Climate reckoning for landscape architecture

By Steve Austin

The summer of 2018, with its unprecedented global heat, fires and droughts, is forcing a reckoning upon landscape architects. The full effects of climate change are now clearly visible. The world has warmed more than one degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. We are on track for more than 2 degrees Celsius warming. What are we to do?


The chart above shows the actions that must be taken to avoid the existential threat of even more global warming: humans must essentially cease using fossil fuels within 30 years.   And more than that, we must take actions to drawdown excess carbon dioxide (CO2), so that in the years after 2050 a climate balance can regained. If we are to ensure a livable climate, we must enter the below zero era. These are the prescriptions outlined by the Paris Climate Accord, which unfortunately has become a political casualty in the USA.

Landscape architects will be vital in helping to achieve the goal of keeping the climate within the boundaries conducive to continued civilization. Yet, this chart portends that the processes, tools, and materials that we use in our work today will not be available to us. This in turn will have dramatic implications for design and professional practice.

Ultimately this chart tells us that within the lifetimes of many landscape architects practicing now, the profession of landscape architecture must change. The sections below lay out the key areas of our profession that will be impacted. Continue reading “Climate reckoning for landscape architecture”

Below zero landscape architecture

By Steve Austin

As the destructive impacts of climate change accelerate, we are at a critical point in history. The chart above shows the path that civilization must be on by 2050 if we are to have a chance at maintaining a livable climate by reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). It also points the way toward to a dramatically different practice of landscape architecture.


This chart shows the two requirements for any possible success. First, our civilization must essentially cease using CO2 emitting fossil fuels within the next 30 years. And, we must draw down much more CO2 than the little we do emit. This is no longer about “zero carbon”: this will be the “below zero” era. Unfortunately, getting there is far easier graphed than done.

There are two reasons for this. One is that society, and landscape architecture, is Continue reading “Below zero landscape architecture”

‘We are climbing rapidly out of humankind’s safe zone’: new report warns dire climate warnings not dire enough

From Ecowatch:  Offering a stark warning to the world, a new report out Monday argues that the reticence of the world’s scientific community—trapped in otherwise healthy habits of caution and due diligence—to downplay the potentially irreversible and cataclysmic impacts of climate change is itself a threat that should no longer be tolerated if humanity is to be motivated to make the rapid and far-reaching transition away from fossil fuels and other emissions-generating industries.

In the new report—titled What Lies Beneath: The Understatement of Existential Climate Risk—authors David Splatt and Ian Dunlop, researchers with the National Centre for Climate Restoration (Breakthrough), an independent think tank based in Australia, argue that the existential threats posed by the climate crisis have still not penetrated the collective psyche of humanity and that world leaders, even those demanding aggressive action, have not shown the kind of urgency or imagination that the scale of the pending catastrophe presents.

Politicians must set aside blinkered ideologies in the climate endgame

The disaster is upon us.  The writers of a commentary in The Guardian lay out precisely where we stand:

“For climate change is now an existential risk to humanity. That is, a risk posing large negative consequences which will be irreversible, resulting inter alia in major reductions in global and national populations, mass species extinction, economic disruption and social chaos, unless carbon emissions are reduced far more rapidly than proposed under the Paris agreement. The risk is immediate, in that it is being locked in today by the insistence of Australian conservatives and their global kin to expand the use of fossil fuels when the carbon budget to stay below sensible temperature limits is already exhausted.

It is no longer possible to follow a gradual transition path to restore a safe climate. We have left it too late; emergency action, akin to a war footing, will eventually be accepted as inevitable. The longer that takes, the greater the damage inflicted upon humanity.”

‘Major transformation’ ahead for Earth’s ecosystems

From a new study:  “If we allow climate change to go unchecked, the vegetation of this planet is going to look completely different than it does today, and that means a huge risk to the diversity of the planet,” said co-author Jonathan Overpeck, dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan.

100 percent wishful thinking: the green-energy cornucopia

We cannot have a high energy, industrial economy run by renewables.  That is impossible.  As this article from Stan Cox at Green Social Thought points out, we should be trying to achieve energy sufficiency to allow healthy, meaningful lives.

read the whole thing, but here is an excerpt:  “The 100-percenters believe such a scenario is achievable while their critics conclude that it is not, but they agree on the ultimate goal: a permanent high-energy economy.

That part of the dogma, not the “100-percent” part, is the problem. America does need to convert to fully renewable energy as quickly as possible. But juxtaposing the 100-percent scenarios that promise a permanent high-energy economy with critiques showing such projects to be futile should lead us to a different vision altogether: that, at least in affluent countries, it would be better simply to transform society so that it operates on far less end-use energy while assuring sufficiency for all. That would bring a 100%-renewable energy system within closer reach and avoid the outrageous technological feats and gambles required by high-energy dogma. It would also have the advantage of being possible.”