"As we have come to realise in recent years, we are running out. Materials are scarce, fuel is in short supply, and prices are escalating. To survive one is either going to have to be rich, or resourceful."
Guess who said that - and when...
It was Lloyd Kahn and the yearwas 1973. It's part of the opening salvo in a book entitled "Shelter" which was the must-have alternative publication for us at architecture school. The irony is that when I leaf through the book today it's all in there. Articles about conserving water; high levels of insulation; using solar power; growing your own. It's as if the truth was out there all along, but politicians just didn't see it. Most of my architect colleagues went on to design air conditioned offices, gas guzzling airports and houses with high levels of central heating and low levels of insulation! (I did too - I wasn't immune from the spirit of the times. It's what the clients wanted.)
The management consultants will tell you that there are two types of important and that all managers must pay attention to both types. We all get round somehow to dealing with the Import and Urgent - but we all have equal difficulty with the Important and Non-urgent. That never gets done. Though the consultants say that those who do pay attention to the long view will succeed.
Climate change is important and non-urgent and that's the problem. Back in the Seventies we had an oil crisis and the issue of dwindling stocks of hydrocarbons became urgent. So for a few short years scarce resources were Important and Urgent.
Now the scarcest resource on the planet seems to be money - strange because money - unlike fuel or other resources - can be printed at will!
Oh No! I Hear you cry. She's lost the plot! Money has a value which is linked to resources. And that is true, but there is one resource that we are not running out of - in fact we are pretty flush with it. That resource is human capital. As populations rise we need to find ways of utilising human resourcefulness to the full. There are a lot of social and politician implications for this one, but in terms of resources, humans are brilliant at taking a few resources and transforming them into objects of value. Seeds into food; clay into pots; wood into houses.
I think we are underestimating the value of hand made objects, which waste less resources, which generate more jobs and which can turn the means of production into a creative act. The 70's book Shelter is all about making your own home, about using recycled resources, being off grid and on message. I find the technical pages really interesting, they are full of early designs for solar power and windmills. There's an interview with Harold Hay, one of the first solar engineers which is worth reading. He talks about the superiority of micro generation. I think a lot of his argument still holds true today.
The message never got through in the 70's they were followed by the roaring 80's when we all wore shoulder pads and acted like Carrington in Dallas. But those people kept on working, and I'm sure their knowledge should be valued today. (Catch this rather poignant article about Harold Hay today http://articles.latimes.com/2007/nov/10/business/fi-haroldhay10)
I leave you with the poem that comes at the beginning of the book, and accompanies the illustration at the head of this article.
Fox was the only living man. There was no earth.
The water was everywhere. "What shall I do," Fox
asked himself. He began to sing in order to find out.
"I would like to meet somebody," he sang to the
The he met Coyote.
"I thought I was going to meet someone," FOx
"Where are you going?" Coyote asked.
"I've been wandering all over trying to find some-
one. I was worried there for a while."
"Well, it's better for two people to go together...
that's what they always say."
"O.K. But what will we do?"
"I don't know."
"I got it! Let's try to make the world."
"And how are we going to do that?" Coyote asked.
"Sing!" said Fox.
Jamie de Angelo
Shelter Ed Lloyd Kahn 1973 ISBN 0-394-70991-8 (paper back)