Your Tuesday 117: Adaptation and regional regeneration
“Tom Uren…has never ceased to be concerned about the rapid population growth which leads to growing inequalities as well as the impact on the environment,…(in) his Department of Urban and Regional Development (DURD)…Tom has always been very concerned about the impact on people at the grassroots level. He particularly regretted the projects pursued by insensitive state and federal governments without consultation with those most affected.”. Brian Howe discusses the approach and key contributions of the Whitlam, Hawke and Keating governments to urban and regional Australia.
It’s time to admit defeat in the war on climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just released the world’s most up-to-date and accurate document on how to stop climate change, in three volumes.
One was on the causes; Two were lit the repercussions; and today’s release, number three, airs mitigation – or what we can do to stem climate change (BBC). Beautiful feelings, it’s quite possible Pollyanna – but completely divorced from reality. It’s not going to happen.
Why so pessimistic?
We’re almost 1.5 degrees warmer, and already the feedback loops are causing weather chaos and disaster. Commitments to fight climate change made at COP26 in Glasgow are being ignored around the world. In the United States, Biden’s green desires are powerless against fossil fuel fanatics driving a massive increase in shale oil and gas extraction, citing energy independence (Financial Times). Australia can’t even match (or beat) their laughable offer.
Three of the biggest emitters, China, India and Russia are more interested in fighting real wars than climate wars. And the war in Ukraine has shown how superficial the discussions are, exposing the utterly brown convictions of “Mutti Merkel” in financing Russia’s arms in Germany’s gas thirst (A+D). It seems that it is time to reactivate the nuclear weapons.
All signs point to us reaching 2.5 degrees before anything significant happens. We must pivot (word of the year 2021) from restlessness to adaptation. Heresy maybe, but ten thousand Greta Thunberg doesn’t work.
The fight against fossil fuels
Fossil fuels are bad in three ways: they are major contributors to climate change; they degrade our environment; and they underpin the most evil regimes in the world. I’m not suggesting stopping the fight against fossil fuels, it’s just that climate change doesn’t seem to be a strong enough reason, on its own, to end it. So, let’s adapt our arguments to the other two.
In many ways, the environmental damage caused by fossil fuels is far more obvious and undeniable than the greenhouse gases causing climate change. Open-pit mines that despoil square kilometers of land; oil rigs with fires and spills, water loss and destroyed aquifers.
The counterweight to this environmental threat is sustainable design: wind and solar, electric vehicles and carbon-positive buildings. All the things that designers and architects can be experts in; especially in the assertion of design qualities as a determining factor. As well-intentioned as the “architects’ statements” on climate change are, our core business can either improve the environment or degrade it. Does our work “spit or suck” as UNSW Professor Paul Osmond puts it?
The third aspect is not often discussed, but just as important. Fossil fuels promote despotism. Regimes profiting from fossil fuels range from the murderous autocratic – Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, Russia, Venezuela; to the democracies of the USA and France invaded by oligopolies; to the demented fringe of our National Party who profit from coal mining. We can’t do much except act locally.
The independent candidates of the “Ten Women”, who put climate change at the center of their policies, could have an unintended consequence in their victory over the so-called moderates of the LNP: the party could swing even further to the right, all Canavan and Joyce, plunging him into a period of internal instability, securing at least two, possibly three, terms for Labor to make long-term policies and progress. A key policy that we as architects and planners should uphold is adaptation.
We can try to engineer the end of fossil fuels, hoping to reduce climate change, but we must also plan for failure to achieve that goal. In other words, we must design to adapt to a rapidly changing and dangerous climate, and its effects, which are increasingly felt in regions rather than cities.
The Department of Regeneration and Regional Development
A key policy I propose for the new federal government is the creation of a “Department of Regional Regeneration and Development‘, or DRRD. Older readers might see in its pronunciation a memory of the ‘Department of Urban and Regional Development‘, or DURD under Tom Uren, one of the unsung successes of the Whitlam government 50 years ago, developing ideas for satellite towns like Bathurst-Orange, Albury-Wodonga and Elizabeth in Adelaide.
The need for adaptation is much more critical in regions than in cities. Think of the bushfires devastating Cobargo and Mallacoota, the floods destroying Lismore and the river towns of northern New South Wales or the cyclones from Broome to Darwin to Townsville.
It cannot continue as if nothing had happened, remain “as is”. Regional regeneration could be the next “big plan” modeled on the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the Snowy Scheme and the NBN. Except it’s bigger than all of them put together, and yet it’s dispersed, local and personal. It’s the big project with a million small parts.
Everything must change and adapt, from cities and villages to homes, white goods and household items. It is in this work of adaptation that architects, planners and designers can do their best work.
We should use our invaluable skills to plan ways to adapt cities to become great regional centres, to be more cohesive and self-sufficient, to be more inclusive in serving the region. We need to restructure the infrastructure around them, so that they become centers that can survive the weather. We need to address the thorny question of whether villages should no longer exist. We need better design at all levels.
A success in Australia has been the adoption of refugees in regional areas. A win-win is possible: refugees could be ideal workers to help regenerate regions, and the regenerated country becomes a haven for our neighbors in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, whose homes will be rendered uninhabitable by the climate change.
As we turn to solar, wind and waste, with better infrastructure and building designs, we are moving from a nation that suffers disasters to an island of refuge for those more affected than us. Forget Dick Smith and his apocalyptic ideas of closing our doors to return to a certain suburban culture of his youth. We must move forward and reconfigure our country to welcome a much larger number of climate refugees, who will participate in the reconstruction of our regional spaces.
Tone Wheeler is Principal Architect at Environa Studio, Adjunct Professor at UNSW and President of the Australian Architecture Association. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not owned or endorsed by A+D, the AAA, or UNSW. Tone does not read Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Linked In. Sanity is preserved by only reading and responding to comments addressed to [email protected]