Statement on ZHA climate comments
Last week The Architects’ Journal reported that Patrik Schumacher of ZHA (a signature practice to Architects Declare) had asserted that ‘we need to allow prosperity and progress to continue and that will also bring the resources to overcome [the climate crisis] through investment in science and new technologies. That must be built on continuous growth’. He also warned against ‘those voices who are too quick to demand radical changes’.
We believe these statements are fundamentally in conflict with the Architects Declare commitment to ‘advocate for faster change in our industry towards regenerative practices’. We also believe these statements are scientifically flawed and decades out of date in terms of informed intellectual thought. We would like to explain why.
For decades, the global economy has grown exponentially and so too have greenhouse gas emissions, material extraction, energy consumption and a whole host of environmental damage indicators. Meanwhile, social, economic, and health inequalities have widened and improvements in life satisfaction and genuine progress indicators have plateaued.
The too-commonly held belief that the pursuit of economic growth brings prosperity for all has proven mistaken. The ideas that our economy is dematerialising, or that we will eventually become rich enough to reverse the harm we have caused, are not only wrong, but extremely dangerous – now more than ever.
It is now 56 years since Ronald Reagan kickstarted the era of neo-liberalism with his notorious speech A Time for Choosing. His argument was deeply rooted in the ideas of Milton Friedman and others who argued for unfettered market forces.
Since then we have extinguished two thirds of non-human animal life on the planet and have breached a range of planetary boundaries in the pursuit of ever-increasing economic growth. What conventional economists regard as a ‘healthy’ level of 3 per cent annual growth will result in a doubling in the size of the economy every 23.5 years and bring along with it a doubling in the environmental damage required to power that growth over the same period.
The obsession with growth goes even further back to an economist called Simon Kuznets, who formulated the idea of Gross National Product (GNP) in the 1930s at the request of the US Department of Commerce. He observed at the time that it would be a big mistake to make this the primary measure of the economy but his warning went unheeded and maximisation of GNP increasingly became an obsession for governments around the world.
Robert Kennedy’s famous speech in 1968 listed a range of things that GNP excludes – the health of our children, the beauty of our arts, the integrity of our officials, the intelligence of our debate – and concludes that GNP ‘measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile’. The economist Kenneth Boulding observed in 1973 that ‘anyone who thinks you can have infinite growth on a finite planet is either a madman or an economist’.
What is striking about these examples is how old they are and how little has changed. This is partly a testament to the success of neo-liberal ideas championed by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and the vast system of thought they created – a Pyrrhic victory that has brought us to the brink of catastrophe, according to the world’s top scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The idea that growth can clean up the environment was advanced by free-market ideologues in the 1980s and comprehensively debunked by Mariano Torras and James Boyce in the 1990s. They showed persuasively that what improves air quality, water quality and other environmental issues is people power – not economic growth, but collective action, such as public sanitation or a national health service.
A widespread feature of developed economies was the way they shifted from manufacturing to service industries and, by doing that, shifted the environmental pollution from the goods they consumed to poorer parts of the world. When countries like the UK purport to be reducing their emissions while increasing their GDP, it is because the emissions being counted are only those produced within our borders, not the emissions associated with our ever-increasing consumption of materials and products produced overseas.
We need a more sophisticated discussion about growth and, encouragingly, we have seen much more coherent alternative models – particularly since the financial crash of 2008, which even persuaded economically traditional media such as The Financial Times and The Economist to accept that there may be flaws in neo-liberal dogma.
Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics has shown with great persuasiveness, the urgent need, and clear potential, for a new model that is based on planetary limits and climate justice. Similarly, academics such as Jason Hickel in his book Less is More have set out a compelling critique of indiscriminate growth. In other fields, such as medicine, the Planetary Health Initiative has shown that our current economic system threatens to reverse 50 years of health gains and that our long-term health is dependent on the health of our planetary systems.
What these other disciplines have argued is that we need a much more sophisticated discussion about growth that distinguishes between qualitative and quantitative growth. There are some things we need to grow – such as ecosystems, human health, community cohesion, political unity, the vitality of the commons – and some things we need to urgently shrink, such as hyper-consumption, luxury lifestyles and unconstrained aviation.
Given the richness of debate going on in these other fields, it is troubling to hear leading figures in architecture like Patrik Schumacher talking about the need for continuous growth and progress. As Edward Abbey observed, ‘growth for growth’s sake is the ideology of the cancer cell’ and ‘progress’ in these blinkered terms means progress towards collapse and the most grotesque crime against future generations and developing nations ever committed.
In setting up Architects Declare (AD) – necessarily organised almost exclusively with pro bono input, we had hoped that practices would be self-policing. For AD to do otherwise would be so complicated and resource-intensive that we would need substantial funding and a whole team of full-time staff. This approach has been partly successful and we salute those hundreds of practices in the UK and globally who are energetically seeking to be true to the declaration and make the necessary positive changes.
To date we have avoided calling out individual practices (as explained in our statement in July), recognising that we all struggle sometimes to do what is necessary. However, when statements are made that contradict the fundamentals of the declaration, we have no option but to speak up. Sadly, there remain signatory practices who appear determined to continue with business as usual. This is seriously undermining the effectiveness and credibility of AD, so we call on those practices to either join the wave of positive change or have the integrity to withdraw.
24 November 2020
Planning for the Future Consultation
Architects Declare have responded to the Planning for the Future Consultation.
View our response here
Financial Support Needed
Architects Declare needs financial support and we suggest that every signatory practice makes a contribution. How much we raise will guide what we can afford to take on. The more we raise, the more we can do. Please support AD at this crucial time of change.
Our hope is to raise at least £50,000 a year to cover operating costs including staff, maintaining our website and social media, promoting our work to the press, keeping communications with signatories regular, coordinating regional meetings and strengthening links with fellow declarations under the international, multi-disciplinary Construction Declares umbrella. There are also other expenses to take care of such as adding functionality to our website and paying for digital subscriptions. Rather than relying on practices to fund this in the background, we would like to put a more equitable model in place. We are in the process of setting up Architects Declare as a charity but this takes some time, and we need to start fundraising sooner than completion allows.
Based on our estimate of future costs, we suggest that each signatory practice contributes £20 annually for each architect they employ. Contributions are limited at a maximum of £2500 so large practices do not pay more than this amount. If this is not affordable, please contribute what you can; your status within AD will not be affected by your ability to contribute.
For us to receive your complete contribution, please email us for details of how to transfer via BACS. Otherwise here is our PayPal link:
19 September 2020
AD wins Sustainability Initiative of the Year Award
Architects Declare has won the AJ100 Sustainability Initiative of the Year for 2020. Judges unanimously named AD winner of the award, which is given for an exemplary or innovative approach to sustainability.
From the AJ:
"Judges unanimously named Architects Declare winner of the award, which is given for an exemplary or innovative approach to sustainability.
The jury said the initiative deserved ‘praise for recognising that the climate emergency cannot be solved at the scale of an individual building and that an industry-wide coalition is needed to change the system’. Impressed with the clarity of its concept and the level of industry engagement achieved in the first year to build a global movement with more than 5,000 signatories, the judges admired ‘the skill of the initiators in assembling the founding practices and their savvy in understanding where the pressure points are’."
18 September 2020
England Tree Strategy consultation
Construction Declares has partnered with the Architects Climate Action Network in a response to DEFRA's England Tree Strategy. We see this as a chance to influence this strategy for the next 30 years, and help the government to maximise benefits of tree planting. To support this, and for more information about why this consultation is so important for architects to respond to, please click here . You have until 11 September.
8 September 2020
Government response to Construction Declares Open Letter
Architects Declare has received a reply to our Letter to Government from the Rt. Hon. Kwasi Kwarteng, Minister of State at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. We have continued the dialogue with the Minister in a detailed response, and again offered to arrange a meeting to discuss how we can support and collaborate with the government on the action required.
3 September 2020
Want to join an AD Working Group?
Architects Declare are looking for people to join a new Working Group to help us with current projects. One of these is a Practice Guide, addressing the declaration points, and we need help completing this work: research, writing, editing and design. We are also in the midst of working on responses to several public consultations on climate related matters. If you would like more information, please get in touch - [email protected]
27 August 2020
We know that there have been vociferous debates in the media and between signatories recently concerning projects which may or may not be considered to be in conflict with the declaration. While we recognise that every project has a complex social, economic and ecological context beyond what is immediately evident, we are encouraged that these discussions are opening up the debate as to what is considered in keeping with the declaration and a severe emergency situation.
As we in the steering group have previously stated, we have a principle of not naming and shaming our colleagues in the industry. This is in part because we don’t have the mandate or resources to apply such scrutiny rigorously or fairly, and in part because the steering group sees its role to be acting as custodians of a shared declaration, not a judiciary. However, we believe that it is a success of this movement that the media and signatories are holding each other to account and pushing each other to do better.
The industry and every individual within it must make an enormous shift in order to help bring our society in line with planetary limits. This requires collective action and cross-practice debate. All practices that have signed the declaration have done so as a public statement that inevitably invites critique. We hope that these interactions remain supportive and collaborative as much as possible but we also recognise that the scale and urgency of the challenge will undoubtedly result in difficult conversations and decisions for us all.
We hope that the declaration and the coalition of signatories now totalling over 5000 practices globally provides a force for positive change in this urgent journey towards a regenerative built environment that addresses the climate and biodiversity crises head on.
13 July 2020
Contractors Declare launches
1 July 2020
Architects Declare statement on A New Deal for Britain
A green recovery is supported by the vast majority of the British population but today’s speech by the Prime Minister falls woefully short of what is required to stay within 1.5C of global heating. While we welcome investment that reduces inequality and improves health, it should be noted that even the president of the Automobile Association questions further road building now that millions of people have got used to home-working. It is reported that the Government proposes to spend £100 million on building roads - 10 times what is earmarked for rail – and this is clearly moving in the opposite direction. We support investment in public transport and renewable energy infrastructure and other measures to radically reduce our carbon emissions
The speech lacked specific commitments and made no clear reference to the £9.2bn Conservative manifesto pledge for renovating Britain’s draughty and unhealthy homes – this would create jobs, reduce fuel poverty, and help to meet legislated carbon targets. It is essential that this is given high priority. As leading construction professionals, we are ready and waiting to offer the practical expertise to deliver this and the necessary zero carbon buildings programme.
On the basis of this speech, the UK Government is failing to rise to the challenge of the climate emergency at the very time it should be showing global leadership in the build-up to the COP26 climate summit.