Post Carbon Landscape Architecture


By Steve Austin

originally posted on Land8.com – click to see embedded links


Here in early 2019, we find ourselves in a terrifying time. The evidence is astoundingly clear that the effects of climate change are worse than previously predicted and accelerating. If humanity is to avoid catastrophic, perhaps even unsurvivable climate change, we must end the use of fossil fuels as soon as possible.

However, if we were to do that, the resulting energy and civilizational transition would be the most dramatic ever undertaken by our species. Everything about our current way of life would change greatly.

But scientists are emphatic about the need to end using fossil fuels now. Prof David Reay, of the University of Edinburgh, says we must “act now or see the last chance for a safer climate future ebb away.”

The end of fossil fuels will usher in a “post carbon” era. It is “post carbon” because we can no longer do anything that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, especially through burning fossil fuels.

Landscape architects must accept this reality. Continue reading “Post Carbon Landscape Architecture”


This chart is the essence of this site – first timers start here


By Steve Austin

We have 12 years to avoid climate catastrophe.  The chart above shows in stark relief exactly the world we must transition to if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. This chart shows how we must essentially cease the use of fossil fuels and other climate changing activities. That in turn means the end of the industrial age.

Continue reading “”

Carbon offsets are not our get-out-of-jail free card

From the UN:  Buying carbon credits in exchange for a clean conscience while you carry on flying, buying diesel cars and powering your homes with fossil fuels is being challenged (ed. note first draft term was “unacceptable”) by people concerned about climate change.

…Offsets also risk giving the dangerous illusion of a “fix” that will allow our billowing emissions to just continue to grow.

Scientists, activists and concerned citizens have started to voice their concerns over how carbon offsets have been used by polluters as a free pass for inaction. Annual emissions have to reduce by 29-32 gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide (CO2e) by 2030 to maintain a fighting chance to stay below 1.5°C. This is a five-fold increase on current ambition.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations is the first to call everyone to action. “We are still not doing enough, nor moving fast enough, to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption,” he says.

The climate crisis is now considered our gravest existential threat. Fifty per cent of climate changing pollutants have been pumped into our atmosphere—from power stations, cars, agriculture—since just 1990, and this amount is growing every second.

If we are serious about averting catastrophic planetary changes, we need to reduce emissions by 45 per cent by 2030. Trees planted today can’t grow fast enough to achieve this goal. And carbon offset projects will never be able to curb the emissions growth, while reducing overall emissions, if coal power stations continue to be built and petrol cars continue to be bought, and our growing global population continues to consume as it does today.

This is not to say that carbon offset projects should stop, quite the opposite. We must continue to plant trees and protect forests and peatlands. Renewable energy and energy efficiency projects are critical and offset schemes play an important role in funding and upscaling them. The projects that offset schemes support are vital: trees must be planted, existing forests and peatlands that hold and absorb carbon must be protected.

(ed. commentary:  offsets should only be used for drawing down exceed CO2, not trying to offset continued high levels of fossil fuel use.)

The UK’s Prime Minister just committed the country to be “Net Zero” by 2050 – some implications and concerns

The UK is the first major economy to commit to this goal.

Here a some implications and concerns.  First from The Guardian:

  • The net zero carbon target will require sweeping changes to almost every aspect of British life, affecting our homes, the food we eat and the way we get around, as well as jobs and businesses across the board.
  • Phasing out coal use and bringing more renewable energy on stream are the key planks of the government’s strategy. Gas has become an increasingly important source of fuel in the last three decades, particularly for domestic heating, but to reach net zero it will have to be phased out too.
  • Carbon capture and storage will be needed if we are to continue to use any fossil fuels.
  • There are only about 210,000 electric vehicles in the UK, with about 1% of households using an all-electric car and about 2% using hybrids, so tens of millions of cars must be replaced to meet the net-zero target. Public transport, walking, cycling and ways of working that avoid travel will also be part of the solution.
  • The government has pledged to phase out diesel and petrol cars by 2040, but that target should be brought forward to 2030, according to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).
  • Government policy is key to making the built environment – which accounts for roughly 40% of the UK’s carbon footprint – more climate friendly, says Juliet Barfield, architect at Marks Barfield. “The government must regulate if we want to bring down emissions.”
  • Repurposing and refurbishing existing buildings is nearly always preferable to demolishing and rebuilding, unless the existing construction is dangerous or of such poor quality it cannot be remedied. Concrete is one of the most commonly used construction materials, but its emissions are sky-high: if the global concrete industry were a country, it would be the world’s third biggest emitter. Alternative materials from timber to wool are not widely used, and while innovators are working on ways to bring down emissions from concrete – using additives from coffee grounds to beetroot, for instance – it remains a significant source of carbon.
  • Growing more trees is the key plank of the government’s strategy on land use, along with better soil management – Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has set out plans for the UK’s first soil strategy since the “dig for victory” campaigns of the second world war. Soil is one of the world’s biggest carbon sinks, but can also be a major source of carbon depending on the farming techniques used.
  • Urban trees can also be a vital way of reducing carbon, cleaning air pollution and reducing the impact of climate change by providing shade and health benefits. The government has put up £10m for 130,000 new trees in towns and cities in the next two years. There is no national policy on trees, however, and some local authorities and landowners such as Network Rail have embarked on tree-cutting programmes without clear oversight of the environmental costs and benefits.
  • Ultimately, however, meat consumption must be reduced: moving from a high-meat to a low-meat diet would cut emissions by 35%, the CCC found.
  • Sue Ferns, senior deputy director general at Prospect, says: “We need a just transition for all the workers affected and this means we need to work proactively to ensure that the damage inflicted on coal communities in the 1980s is not repeated.”

A response from climate scientist Kevin Anderson:

  • although on the one hand the Government’s “net -zero” proposal is for the UK to make its ‘fair’ contribution to delivering on the Paris Agreement, on the other it is recklessly pursuing UK shale gas (an energy source that is 75% carbon by mass!). Moreover, it recently celebrated both BP’s new Clair Ridge oil platform, with its accompanying quarter of a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, and the new Glengorm gas field, adding a further 100 millions tonnes of CO2. To top it all, they plan to expand Heathrow, facilitating more flights with more fossil fuel consumption and hence more carbon emissions (even with efficiency improvements across the sector).
  • the mitigation proposals of Government and its Committee on Climate Change (the CCC) rely in large measure on future and highly speculative Negative Emission Technologies (NETs)[1]. These technologies exist, at best, as small pilot schemes, and often only in the imagination and computers of professors and entrepreneurs. So in reality we are passing the buck on to our children to invent and deploy technologies to suck the CO2 out of the air that we choose to continue to emit today. The unprecedented and planetary scale of NETs assumed by the Government and the CCC needs to be understood.[2] Already the tentative potential of NETs is being used to undermine the requirement for immediate and widespread decarbonisation, passing further unacceptable burdens and risks onto the next generation.
  • against the advice of their own Committee on Climate Change the UK Government intend to rely on ‘international credits’ whereby they can buy so-called offsets from other countries rather than making the reductions themselves. This is typically paying poorer nations to plant trees, change industrial processes, install renewables, etc. Such developments internationally are necessary to meet the Paris Agreement’s climate commitments, but not as a means for permitting the UK’s ongoing emissions. With the UK’s world leading renewable energy potential we should be making the reductions ourselves not paying others to do it for us.
  • the share of the global ‘carbon budget’ that the UK Government and its Committee on Climate Change assume appropriate for the UK, is far higher than any defensible quota. So the UK not only has significant responsibility for historical emissions, but it is planning to take a disproportionately large slice of the remaining global carbon pie; colonialism thriving in 2019!
  • Finally, and based on work with University of Manchester & Uppsala colleagues, to meet its Paris obligations the UK must achieve zero-carbon energy by around 2035; that’s ‘real-zero’ not ‘net-zero’. This requires an immediate programme of deep cuts in energy emissions rising rapidly to over 10% p.a.; such an economy-wide agenda will need to embed equity at its core if it is to succeed mathematically and politically, as well as morally.

Other concerns


  • But the more egregious loophole is the decision to retain the ability to use international carbon credits to offset Britain’s emissions. This goes directly against the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change, which said only last month that it was “essential that the commitment [to net-zero] was comprehensive [and] achieved without use of international credits”.
  • Using international credits allows Britain to carry on emitting greenhouse gases  while offsetting those emissions by planting trees in other countries or helping pay for low-carbon energy projects. These things need to happen but they should not be instead of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, they should be in addition.
  • the suspicion that, for all the declarations of a climate emergency, the government’s approach is still incremental, based on making green-tinged tweaks to business as usual, in the vain hope that we will somehow creep towards our target of net-zero.


today’s climate impacts are bad, and they are from past emissions…

From Peter Kalmus:  10 years 6 months 18 days to 2030, when we should be halfway to global net-zero GHG emissions according to the IPCC to avoid increasingly dire impacts.

Keep in mind that today’s impacts are effectively due to emissions from ~decades ago and emissions are rising exponentially….

Technology won’t be the answer to climate change #2

The excerpt below is from a paper in Science that unfortunately shows how unlikely it is that the world will meet the Paris Agreement temperatures (2C or less, ideally 1.5C).  The  conclusion is that we cannot rely on carbon dioxide removal technology during the meaningful time when it would be most needed.

“Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) cannot be relied on to contribute substantially to limiting global warming over the next several decades, which is the timescale relevant for achieving the Paris Agreement temperature goals. Some scenarios compensate for longer timescales until net negative emissions become possible by allowing for an “overshoot” of CO2 and associated global mean temperature that is later compensated by even greater amounts of mitigation and CDR. However, such overshoot scenarios present a substantial additional climate risk, and it is not clear at all why a continued lack of progress in the present should be followed by much greater progress in the future. Taken together, these considerations make the Paris temperature goals increasingly implausible.”

Recent Climate Updates

The articles and commentary below capture some of the rapidly growing alarm at the escalating crisis:

THIS ONE IS VITAL The heat is on over the climate crisis. Only radical measures will work: “Drowned cities; stagnant seas; intolerable heatwaves; entire nations uninhabitable… and more than 11 billion humans. A four-degree-warmer world is the stuff of nightmares and yet that’s where we’re heading in just decades….However, that global heating took place over many thousands of years. Even at its most rapid, the rise in CO2 emissions occurred at a rate 1,000 times slower than ours has since the start of the Industrial Revolution. That gave animals and plants time to adapt to new conditions and, crucially, ecosystems had not been degraded by humans.The good news is that humans won’t become extinct – the species can survive with just a few hundred individuals; the bad news is, we risk great loss of life and perhaps the end of our civilisations. Many of the places where people live and grow food will no longer be suitable for either. Higher sea levels will make today’s low-lying islands and many coastal regions, where nearly half the global population live, uninhabitable, generating an estimated 2 billion refugees by 2100. Bangladesh alone will lose one-third of its land area, including its main breadbasket.”

Climate Change and the New Age of Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert: “On the order of a million species are now facing extinction, “many within decades.” “What’s at stake here is a liveable world,” Robert Watson, the chairman of the group, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, told Science.”

A paper raising concerns about negative emission technologies: “Recent publications, however, raise concerns about the broader political and economic feasibility of compatible emission trajectories, which typically rely on large-scale deployment of Negative Emission Technologies (NETs)—a type of pilot backstop technology that is often associated with enormous amounts of natural land loss, stranded assets by 2100, a potentially dangerous emission overshoot level and resulting fundamental ethical issues of intergenerational equity”

Commentary by Zoe Williams about the issue of climate hypocrisy in our individual lives:  “The counsel of perfection, looking for the hypocrisy in anyone taking a position distinguishable from naked self-interest, is actually slightly worse than a counsel of despair: it takes pointlessness one step further, besmirching everyone, sucking the energy out of everything. Nobody will ever be good enough on these terms. You might eschew planes but get caught eating a burger; you might be a vegan, but have you seen the environmental cost of soya?

The climate emergency, being a crisis, needs radical action; transfer that on to any individual, and the only way not to be a hypocrite is to live off-grid, the downside of which is that, now, you have removed yourself from culture, and even if anyone gets to hear of you it’s as a crank.”

Lessons From a Genocide Can Prepare Humanity for Climate Apocalypse By Roy Scranton: “One historical analogy stands out with particular force: the European conquest and genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Here, truly, a world ended. Many worlds, in fact. Each civilization, each tribe, lived within its own sense of reality — yet all these peoples saw their lifeworlds destroyed and were forced to struggle for cultural continuity beyond mere survival, a struggle that the Anishinaabe poet Gerald Vizenor calls “survivance.”

The philosopher Jonathan Lear has thought deeply about this problem in his book Radical Hope. He considers the case of Plenty Coups, the last great chief of the Apsáalooke people, also known as the Crow tribe.

Plenty Coups guided the Crow through the forced transition from life as nomadic warrior-hunters to peaceful, sedentary ranchers and farmers. This transition involved a harrowing loss of meaning, yet Plenty Coups was able to articulate a meaningful and even hopeful way forward.”

The world is heating faster than previously thought: “Over the past two years, we’ve learned that key impacts of climate change, like the melting of ice, the rise in sea level, and the increase in devastating weather extremes, are playing out faster than our models projected just a few years ago,” said Michael Mann of Penn State.

Slow burn? The long road to a zero-emissions UK:“In the end, it will simply not be possible to reduce Britain’s fossil-fuel emissions to zero, say scientists. To compensate, we will have to take carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere. “That is the logical, inevitable consequence of trying to achieve zero net emissions in this country,” argues Corinne Le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia. ‘If you are looking for any net zero target then you have to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.’”

And a poem from 2005


with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

Apollo 13 is a great metaphor for our situation

Image result for apollo 13

By Steve Austin

The real life voyage – 49 years ago – and the movie – which turns 24 years old this summer – perfectly encapsulates our current predicament. A small, fragile spaceship – launched from a larger mothership  – travels through the infinite darkness of space toward a shinning goal.  Halfway there, the voyage is violently disrupted by a human error, unknown at the time of launch.  The situation is so drastic that all thoughts of reaching the goal are immediately dropped.  The only concern is with saving the lives of those on the spaceship.  Nothing else matters and imaginations are rapidly unleashed to accomplish that.  Conservation immediately becomes the goal:  of air, water, food, energy.  If they were going to survive,  the people on board must adjust to uncomfortable conditions.  Unfortunately CO2 emissions rise on the spaceship, threatening the lives of the crew, necessitating a ingenious low-tech fix that no one had even considered before.  Ultimately, the crew is saved because of creative use of science, teamwork and a sense of shared community, and a will to succeed because failure was not an option.

Everything from the actual voyage is parallel to our current crisis, except for the last half.  Yes, we are on a spaceship traveling through space.  Yes, our mission controllers have a goal in sight:  endless economic growth.  Yes, the mission has been violently disrupted by human error:  a lack of understanding of the impact of endless growth within a closed, finite system.

Yet there there is no talk of diverting from the goal of endless economic growth.  There is no talk of conservation, of adjusting to uncomfortable conditions, to having less. At mission control, there is no sense of alarm, even though the alarm warnings are going off.  There is little shared sense of community.  Without that, there is little hope that the crew (humanity) can be saved through imaginative use of science, teamwork, and a will to succeed.  In our current case, failure is very much an option.

There is no little irony in that back then the world stopped in breathless anticipation while scientists attempted to save three men on their tiny spaceship while today…the world goes on as if nothing is happening.