Musings on whether to angst or to float (revised)

I recently came across a text where the writer pondered which is more likely, that the world will end or that capitalism will be reformed so that the world won’t end…

People everywhere always have planned, but modernity turned planning into a professional, technical and quasi-scientific business. Though when it comes to urban and spatial planning and even to architecture, you could argue that current trends are deprofessionalising or deskilling these activities once more. Then again you could argue, like Demos UK did, that it’s just a question of re-inventing it all. Ho hum, with so much uncertainty around, the idea of planning does begin to feel a bit odd.

Never ones to give the impression that they feel beleaguered as professionals, Helsinki’s Planning Department has just announced that Helsinki is going to experiment with floating homes in Kalasatama, one of the bits of former harbour that’s up for grabs waterfront development-wise.

But it’s unclear to us here at JHJ whether building floating houses is seen as the way to beat climate change or more as a way for the architectural and planning professions to feel good. After all, they do tend to go on about how they’re going to beat the problem even though they’re involved in one of the most carbon-hungry forms of economic activity there is i.e. building new stuff.

The point about floating houses isn’t just that they use up less energy though a lot do make use of things like wave power, as followers of Bratt Pitt’s contribution to rebuilding New Orleans will know. (Architectural utopianism Hollywood-style, but who knows, it could turn out well. Or not.)

Floating buildings aren’t just low-energy, the RIBA’s futures research crowd, Building Futures, say that they can also be used to “attack” the sea and beat climate change that way. As in, rather than waiting for the water to engulf our homes and destroy us, let’s go out there and greet it, “hello sea, come on up!”

This does suggest a get-out clause for capitalism-as-we-know-it, since if enough of these things go up it might seem not to matter if CO2 emissions grow. Bring on the strange weather, we’ll be ready for it.

For a more sophisticated and realistic take, here’s a great book that I’m half-way through at the moment: Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet by Tim Jackson, a multi-talented professor from Surrey University. Having worked on sustainability from both an engineering and a humanities/social perspective, he makes a pretty good case for being extremely worried but also for making sure we don’t just sit here and hope for the best.

Which brings me to what young Finnish people, according to opinion polls, are hoping for. (Though news about opinion polls in recent days has been on a different and thoroughly depressing topic, on Finnish attitudes to immigration and racist ignorance, which we are not going to link to). There was news reported in Hesari on 20.3 about the soft and cuddly values of young Finns. The subscription version quoted one young woman:

“Ilmastonmuutos ahdistaa ihan sikana. En tiedä, mitä voin itse tehdä jäätiköiden sulamiselle. En kai oikein mitään”

And my (not word-for-word) translation again:

“Climate change makes me like really anxious. I don’t know what I can do myself to stop the ice from melting. Nothing, I guess”

The respondents also said they don’t much care about money and power. And on the basis of young people I know around here, this sounds quite plausible. And to make my day there was ever such a sweet letter to the editor from a school pupil telling the world to slow down enough to work out whether they really are enjoying life. Impressive.

So, here’s hoping they’ll reform everything – and get rid of the slush.


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