Earth's Habitat Change

Pouchulu architect

13 - Architectural Actions: Whose Side Are You On?

Architects: we have to lead private movements to re-invent our civilisation (Latin "civitas" = city) but in a new re-balanced habitat. Time is short now. Initially because of rain and severe storms, rather than sea level rise, we will have to relocate coastal and river cities and towns in safer and higher lands; if those at a sea level have marine traditions, the logical approach would be to create floating cities or parts of them able to float, rather than forcing millions to migrate. Because of unstable and extremely high temperatures in summer, some regions will have to adopt extreme measures. This is already happening since 2010 in Europe, in capitals like Paris or London, not used to heat waves: in the last summers they had more than thirty thousand deaths within a week, mostly elderly people. The same is observed in countries where hot summers are considered normal. The lack of statistics does not help. It will be not possible to modify reality. The main obstacle is neither political nor economical. It is our own nature as a species, we move following immediate-term stimuli, we are still using our genetic memory of a non-top predator animal: we wait till last minute in order to react or escape. Whether we face a storm, fire or flood, we rarely anticipate danger, till it is on us. Indeed we do not like to leave our home or city. Katrina (and many recent hurricanes that hit the Caribbean and the US) is an example of lack of reaction, even if we consider it as the strongest hurricane recorded in the US. Global Warming is happening, even framed within regular solar cycles, we started to experience serious disruptions in agriculture and infrastructure because of pollution and warming; it is just the beginning. There is a fragile balance where nearly nine billion people depend on fertile soils exposed to a tiny window frame of temperatures, and it is happening at any time in the year now. When the combination of minimum temperature, relative humidity and rain fails -this can be seen as unexpected, but it is not- sudden drought appeaers in Argentina, the US, Canada, France and Russia, food prices are unstable, and they have been rising for years, and not for demand, but because of the extremely difficult and costly production and harvest process. If that failure is dramatic in proportion -for instance, if 30 or 40% of the crops fail, people will have less buying capacity; this scenario will provoke a sudden decline in industry production, which means less factories will be processing and producing goods, with also means less energy will be needed and produced, less coal and oil burned and therefore, less pollution into the air. This scenario has to do with an effect that is now well known, called Global Dimming. During the World Trade Center attack in September 2001 there was a research in progress (in the US) about mean temperatures in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is about 10% of the Greenhouse Effect (the rest of it is produced by the particles of water vapour in the Stratosphere). In that fatal day of September it was noticed that the temperature raised 1 degree over the US territory. This made no sense till someone noticed that shortly after the attack all planes on US territory were grounded for security reasons: no flights during almost three days: the lack of pollution debris from more than 10.000 planes, which brings tiny particles that stay for a few hours and then fall, produce what we know as Global Dimming: the same pollution that enlarges the Greenhouse Effect is responsible of protecting or shielding parts of the sun rays, that do not fully reach the ground. It is expected that if the industrial world machinery suddenly reduces its activity, the global mean temperature could rise more than one degree in a matter of days. Remember that this scenario could happen because the food crisis produced by extreme temperatures would slowdown industrial activity, that means we would face a positive feedback effect with unimaginable consequences.

It is very unlikely that any government will organise an emergency plan for a scenario like that, which, on the other hand, it is just one of many scenarios to face: food crisis because of global warming and unstable weather, overproduction as Greenhouse Effect booster, Habitat loss, the extinction of most species that started decades ago, acidification of the ocean, the list is long. What is the purpose, then, of this essay? First, to alert architects and individuals in general that something is happening right now and directly affects not only our life, but our survival; second, that because modern civilisation has lost track of our need of a balanced Habitat, it is our duty to start taking this issue with responsibility, to become leaders; and third, to be able to anticipate new types of urban and suburban settlements for the time being. It is not really important how serious this Habitat Change is developing, but to acknowledge that it exists, to make the decision of start discussing the damage we have done to our own house... our planet. There are many lines of possible works. However, I consider important, rather to convince population or governments (the latter is a mirror of the former), to persuade individuals, of any origin, culture and wealth that we must react now, and start designing and build a new type of Survival Cities.

It is uncertain how high technology will evolve when Earth's Habitat collapses. Industries are related between each other. When we loose our Habitat, agriculture fails, and the whole industrial complex will have to be re-organised. Even if the process lasts decades and not years, it is a dramatic challenge. In the picture above, US astronaut Mae Jemison aboard the Earth-orbiting Endeavour, NASA. Photo: courtesy NASA.

The first steps to rethink our civilisation are: to abandon cars and all urbanisation depending-on them; to extensively ride bikes, light mono-vehicles, to expand trains, in order to save what's left of the landscape; to avoid plastic packaging, plastic clothing, plastic shoes and plastic toys; to recycle all we can; to get food from around where we live; to keep away as much as possible from the so called "social networks"; ultimately, they were created to monitor and control people's behaviour while we all contemplate our civilisation collapsing in real time in millions of pixels. The medium-term steps have to do with deciding how to protect our Habitat against extreme temperature, hot and cold (initially), hot (later), fierce winds, monster-storms, and high sea-waves because of those storms, waves of more than five metres when hitting the coast, like the ones in the East Coast in 2018. There are two different programmes: one is how to help those cities and regions in trouble (security forces, the army), the other is how to design and build new communities, far enough from big cities (for security reasons), Earthquake zones, and in some latitudes, where extreme hot temperatures would prove low enough we will resilient forests and some agriculture. If this is not enough, we will have to consider living in underground facilities part of the year, like nordic European countries or Japanese do in winter time. Part of our challenge is going back to sailing ships, using modern technology we must again move our ships with wind. Planes will be used for emergency or security, unless we find new energy sources, probably solar, but we are one or two decades to reach that technology. This programme is not a "tabula rasa", on the contrary, we are just leaving what has been pernicious and taking from technology those sustainable tools, applying our knowledge (which is vast) but with reasoning and common sense, leaving consumerism, advertising and marketing, the three legs of habitat's destruction.

When a ship is sinking or when a house is burning, there are three types of people: victims, heroes and cowards. Please think carefully... whose side are you on? Because our planet's Habitat is dying, with all of us on it.

Earth from Moon, Apollo 11, 1969 (file: ISD highres AS11 AS11 44 6552 Smal) Habitat Change can be put in context when we watch at this picture from the Apollo 11 mission, whose heroes astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin, Collins and thousands of people involved gave us the possibility to realise how fragile is our planet. Original photo: courtesy of NASA.

(...) But lo, a stir is in the air!
The wave — there is a movement there!
As if the towers had thrust aside,
In slightly sinking, the dull tide —
As if their tops had feebly given
A void within the filmy Heaven.
The waves have now a redder glow —
The hours are breathing faint and low —
And when, amid no earthly moans,
Down, down that town shall settle hence,
Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,
Shall do it reverence."

City in the Sea (last stanza)
Edgar Allan Poe, 1845.


Read the first appendix, Bibliography, here.


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