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Business-as-usual in construction will lead us to extinction

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The Youth Strike for Climate is exerting influence in the only way available to the young, by disrupting business-as-usual. Shouldn’t architects be following their example? asks Scott McAulay

Last month, the RIBA declared a climate and ecological emergency. This historic moment in British architecture was preceded by many other pledges and declarations, including Architects Declare, initiated by RIBA Stirling Prize-winning practices and now co-signed by more than 500 signatories.

But, without immediate, paradigm-shifting action, these remain platitudes in the face of climate breakdown.

By now we have all heard the news: the window within which we can hopefully mitigate runaway catastrophic climate change is closing – and perhaps closing ever-faster. Many of us are now realising that things are far worse than we had been warned. But by what extent?

When the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. But, while it was a step in the right direction, Paris was by no means radical enough: it was designed to be ramped up year-on-year, and its efficacy was not guaranteed. We all now know that we must strive to stay below 1.5°C of global warming. But, even if we were on track to meet current Paris commitments, we would overshoot this target.

Compared with the Paris Agreement, last autumn’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was a rude awakening of biblical proportions. Unlike the Paris target of 2050, the report issued a jarring, significantly sooner ‘deadline’ – 2030. Suddenly, we only had 12 years to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in order to stay below 1.5°C of warming. 

The need for action is urgent and, unlike any generation before them, the youth of today are fully aware of this, and of the inaction, by and large, of those who came before them. They are devastated; they are furious; they are grieving for futures they are being denied.

And so they have mobilised. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, the Youth Strike for Climate counts overall participation in the millions, in hundreds of cities around the world every Friday. Alongside Extinction Rebellion, they are the ones we must thank for climate breakdown finally becoming a prime concern to the public after years of traditional campaigns failing.

The youth strikers are exerting their influence in the only way available to them, by disrupting business-as-usual. Shouldn’t architects be following their example, and doing the same in all we do? Business-as-usual in construction does damage by default; this is no longer up for debate.

‘Sustainability’ has degenerated into lip-service and a damage-control exercise. We should be striving for zero impact upon human and planetary health, not simply zero carbon. It is time we stopped trying to upcycle a dysfunctional model: business-as-usual is compatible only with extinction.

It is time for the RIBA and the entire profession, Architects Declare signatories especially, to turn these platitudes into action now.

Engage clients, design teams, families and friends in conversations on climate action. Educate yourself about it. Integrate it into everything we do and reduce our lacklustre target of carbon neutrality by 2050 – it actively disregards the urgency the IPCC Special Report carried.

I challenge every one of you to turn up and to support your closest Youth Strike in every way that you can, every single Friday that they strike in your lunch hour. Emulating the young’s ‘deeds not words’ approach, there will be a global strike in September and adults on the right side of history will be out there, on the streets, alongside our children and young people. They are not resigned to runaway catastrophic climate breakdown, and neither should you be.

Scott McAulay is a Part 2 graduate on the Glasgow Institute of Architects’ Sustainability Committee and initiator of the Anthropocene Architecture School

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Readers' comments (1)

  • This hysterical screed bears remarkable similarities to the ravings of doomsday cults.

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