We are bombarded with books that know how to deal with climate and the environment, and especially how we can improve the situation. And yes, I am also participating in that, since last week I published a new book that offers tools for improvement, or rather: suggestions for adaptations to the built environment. I will come back to that in a moment, but first about the “colleague” books that appear. They generally have four characteristics: they are over-optimistic, they know or hope for techniques to solve the case, put people first and claim that we hardly need to adjust our behavior, and even that we can profit from it, thatw e can earn money from that transition. Oh yes, and usually only focus on 1 effect, instead of all consequences or even the causes.
So when you read such a book, there are a few questions to ask yourself:
1 is the author talking about 1 effect, or about the cause?
2 about mankind or about earthly system?
3 about 1 product or the total global effects?
4 about money?
If the book focuses on effects, people, at 1 product, or at money: put the book away. Since when about side effects, that is distraction and leads to rebound effects when combating it. If people didn’t have to change their behavior, then what’s the problem? Talking about 1 product, is about a product, and not about selling in principle 10 billion of them… And if we could make money from it, we would have no problem, of course. It’s that simple. My position is: If we can make money from it, it is not sustainable. (No, not even solar panels .) Because that stimulates consumption, and therefore energy and material use. And everything is based on energy and materials. That’s how it works.
And you can find these omissions everywhere: As recently as in the “Project Drawdown”, and the accompanying book with 80 measures to curb CO2 emissions. Indeed, about combatting 1 side effects.
It is impressive in its kind, and provides an overview of many activities that could cut back emissions, or provide good directions for development. And I haven’t checked all the calculations, but assume that given the amount of people who have worked on it, there won’t be any major errors in there. At least in the separate considerations. Its however a different question whether it all works combined together, or whether it works globally, and whether this is indeed the best selection.
To start with the latter: There is a lot of actions not described , and especially those that have to do with doing nothing, or with not doing more or with doing less. Something like living in smaller houses, and therefore having to build less houses and m2, is missing. As are other adaptations. One of the few behavioral adjustments described , is switching to a plant-based diet, so eating less meat.
That is usually the problem with most books, they hardly attack our own behavior , or even ignore it. Except to cut down on meat , that seems to be one of the few things that has been accepted as a necessary adjustment. Don’t understand me wrong: I am not holding anyone personal responsible, we just should develop the systems so that automatically we take the right decisions. Of which some will require us to change or adapt of to refrain from some comfort.
Another major problem with these types of books or strategies described is that they focus on reducing impact, and are not based on what is or could be fundamentally good. That’s why, at best, it results in doing things a little less bad, but never really good. Moreover, you reduce something existing and known, but leave aside what is added new. And not only at the product level, but at a global level: Such as electric cars, for which the entire energy supply system has to be overhauled and renewed: Charging stations, energy distribution, battery industry, etc. etc. And not to forget to introduce theoretically 10 billion new cars … 
And all energy or CO2-oriented measures require materials, of which nothing is added on earth and which only appear less and less concentrated. And the chapter about materials in this book, that is precisely the shortest chapter, and it is only about consequences, not causes. Building with wood is even presented as an innovation. But that is one of the oldest ways of building, and we have known how to do it for ages…
Now there is a new book promoted: Of all people Bill Gates had to write a book about how we can innovate ourselves out of this mess. However: Don’t fall for it! That book is going to completely put you on the wrong leg.
First he earn tons of money with selling commercial products, then sets up a foundation to do what he thinks is the right things to do with that money, and thus undermines all democratic institutions, then start shouting that the climate and the environment are going wrong, then publish a book with his own views and solutions and then use his unlimited money to push that book with advertisements in many countries in order to push his view. The view of someone who has no history of research and analysis of these problems, without any previous publications in the field. Don’t be tempted.
Is there anything meaningful in it? I would not know, I have not read it and I do not know whether I will do that (out of professional interest). But I don’t have to read it because no matter what it says, the source is not credible. Someone who has made billions with the current financial model, and has become one of the richest people on earth, is part of the very cause of our problems. He has proven to be a master seducer in making spending our money on his products. Of course, as I did, I also have those products, and I am happy with them. And perhaps Gates has done good things with that money too. But that does not alter the fact that they are also partly the cause of our problems. The way in which we have organized our money system is aimed at exhausting resources, on consuming more and more , with more and more adverse effects. But that makes the source and its money un- believable and not credible. Point.
Well, now my own book. Do you have to read that? Well, you don’t have to, of course, but when you read it, you will also ask yourself the aforementioned questions. By the way, my earlier book was more general theoretical, this new book is a bit more practical and focused on the built environment. And perhaps a short summary of the content will help you make a decision:
At the end of the 19th century, about 150 years ago, the industrial revolution arose: the elevator, the car, (reinforced) concrete, and steel and glass, the possibilities became endless,driven by fossil fuels, and architects and urban planners thought to be en heaven, started to play with the new materials and (im-)possible shapes, and actually still do today, choices have not been made. Gehry clad its buildings with aluminum, which has an environmental impact 10 times as high as steel and 20 times more than wood. And Calatrava designs buildings that require 3 to 4 times more material than average or necessary. It is nothing else then to be called criminal use of materials at a time when we are doing all we can to prevent disastrous climate change and the depletion of raw materials.
Because that will be an equally big problem in the long term, the potential of the earthly system is limited, it is an island and no more raw materials are added. This is only possible if we use raw materials from which we can restore stocks, within the time in which we use them. And that is nearly only possible with regrowable raw materials, also known as organic or biobased. In other words, how do we redevelop a sector that suffers from obesity in material use and CO2 emissions into a sector that will build vegetarian, that will go through the same transition as the food sector?
Even then we have to deal very effectively with those sources, in order to stay within the physical limits of cycles, especially if we immediately strive for the highest prosperity with 10 billion people. Then all our choices must be related to the physical possibilities and limitations of the system earth: in other words, the functions to be delivered follow physical rules. And after the construction and architecture world has been able to experiment with all the new possibilities since the industrial revolution for 150 years, choices must now be made. Form follows Function might still apply, but Functions have to follow physical constraints and rules. Ergo: Form follows Physics.
This book has brought together articles and publications that substantiate this and show the consequences for the built environment.
It is not optimistic, it is not based on technology, it will cost a lot of money, and we do have to change our behavior. And we do not need breakthroughs, but rather fall back on age-old knowledge. Building in wood, for example. Are you still there?
It can be ordered here: