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Reporting Back: The 2010 Imperative Global Emergency Teach-In
Sarah Rich, 20 Feb 07
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The 2010 Imperative Global Emergency Teach-in just wrapped up, and I think it's safe to say that the event was a great success. Though I haven't heard reports about how many people actually tuned in, Ed Mazria told me beforehand that they were predicting at least a quarter million attendees worldwide. If even a portion of that number heard the 3.5-hour teach-in, there's no doubt that we now have a new flock of green design evangelists in the making. The event was informative, inspiring, and the webcast ran incredibly smoothly (I watched from my dining room table).

Moderator Susan Szenasy, Editor-in-Chief of Metropolis Magazine gave brief opening remarks and then introduced speaker #1, Dr. James Hansen, Director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Hansen's talk was something of a Climate Change 101 lecture, with slides presenting future scenarios in the event of "business as usual" versus a radical shift in the way we live. Like Al Gore's slideshow, it was a pretty grim and serious picture, but Hansen emphasized that this is not about doom and gloom, it's about immediate action, and recognition of an opportunity to leave future generations with a better planet.

Next came Ed Mazria, who Susan Szenasy rightly characterized as the father of the 2010 Imperative, and its big brother Architecture 2030. Mazria, too, spent some time exposing the grim potential future we face if sea levels keep rising. But he moved swiftly toward the immense possibilities designers today face to contribute to radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by pushing the building industry towards responsible practices. He cited the many stats we've heard here before, indicating the profound impact buildings have today on the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, and therefore how different the world would look if we simply committed, starting immediately, to changing the way we design, build and renovate.

The 2010 Imperative calls, among other things, for one single sentence to be added to the assignments in all design schools, which would direct students to keep the planet's health in mind as they work: "All projects must be designed to engage the environment in a way that dramatically reduces or eliminates the need for fossil fuels." Mazria asserted that adding just that one line would revolutionize design education; teachers don't need to know anything about climate change to include the directive, and students will go out and gather information, and bring it back to the classroom, teaching their peers and teachers as they go. The Imperative also calls for "complete ecological literacy in professional design education" by 2010, meaning that schools who sign on to the commitment would be promising to include ecological education in design curricula. And finally, it calls for schools themselves to work towards carbon neutrality, so that students don't feel as though they're working towards goals that their own campuses ignore. This could mean implementing sustainable design strategies, generating on-site renewable power, and/or purchase renewable energy credits (20% max).

Chris Luebkeman, Director of Arup's Global Foresight and Innovation Initiative was the third and final speaker. Arup is a huge global company with projects spread out all over the world. Luebkeman was asked to select a few to highlight today, which was no doubt a difficult task. The ones he did select are all projects we've talked about on Worldchanging in the past -- models of commercial and multi-family residential building that were ahead of their time when built, and continue to set a high bar as the rest of the industry catches up. Luebkeman introduced Dongtan, China's first sustainable city; BedZED, the ultra-hip urban development in London; and The Gap headquarters near San Francisco, CA, which has become known for its green roof, and for being one as of the greatest working environments around.

He closed with a great slide from Winnie the Pooh, which says:

Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.

It brought a genius bit of levity and obviousness to the close of the three-speaker sequence, pointing out that we, like Pooh Bear, have been dragging along in our upside-down-and-backwards ways for so long, we seem to think that the way we're operating is the only way. Unlike Pooh, though, Luebkeman pointed out that we do have a moment to stop bumping our heads against the monotony and familiarity of our current system, and consider whether there might be an alternative - an existing, attainable option - that would let us see the path ahead more clearly, and put an end to the misery we're causing for ourselves.

There will be a continuing forum at for those who want to remain involved in this conversation. There are tremendous resources available for learning how we as individual designers, design schools, firms and agencies can prepare to build and pass on a healthier planet than we inherited.

Congrats and thanks to those who put on this event and made it globally accessible and free.

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While I might wish for a somewhat broader imperative sentence (relating, say, to a measure like the ecological footprint), it is safe to say that fossil fuels will be the factor to beat and are the factor with traction for some time to come.

One nice thing about that sentence is that it leaves a door wide open for designs which engage our use of fossil fuels by helping us eliminate the need for so much confounded travel. Will many designers walk through that door? Blind spots die hard; but I applaud their efforts to take a sledgehammer to one of our biggest ones. Questioning our voracious appetite for fossil fuels is a slippery slope towards questioning our voracious appetite for all kinds of things.

Bring it on. :)

- Heath

Posted by: Heath M Rezabek on 20 Feb 07

The 2010 Imperative Teach In was inspiring and very well done. Bravo!

Ed Mazria mentioned BEES 3.0 and the development and implementation of BEES, or something like it, cannot be overemphasized.

As a design professional I am hungry for a tool that will assist me to identify ecologically sound materials. What we have now is GreenSpec, which is a step in the right direction (and perhaps other such materials directories), and a lot of manufacturers claims - which simply cannot be verified. I have attempted to find how organic materials are "denatured" in an ICF system...but this information has not been made available to me. BEES would get the info out there for all to evaluate.

There will always be tradeoffs. Perfection is not required - just good information to make informed decisions.

Another aspect of Ed's presentation that particularly grabbed me is software that instantly indicates the energy consequences of design decisions. If we can send people to the moon we can get, what I term the "Energy Matrix" box in Revit and other such professional tools.

I am proud to be a part of this movement into clarity and honesty.

Posted by: Roy Prince on 20 Feb 07

The Teach-In was inspiring, informative and professional. I feel profound gratitude and admiration for the participants, but I felt that Ed Mazria made one unfortunate comment in his otherwise outstanding presentation.

Meaning to inspire us, he presented graphics showing the amount of sunlight falling on roofs and walls of U.S. buildings (even in cloudy Seattle), compared to their (very-wasteful) energy use. Of course, the solar energy was far in excess of consumption. He spoke of our ability to fly a spacecraft to Saturn and send back pictures, with the implication that harnessing all that free energy is a matter of gumption, willpower and know-how.

If only. Inspiration is great, but we need to remain realistic. Solar energy falling on a surface is one thing - capturing it for useful work is another. It's as if someone were to say, "Look, hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe - it's over 90% of all matter - and it can be burned as a fuel. Heck we put a man on the moon! Let's just grab that hydrogen and power the future!" Inspiring maybe, but physics don't care.

I realize that Mr. Mazria intended to wake us up and challenge us. I'm being unkind to a great person, and perhaps needlessly quibbling, but we need the kind of sober assessment of our predicament and opportunities, backed up by numbers and physics, that Dr. Hansen exemplified. We can pull off Mr. Mazria's 2030 challenge, but it's going to be a heck of a lot harder than the Cassini Mission, and it will mainly entail efficiency improvements - solar will be a meaningful player only if we first get the loads down.

Posted by: David Foley on 21 Feb 07

As a student at one of the top five architecture schools in the USA, I was dismayed to notice that less than ten of the 200 future architects in the department cared to watch the teach-in for more than five minutes.

Hansen's presentation was hurt by the fact that he mauled the data with smarmy, incoherent Power Point slides. No reason to have all the text in bold. No reason to use different colors for headings. No reason to use multiple fonts to present the same types of data. The graphics were too pixelated to read. The whole thing was supposed to be about changing things through design, but I was amazed that this highly intelligent man couldn't find someone to help him prepare the slides in a clearer way.

The guy from ARUP was amazing, it was like watching an actor or an effective salesperson. He was passionate and intelligent, BUT some of the references were a bit too cute. This is the end of civilization as we know it, and he's bringing out Winnie the Pooh slides.

Posted by: david b on 21 Feb 07

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Teach-in. Perhaps this is the way fundamental and necessary behavior change within the human coummunity begins.

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on 23 Feb 07



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