Sunday, November 9, 2008

Yes We Can!

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."
– Barack Obama

The election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States goes far beyond a simple rebuff of the outgoing Bush administration. While his victory may in large part be attributed to the recent dramatic downturn of the economy, coupled with the country’s fatigue with the costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the result also heralds a profound change in Americans' perception of themselves. Obama is a transcendental figure. Many see in him a personification of the American dream. For the younger generation, he is an ultimate role model, affirming their potential. For immigrants, his election vindicates their belief in the United States as a land of opportunity. Internationally, Obama has signaled a new willingness to converse with the world instead of imposing America’s will upon it. He is inspirational, transformative, and appears to possess the leadership skills and temperament that will be necessary to help the country confront its greatest challenges.

Architects have already led the charge to confront some of these challenges. The profession has been in the forefront when it comes to promoting the concept of sustainability and what is necessary to achieve it. With a sympathetic administration in the White House, our profession must be ready to assume an even greater leadership role in reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions. If you have not already adopted sustainability as a fundamental precept of your work, do so now. Architects cannot wait to act. This is our time. We are the change that we seek. Like Obama(1), we must exhibit the leadership necessary to advance the changes that will be necessary to secure the future for generations to come. We must capitalize on the promise of hope that Obama’s election has delivered.

The leadership of architects will be crucial to the issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Ed Mazria, AIA, and his Architecture 2030 organization point out that buildings are responsible for almost half (48%) of all greenhouse gas emissions annually. According to Mazria, immediate action in the building sector is necessary if we are to avoid truly catastrophic climate change. Global heating caused by greenhouse gas emissions will undoubtedly be looked at in retrospect as the single most important issue of the 21st century. If we do not successfully deal with the manmade causes of climate change, all other issues – the economy, wars, health care, education, ecosystem health – will be even more challenging or nearly moot.

Obama’s proposed emissions reduction strategy will need to be strengthened if it is to be aggressive enough to minimize the effects of global heating. In addition, his new administration will need to develop strategies for adapting to climate change because it will happen regardless of future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (we’re almost certainly past a “tipping point” already).(2) These plans would address water shortages, agricultural challenges, energy conservation, and security. Mitigation alone will not be enough; we must prepare for the changes to come.

Time will tell if the Obama administration’s actions match the soaring rhetoric of the candidate’s election campaign. Time will also reveal whether architects rise to the sustainability challenge and make the most of the leadership mantle the new president will share with the profession.

(1) The new Obama administration will likely pump billions into the economy for energy-efficient and climate-friendly infrastructure, such as solar and wind technologies and mass transit. During the campaign, the Obama team wrote a position paper on urban policy, which included setting goals for the development of more livable and sustainable communities, the reevaluation of transportation funding with an eye toward smart growth, and the use of innovative measures to dramatically improve the energy efficiency of buildings.

(2) Among local voices, Alder Fuller, founder and dean of Euglena Academy, has most clearly articulated the threat of global heating and climate change. Based upon the writings of James Locklock and like-minded system scientists, Fuller examines the probability that we have already passed a critical threshold that is rapidly transforming our climate.

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