RIVER WALKS, MUTUAL AID AND OPEN FUTURES
The debate on the ecological transition erupts in Euskadi and Catalonia
France, the first country in the world to make food waste illegal
On the basis of this law, the community has been made aware of a problem that most countries in the world are facing, namely the enormous amount of food that is thrown away because it is not sold in supermarkets, which presents a double problem : It is one of the main sources of pollutionof the planet and question the ethics of an opulent society that produces more food than it needs while condemning those who cannot pay for it to starvation.
Western architecture is making india’s heatwaves worse
onMay. 23, 2022 in https://vikalpsangam.org
Benny Kuriakose remembers when his father built the first house in his village in the southern Indian state of Kerala with a concrete roof. It was 1968, and the family was proud to use the material, he says, which was becoming a “status symbol” among villagers: the new home resembled the modern buildings cropping up in Indian cities, which in turn resembled those in images of Western cities.
But inside, the house was sweltering. The solid concrete absorbed heat throughout the day and radiated it inside at night. Meanwhile, neighboring thatch-roofed houses stayed cool: the air trapped between gaps in the thatch was a poor conductor of heat.
The Kuriakoses’ experience was an early taste of a phenomenon that, over the next few decades, spread across most of India’s big cities. As a more standardized international approach to building design emerged, many Indian architects abandoned the vernacular traditions that had been developed over thousands of years to cope with the weather extremes of different regions. The earthen walls and shady verandas of the humid south, and the thick insulating walls and intricate window shades of the hot dry northwest, were swapped for a boxy modern style. Today, buildings in downtown Bangalore often look like those in Ahmedabad, in the north, or Chennai, in the east—or those in Cincinnati, Ohio, or Manchester, England.
“In most cities, people have blindly followed the Western model,” says Kuriakose, an architect now based in Chennai. “There was no attempt to look at the local climate. There was no attempt to look at the materials which are available.”
In the climate change era, that uniformity is looking like a mistake. Large parts of India have been stifled by a spring heatwave since April, with temperatures lingering close to 110°F for weeks in some places, and topping 120°F in Delhi this week, making it dangerous to go to work or school—all weeks before the official start of summer. Spiking energy demand for cooling has helped trigger daily blackouts in cities, and what AC units are running are belching hot air into streets, worsening the urban heat island effect. As such heatwaves become increasingly common and long-lasting, experts say India’s modern building stock will make it harder for Indians to adapt.
Environmentalists are calling for a fundamental rethink of how India builds its cities. There are some positive signs. A growing number of sustainability-minded architects are reviving vernacular approaches. And in February the Indian government pledged to revise urban planning guidelines and investments to train planners to better design cities. Progress is slow, though, says Aromar Revi, director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), a research-focused university. “We need to essentially affect the entire fabric of our cities, from planning to land use, to building, to transportation systems,” he says. “We are only at the start of that conversation.”
How traditional architecture lost ground in Indian cities
The architecture of Indian cities began to change rapidly in the 1990s, when the country transitioned to a market-based economy. As construction boomed, Western or globalized styles became the norm. The shift was partly aesthetic; developers favored the glassy skyscrapers and straight lines deemed prestigious in the U.S. or Europe, and young architects brought home ideas they learned while studying abroad. Economic considerations also played a role. As land became more expensive in cities, there was pressure to expand floorspace by eliminating thick walls and courtyards. And it was faster and easier to throw up tall structures using steel and concrete, rather than use traditional earth blocks which are suited to lower-rise structures.
The consequence of that cookie-cutter approach was to make buildings less resilient to India’s high temperatures. The impact of that once seemed minimal. It could easily be offset by electric fans and air conditioning, and the energy costs of cooling were not developers’ problems once they sold their buildings. “Where a home [built in the vernacular style] needs around 20 to 40 kilowatt hours per meter squared of energy for cooling, today some commercial places need 15 times that,” says Yatin Pandya, an architect based in Ahmedabad. When AC units are turned on to help people sleep at night, they release heat into the streets, which can increase the local temperature by around 2°F according to U.S.-based studies. During the day, depending on their orientation, glassy facades can reflect sunlight onto footpaths. “You’re creating [problems] in every direction.”
The shift away from climate-specific architecture hasn’t only affected offices and luxury flats, whose owners can afford to cool them. To maximize urban space and budgets, a massive government housing program launched in 2015 has relied largely on concrete frames and flat roofs, which absorb more heat throughout the day than sloped roofs. “We’re building hot houses. In certain parts of the year, they will require cooling to be habitable,” says Chandra Bhushan, a Delhi-based environmental policy expert. He estimates that roughly 90% of the buildings under construction today are in a modern style that pays little attention to a region’s climate—locking in increased heat risk for decades to come.
Even small artisanal construction crews, which are responsible for the majority of homes in India, have leaned into more modern, standardized styles, says Revi, the IIHS director. These teams rarely have a trained architect or designer. “So they build what they see,” he says. “They might build traditional elements into their village houses, but when they come to the city, they’re driven by the imperatives of the city, the imaginaries of the city. And there the international style is the aspiration.”
Similar shifts have happened in developing countries all over the world, with cities from the Middle East to Latin America taking on the “copy and paste texture of globalized architecture,” says Sandra Piesik, a Netherlands-based architect and author of Habitat: Vernacular Architecture for a Changing Planet. As the global construction industry embraced concrete and steel, local materials, designs, and technologies became displaced—with lasting consequences. “Some of these traditional methods didn’t undergo the technological revolution that they needed,” to make them more durable and easier to use on a massive urban scale, Piesek says. “We focused instead on [perfecting] the use of concrete and steel.”
A climate comeback for vernacular architecture
A movement to revive more regionally-specific styles of architecture—and combine them with modern technologies—is well underway in India. Over the last decade, thousands of architects, particularly in the experimental township Auroville on the east coast of Tamil Nadu state, have promoted the use of earth walls and roofs; earth absorbs heat and humidity, and it can now be used to build larger and more complex structures thanks to the development of more stable compressed blocks. In the dry hot northern city of Ahmedabad, which has suffered some of the country’s deadliest heatwaves in recent decades, Pandya’s firm Footprints E.A.R.T.H., uses careful orientation and overhanging roofs and walls to shade its buildings from heat, and central courtyards for ventilation.
“We are course-correcting now,” says Bangalore-based architect Chitra Vishwanath, who built her own home and hundreds of other buildings using earth. Larger universities are teaching students to build in a climate-specific way, she says, while nonprofits and artisanal construction firms are running workshops teaching this approach to architects and small-scale builders. “Younger architects who are graduating today are extremely sensitive to climate,” Vishwanath adds. “I would say in another 5, 10 years westernized style buildings won’t be built so much.”
Wider adoption of climate-sensitive architecture would greatly reduce the energy needed to cool buildings, Vishwanath says. That could be crucial for India in the coming years. While only around 8% of Indians had air conditioning in their homes in 2018, as more people enter the middle class and can afford to buy their first unit, that figure is expected to climb to 40% by 2038, according to the government’s 2019 National Cooling Plan. Health experts say AC can no longer be considered a “luxury” in India’s increasingly brutal climate, and that expanding use for low-income households is essential to both saving lives and supporting India’s economic development. But it will come at a high cost in terms of India’s greenhouse gas emissions—unless cleaner cooling technologies can be developed and rolled out rapidly.
Increasing the use of traditional materials in India’s sprawling construction sector would also make a dent in the country’s emissions. Vernacular architecture tends to use more natural, locally-sourced substances like earth or timber, rather than concrete and steel, which are created through carbon-intensive industrial processes and transported from thousands of miles away. A 2020 paper published by Indian researchers in the International Journal of Architecture found that the production of vernacular materials required between 0.11 MJ and 18 MJ of energy per kilo, compared to 2.6 MJ to 360 MJ per kilo for modern materials.
It wouldn’t be feasible to replace all the modern materials used in India’s buildings with vernacular counterparts. Though technological advances are making it possible to build larger, multi-storey buildings with earth, it wouldn’t work in a skyscraper. And some traditional features, like sloping roofs and detailed window shades are too expensive for many people to consider when building their homes. Perhaps most importantly: in cities, the high cost of land makes it extremely difficult to find space for verandas and courtyards.
Given those challenges, Kuriakose says the future of Indian architecture won’t be simply reverting to how things were fifty years ago, before his grandfather installed their concrete roof. The way forward is to channel the locally-rooted problem solving strategies of traditional architects. His firm, for example, has found ways to build traditional sloped roofs, which allow water runoff during
monsoon seasons and prevent heat absorption, while incorporating concrete in some elements to make them cheaper. “We are trying to use the knowledge system which has been passed on from generation to generation over the centuries,” he says. “Not to blindly follow how villagers used to do things.”
Pandya, the Ahmedabad architect, puts it another way. “Sustainability is not a formula—what works in Europe might not work here,” he says. “Like a doctor, you have to understand the patient, the symptoms, the conditions—before you arrive at the cure.“
First published by Time on 16 May 2022
Why our world is still the same, but our ability to change it, another
A young take on the current situation
How many times have I read this sentence in the last few days. In him lies the bottomless shock, the fear of what is to come, the uncertainty about our lives that we all feel so safe.
But was the world really different on February 23, 2022?
Above all, what has changed is the Western-European insight into what constitutes reality in the 21st century. I’ve read articles mourning the end of faith in a peaceful world order and future, the last glimmer of hope in a world that can learn from history – and I got angry.
I’m 22 years old, and my youth wasn’t characterized by the carelessness and naivety that we young adults who are far removed from the war are so often accused of. I grew up knowing that my generation was born into a system that not only destroys its own livelihoods, but in doing so must fuel social division, discrimination and exploitation in order to survive; that puts economic short-sightedness ahead of political values and creative power, while accepting wars all over the world. My youthful worldview did not assume that Western democracy had triumphed and that war would only come up in my history studies, but was marked by the lack of understanding and fear of our society turning a blind eye,
I’m 22 years old and it doesn’t feel to me like the world changed into a different one on February 24th, 2022. Rather, the privileged part of our world has finally understood that our mantra of “if-I-just-pretend-it-is-none-of-my-interest-nothing-happens-to me” does unite our personal realities makes us safer for a while, but in the long run it doesn’t save us from confronting the problems of our time. The reality denial of our way of life and political attitudes was invaded by 21st century reality on February 24th, 2022, and it caused more fear than all the scientific warnings of the last decades combined. Only through a war in the middle of Europe do we manage to think about fossil dependencies and new scope for action, and that’s pathetic – how many lives could we have saved, not just in Ukraine, but across the globe, if we had played our real role in this world sooner? In the most shocking form we are currently being shown that a policy of pure reaction has a price that we would never consciously choose with our democratic, humanistic self-understanding, but which is nevertheless an active decision if one is aware of the consequences of his actions.
Reality has overtaken us and if we don’t combine all our efforts now, we will never catch up. The generation of FridaysForFutureunderstood this more than the adults who make our political decisions and write the op-eds for our newspapers. The disasters we never intended to face hit us with the first blows, and we have a historic chance to harness that power. Just as in Ukraine right now people are fighting and dying for the freedom of our democracies, in a stubborn resistance that Putin has evidently disastrously underestimated, so in our safe, privileged lives we can join in this standing up for our real values and make real decisions for the world we all want to live in, meet and implement.
We may have woken up in the same world on February 24, 2022, but we can use our changed, still stunned perspective to help shape it – now finally consciously and deliberately.
While people in Ukraine are losing their homes or their lives for power-political, imperial and egocentric reasons, the new IPCC appears– Report on the climate crisis. He not only repeats the warnings that older generations have known for decades, but also shows that the consequences of the climate crisis will be much more drastic than previously thought. The lives of millions of people are threatened not only by ecological catastrophes, but also by conflicts and wars over scarce resources. But the most important thing about this report, in my view, is the repeated demonstration of very real, possible solutions. If we don’t want to wake up to a shockingly different world over and over again, we as a society can now make the utopia of my parents’ generation a reality: learn from our past in order to shape a peaceful and just future. We can, like Ukrainians, translate the energy of this shock into courage in our own lives and finally use our knowledge and make decisions before it’s too late – even if it means changing our own lives to save others. In terms of Eastern Europe we didn’t make it, but there’s a whole world around us where we can finally stand by our dreams and values. We can sink into impotent bewilderment about our society or whitewash the forecasts and situations – which will only lead to more and more mornings being overwhelmed by news that makes us doubt the future of mankind; or we face our fear and sadness and finally decide for the courage,
When we think of the people in Ukraine in grief and sympathy and think with fear of further developments, also in our own lives; when we find courage and comfort in fellowship with others at peace rallies or in helping those affected on the ground; then let us also use this stunned pause in our world to address the fundamental questions of how we can avoid humanitarian and political catastrophes in the future; after donating and protesting, let’s take that power home and into politics and begin long-term change.
Perhaps the new, more peaceful future will emerge just when belief in it seems to have been lost.
Climate Emergency: Feedback Loops
The Earth is warming the Earth. In this series of five short films, learn why natural warming loops have scientists alarmed—and why we have less time than we think. SUBTITLED IN 20 LANGUAGES.
Fossil fuel emissions from human activity are driving up Earth’s temperature—yet something else is at work. The warming has set in motion nature’s own feedback loops which are raising temperatures even higher. The urgent question is: Are we approaching a point of no return, leading to an uninhabitable Earth, or do we have the vision and will to slow, halt, and reverse them?
The world’s forests are responsible for removing a quarter of all human carbon emissions from the atmosphere and are essential for cooling the planet. But that fraction is shrinking as the three major forests of the world—tropical, boreal, and temperate—succumb to the effects of climate feedback loops. The resulting tree dieback threatens to tip forests from net carbon absorbers to net carbon emitters, heating rather than cooling the planet.
Permafrost, an icy expanse of frozen ground covering one-quarter of the Northern Hemisphere, is thawing. As it does, microscopic animals are waking up and feeding on the previously frozen carbon stored in plant and animal remains, releasing heat-trapping gases as a byproduct. These gases warm the atmosphere further, melting more permafrost in a dangerous feedback loop. With permafrost containing twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, its thaw could release 150 billion tons of carbon by the end of the century.
Global warming is altering Earth’s weather patterns dramatically. A warmer atmosphere absorbs more water vapor, which in turn traps more heat and warms the planet further in an accelerating feedback loop. Climate change is also disrupting the jet stream, triggering a feedback loop that brings warm air northward, and causes weather patterns to stall in place for longer.
The reflectivity of snow and ice at the poles, known as the albedo effect, is one of Earth’s most important cooling mechanisms. But global warming has reduced this reflectivity drastically, setting off a dangerous warming loop: as more Arctic ice and snow melt, the albedo effect decreases, warming the Arctic further, and melting more ice and snow. The volume of Arctic ice has already shrunk 75% In the past 40 years, and scientists predict that the Arctic Ocean will be completely ice-free during the summer months by the end of the century.
Holistic science for living well (Joerg Elbers)
[Holistic science for living well: an introduction]
We can’t solve problems
by using the same kind of thinking
we used when we created them.
This book invites you to explore holistic science as a new way of understanding ourselves, as human beings, within the complexity of life on Earth and to participate in its flourishing. It explores new proposals within the social and scientific circles of our world today. Its principle intention is to, no more no less, change our way of thinking and to appreciate life, to amend those critical errors which have arisen because of our limited view of what life is.
The motivation to commence a study on holistic science is the situation of the Earth facing severe environmental, social and economic crises we have been confronted with at the beginning of the XXI century. We are in a rapid race to destroy the basis of our very survival on Earth, and beyond that, to destroy the foundation of life in general. So we could ask: Do we want to continue on the same path and enter the history of the Earth as the generation that destroyed its children´s future and of life in general?
The world today―dominated by the Western world view―is flawed by unsustainability. In view of the prospects for the coming decades we should understand the following: make a change is no longer a choice but a necessity. In order to provide a solution to the challenges we must change our thinking. This book is an introduction to a new way of looking at life and how to participate in it in
a sustainable way.
What alternatives do we have? Fortunately, the view the Western reader has about the world is not
the only one. There are other ways to see, to comprehend, to do science and to participate in life
on Earth. Ways that suggest a change in the mentality of humanity and, as will be illustrated, are
far more appropriate for the preservation of all beings on Earth. In addition to providing the reader
with some basic concepts about holistic science, the book also intends to arouse curiosity about this transdisciplinary world view―and the necessity to rethink our way of living on the planet and to find a first gateway to the magical world implicit to it.
The anthropological and cultural roots of Latin American countries are far closer to comprehending the new holistic view of life and the world. Therefore, the book highlights some similarities of the new scientific conception, which currently provides a hopeful space in the world of science and intellectuality, with the world view of many of the indigenous civilisations of the planet.
The book introduces holistic science and systems thinking, and outlines the basic principles of any action or process in order for it to be ecologically sustainable. It provides some practical tools that enable the reader to examine these issues seriously and also to apply holism and systems thinking in daily life.
The study structure
The first chapter The scientific revolution and the reductionist paradigm describes the birth of modern science and world view. The second chapter Holistic science explores some principles of quantum physics and systems thinking; the chapter closes with a comparison of reductionist and holistic science. The third chapter Holistic paradigms and education introduces the indigenous world view, the holistic paradigm and holistic education. The chapter ends with a look at the relationship between the concept of living well (buen vivir) and the holistic paradigm. The last chapter Proposals for action presents some suggestions for the dissemination of holistic concepts.
Download the complete book here
Urban sustainability in theory and practice
The Circles of Sustainability fi gure used throughout this book provides a relatively simple view of the sustainability of a particular city, urban settlement, or region. The circular fi gure is divided into four domains: ecology, economics, politics and culture. Each of these domains is divided in seven subdomains, with the names of each of these subdomains read from top to bottom in the lists under each domain name. Assessment is conducted on a nine-point scale. The scale ranges from ‘critical sustainability’, the fi rst step, to ‘vibrant sustainability’, the ninth step. When the fi gure is presented in colour it is based on a traffi c-light range with critical sustainability marked in red and vibrant sustainability marked in green. The centre step, basic sustainability, is coloured amber – with other steps ranging in between amber and red or amber and green. The grey-scale used here is intended to simulate the colour range.