“Don’t ask what will happen. Be what happens.”
That’s a climate call to action from writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit, and I’m proud that architects are answering the call. Architects have the specialized skills and perspective to help solve this unique challenge, and AIA’s approval of a landmark sustainability initiative in 2019 positions us at the forefront of positive change. As AIA’s 2020 president, I welcome the opportunity to advance the architecture profession’s leadership on this, the most pivotal issue of the 21st century.
The previous year underlined, in stark terms, the urgency of action. July 2019 marked the hottest month in recorded history—part of a disturbing trend that has seen the past five years take their places, one by one, as the hottest years ever recorded. Hurricane Dorian, which devastated the Bahamas, was the fourth Category 5 storm in the Atlantic in as many years—the longest such streak we’ve ever seen. And the latest climate reports show accelerating rates of sea level rise: Scientists say just half a degree in additional warming could make the difference between whether flooding will impact up to 69 million people or as many as 80 million people by the year 2100.
But 2019 also marked accelerating recognition of the challenge, and accelerating progress toward solutions—both within and outside the architecture profession. Bold new policy proposals and bold young leaders have emerged, moving public sentiment to a tipping point in favor of action.
Building on decades of focused efforts—including the Framework for Design Excellence, launched in 1990, and the 2030 Commitment to net-zero emissions, established in 2009—AIA’s 94,000 members are well-positioned to apply our expertise toward reducing emissions in the built environment.
The comprehensive Climate Action Plan set for release at the Grassroots Conference next month will expand on good work already underway. Through AIA’s partnerships with the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Climate Mayors, we’re making inroads to ensure sustainability and resilience are prioritized in cities throughout the nation. Our advocacy for building codes and climate policies at local, state, and federal levels is driving action. AIA’s coordination with building product manufacturers and other industry stakeholders is highlighting the imperative of sustainable materials and practices through every aspect of the built environment. And it’s all supported by programs that supply AIA members with the tools we need to lead and to serve as true citizen architects.
Does our focus on climate solutions mean other AIA priorities will take a back seat? Absolutely not.
In fact, our values—equity, diversity, inclusion—are indispensable to our success. One of the architect’s greatest assets is the ability to see the big picture. And our big picture vision is enhanced by a big tent culture that welcomes and nurtures a broad range of perspectives and experiences.
The architecture profession’s progress toward greater equity and diversity has been immense, and it’s one of the greatest strengths we can bring to bear as we work to achieve critical objectives like advancing social welfare, protecting public health, and elevating the human experience—all of which go hand in hand with tackling climate change. Working together, in this next year and beyond, we can “be what happens,” and do our part to fight climate change and build a more sustainable, resilient, equitable society.