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7 - Architectural Actions: Imminent Catastrophe

We face a non-returning catastrophic Habitat event produced by 10.000 years of constant deforestation and 200 years of intensive pollution. Unlike what everyone thought, during the Cold War between the US and the URSS (1947-1991), the main danger was not global nuclear war, the main danger was our irresponsible actions against Earth's habitat. In those years it was possible to change direction. Even if the Earth's temperature is mostly regulated by the Sun and its cycles of warm and hybernation (11, 70, 206 and 2.300 years, according to different scientists), the greenhouse effect produced by contamination of the upper atmosphere is causing positive feedback events, visible in several fronts: Arctic, Greenland and Antarctic meltin -in that order- because of rising global temperatures, receding glaciers and mountain snow, stronger hurricanes and storms, oceans acidification (by chemicals and rubish), desertification of agricultural areas, more frequent fires, and the dramatic extinction of vertebrate and invertebrate species by the dominant species (us). Sea level is neither fully understood nor extensively meassured, and there are opposed views. Even if we consider that recent Global Warming has been mostly caused by the last Sun's warm cycle, at the actual path of habitat destruction the Extinction event is caused by overpopulation, over-exploitation and contamination, with or without Global Warming. Temperature rise is a consequnce of all that mismanagement, and a catalyst. Unlike the previous Earth's five mass extinction events known, the present one is man-made. They were: 1-End-Ordovician, 443 million years ago, 2-Late Devonian, -360M, 3-Permian-Triassic, -250M, 4-Triassic-Jurassic -200M, 5-Cretaceous-Tertiary -65M. An immense amount of biodiversity is lost every day, at a speed 10.000 times faster that those previous events; most of it will be gone in as little as three human lifetimes. The majority of recognized scientists are aware of this, but people ignore it or are skeptical. 

The picture above shows the first milisecond of an atomic bomb test exploded about fifteen metres above ground in Arizona, US, in 1952. Like a Pandora Box, ghosts flames, vapoured spirits and red hot matter conquer the air at unimaginable speed, burning and cutting everything on the ground's surface, and for many kilometres. It is interesting the fact that you probably did not know this photo. One might think of the limitations of analog and non-computarized photography from seventy years ago, but the analog techniques used for shooting such image were extremely sophisticated. This photo represents a turning point in our civilisation. Starting with the steam machine, train, telegraph, telephone and planes, the nuclear bomb, rather than opening an era, ended the previous one. To have self-destruction capacities of our own habitat reached and surpassed the limit of our stupidity. the great scientist Stephen Hawking (1942-2018) said manytimes that we are a stupid spieces. It is funny that a device like that is still called a 'bomb'. Unveiling the misteries of the Atom was great, but the consequences were dramatic. Any explosive artifact adds pollution and heat to the planet; on top of that, atomic bombs' radiation poison soil and water for decades or hundreds of years. Fuel engines poison not only soil and water, but air, putting carbon dioxide, produced by oil, that was not supposed to be extracted from the deep. Some scientists and people with common sense alerted about it, someone almost forgotten was vigilant with the carbon dioxide issue long time ago: Svante Arrhenius ¹ alerted about this in an extraordinary research from 1896. He stated that the consequences for the green house effect were going to be irreversible if we started to produce fuel engines in large quantities. Others pointed that cars were going to add even more cd and also to destroy the pedestrian's environment (and it happened), while a few apprised here and there about the consequences of a global industrial civilisation, which, in one way or another, became a reality between around 1965. But none of them ever imagined that the end of human life and most species on Earth was a possibility. That reality is becoming a fact. It is not only the climate and environment, but the whole ecological chain has been fatally affected. Humans multiplied, expanded, conquered and ruined the environment, the seas, the ground, the undergound and the air. Fuel waste plus thousand of different chemicals and rubish are put into the ground, waters and air, every day, every minute, every second. It is already harder for plants -rather than us- to adapt to the new scenario, because only with some lack of rain in a couple of months and a few degrees of rising temperatures, crops fail. In the last few years drough in summer affected both the US and Argentina, loosing between 20 to 30 % of wheat in the former, and soya in the latter. When global temperatures rise two more degrees average, on top of the actual 1.7 degrees, far from the coast in the continents' mass it will be one or two degrees more, that means five or six degrees above average; in summer, this means about 39 to 40 degrees in the US Corn Belt (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, southern Michigan, Ohio, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri) or the Argentine Pampa Humeda (Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, Entre Rios, east of Cordoba, north of La Pampa). It started to happened. Agriculture cannot survive at those temperatures. The problem is that we depend on plants for eating and breathing. In the worst scenario, end of story.

Pouchulu's Habitat Observatory, 1970-2004, Buenos Aires. Ballpoint pen and coloured pencil on ordinary paper.

New institutions have to be created. Above, a quick concept for a Habitat Observatory: scattered in non-unhospitable regions, this monitoring stations will react before the environment and the elements; this network will also instruct children about the environment we left. What sort of architectural actions are needed? First, to educate children about where we are. Second, to start thinking of Survival Cities, each of no more than ten thousand people. Third, to totally abandon cars, plastics, marketing and consumerism. Fourth, to take protest actions, non violent, to make people aware that we are facing extinction, showing data and facts. Unfortunately, a few people will admit this: even if it is a proven fact, the majority of people will deny it. The best example was Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910–97), who taught a wide world audience during fifty years -I am a devote follower of his teachings; no other leader took his role- but he (like others) has been forgotten by the new generations. He eventually succeeded because his main target were children, not adults. I watched his documentary films and read all his books since the age of nine. Today (those kids) are oceanographers, biologists, archeologists, marine experts, and architects.

It is not complicated to be an activist; unfortunately, the word "activist" has been debased: activism has little to do with shouting, protesting in the streets or acting outside the law. Activism means to put resources, logistics and teachings into a very clear track of action, towards a specific goal. In 1960 Cousteau's strong activism in preventing the dumping of French atomic waste into the Mediterranean Sea ended in success. He enjoyed immediate recognition for his support of ocean ecology, a field he helped to create as a scientific discipline -in fact, we can state that he created oceanography as we know it today. In 1959 he addressed the first World Oceanic Congress, appearing on the cover of Time magazine on March 28, 1960. In the next year he was awarded the National Geographic 's Gold Medal at a White House ceremony, by President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963). Cousteau's television programs captured the imagination of three generations of worldwide audiences in more than hundred countries. In 1966, Cousteau's first television special, "The World of Jacques-Yves Cousteau," was broadcast. Later he signed a contract with ABC (American Broadcasting Company), which resulted in the fascinating documentary series "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau" in 1968. The program lasted eight seasons; it starred Cousteau, his sons Philippe and Jean-Michel. They travelled around the globe on the now historic Calypso, discovering sea creatures, mapping entire biological regions and alerting about the ecological crisis the planet was experiencing. In 1975 he founded the Cousteau Society, international organization with branches in several countries, to fight against pollution. In those years he published an extraordinary work in twenty volumes titled "The Ocean World of Jacques Cousteau" reprinted in several idioms all over the years, which is a sort of first "encyclopedia" of the seas. In honor of his achievements, Cousteau received the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985. In 1989 France made him member of its Academy. Because he was also a great manager and communicator, he was able to enlight the world public (including millions of children) by exposing the irreversible effects of environmental destruction, more than any scientist at that time or even today, with the exception of Carl Sagan with his TV series "Cosmos". Perhaps the post-Internet scenario will never allow again the rise of educational and entertainment TV programmes like those: there are millions of programmes and events today, which is not good for focusing on what is good, necessary or essential. In any case, and beyond contemporary media, during his time Cousteau reached every corner of the globe with documentaries. That is activism in pure form. How far you are, my fellow architects and professionals, from that noble form of Academia? Did you now that so far we have lost 40% of Phytoplankton in the oceans, which is about half of the oxigen we breath? The other half comes from land plants, mostly from the Amazon, which is gone by 40% as to 2018. This is not speculation, just a fact. When the Arctic ocean ice is gone in summer (this year, next one at the most), global temperatures will jump. In addition to this, our fragility in producing grains is about to detonate a much spectacular bomb like the one pictured above, I am almost certain media will not be able to explain why people will find difficult to get bread or food in the grocery store -as usual- within the next few years. Panic, migrations and conflicts are inevitable, but if we know this will happen, we solve half of the problem. The other half, how to proceed, depends on particular and define steps. What is happenning is ugly, but a few seem to acknowledge where we are standing right now.  

¹ Svante Arrhenius, 'On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground, Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, Series 5, Volume 41, April 1896, pages 237-276 (Extract from a paper presented to the Royal Swedish Academy of Aciences, 11th December, 1895, communicatd by the Author).

Read the next chapter, here.

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Background photo: First millisecond photo shot of a nuclear explosion test in Arizona, US, 1952, at 20 metres over ground. Courtesy of Supreme, Department of Defence, US.

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