moment in human history where any of our work - big or small- can make necessary impacts on our world and future human populations.
Revkin described the current world as the 'teenager' who needs to grow up and be engaged in the issue in order to be an 'adult'. What a great metaphor - but is this really the case for all nations, or just a few of the most developed and wealthy countries? It almost seems unfair to generalize this of all nations, especially when the COP21 has revealed that some nations are making far greater efforts than others in reducing their emissions and changing their populations' attitudes on waste and consumption. Perhaps Revkin was merely referring to America, other wealthy nations, and the most rapidly developing nations who are lagging behind in maturing and engaging in the issue. Nevertheless, this period in time that Revkin describes as the anthrocene, needs to quickly find strategies for a sustainable humanity.
Fortunately, strategies left, right, and center, were being proposed by the other speakers on Friday. Kellie Terry, Jeffrey Raven, and Ghislaine Hermanuz each gave their perspectives on what needs to be done moving forward from COP21. For the most part, these strategies applied cross-sectorally. It seems that no effective strategy can really be carried out by one single agency - the world needs to work together, planners, policy makers, designers, and most importantly, local communities. Any strategy at city or state level will affect localized areas differently so engaging local citizens is key to finding the greatest opportunities and innovations.
Kellie Terry gave us the best lesson in taking asset-based approaches to solving climate change. Communities have knowledge too, even if they are a low-skilled and low-educated population. The lived experience is the most valuable type of knowledge in mitigating environmental crises so the locals always know the best ways to improve a top-down strategy or policy. Hermanuz also echoes this in her presentation, "Grassroots are more powerful than the professionals". In this respect, Terry had the most advice to give given her work with the South Bronx community and their struggles against pollution and climate resilience. From her experiences, Terry also emphasized the importance of permanence of community-based solutions in order to make true impacts. She was inspiring and could've made me a believer even if for a couple of hours.
As an urban designer myself, I was also piqued by Jeffrey Raven's presentation on the work he is doing with his studio at the New York Institute of Technology. He reminded us of the importance of adapting both form and function in a world suffering from climate change. Like Terry, he also recommends engaging an expanded agency to carry out such adaptive designs that involves players from the private and public sectors - in planning, policy, design and civic groups. More importantly, Raven reminds us that adaptive design needs to keep in mind both spatial scales and time scales. It is not enough to adapt designs to mitigate climate change in the next 10-15 years, we need to also keep in mind the spatial extent of our strategies and how it will directly or indirectly impact adjacent communities.
Amazing what listening to professionals who are so embedded in the topic of discussion can do to your awareness! I'm looking forward to next week's discussions and I'm definitely bringing someone else with me, sharing knowledge is the best thing to do on Friday nights.