Recently, world leaders have engaged in a competition of who makes the bigger pledges when it comes to reaching climate neutrality for the respective country or world region they represent. We should welcome this since it seems global politics on the highest levels finally have understood that no more and no less is at stake than ourw human habitat. They promise huge – unprecedented -investments into achieving this goal until 2030, 2040 or 2050 – depending on how high climate change ranks on the domestic political agenda.
Given that 2030 is not even ten years away and 2050 less than the professional life of one of us I get a bit nervous about these pledges. Spending billions and trillions needs consideration for it to have a lasting and positive effect. We have spent equal amounts in the past – often to only increase the trouble shortly thereafter and we will run into the same issues if we do not change the way we approach complex problems: with complex solutions. For a long time – and there is still many ‘the guide to’ writers that want to make us believe that it is possible – we have been trying to solve highly sophisticated problems with simple solutions. At first glance that worked – the quick fix solved the problem today. But it created the problem tomorrow. Take the motor car. When it was invented it was not clear whether it will be powered with electric energy of fossil fuels. The two technologies were competing initially. But then – the petrol engine won the race because of the backing of the oil industry and because filling a tank with a liquid to burn was a lot more simple than getting electrons in high density into a battery. Today – one and a half centuries later – we see the consequences of that solution. The problem we have is that complex solutions are hard to develop and hard to sell. Nobody wants to know all the details of how an iPhone works, and no politician can explain to the public the full complexity of a sophisticated piece of law making. As professionals, we might develop an interest and then want to get into the details but in our daily life we want things to be simple and user-friendly. That is possible because we generally trust science, technology and those who provide them to us. We even have established independent checks and balances to ensure things are trustworthy – official labels, peer review, product registration, guarantees and liability for products.
I think to master the massive changes that climate change will force on us, we will need to rely even more on technology and science. The acceleration both have seen in the last decade is staggering. Not only have they managed to make green energy actually cheaper than fossil power. They also have helped us to get a global pandemic in check within a year. This is unprecedented and there is little reason to doubt that these technological advancements will keep helping us. The Green Deal the EU has been developing relies on technology as our saviour and I have no doubt that it will play an important role in changing our life support system earth for the better. Diederik Samsom – cabinet chief of Vice President of the EU Commission Frans Timmermans therefore is full of enthusiasm about all the technological advancements we have achieved and will achieve in the future.
We should learn from that also for the less technological questions – social and economic, ethical and cultural. As spatial designers many of us have signed up to the Armageddon-Blade-runner-Doom-Scenario. I believe that will not save us. What we need is a belief that we can achieve a life in balance with the planet and that faith needs to be positively loaded in the footsteps of modernist designers that firmly believed a better future is possible. Our role as designers therefore is to load all the agenda’s with positivity. We will not be able to solve all problems ourselves but the picture of the future we paint can serve as a unifier to bring people together and to form multi-disciplinary coalitions that in the end can deliver.
by Markus Appenzeller