A new education for climate change

Words:
Scott McAulay

Direct action and a new sort of education are the only way to really tackle the climate emergency – patching up the old ways is nowhere near enough

Example of civil disobedience: Glasgow’s Summer Uprising transformed the historic Trongate, carrying its message in both English and Scots Gaelic on the boat. For the Scottish and UK Governments to “Act Now”, to treat the Climate Emergency like the emergency it is: to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025; and “The Future You Fear Is Already Here”: showing solidarity with climate refugees and those already suffering daily impacts of climate breakdown in the Global South and Indigenous North. July 2019.
Example of civil disobedience: Glasgow’s Summer Uprising transformed the historic Trongate, carrying its message in both English and Scots Gaelic on the boat. For the Scottish and UK Governments to “Act Now”, to treat the Climate Emergency like the emergency it is: to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025; and “The Future You Fear Is Already Here”: showing solidarity with climate refugees and those already suffering daily impacts of climate breakdown in the Global South and Indigenous North. July 2019. Credit: Dougie Graham

The list of what is missing in architectural education would take too long to compile. It is why I founded the Anthropocene Architecture School, which advocates immediate direct action from practitioners, staff and students to force climate emergency compliance from university level through to CPD: we do not have time to wait on the updating of an archaic curriculum. 

An education system that encourages students to focus on aesthetics and buzz-words over resilience is effectively obsolete in the face of climate breakdown, and unravelling global systems – as the Greenland ice sheets start disappearing 70 years earlier than predicted. 

Within this system, demonstrations of an understanding of ‘sustainability’ are not mandatory for staff nor for students, nor is even a basic understanding of the fact that buildings are never built in isolation; that they are placed into existing eco-systems, governed by three global systems: the air, the water and the soil (Commoner, 1976). A restorative overhaul is long overdue.

While watching city after city declare climate emergency with no follow-through nor plan, I realised that what we needed was not a (new) building typology – as primarily demanded in academic design studios. It goes far beyond that. The disconnection that exists between the silos of city infrastructure actively inhibits the necessary holistic response. So, I designed a workshop based on hackathon principles and activist facilitation techniques to address that disconnect.

The Climate Emergency Compliant Cities hackathon was tested in Edinburgh, as part of Extinction Rebellion Scotland’s artistic residency at Summerhall during the Edinburgh Fringe. Participants from various backgrounds – activists, architects, concerned citizens, engineers, NGO campaigners, the president of the RIAS, sustainability champions and youth strikers alike, gathered in small working groups, each focused on an element of city infrastructure – the built environment, infrastructure, the public realm and transportation – where a facilitator would channel their enthusiasm by ensuring no individual dominated the floor and that processes were followed. The process was: issue identification, solution storming and action pointing.

  • Hackathon Format: one host to deliver a climate emergency context presentation (1), one facilitator per table (2) and one element of city infrastructure per table – the Built Environment (A), Infrastructure (B), the Public Realm (C) and Transportation (D). August 2019. Credit: Scott McAulay.
    Hackathon Format: one host to deliver a climate emergency context presentation (1), one facilitator per table (2) and one element of city infrastructure per table – the Built Environment (A), Infrastructure (B), the Public Realm (C) and Transportation (D). August 2019. Credit: Scott McAulay.
  • The U.K.’s first Climate Emergency Compliant Cities hackathon in progress during Extinction Rebellion Scotland’s Summerhall Residency at the Edinburgh Fringe – including representation from Friends of the Earth Scotland, the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, the Scottish Ecological Design Association and the Scottish Youth Strike for Climate. August 2019.
    The U.K.’s first Climate Emergency Compliant Cities hackathon in progress during Extinction Rebellion Scotland’s Summerhall Residency at the Edinburgh Fringe – including representation from Friends of the Earth Scotland, the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, the Scottish Ecological Design Association and the Scottish Youth Strike for Climate. August 2019. Credit: Scott McAulay
  • Example of civil disobedience: On July the 15th 2019, Extinction Rebellion Scotland blockaded the Trongate in Glasgow with a 25-foot-long purple boat (1) – named after Amal Gous, a murdered Sudanese activist and a human roadblock with banners (2) for 12 hours, as part of Extinction Rebellion’s Summer Uprising. This pedestrianized a normally a busy junction whilst breathing life into a traffic island (3), turning them into a truly public, walkable space full of arts, performers (4) and even a ceilidh (5) whilst raising awareness of climate refugees. July 2019.
    Example of civil disobedience: On July the 15th 2019, Extinction Rebellion Scotland blockaded the Trongate in Glasgow with a 25-foot-long purple boat (1) – named after Amal Gous, a murdered Sudanese activist and a human roadblock with banners (2) for 12 hours, as part of Extinction Rebellion’s Summer Uprising. This pedestrianized a normally a busy junction whilst breathing life into a traffic island (3), turning them into a truly public, walkable space full of arts, performers (4) and even a ceilidh (5) whilst raising awareness of climate refugees. July 2019. Credit: Scott McAulay.
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This enabled each group to rapidly identify what was stopping Edinburgh from being climate emergency ready, what potential solutions would be, who should be contacted to catalyse this, and who would take the action. After the workshop this was digitised and made available to the group, and volunteers stepped up to host a future meeting.

Alongside these guerrilla tactics, we still have to go back to the core of the profession. We must interrogate the architectural curriculum, its methods of delivery and the reasons behind its inertia in the face of two earth-shattering IPCC reports and more than 50 years of warnings from climate scientists. Business-as-usual cannot be salvaged – nor made ‘sustainable’, it cannot be upcycled so we must leave it behind.

We need a moonshot with far-reaching change. Perpetuating business-as-usual is to be complacent in damaging human and planetary health by default; the only solution is to civil disobedience and to disrupt it. The only rational response in the face of the climate emergency is to rebel – in our cities, on the streets; in our architecture schools and offices; in any sphere we can influence.


Scott McAulay is co-ordinator of the Anthropocene Architecture School

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