Disaster or Design- That is the Sustainable Question
A random email slid across my screen, now a month ago, an email from the Global Footprint Calculator, an email whose message has clung to me, redefined for me the aspect of this pandemic crisis that is not often discussed. It read: “Sustainability will be attained whether by disaster or design.” Today no one celebrates the clearing of polluted skies in China. No one celebrates the sparkling blue waters of Venice. Doing so would miss the point, would shirk the pain felt by millions of individuals suffering from COVID-19, would brush past the pain of my Uncle in the ICU, my Aunt, other Uncle and cousins all suffering during this time. Would brush past my family in Spain, in quarantine, confined to their homes for over a month.
Yet the Earth’s response to decreased human activity cannot be entirely overlooked. The ability of human society to respond in unity and with urgency must not be entirely overlooked. It is what movements are made of ultimately—the ability of people to move swiftly together and to affect other people, to affect the earth for the better.
Sustainability has flashed for the briefest moment in modern history. But at what cost? This moment in history proves that human lives are not the cost that anyone wishes to pay to protect the planet. But this moment proves undeniably that this will be the very cost of climate change. As harsh as it may seem human life will be the expendable piece of the world. This pandemic may be a moment for some to reflect on our own vulnerability. It shows that individually we are not prepared for a disaster, politically we are not prepared for a disaster, socially we are not prepared for a disaster.
Many consider the spread of disease well within the scope of environmental catastrophe. With warming temperatures and the increased urbanization of our ever-growing population, microclimates become more favorable for the spread of infection. We become more favorable hosts for the spread of disease. Coronavirus brings to head the reality of the circumstances—climate change is upon us, and it proliferates in all forms of life. At the cost of our form of life.
Thus, we must do all we can to re-envision our future today—dream of a better future than the one we are living now. And we cannot do it alone; togetherness is our hope, all forms of knowledge are our hope. In this effort to come together, I interviewed my Green LLC coordinator from this past semester: Josh Morrison, to begin to dream of this future—together.
Kiera: Shifting toward circumstances surrounding COVID—with respect to the quote we were discussing, “sustainability will be attained by disaster or design.” I was wondering what the role of intentionality is in environmentalism? Is it important or why it is important?
Josh: I think it’s all important. I believe people want to live in accordance with their highest values and that at their core everyone wants to do well and take care of other people and the planet. If there was a path that they could take, or people they could relate to, that they could follow, they would. It would be infectious in the way that culture is. I think that what’s achieved by disaster is in a way the failure of mankind.
We’ve seen through COVID how quickly humankind can change its course. People can change their behavior in the course of a week or even a day on a massive scale. And I think that same ability that exists in people could also be spurred by culture and wanting to follow something positive. We have this capacity to affect one another. Where there is strong leadership, and when environmental activism is coming from a place of, not a place of anger, but a place leaning toward something brighter it is possible. But it requires a lot of leadership and it requires maybe thinking differently and acting differently. It requires having a vision.
Kiera: Sometimes even compassionate anger, anger from a place in which you want to help, but you feel hurt, that not the best way. Positive movement is the best way. Anger sometimes is a clouding emotion.
Josh: It’s an appropriate feeling, it exists especially for the situation that we are in, but it’s also not the best way. If you think about people wanting to join something or change their behavior, then they need to be drawn to something more attractive than what they are currently doing. People are so affected by people.
Kiera: That leads right into my next question: what will you take from this time; what will you use in the future in terms of green living?
Josh: I actually think that my life is changing as a result of this. One way that is happening is that I am connected to my friends from other parts of the world, especially in the U.S. that I haven’t before. I think I have always felt a sort of guilt at being so far away, and a need to travel once a year and visit everyone. I think I always assumed that keeping connected digitally was not worth it because it is just so much better to be in person. But since everyone is having to do that now, we are connecting in a way that we haven’t been able to in a long time and it is really special. I think I will definitely bring with me. There are so many ways to connect that don’t require regular travel.
The other big thing is that I have been forced to work from home more and that I started to really embrace that. We are hitting planting season now and we have planted tons of starts and getting the garden ready. The greenhouse is almost done, and I have been embracing being at the farm in a way that I don’t know I ever would have. Just by being forced to and realizing that my lifestyle can actually be different than spending time in the city every day. So that’s exciting.
Kiera: What influenced your decision to transition from urban living to this farm? What was the most drastic change?
Josh: Yeah, I think a big inspiration was feeling that so much of my lifestyle often felt—like it really relates to a lot of the conversations we have had in the Green LLC of really being frustrated about how problematic so many of the systems that we interact with are. I wanted to have a closer relationship at least to a food system, and at least to land. And especially becoming a father, thinking about how my lifestyle can match my ideals on a daily basis and wanting to experiment with that. It’s something I’ve been thinking about as countryside’s are flooding into cities globally. My work professionally is urban planning, but the flip side of that is cities can’t exist without the countryside. There needs to be a new way of thinking about what the countryside is and looks like and what villages look like. We are figuring everything out and it is hard, there is challenges with it. Just having a part of my day every day connected to basic acts of sustenance and food and what keeps us alive is really nourishing for my soul.
Kiera: I was also thinking about all that I learned in Copenhagen about urban farming, on all scales from balcony gardens to courtyard gardening, how do you think about that? Especially in light of all of your work, in urban planning.
Josh: I think it’s such an exciting space to be exploring and there is so much potential there. Copenhagen has been very much focused on storm water management and so getting more permeable spaces in the city and so there was a huge storm in the city in 2012. Instead of building a bigger sewer system that they would convert more pavement into park space—they have programs to help do that, to help create more green space in the city. And green space can mean so many things.
All of the world of landscape architecture is moving towards spaces that feel more like nature. It speaks to something really deep within us that feels very right and really resonates, more than free stand-alone trees. What it could look like to have green spaces that are really biodiverse that are creating their own microclimates and have a mix of many different types of species that can grow all sorts of things. I think it’s a very exciting movement.
Interfacing with urban design we talked a lot about courtyards and high-density low rise. Cities can provide something very different in their own microclimate. I think cities could be really beautiful spaces and can have a very intimate relationship with food. A city doesn’t end with its border and its part of the transfer station that connects it outward. Creating strong transportation relationships between smaller villages in the countryside and the cities is all part of the same equation. But I think there’s a really bright future in how we settle and how we organize ourselves.
Kiera: I think it’s crucial to have these ideas rest side by side, rather than fully replacing this concept of villages and rural communities with urban farming. It is about connection.
Josh: It needs to be holistic and it needs be a lot of different disciplines that are interfacing and thinking through what that looks like.
That concludes the interview with Josh Morrison. It is time to start envisioning our future and all that we want it to be.