What struck me the most, standing there, taking in the energy, the signs, speeches, songs, and conversations, was how children organized this movement on climate action. Not adults—children—who as Greta Thunberg (one of the faces of the movement) pointed out, should be in the classroom, enjoying the innocence of youth, not protesting for the future and survival of humankind.
According to the media, a record 7.6 million people took to the streets, making this by far the most prominent climate mobilization in history. From Jakarta to New York, Karachi to Amman, Berlin to Kampala, Istanbul to Québec, Guadalajara to Asunción, in big cities and small villages, millions of people joined hands and raised their voices in defence of the climate. In cities across North America, tens of thousands of people gathered in support of this event, calling on all levels of federal, state/provincial, as well as local governments to initiate immediate, meaningful climate action initiatives.
In Winnipeg, the Manitoba Youth for Climate Action organized the event with the support of the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition. "Countries around the world are asking for bold climate action from our governments," said Mandalyn Unger, an organizer with Manitoba Youth for Climate Action. "We're asking for binding emission reduction to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees celsius and a plan that respects justice for all communities."
Inspired by Thunberg's fiery, impassioned challenge at the United Nations— "We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?"—my son turned to me to ask:
"So… Dad… What are you doing about climate change?"
Amidst explaining how we were going to trade in our gasoline vehicle for an electric one, double up on our home composting, turn off the lights when not in use, and ensure we don't get recycling mixed up with garbage, I realized that my 13-year-old was feeling the same kind of impatient frustration 16-year-old Greta felt when she spoke to the UN Climate Action Summit in New York, where, blurting out angrily amidst barely held-back tears of anger, she said: "You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words, and yet, I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering, people are dying."
Greta's rhetoric jolts many of us out of our numb disassociation with what is happening around us. The science of climate change is no longer in debate. The reality is that the global environment is changing at an unprecedented rate and in mainly unpredictable ways—erratic, extreme weather patterns have by now affected people we know, in parts of the world that are not foreign or alien to us. The realities of climate change are becoming more and more real, more immediate, more local. In writing this, I realize that time is short and the work we have to do, momentous. For years now, it has been apparent that alongside environmental scientists and a myriad of other knowledgeable professionals, architects, urban designers, planners and landscape architects have a huge role to play in how we respond to the dark, ominous threat of climate change.
So, back to my son's question: What am I doing about the crisis of the earth's changing climate crisis? Here is my answer:
As a practice, Nadi has taken the position that all architecture, planning, design and landscape architecture must be part of the global voice for living in harmony with nature. Over the past two years, the studio has published more than 73 articles on various aspects of environmental wellness and sustainability. If you haven't already, take a look at our blog. We have joined our voice with Architects-Advocate, a non-political, non-partisan group of design professionals who have raised their voices in acknowledgement of the leading role the design professions must play in making things better.
We are a consultancy whose business is that of urban design and landscape architecture, and our mission is to design for a better world. We have refined our practice areas to focus on four elements of the big conversation: Innovative Housing Solutions, Public Space and Land Art, Green Infrastructure, and Smart Resilient Community design. We actively pursue knowledge and expertise in these areas because we believe we need to both reverse the increasing tide of greenhouse gas emissions, and we need to design better and more resilient homes and communities to ward off the more immediate and unavoidable effects of climate change.
Our firm has a long history of collaborating with other professionals, communities and groups to explore strategies for moving forward with best practices in community building, even in the wake of the rapidly changing global climate. Most recently we have collaborated with Don Westphal and Associates, a US-based design firm with over 50 years of experience in the design of affordable and resilient communities including fringe and marginal communities such as RV parks, manufactured housing communities, and modular residential neighbourhoods. With housing affordability and increasing climate change-induced human migration, the need for a diverse range of sustainable housing solutions is only going to become more significant.
I am privileged to sit on the board of the KIDs Initiative, an international charity dedicated to providing sustainable assistance to some of the world's most marginalized children (many are also the most challenged by the effects of a changing climate). As a working board, we fundraise, identify areas of need, develop the programs, and administer the administrative and program management support required to deliver sustainability and independence to communities in need. This is done so that every single dollar donated is used for programs (and not on administration or 'overhead').
The thing about it is that moving society towards a resilient, sustainable and harmonious future involves many different voices, skills, experts and innovations. Collaboration around clear and singular goals is key. I don't kid myself that what I'm doing, or the work of our firm, will single-handedly create solutions to what Greta describes as a potential "mass extinction event". However, working with developers, communities, municipalities and multiple levels of government who share a desire to improve our situation and make a better world, is the best recipe we have to forge any kind of positive outcome.
Our youth are speaking out and activism is all about being heard. As dire as things may seem, this period in world history presents a unique opportunity for young people, unburdened with political, social or economic biases to rise up and forge a much more collaborative future—one where survival is a shared (global) goal, and not something that happens for some, at the expense of others. However, activism without action will not get us where we need to be. Everyone has a role to play. Borrowing shamelessly from KIDS Initiative's Founder and President Cat Ross' email signature line:
I am only one, but still, I am one. I cannot do everything, but still, I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do. — Helen Keller
I've provided my answer to the question my son posed. What would be YOUR answer?