Architects & Climate Accountability

I spent a few days considering the recent withdrawal of the US Federal Government from the landmark Paris Climate Agreement – a decision that seems short sighted, narrow minded, and potentially catastrophic. However, among the immediate negative connotations, I found great relief in what has promptly followed – the outpouring of responses from world leaders, local government, businesses, and professionals in the building industries, committing to climate accountability at their respective areas of work and jurisdiction. This level of response, resistance, and awareness that the decision has generated has culminated in a resounding call to action, which in the absence of a National commitment, is the next best thing we can hope for.

First and foremost, we are loudly and collectively talking about what Climate Change is, how it will affect us, and what we all can do about – all of which would have largely stayed off the radar of the greater public had the US stayed in this accord: We are now talking about diet (finally), and waste, and personal transport; Cities, tech companies, and even energy companies, are publicly declaring emission reduction goals; Private funds are being leveraged where public money may soon dry out. While it is hard for me to be happy about this very bad decision, I do feel we are nearing a critical mass of understanding and support that will soften the blow of a government guided by short-term special interests, over a long-term cause of far reaching consequences.

So what should we do next? Simply put, we should all do our part until the Federal Government reengages with this topic, which can many forms:

On a personal level, there is a lot we can do, many of the tweaks to our daily routines being highlighted in the media in recent weeks, such as the NY Times, Curbed, and the UN.

As architects, we must first renew our own commitments to the environment, commit to leading on climate change, and continue engaging our clients in how to minimize the footprint of our projects, while using our projects as educational tools that will help highlight the challenges at hand and the solutions already in play; we then should consider the various avenues for political and community action, such as signing the Architects Advocate Letter to Congress, joining the AIA opposition to the withdrawal, or supporting the US Green Building Council.

On a local level, we can (and should) petition our elected officials to engage with the topic, renew commitments for emission reductions, alternative energy, and sustainable development wherever possible. This has already begun, at the local level, as well as a growing national movement – all of which we should support and encourage.

Last, we keep educating ourselves and those around us. The data is out there, the solutions have been discussed and vetted across the globe, and consequences of ignoring this issue have already started manifesting – we can no longer hide behind what we didn’t know, we must take action based on the concrete knowledge we’ve been able to amass over the last 30 years.