Shifting the Focus on Climate Change

There is an incredible amount of information, data, articles, media stories, campaigns, petitions, protests and overall “politics” about climate change. When reviewing potential information to present to you on climate change, so much was coloured by an underling tone of Chicken Little’s the “sky is falling” and an ever growing list of what not to do. This is fear-based and stifles the kind of innovation and creativity that will bring about meaningful change.

In this article, I will not be speaking to the data around climate change. You will not see the “hockey stick” graph of carbon dioxide or trends in temperatures. Rather, I would like to draw your attention more to the underlying concept of equilibrium. An equilibrium is essentially a state of balance. It is not static. There is movement up and down, yet the actions are in balance with one another.  This is a fundamental principle of design found throughout many, many disciplines: chemistry, biology, physics, physiology, architecture etc. etc.

Climate change is essentially a challenge of extremes – a movement away from a stable equilibrium to one of greater fluctuation. Where the confusion comes in is that to move away from the extremes, it is important not to focus on the extremes. Focusing on extremes just amplifies those extremes (think positive feedback loops). The focus needs to be on balance.  The focus needs to shift from  designing linearly (product to waste) to creating closed loop designs (product to pieces to new product). The more we move away from focusing on the extremes and linear thinking, the more we are able to innovate and create in ways that are aligned with nature. Unfortunately, this concept is less discussed as it is not as “eye-catching” – but I digress.

As a point of illustration, let me use the example of carbon dioxide. First, it is important to note that carbon dioxide is not inherently “bad”. In fact, it is essential for all of the surrounding vegetation. Just as we breathe out carbon dioxide, so too do plants breathe in carbon dioxide. This is a beautiful design. Climate change is not an impossible problem. Our natural surroundings are incredibly resilient and inherently gravitate towards equilibrium. Our role is to act and create in ways that embody this equilibrium rather than move towards extremes.

Here is another example of a design that supports a natural equillibrium, from Chris Turner’s book Geography of Hope

“In Kalundborg, Denmark, carbon dioxide emissions and waste reduction is the order of the day, as several industrial facilities have become symbiotically dependent on the Asnæs Power Station and on one another for their operations. The excess steam from the 1,500-megawatt coal-burning generating plant is dispatched to neighbouring Statoil’s oil refinery, providing 15 per cent of the refinery’s “process steam” for heating its pipelines and oil tanks. The steam also supplies the district heating systems of the Novo Norkisk pharmaceutical plant, the Novozymes enzyme production facility and 4,500 households” (Janusz, 2010)

Reflections

In your discipline, research ways that people are creating designs that are aligned with nature and fostering greater equilibrium, balance and harmony with nature. You may want to have a conversation with one of your Professors, research online, or better yet – think of how you would create in a way that is aligned with nature and fosters balance rather than extremes.

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