It has been 7 weeks since we entered lockdown, and in those 7 weeks life has changed for everyone, but not in exactly the same way. It has provided us with an opportunity as individuals and society to re-evaluate what is important and essential. No doubt we will step out of lockdown into a world different from the one we had to pull ourselves out of. We can only speculate on what that will look like. I believe our response to the pandemic can tell us a lot about how we can respond to the climate emergency.
As architects and designers, our initial response to any problem is to try to use our skills and imagination to address it. This pandemic is no different in that we have seen many proposals from our industry to help(1). Ultimately though, this is a public health issue, to which our contribution can only ever be in support of a public health solution. The climate emergency, however, is a crisis in which we have a disproportionately large influence and the skills to address it head-on.
Our role in all projects is to imagine and built a better future. This lockdown has given us the opportunity to see some of these ideas in real-time, and technology has allowed these to be shared and debated widely to the point where many of us are suffering from webinar fatigue.
One of the positives that can be taken from the pandemic is the pace at which society has adapted. It has demonstrated that when faced with an immediate threat, drastic and rapid change is possible. Key to this being successful is trust in our leaders, clear presentation of facts and transparency in decision making. Our daily briefings from the government have always included representatives from the scientific community to explain the facts clearly. This is opposed to how politicians have dealt with the climate change, where scientists have been kept out of the public discussion. We need to ensure that experts remain at the fore as we ramp up the work required to reduce our carbon emissions. Trust in our leaders however is at an all-time low, and this has created the space for conspiracy theories about the virus to spread (2). These are important lessons to learn if we are to successfully and fairly address the climate crisis.
The pandemic has created a duality that at times is difficult to process. First and foremost this is a tragedy which has brought much pain and suffering to many, and we must never forget this in any discussions about returning to normal and making the most of any future benefits. However, we have seen many good news stories such as cleaner air in our cities and an increase in children cycling on our streets.