Fixing the future

Fixing our thinking: placing life in the centre of the equation


Under the promising title ‘Fixing the future’, the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB) hosted on Tuesday 13th of march an interesting set of conferences about different strategies and methods on how to face global challenges and improve the current environmental issues. The event was organized by the Catalan newspaper ‘Diari ARA’ and the Atlas of the Future, a website that highlights innovative projects that are real with a positive impact.

This big event included speeches and debates of 10 groundbreakers working in different areas: Mark Stevenson, writer and entrepreneur; Kate Raworth, economist and author; Jessi Baker, entrepreneur in software technologies such as the Blockchain; Gaia Vince, environmental journalist and broadcaster; Marco Antonio Attisani, entrepreneur in self-efficient buildings; Agamemnon Otero, entrepreneur in renewable energies; Areti Markopoulou, architect and Academic Director of the Institute for advanced architecture of Catalonia (IAAC); Ed Gillespie, entrepreneur and London Sustainable Development Commissioner; Richard Ballard, co-founder of the Zero Carbon Food Ltd; and Tony Lovell, co-founder of the Sustainable Land Management (SLM) Australia Livestock Fund.

Innovative, efficient and productive elements were recurrent across the different interventions. In that sense, some interesting proposals were exposed by Areti Markopoulou, for example: buildings where vegetables can be grown or facades with flexible structures to improve heat transference through evaporation of water. Markopoulou explained that her architecture style steps away from considering buildings as rigid structures and looks for a maximization of functionality and people’s emotional connection with the environment.

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Markopoulou illustrated how could be flexible facades (Self-source).

Other speeches offering new engines where the ones by Marco Antonio Attisani and Richard Ballard. In a similar direction than Markopoulou, Ballard proposed to grow greens in bomb shelters in order to transform unused structures into productive spaces. This can be done by using high efficient systems such as hydroponics and LED lighting. By his side, Attisan offered a smart city approach, based on buildings and infrastructures that provide energy and regenerating water. In this way, they can take profit of new technologies to be self-efficient in water and energy use.

Some of the exposed solutions followed a technological approach, similar to the developmentalist idea: ‘technology will save us’. Obviously new technology can help fixing many global problems, thanks to clean energy or new recycling processes, among others. However, it should not be the main variable of new equations: technology development is not the final objective, it is only a tool which should be used in order to live in harmony with nature. Otherwise we may repeat the same patrons and mistakes we have committed until now, generating social and environmental imbalances.

The focus of our new thinking to ‘fix the future’ should be in improving coexistence with all other species, and also within our own specie. We should change the dominant anthropocentric and colonialist approach for a biocentric conception of our existence. That means placing life in the centre of the equation. In other words, protecting biodiversity is the only way to preserve the ecological services necessary to live today and to ensure them for the next generations. There is no way to live without oxygen, water cycle, nutrients cycle, soil renovation, carbon cycle, etc. and only complex ecosystems can provide the wide range of services we need.

Taking that in account, the speech offered by the economist Kate Raworth was very relevant. Through her definition of the ‘Doughnut Economics’ we can chase the balance between human wealth and environmental conservation. Raworth proposed a double strategy to achieve it from a new way to design which consisted in distributive design and regenerative design. Concretely, it should be distributive to improve benefit sharing out, therefore all people would be able to satisfy their basic needs and wealth. But also, it should be regenerative to recover and potentiate Earth resources (as well as ecosystems naturally do). Thus, this is highly aligned with the Circular economy and Cradle to cradle theories and also with the ecofeminist approach.

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Raworth summarized the principles of regenerative design (Self-source).

Therefore, we could build an economy system based on social and environmental sustainability. Conversely, the actual economic model is founded in GDP addiction. This is a poor deal because when looking at natural systems it is clear that anything can grow forever. Or anything can do it unless the system finally fails. Raworth gave two examples that showed this phenomenon: any pathogen can multiply indefinitely without killing their host or any organism can grow infinitely without dying. In humans, it exists a growth disorder called ‘Proteus Syndrome’ caused by genetics problems, characterized by overgrowth of the bones, skin, and other tissues. People suffering this severe disease have a short life expectancy, i.e., from 9 months to 29 years (Sene, Sales & Chojniak, 2013). At this point we can ask ourselves a question: What life expectancy do we have left with our “Proteus” economy?

From my point of view, initiatives like underground farming or similar experiences that isolate us from nature have to be taken into account as interesting complements to help us to solve hunger problems or other particular issues. But always needs to be contextualized in the biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services potentiation. In short, strategic global solutions can only come from a holistic approach. We have to always remember that we are part of the biosphere and it is not possible to live without all their complexity and its wade variety of relations. That is why most of our efforts to chase a better future must follow that direction. It means studying biodiversity and ecosystem preservation and planning human territories and economies based on that issue.

In this sense, the speech of Tony Lovell was very interesting. He clearly showed why is essential to valorise the effects on ecosystems of our land uses decisions. Unsuitable actions can break natural relation between species. This can happen, for example, when herbicides tear up the link between root plants and mycorrhiza (a symbiotic ensemble where plants offer organic matter and mycorrhiza provide soil minerals and nutrients). As consequence, we lose productivity, carbon retention, biodiversity and soil health, so in sum ecosystem services. In the same line, he exposed how an extensive and sustainable farming can enable grassland conservation (as well as improve animal life quality).

In another vein, some speeches set the important role of participation to engage all people in decision making and to empower them. No sustainable style of life can be developed without informing people, listening to their preferences and ideas and deciding the best technical way to solve it. Agamemnon Otero and Areti Markopoulou shared relevant experiences in that aspect. Otero is spreading photovoltaic energy across London thanks to community implication. In a similar way in how Markopoulou takes profit of 3D renders to help families designing their housing.

In the same direction, all society types have to be taken in account when talking about Earth challenges, further than industrialized ones. Gaia Vince intervention remembered us this particular issue across different experiences facing the consequences of climate change around the world.

To sum up, it was a liable event to enhance reflection about crucial questions about the planet future. I would highlight that new strategies have to focus in a more positive relation between us and all other species as well as within all human beings. Changes are a constant in live, they can carry some positive and some negative effects. Let’s work through a biocentric approach to achieve the maximum amount of positive consequences for the maximum amount of different beings.

Clara Montaner Augé – 20th March, 2018

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