Climate Change and the Built Environment – Acting as a Collective Whole

This is a featured blog by ASAP Member Lisa Churchill.

“Many of us can point to a time in our lives that influenced what we might do when we grew up. For me, it began with a box of 430-million-year-old fossils that my parents collected when they lived in Wisconsin. I was around five years old when they first shared them with me and was absolutely fascinated with those vestiges of past worlds. Worlds that flourished with life, that were decidedly devoid of people and that, despite all their vigor, eventually disappeared. 

Those early impressions held tight and I went on to earn degrees in geology and paleontology. I was as equally obsessed with learning about the ecosystems of those past worlds, as I was about unraveling the mysteries behind their extinctions. How did it come to be that 99.9% of all species that have ever existed on earth are now extinct? And is there a reason to expect a different fate for the 0.1% of species living today?

Climate change has brought an uncomfortable relevance to those questions. Fast forward to today, and, for me, those original questions have evolved. I now focus more on what can be done and ask: “Knowing what we do about these past events, what can we – as humans – do to avoid a similar fate?” And, I’ve found that my preferred answer is: “A lot – especially if we act as a collective whole.”

It is against this backdrop, that Trish Gary and I, with the support of Abbie Goodman and ACEC, were fortunate to find a collective of similar-minded individuals. People who both felt the urgency of the climate challenge and the commitment to sharing their insights in an effort to increase the pace of preparedness. It is from that shared vision that our book, Climate Change and The Built Environment, became a collaborative effort among eighteen professional women* working to make a real difference in the world.

Each one of us has our own compelling backstory as to how we were drawn to our current disciplines, and our own set of professional and personal experiences that led us to take on the climate change challenge. We each bring our own perspective, our own insights, our own unique expertise and drive to the table. Yet we are united by two key themes: a sense of urgency to address climate change and the need to act as a collective whole if we are to make truly transformational changes.

Climate Change and The Built Environment was written with three key objectives in mind:

  • to give hope, based on all that has been done and that can be done, to prepare for climate change;
  • to instill a sense of urgency and relevancy within the larger design profession; and,
  • to serve as a readily accessible guide to anyone who is interested in being part of the solution.

There is reason to be optimistic – we have the necessary knowledge and tools to do things differently and to reduce both our impact on the planet and climate change’s impact on us. The key is recognizing that we are all part of a shared future and that the level of change that we need to make will only come about if we act more as a collective whole, and less as competing cohorts. This book is an attempt to show what that collaboration might look like across the design profession, and we are hopeful that it encourages similar efforts elsewhere. 

In a podcast interview for this book, I was asked whether I was optimistic about the future, given the current climate change challenge. My answer then remains the same today. Simply stated: “Some days, I am optimistic, but every day I am hopeful.” This book, and all the collaborative spirit and commitment from everyone involved with it, represents one of those sources of hope which feeds my optimism. I hope this book inspires others to feel optimistic as well. And inspired to make a change.”

*I am deeply grateful to all of the women who contributed their expertise, time and wisdom to this volume: Patricia Gary, co-editor and contributing author; Rachel Bannon-Godfrey, Luce Bassetti, Nicole Boothman-Shepard, Elizabeth Bradford, Julie Eaton Ernst, Raine Gardner, Karin Holland, Amy Hwang, Stephanie Kruel, Amanda Ludlow, Elena Mihaly, Kelly Maiorana, Deanna Moran, Nancy Rigassio, April Schneider, and Amy Seek. The book is a testament to the level of that collaboration.

Listen to podcasts on this book by various authors here or learn more about the book here.