Last week I stumbled across a headline in Dutch media. The ‘Partij voor de Dieren’ (Animal rights party) proposed to reduce agricultural land for farming to build 75.000 new homes. Two weeks earlier a debate took place where the Christian Democrats were upset about the City of Utrecht’s plans not to build new homes outside the city in an area that was earmarked for expansion. Instead, they want to use that land for the allocation of solar panels. These are two examples of a wider debate about how to use the limited amount of ground we have. And this discussion should not be limited to the densely populated Netherlands.
Climate change requires action. Action means transforming almost any system we have in place now to become less CO2 emitting. Energy production, transportation, food supply, dwelling – they are all affected. But the task is even bigger. We need to rebalance our impact on nature at large. All the systemic changes also need to reduce the confrontation between us humans and all the other species and the ecosystems they need to thrive.
And here comes the problem: If we want to keep living our current lifestyles with the currently available technologies the consequences will be the need for more ground. A coal or gas fired power plant needs a lot less space than a solar farm of the same capacity. Production of biofuels or hydrogen needs space. Organic animal farming that provides decent living conditions needs more space than the industrialized version. And growing our cities in a quick and simple way eats away more and more greenfield. If we continue as we did in the past, then we will not achieve our goals.
We undoubtedly need to change our lifestyle. How radically – that is up to us and it all depends on how serious we are in solving the conflict of space. There should be no political debate about the transformation of agricultural land into construction sites. There should also be no debate about not using land already dedicated to constriction for energy production. There should be a debate how we can integrate any urban growth within the existing urban fabric. There should be a debate how we can return agricultural land to wild nature and there should be a debate what other energy generation concepts next to wind and solar energy should evolve. These are unpopular debates since they do not fit into the 4-year re-election cycles and they also do not lend themselves to simple messages for the 20 second statements on TV. But they are needed and inevitable if we want to solve these problems of the millennium.
There are encouraging signs that change is on the way – and it comes with a good message. The currently running International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam shows us how this future could look like in positive terms. Panorama Nederland – initiated by the council of government advisers – sketches a better country and seeing the speculative projects of students graduating from universities and academies makes me hopeful.
But this is locally Dutch and still not providing the ultimate ‘solution’. It still also is more ambition than reality and of course there is the risk of those two never meeting. Therefore, we need to do two things:
We need to work on these scenarios of the future and ensure they root and find support with as many people worldwide as possible. Collectively having seen the future we like makes it more likely we all support the route to getting there.
And we need to massively ramp up investment into making the change happen. Government investment programs, Risk capital, subsidies, seed- and micro loans and a much less risk obsessed granting policy are the big enablers.
Some people might argue that we cannot afford this, and people must change their lifestyle. But that will only happen if there are real alternatives and positive signs they see and can aspire to. We must afford this as an investment into the future of mankind on this planet. If we don’t invest then the planet will still exist, but we might not.
by Markus Appenzeller