Penny Thoughts

Tag: cities

Sustainability: Fashion or Function?

As I’m currently doing a project on the maintenance of biodiversity in urban areas, words like “sustainability”, “ecosystems”, “biodiversity” are popping up all over the place. These terms are generally all wonderfully defined, fully equipped with a visual aid and chart of the writer’s choice.

After reading my first few reports and papers I started to realise that people are throwing these words around like their going out of fashion. It seems that saying that you’re being “sustainable” is the new cool. People like these words; it makes them sound future-thinking, caring and wordly. Really I think it’s a whole load of crap.

In most cases these words are being thrown out with really very little understanding of what is going on. It seems that the sustainability club is the new jock club of political life. Politicians absolutely love it. As much as I like Boris Johnson it seems that he can hardly go 2 minutes without mentioning being  “sustainable”, and “green”.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is brilliant that politicians and policy makers are being more considerate of the environment; it sets a good example for our future. But really they’re just trying to stick a tiny tiara of “sustainability” on the massive turd that is our past. Maybe they think that if they say sustainability enough times the huge damage we humans have done to our environment will vanish in a poof of smoke.

I came across a google program called Ngram Viewer where you can type in a word and see how much it has been used in literature over time. If you want to have a play follow this link. I typed in these new environmental buzzwords and found something rather funny. There has been no mention of these words anywhere up until about the 1960s and 1980s.

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These words are getting people ever so excited; everyone wants a piece of them. They are  like the shiny, new iphones of the word world.. people can’t wait to show off just how sustainable they are being and how much they truly care for these ecosystems they know very little about.

Hopefully there will be some substance behind the politician’s new favourite words. But it still seems to me that the people who are actually making the difference are the conservation charities and organisations. Governments and councils are still realistically more interested in developing their growing economies than helping out the natural world that we have been shitting on for the last few hundred years.

Herbert Girardet: Regenerative Cities

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For my final year project I’m investigating what measures are and can be employed in cities to maintain biodiversity. I was recently allocated this and luck would have it, that two days later I get an email saying that Herbert Girardet was coming to Imperial to talk about regenerative cities.

Girardet has worked in urban development for many years and is the co-founder of the World Future Council. He has released numerous books including “Creating Sustainable Cities” and  “Cities People Planet“. He has also directed more than 50 documentaries, working all over the world. All of this and his receipt of the UN Global 500 Award for outstanding achievements in environmental science suggest just how much influence this man has had in the field of sustainable cities over the years.

So as you can imagine, I was pretty excited about going to this talk and therefore, managed to arrive far too early and ended up sat alone in the lecture theater for about 15 minutes before anyone else trickled in.

Girardet was a great speaker and he oozed with the confidence that comes with many hugely successful years in his field. He started by outlining how our cities have developed across the world and how, even though applicable at the time, this type of development cannot continue forever. Delving into the threats that face us now and are inevitably set to worsen in the future, he emphasised the importance of changing the ways our cities function and develop.

Using numerous cities, including Adelaide, Australia, as examples he has been heavily involved in, he showed how cities could be, shifting from a linear system on resources in and waste out, to a more circular system with the regeneration and reuse of resources. I won’t dive into all of these methods Girardet explained but you can find a little more information on this website.

Girardet’s main message has now switched from his previous idea of sustainable cities to regenerative cities, saying that now, simply being sustainable is not enough. We need to start giving back and enabling regeneration of our environment, not just sustaining present levels.

After the talk there was a short Q&A session, but unfortunately there was no time for my question. However, he was hanging around afterwards so I managed to grab him then. He was huddled within a group of students which I managed to barge my way into. I asked him whether he thought that these actions and the move to becoming more proactive than reactive was realistically going to happen before we reach the ever looming point where our effects on our planet are completely irreversible. Unfortunately, like myself, he did not. It’s a rather pessimistic end but people like Girardet have spent the majority of their lives trying to take actions to reduce our effects on the world, however there is only so much scientists can do.

We need big cultural changes across the globe and actions to be taken now rather than when it is too late. One thing I have learnt recently is that scientists need to concentrate efforts on policy makers, politicians and governments before any serious action can be taken to attempt to resolve our greedy attitudes to the world we live in and the resources it provides.