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Career change for climate change

Architects must go back to basics to engage the public on issues of climate change, says Barrie Evans

Overhearing a pub conversation on climate change recently, I was reminded of the fragility of public understanding of the arguments. With the cold winter, where’s global warming when we need it? The conversation’s tone was not so much scientific scepticism as a broader doubt that ‘they’ – politicians plus other climate-change advocates and doubters – made sense and could be believed.

This seems to reflect a more general shift in public mood. In the wider public arena, the lack of international agreement to act on climate change, or even agree to do nothing, adds to the confusion. As do errors in recent research reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the recently leaked emails from the University of East Anglia that allege, among other things, data supporting the existence of climate change was manipulated.

These not only undermine particular propositions about changing climate; for some, they appear to also undermine the credibility of having a reasoned understanding of something so contentious. In pub-speak, are scientists and other advocates such as architects (pro or anti) little more trustworthy than politicians?

It is easy to dismiss pub conversations (except our own), but the people having them are also clients and users of our buildings – people relied on to put into effect some of the low-carbon potential designed into them.

We have literally decades of experience of designing lower-energy buildings. And we see from the recent AJ survey that there is a considerable momentum to sustainability teaching (AJ 25.03.10). After years of focusing on climate issues we moved on from the basics to the specifics of implementation. But now, it appears, it is again time to get back to basic issues, to remake the case of what we understand is happening to the climate. And, just as difficult, to persuade the public of our credibility.

Have we got all the arguments about climate change to hand? Probably not. It’s time for a bit of mid-career revision.

Between 1974 and 2007, Barrie Evans held several positions on the AJ, including technical, buildings and online editor

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