Sunday, June 8, 2008


Shrinkage of the Greenland ice cap, 1992: 2005

In view of the fact that I demonstrated an interest in non-linear dynamical systems and chaos theory in my May 3 blog post, entitled Eugene, Genius Loci and the Butterfly Effect, Don Kahle suggested that I check out the teachings of Alder Fuller at his Euglena Academy. I did so recently by attending his lecture entitled “Beyond the Tipping Point,” a sobering presentation of evidence supporting the hypothesis that we have already crossed a critical threshold towards large-scale climate change as a consequence of global warming. This threshold is the tipping point past which the earth's temperatures will continue to rise regardless of anything we humans do in an attempt to stop it. According to Dr. Fuller, the changes caused by the exponential acceleration of global warming will be so immense and so rapid that they will very quickly dwarf all other concerns of the human race. The upshot is that we are facing the end of the world as we know it (TEOTWAWKI) and that it will occur sooner rather than later – within our lifetimes.

Alder Fuller is a unique educator whose background includes PhD studies in ecology and biological evolution as well as research and instruction on probability theory, mathematical statistics, and biological systematics. Following a career as a college instructor, he founded the Euglena Academy in Eugene in 2001 with the goal of providing his own scientifically rigorous curriculum on the topics of system sciences and climate change. In addition to the personal knowledge base he has constructed over many years, he has also drawn heavily upon the work of others, most notably James Lovelock(1), Spencer Weart(2), and Stephen Wolfram(3). The common thread is an appreciation of the complexity and the interrelatedness of physical and living systems of all scales, from the cosmological to the subatomic.

It is by personal choice that Dr. Fuller teaches independently rather than within the structure of a university setting. While his Euglena Academy may lack the imprimatur of mainstream academia, it has allowed him to pursue his interests and educate others freed from the need to challenge institutional resistance to the relevancy of system science principles. His audience in Eugene is growing, both by word of mouth (as in my case) and through coverage in The Eugene Weekly and other media. Ultimately, Dr. Fuller hopes that his work will lead to the emergence of a culture that can adapt to the large-scale climate change and be prepared to minimize the dangers of its consequences.

It is the magnitude of the global heating problem and the rapidity with which it will impose itself upon our environment that I find overwhelming. Architects may be taking a leadership role on matters of sustainability with such initiatives as the 2030 Challenge, but are we to the point where the goals of programs like this are tantamount to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic? James Lovelock has predicted that the human population will plummet from our current 6 billion to as little as 1 billion by the year 2100. Dr. Fuller prefers to picture a less cataclysmic future for our species but one, nonetheless, wherein the current trajectory of planetary climate change cannot be reversed. The bottom line is that our lives and our civilization will be impacted in unimagined ways. A thin application of “green” paint may make us feel better about ourselves but will not make the problem disappear. The challenge goes far beyond simply achieving carbon neutrality in our buildings. Architects must envision a future world in which our lives have been dramatically and irrevocably transformed by the effects of global warming.

Dr. Fuller is offering his “Beyond the Tipping Point” lecture every Friday evening this June. The lecture is a necessary prerequisite to the Euglena Academy’s two climate change workshops: CC1 explains the systems sciences behind Earth’s climate crisis, while CC2 explores the ramifications of global heating upon our ability to meet basic human needs and the attendant political, social, and economic considerations. Each of the intensive workshops takes place over a single weekend. Check out the Euglena Academy’s web site at for more information about schedule and session costs.

(1) James Lovelock is a British scientist best known for proposing the Gaia hypothesis, in which he postulates that the Earth functions as a kind of super organism. His latest book is The Revenge of Gaia.

(2) Spencer R. Weart is the director of the Center for History of Physics of the American Insitute of Physics
. His most recent book is The Discovery of Global Warming.

(3) Stephen Wolfram is a physicist and mathematician
known for his work in theoretical particle physics, cellular automata, and complexity theory. He is the author of the book A New Kind of Science.

1 comment:

Scott Stolarczyk said...

While efforts such as the 2030 Challenge may seem like a minor goal in the larger context of global climate change, I don't think for a second we should consider it wasted effort. Learning the way to reduce the environmental impact of our work should be at the forefront of our planning and design. It may be the single most important contribution we can make as individuals, since we have the opportunity to not only change our personal environmental footprint but also impact that of many others.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there are already people thinking through what it might mean to adapt our designs to a drastically different future. A somewhat mainstream example is this is the current buzz around the idea of "passive survivability", or a building's ability to maintain critical life-support conditions if services such as power, heating fuel or water are lost. This thinking will hopefully lead us in directions of better understanding how to design for a future that is much differnt than we are accustomed to.