Three years ago I made a commitment to return to a dedicated ecological concern professionally. To that moment, my practice in other firms and within Landwave had adopted renovation and efficiency in practice through better IT as erstwhile ecological contributions. While tech driven practice efficiency does not have direct ecological impact, it is a good discipline and kept me thinking about practical applications of lofty tools. On the other hand, renovation has a significant ecological benefit in utilizing previously built structures. No forest turned parking lot. No need to excavate and dispose of soils. A fraction of the materials required-and therefore a fraction of the energy to extract, fabricate, ship and install. The list goes on and on. And while construction of any sort has an impact, renovation takes advantage of sunk energy and resources.
Though perfectly reasonable and necessary, I never felt as though these were a sufficient fit for my skills and interests. If our colleagues are half right, the issues facing us are urgent. What’s more there is a need to capture the collective imagination to reinvent our approach to material life on a massive scale. Efficiency and renovation are hardly inspirational. We need better motivations. I need better motivations.
So it was on another vacation trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium that I answered this hard question: if you had to choose only one place to devote your time and energy what would it be towards? The answer was instant: ocean health. Next question. What could I do as an IT and facilities professional?
In the last two and a half years, I have chosen to improve ocean health by pursuing a line of design that eliminates carbon emissions. When water absorbs carbon the ph increases. In the oceans, minor ph increases kills off significant habitat and low food chain flora and fauna. The impact to the rest of the food chain-aquatic and terrestrial-is vast.
No Carbon Design as a practical matter seems farfetched. Concrete, steel and glass manufacturing alone currently require an enormous amount of energy. Blast furnaces for creating quick lime, molten steel and silica demand temperatures currently achieved with fossil fuels. Add in fabrication from raw ingredients to finished goods, distribution, shipping and on site assembly and you’ve just made a pile of CO2. And that’s before you start running the HVAC.
What does this have to do with a rural school in one of the poorest countries on the world? Reinvention. Developing countries have a unique opportunity. They are so far behind in adopting 20th century industrial techniques they may be able to take advantage of 21st century techniques instead. What’s more, I think they may have a lot to teach us about resource shortage driven adaptations to everyday problems. Not the least of which is telling us what alternatives we have to buttoned up buildings chilled to perfection.
Which, when it’s 102, I can understand.