Sustainability, the hot topic of the past five years (and certainly the next five). Touted by Greta Thunberg and Naomi Klein and denounced by Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro. It's a combination of a movement, a science, a lifestyle and a way of doing business. But where did it all start?
From a climate perspective sustainability wasn't really talked about until the mid 20th Century. At least, not with any urgency, the idea of people enjoying their environment and singing its praises has naturally been around since the dawn of humanity. Around the 1970's humanity began exceeding more than the planet produced in a single year, a sign that we were fast venturing into an unsustainable horizon.
Scientists confirmed the speculation and politics followed. The most notable instance of this was the installation of solar panels on the White House by President Jimmy Carter and their subsequent removal by Ronald Reagan two years later. This back and forth exemplifies climate arguments since. Not helped by politically-sided media businesses using the climate card when it suits their needs, the argument for action has progressed rather slowly.
That is until now. Certain climate incidents that have happened a little too close for comfort in developed countries (mainly wildfires) have caused a rethink. The Paris Agreement organised by the United Nations, was backed by a significant number of countries. The idea behind it is to keep the world below 1.5C of global warming. This is still notably bad for a lot of the planet, but any higher and quickly gets much worse.
The agreement provides a somewhat loose legal prerogative for people to hold their governments to account. An example would be where the UK government was forced to stall plans to expand Heathrow airport as a legal case was upheld that it would breach the Paris agreement. It has since been overturned but has provided precious time for others to try and block the manoeuvre.
Successful bilateral support between developed and developing countries will be essential in reaching the target. Even in hitting 1.5C of warming developing countries will be severely effected by rising seas and droughts, leading to mass migrations. The Syrian migration, that lead to thousands of displaced refugees risking their lives to reach countries in Europe, was, in part, caused by an unusually long drought. This lead to a spike in urban migration from the effected rural areas.
So where does that leave us now? If you receive your news on the climate in the newspaper or a news channel it's sometimes hard not to feel as though we're on a cliff edge that we could fall off at anytime. Whilst the world isn't going to instantaneously combust what we'll most likely see is the kind of story such as the Californian and Australian wildfires, the Bangladeshi floods and Caribbean hurricanes happening much more regularly. We may even reach the point where these are not considered newsworthy due to their regularity. That would be a dangerous step too far and a sure fire warning sign that we're not moving fast enough.
Looking at the natural world, however, offers a more sobering picture. According to the World Animal Foundation, we're losing species somewhere between 1000-10,000 times faster than we should be. For many this is the sign that we're not moving fast enough.
Moving forward it's natural to feel powerless against such supernatural forces. Putting your recycling out properly can feel hopelessly pointless sometimes. However, we are all individuals and we have power collectively. If 50% of a population correctly recycles, that's far better than 45%. Similarly, we all have a voice. Individually sending a letter to your local politician is a powerful step, but what if you get ten, twenty or a hundred signatures?
There's certainly more to explore there in a future post. If you're feeling a little sobered after reading the above then check out some of our other posts on how to live and look smarter with the help of architects and our partner brands.