InsightsDecember 11, 2021

Code Red!

Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, CSU President

In 2002, a year after the tragic attack on 9.11 and the destruction of the Twin Towers in Lower Manhattan, I convened a group of architects, engineers, landscape architects, urban planners, and urban designers under the banner of the DPTF, the Disaster Preparedness Task Force. Nine years later, with additional man-made and natural disasters racking up a dramatic and accelerating record of additional disasters, the AIA New York Chapter founded, with myself as co-founder and co-Chair, the Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee, the DfRR. Now, ten years later, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued its 2021 report, and Antonio Gutierrez, the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations, has declared our global environmental predicament to be code red. We have seen this coming for at least a generation. Al Gore’s 2006 much-screened movieAn Inconvenient Truth, serves as a milestone informing us of the impending outcomes of no action, and that was already 15 years ago.

As His Excellency Talal Abu-Ghazaleh, Chair of CSU’s Advisory Board, noted on September 22, 2021: 

The latest report of the United Nations Panel on Climate Change makes a very clear case, as never before, that Climate Change is upon us. The time for action is NOW.  The world can no longer afford to do too little too late. This is an existential challenge that cannot be met without integrating real sustainability into all aspects of urban growth and development worldwide. Policy-makers at the global, national and local levels must join hands with urban planners, designers and architects to meet the challenge of turning the nexus between these two fundamental phenomena into a positive force for arresting and, eventually, reversing climate change.

Today, twenty years after 9.11, achieving sustainable urbanization is a different matter than it was in 2001. There had not been Katrina, Sandy, Irma, and Ida, in the USA, and so many more hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, heat waves, and volcanic eruptions around the world. The statistics are staggering. The 2003 heat wave in Europe broke temperature records, with the hottest summer on record in Europe since 1540. The heat, concentrated in France, England, and Spain, caused nearly 15,000 deaths. In Portugal, the temperatures reached as high as 117 °F (47 °C). The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunamione of the deadliest natural disasters ever recordedkilled over 225,000 people. And now, in 2021, central Germany flooded unexpectedly as never before, as did Ljubljana in Slovenia. So many who thought they were held harmless from the effects of climate change have had to re-think their worldview. Climate migration is becoming more and more of a reality. Mitigation isfor manyno longer the sole optionThe time for serious and considered adaptation has arrived.

It is now an “all hands on deck” time. As Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, the Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) has declared, this is a decade not of policy but action. For me, as I wrote in 2015, it is time to both mitigate and adapt. We need a regenerative platform with resilient restoration, carbon sequestration, passive house technology, cool roofs, reuse of existing structures, non-polluting renewable energy (wind, solar, nuclear), fossil fuel elimination, billions more trees, an end to deforestation, and new circular economies for an increasingly secure, resilient, and equitable future. Environmentalist Paul Hawken, author of Regeneration and creator of the New York Times bestseller Drawdown, discusses how we can end the climate crisis in one generation with the number one solution for the world: electrifying everything.

What must we do? Obviously, we must alter our behavior. We must respect nature. We must break our addictions to pollutants. We must stop using fossil fuels for everything. We must sequester and reuse carbon dioxide. We must increase our use of renewable energy, including solar, wind, tidal, hydroelectric, and other energy sources, and we must reevaluate and accept the use of nuclear energy (fission, fusion, et al) as a means of closing the energy gap. And we must do this with equity, diversity, and inclusion without delay.

In closing, over the past three years, I have had the privilege of serving as President of CSU. During this time, I have worked with our team, our Board, our Advisory Board, our Correspondents, Interns, and our wonderful Volunteers to further the mission of the Consortium, a mission broadly related to the challenges and opportunities discussed above. We have increased our programming with the ongoing Green Cities initiative and many cameo events, continued our major annual Flagship conferences in partnership with the United Nations, and published five books based on the proceedings. As an ECOSOC-accredited organization, we have been invited as members of the United Nations Habitat Professional Forum and have participated in UN World Urban Campaign Urban Thinkers Campuses. We have attended and organized multiple programs at the World Urban Forum 10 and 11 in Kuala Lumpur and Abu Dhabi, participated in the 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference, worked with the Civil Society Working Group and the NGO Urban Cluster, and significantly, we have inaugurated our annual CSU Gala honoring numerous extraordinary individuals working in pursuit of a more sustainable world and supporting our ongoing activities. We have made great strides. We have expanded our membership. We initiated the CSU newsletter! The success of our annual Gala has allowed us to engage an Executive Administrator, which will allow us to further our mission. I look forward to another year in pursuit of a more resilient, sustainable, regenerative, and equitable world.

I invite you to visit our website, review our programs, and attend our events. We will continue to focus on bringing the best practices of the broad world of design, architecture, urban planning, urban design, environmental design, landscape design, and our allied professions to those who will benefit from the knowledge and information we share. We will continue to support the New Urban Agenda and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially Goal 11. In this regard, I encourage you to peruse the very recent UN Secretary-General’s report titled “Our Common Agenda,” which looks ahead to the next 25 years and represents his vision for the future of global cooperation and reinvigorating inclusive, networked, and effective multilateralism.

Going forward, CSU will be actively participating in the Habitat Professional Forum Urban Thinkers Campus, concluding our Green Cities 2021 series with Singapore and a new roster of cities in 2022,  having our fourth annual Gala  (Save the Date of March 16, 2022) and our holding our 2022 Flagship Climate Change program in partnership with UN-Habitat on 18 May 2022. In June 2022, we will partner with Global Urban Development (GUD) in holding a three-day Urban Thinkers Campus in Dubai and New York, followed by our participation in the 11th World Urban Forum (WUF 11) in Katowice, Poland. 

And last, I share with young Greta Thunberg her belief below, stated at this year’s pre-COP26 Youth Summit:  

Climate change is not only a threat, it is, above all, an opportunity to create a healthier, greener, and cleaner planet which will benefit all of us. We must seize this opportunity.

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