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Chris Stewart

Collective Architecture's Chris Stewart discusses his overlapping roles as architect and member of the Scottish Ecological Design Association in promoting green design to a wider audience.

A Guide to Being Unsustainable

December 10th, 2017

We live in a world which over uses the term sustainable to such an extent there are multiple meanings. This is partly because the ultimate definition renders our world as unsustainable, eventually everything finite comes to an end. Should greater emphasis be given to the joy of life while it is still with us or should we stave off the impending horror for as long as possible. This is not a selfish manifesto to encourage personal satisfaction but to show that much of what makes life bearable is not at odds with what makes it sustainable.

There is no dictionary definition of sustainability that does not include time. In 7 billion years our ageing sun will burn the last of it’s hydrogen, bloat up into a red giant and swallow the Earth. Barring catastrophe the Earth could sustain human life for another 2 billion years before the sun boils off the oceans and turns it’s surface to a cinder. In the short term scientists predict that half of New York, Osaka, Rio de Janeiro, Shanghai, Miami and London will be under water within the next 50 years. To quote the UN Environmental chief Erik Solheim “We still find ourselves in a situation where we are not doing nearly enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future."

Catastrophe in the short term is always about us. The Earth could well be better off without humanity and many see our future away from this planet. Not an unrealistic prospect however when we realise that the nearest planet with any hope of sustaining humanity is 50,000 years away, we will still have to hang around for a while. So what should we do while we wait, enjoy ourselves as we are still here, stock up the cellar for a long cold winter or try looking at things differently.

The first point to grasp is that the waiting for the many is likely to be incredibly horrible, famine, plague, war and death will ride rampant through humanity whilst the rest of life will experience something worse. Awareness of the evils of oceanic plastic is frightening however people only sit up when they realise plastic will enter their food stream while sea birds feeding bits of plastic to starving chicks seems an empathetic trick. There is bounty on this planet but how do we turn around a cultural super tanker with an emphasis on the few.

Over the next few weeks working with SEDA magazine and it’s editorial team of Jamie McCallum and Lewis Grant we will explore some of these complex issues as the first step to the preparation of a ‘Guide to Being Unsustainable’. Questions are already being asked about the role of science and religion; is, as Lynn Marguilis wrote in 1995, "Gaia is a Tough Bitch”; can economics be rethought as capitalism dies; how important is love; is our future lab meat, electric cars and should we review Bladerunner 2049.

Our title ‘A Guide to Being Unsustainable’ was at first seen as a straightforward possibly humorous exploration of the view from the other side, through the eyes of those who still believe the earth is flat or that climate change is a conspiracy theory. It has taken only a few sittings with the editorial team to realise that the idea sinks deeper than we imagined, it can still give guidance what not to do but it can also ask everyone to enjoy doing it. We will undertake this in earnest starting in 2018 and are very welcome to recieve contributions or ideas. If anyone wishes to pass something on please do that to myself at c.stewart@collectivearchitecture.co.uk