Architects are failing to live up to their professional responsibility to tackle climate change, leading environmentalist Jonathan Porritt has said
Speaking at the Bartlett ethics symposium held earlier this week, Porritt said no-one in the built environment had ‘immunity’ from engaging with the latest scientific data on carbon emissions and the predicted rises in global temperature and considering what this meant for their work.
But he said architects on the whole were relying on out-of-date science less alarming that the most current projections.
‘When I look at the combined contribution of architects in the UK to addressing climate change – doing something to influence policy makers, doing something to get a handle on what it means to live with climate change, I’m a bit questioning,’ he said.
‘There are of course brilliant individuals talking about how important it is to engage morally with this question but for the profession in the round, you’d have to ask the question of whether anyone would associate it with tackling climate change in our troubled world.’
Porritt added: ‘I call it client dependency syndrome. Contractors and architects all suffer from various degrees of this syndrome and it is complicated knowing how to deal with it.
‘Some have one foot in hydrocarbon-intensive earth trashing [client] companies and another foot in innovative and environmental low-carbon companies.’
Asked if he was surprised by this, given architects’ belief that they are a socially conscious profession, he said: ‘It does surprise me. It’s this question of a changing knowledge base. There has been a reduction in uncertainty [about climate change] and growing levels of confidence about causation. It’s been a 30 year process of doubts being diminished.
‘The profession needs to engage with the science as it is today but my hunch is that a lot of professionals like architects are still engaged with the science of five, 10 or 20 years ago.
‘It is hard to keep up with the science and there is this throb of pathetic anti-science in the UK. But I suspect that a lot of architects do not fulfill that…minimum professional responsibility and I’m worried about that.’
Porritt, a former director of Friends of the Earth, is a founder director of environmental group Forum for the Future.
He was speaking at the Practicing Ethics in Built Environment Research event on Monday hosted by Jane Rendell of the Bartlett.