Category Archives: Cities

Managing disturbance by planned city shrinkage

Managing collapse?

Creative urban shrinkage in Flint, Michigan from the New York Times  An Effort to Save Flint, Mich., by Shrinking It

“Decline in Flint is like gravity, a fact of life,” said Dan Kildee, the Genesee County treasurer and chief spokesman for the movement to shrink Flint. “We need to control it instead of letting it control us.”

The recession in Flint, as in many old-line manufacturing cities, is quickly making a bad situation worse. Firefighters and police officers are being laid off as the city struggles with a $15 million budget deficit. Many public schools are likely to be closed.

“A lot of people remember the past, when we were a successful city that others looked to as a model, and they hope. But you can’t base government policy on hope,” said Jim Ananich, president of the Flint City Council. “We have to do something drastic.”

In searching for a way out, Flint is becoming a model for a different era.

Planned shrinkage became a workable concept in Michigan a few years ago, when the state changed its laws regarding properties foreclosed for delinquent taxes. Before, these buildings and land tended to become mired in legal limbo, contributing to blight. Now they quickly become the domain of county land banks, giving communities a powerful tool for change.

Indianapolis and Little Rock, Ark., have recently set up land banks, and other cities are in the process of doing so. “Shrinkage is moving from an idea to a fact,” said Karina Pallagst, director of the Shrinking Cities in a Global Perspective Program at the University of California, Berkeley. “There’s finally the insight that some cities just don’t have a choice.”

A block adjacent to downtown has the potential for renewal; it would make sense to fill in the vacant lots there, since it is a few steps from a University of Michigan campus.

A short distance away, the scene is more problematic. Only a few houses remain on the street; the sidewalk is so tattered it barely exists. “When was the last time someone walked on that?” Mr. Kildee said. “Most rural communities don’t have sidewalks.”

But what about the people who do live here and might want their sidewalk fixed rather than removed?

“Not everyone’s going to win,” he said. “But now, everyone’s losing.”

“If it’s going to look abandoned, let it be clean and green,” he said. “Create the new Flint forest — something people will choose to live near, rather than something that symbolizes failure.”

Watching suspiciously from next door is Charlotte Kelly. Her house breaks the pattern: it is immaculate, all polished wood and fresh paint. When Ms. Kelly, a city worker, moved to the street in 2002, all the houses were occupied and the neighborhood seemed viable.

These days, crime is brazen: two men recently stripped the siding off Mr. Kildee’s old house, “laughing like they were going to a picnic,” Ms. Kelly said. Down the street are many more abandoned houses, as well as a huge hand-painted sign that proclaims, “No prostitution zone.”

Mr. Kildee makes his pitch. Would she be interested in moving if the city offered her an equivalent or better house in a more stable and safer neighborhood?

Despite her pride in her home, the calculation takes Ms. Kelly about a second. “Yes,” she said, “I would be willing.”

West Africa and international drug trade

The connection of local economies with global markets often results in the local development of new skills, wealth, and infrastructure.  However, in the absence of effective governance black globalization can develop.  The integration of some parts of West Africa, such as Guinea-Bissau, into global trade networks has lead to the accumulation of skills in smuggling and smuggling institutions that have enriched few while impoverishing many.  For example see the UNDOC report Cocaine Trafficking in West Africa: The threat to stability and development (pdf).

Stephen Ellis, the Desmond Tutu professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Free University  of Amsterdam, writes earlier this year in African Affairs (doi:10.1093/afraf/adp017) about the development of West Africa’s International Drug Trade

A major change in the global cocaine trade is taking place. South American cocaine traders are reacting against the saturation of the North American market, the growing importance of Mexican drug gangs, and effective interdiction along the Caribbean smuggling routes. These factors have induced them to make a strategic shift towards the European market, making use of West Africa’s conducive political environment and the existence of well-developed West African smuggling networks. Some leading Latin American cocaine traders are even physically relocating to West Africa and moving a considerable part of their business operations to a more congenial location, just as any multinational company might do in the world of legal business. Most recently, since a coup in Guinea in December 2008, there have been reports of Latin American cocaine traders moving in significant numbers to Conakry, where some relatives of the late President Lansana Conte have an established interest in the cocaine trade. Some observers believe that the next step for Latin American cocaine traders might be to commence large-scale production in West Africa. Some African law-enforcement officers are deeply concerned by the likely effects of the drug trade and drug money on their own societies, and indeed there is evidence that drug money is funding political campaigns and affecting political relations in several West African countries. Diplomats and other international officials worry that some West African countries could develop along similar lines to Mexico, where drug gangs have a symbiotic relationship with political parties and with the state and drug-related violence results in thousands of deaths every year.

Research by the present author shows that Lebanese smugglers were using West Africa as a transit point to transport heroin to the USA as early as 1952. A decade later, Nigerian and Ghanaian smugglers in particular began exporting African-grown marijuana to Europe on a scale large enough to attract sustained official attention. By the early 1980s, some had graduated to the global cocaine and heroin business. Since then, successful Nigerian and Ghanaian drug traders have established themselves in most parts of the world, including other West African countries, where they work with local partners in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere. Very large shipments of cocaine from South America to West Africa have been recorded for the last ten years. In short, West Africa’s role in the international drug trade has historical roots going back for over half a century and has been a matter of significant concern to law-enforcement officers worldwide for decades rather than years. Latin American traders who see some benefit in moving part of their operations to West Africa can find local partners with well-established networks who provide them with safe houses, banking, storage space, and a host of other facilities in return for a suitable financial arrangement or for payment in kind.

Not only is West Africa conveniently situated for trade between South America and Europe, but above all it has a political and social environment that is generally suitable for the drug trade. Smuggling is widely tolerated, law enforcement is fitful and inefficient, and politicians are easily bribed or are even involved in the drug trade themselves. Many officials throughout the region are deeply concerned by the effects of the drug trade, but are often confronted by people and networks more powerful than they, with other priorities. The recent emergence of a sophisticated financial infrastructure in Ghana and Nigeria is a further reason for the enhanced importance of West Africa in global drug trafficking. All of the above draws attention to a point made by Jean-François Bayart and others more than ten years ago, namely that expertise in smuggling, the weakness of law-enforcement agencies, and the official tolerance of, or even participation in, certain types of crime, constitute a form of social and political capital that accumulates over time.

The UNODC has pointed out that the relocation of a substantial part of the Latin American cocaine business to West Africa, including even some senior management functions, is not best understood as a consequence simply of comparative advantage in pricing. A more important reason for this development, which has been taking place for over a decade, is the exceptionally favourable political context offered by ineffective policing, governments that have a reputation for venality, and the relative lack of international attention given to West Africa. A pliable sovereign state is the ideal cover for a drug trafficker. The Colombian economist Francisco Thoumi states that ‘[p]rofitable illegal economic activity requires not only profitability, but also weak social and state controls on individual behavior, that is, a society where government laws are easily evaded and social norms tolerate such evasion’. In short, ‘[i]llegality generates competitive advantages in the countries or regions that have the weakest rule of law’. Drug production is not primarily to be explained by prices, but by reference to ‘institutions, governability and social values’. This is consistent with the ‘new’ international trade theory, which emphasizes the role of technical knowledge, public infrastructure, and the qualities of institutions in encouraging trade, supporting the view that ‘institutional and structural weaknesses and cultural aspects determine the competitive advantage in illegal goods and services’.

It is not hard to see why powerful people may nonetheless tolerate the drug trade in West Africa. For countries as poor as Guinea-Bissau or Guinea-Conakry, it makes a huge, though unofficial, contribution to national income. The UNODC, however, warns that crime hinders development, which it defines as ‘the process of building societies that work’. Crime is said to destroy social capital, and therefore to be anti-development. In purely technical terms, the emergence of the drug trade in West Africa over a period of fifty years or more is an astonishing feat. West African traders, with Nigerians in the forefront, have created for themselves an important role in a business characterized by competition that is cut-throat – literally – and by high profits. They have penetrated drug markets in every continent. Their success, and their growing ability to cooperate with organized crime groups elsewhere in the world, is inextricably linked not only to globalization and new patterns of international migration, but also to specific experiences of rapid economic liberalization in the late twentieth century. Nigerians especially were playing a significant role in the illegal drug trade in the 1970s, before the era of structural adjustment. Subsequently, the manner in which new financial and economic policies were implemented in West Africa in the 1980s contributed greatly to the formation of what has been called ‘a shadow state’, in which rulers draw authority ‘from their abilities to control markets and their material rewards’. Dismantling large parts of the bureaucratic apparatus inherited from colonial times, and the formal economic activity that went with it, rulers became intent on identifying new shadow state networks, sometimes drawing in foreign investors. West Africa’s ‘shadow states’ are thus relatively new, but they draw heavily on older traditions. These include not only the existence since pre-colonial times of initiation societies that are sites of power, but also the colonial practice of indirect rule, which sometimes resulted in local authorities operating unofficial networks of governance rooted in local social realities, hidden from the view of European officials whose attention was focused on the official apparatus of government.

Weaving ‘Protective stories’ to secure urban green areas

Henrik Ernstson and Sverker Sörlin‘s article Weaving protective stories: connective practices to articulate holistic values in the Stockholm National Urban Park, (2009 Environment and Planning A).  Is described in a Stockholm Resilience Centre press release ‘Protective stories´ help secure urban green areas:

Despite strong exploitation pressure, a diverse urban movement of civil society organizations in Stockholm has managed to provide narratives able to explain and legitimize the need to protect urban green areas. Through ‘protective stories´ that interlaces cultural history and conservation biology, activists have managed to link areas previously considered disconnected and justifying the need for a better, overall protection of the areas.

Crucial for generating and keeping alive such narratives have been artists, authors and scientists and their artefacts like paintings, maps, buildings and scientific reports. While some artists are from the historical past, others have worked alongside the movement in producing artefacts towards articulating certain values. When re-printed in media, displayed at an exhibition, or published in a book, these artefacts — old or newly produced — also become agents in “telling the story” so as to put pressure on authorities and to change public opinon.

Such networks of activists, artefacts and social arenas do not possess any formal power, but they can nonetheless achieve a lot, both as a community of practice wielding power and knowledge but also through mobilizing yet more actors and artefacts to make the network grow. The protective story is kept alive at many places continously and simultaneously, says Ernstson.

Community-mapping projects for sustainability

How to strengthen the voice and knowledge of locals in planning processes? Many have argued that in order to face complexity and uncertainty, decision-making processes need to engage with a diverse set of actors representing different knowledges (see for instance recent article by Carpenter, Folke, Scheffer and Westley 2009, or from planning theory, Jonathan Murdoch, Post-structuralist Geography, 2006).


One civil-society response seems to be to engage with an activity historically mostly attached to top-down and centralized control, and start producing your own maps! By merging community activism with cheap Internet mapping techniques, such local responses are growing into an emergent international movement of community map-makers at Green Map ®.

The organization writes that the focus is to “highlight the social, cultural, and sustainable resources of a particular geographic area” and to support “perspective-changing community ‘portraits’ which act as comprehensive inventories for decision-making and as practical guides for residents and tourists.”


Starting in New York in 1992 the organization now claims to collect hundreds of evolving maps across the world. Just recently the initiative reached one of the community organizations here in my own neigbourhood Bagarmossen, Stockholm, to build the “Stockholm Green Map” (betaversion).

Of course maps have historically been seen as a tool for control, representing the vision of the ruler or the state. And although a critical analysis is still valid when it comes to community-maps, the Green Map ® project and similar projects certainly bring out new possibilities for the general public to participate in the production of facts, values, plans and visions about the landscape. Still though, community maps at Green Map seems to be a bias towards the values of sites and points, a bias that might miss social and ecological linkages across the landscape, which is of concern for the generation of ecosystem services and ecological resilience. Another problem seems to be the openess of the map-making process. When zooming into the Stockholm Green Map one will also find gasoline stations (selling biofuels), restaurants (serving eco-food) and clothing stores. The map becomes a mosaic of quite non-related things vaguely placed under the umbrella of an urban sustainable lifestyle. A coherent narrative is missing that can bring out negreen-map-chiyen-community-taiwanw perspectives and knowledges of urban realities so as to change spatial planning processes.

Framed as a tool for organized public interests like urban (social) and environmental movements, however, this type of mapping could be valuable in visualizing surpressed values and forsaken spatial realities. As such it could enrich knowledge(s) needed for building more equitable and resilient cities.

Reflections on urban resilience

Two recent reflections on resilience in cities, which use different definitions of resilience than the resilience alliance.  The first focuses on resilience as social trust and while the second on resilience as persistence.

Arjun Appadurai on the Immanent Frame writes: Is Mumbai’s resilience endlessly renewable?

Many well-meaning observers have stressed the “resilience”, the mutual generosity, the quotidian heroism and the remarkable resistance of Mumbaikars to jump to quick conclusions or hasty reprisals. I too congratulate and celebrate these facts. But I fear that all resilience is historically produced. And what history gives, history can take away. Yes, we are all Mumbaikars now. But in a world that links Mumbai, Kashmir, Karachi, Madrid, Peshawar, London, Wall Street, Washington and Faridkot, that is not necessarily a source of comfort. Resilience is a public resource. But, unlike terror, it is not indefinitely renewable.

In the Detroit Free Press columnist Sarah Webster quotes Steve Carpenter on resilience to explain why Detroit will come back in Detroit: Not a town of quitters:

If you’re from Detroit, you probably already know how much resilience has been fused into your bones.

This town is full of it.

In a YouTube video (Watch Carpenter explain it )posted by the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Professor Stephen Carpenter, who specializes in ecosystems at the University of Wisconsin, said resilience explains how things can “change and persist at the same time.”

“A resilient system could be able to withstand a shock without losing its basic functions,” he said. “A resilient system is able to transform to a different way of life when the current way of life is no longer feasible.”

But where resilience comes from – and why some people get it, while others don’t – isn’t a subject that’s very well understood. …

Like much of America, Detroit is full of immigrants. Those who came to Detroit, however, came to work in the factories at a time when factories weren’t so clean or safe, and there was a lot of competition for those $5 a day jobs. Factory work was for thick-skinned men who could breathe smoke, slog away near blazing fire pits of molten steel and assemble heavy car parts with their bare hands.

Wimps were not needed. Only the strong survived.

As somebody who came to Detroit just a decade ago, it seems to me that children of these immigrants – many of whom still work today in Detroit’s factories, or as engineers, designers and managers throughout the region – still know how to fight for what they believe in. And they seem to know that sometimes fights are best won in the final rounds, not in the early ones.

From time to time, I think it’s a good idea to remind folks what makes them so special — especially when they’re feeling down, as Detroit seems to be lately.

So, Detroit, know this: This is not a town of quitters.

And it’s why I feel so sure that Detroit, and its auto industry, will make a big comeback someday.

Campus Sustainability Resources

Universities are important testbeds for the development of a sustainable civilization, as sustainability requires learning and innovation, and campuses are societal centers of learning. Many projects have attempted to assess sustainability at universities.

2008 College Sustainability Report Card graded the sustainability of the 200 North American universities with the largest endowments. Schools were graded (from “A” to “F”) in seven categories. McGill improved from last year when in got a C+. This year it got a B- coming 3rd in the Canadian universities evaluated, behind UBC and U of Toronto, but beating U of Alberta. McGill’s grade puts it in the top 1/3 of North American universities.

The Sierra Youth Coalition has a Sustainable Campus Project, part of which has been focussed on developing a Campus Sustainability Assessment Framework. A number of different Canadian universities have conducted CSAF assessments. The Concordia Campus Sustainability Assessment at Concordia is an active and ongoing project. In many ways they are ahead of McGill, however they have been using the CSAF, hopefully we can learn from what they have been doing and build upon it. While CSAF is a start, the framework lacks a conceptual foundation, which makes, prioritizing, interpreting and identifying opportunities for improvement among its many (~170) indicators difficult. Also the CSAF was not developed in collaboration with university decision-makers, consquently it doesn’t have much credibility to them.

Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education is also developing a system Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) which is a: voluntary, self-reporting framework for gauging relative progress toward sustainability for colleges and universities.

The AASHE and it has also identified an number of other campus sustainability assessments:

Auditing Instrument for Sustainability in Higher Education (AISHE)
Dutch Committee for Sustainable Higher Education (DHO)
An assessment process in which a campus team rates the department/campus on a scale of 1-5 (1 is lowest, 5 highest) for 20 indicators, mostly related to educational goals, process and outcome.

Campus Sustainability Selected Indicators Snapshot
New Jersey Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability (NJHEPS)
A tool for rating a campus’s performance from 1 to 7 (1 being the least sustainable, 7 being the most) for a range of environmental indicators. A series of questions to accompany each assessment category is also provided.

CSA Guidelines and Suggested Indicators
Campus Sustainability Assessment Project (CSAP)
Proposes 38 snapshot indicators in 14 categories; including metrics for assessing each indicator.

Draft List of Environmental Performance Indicators
Campus Consortium for Environmental Excellence (C2E2)
Listing of mostly quantitative environmental performance indicators.

Environmental Management System Self-Assessment Checklist
Campus Consortium for Environmental Excellence (C2E2)
A series of 33 questions in 5 categories for quantitatively evaluating an environmental management system.

Sustainability Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ)
University Leaders For A Sustainable Future (ULSF)
Assessment process in which a campus team rates their institution�s accomplishments on seven dimensions of sustainability in higher education.

McGill Campus Sustainability Report Card

This spring I am working with a student to extend a project from Environmental Research (ENVR 401) project that created a campus sustainability report card for McGill. While universities are important testbeds for the development of a sustainable civilization, too often science is not used to monitor and evaluate what is actually been accomplished. The report card project is meant to address this gap. It is designed to be used to help guide McGill’s sustainability policies by identifying how McGill’s sustainability efforts have been performing. The client for this project is University Services at McGill, whose new sustainability director is Dennis Fortune.

There has been quite a bit of work done on sustainability at McGill. The Sustainable McGill Project conducted a the McGill Sustainability Assessment.

Rethink has a list of the many McGill student groups working on environmental issues. Environmental Officer Kathleen Ng has a good understanding of past and present initiatives, and she has helped organize the ReThink events at McGill – including this years event March 28, and the website hosts lots of documents, and presentations from past years.

Some of various efforts on sustainability at McGill have been reported in the McGill Daily articles Wild students, old monster and Stepping up, and last year, former MSE students made a documentary on recycling at McGill, In the Quiet and Still Air of Delightful Studies, which captures some of the issues and conflicts circulating around sustainability on campus. And the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education recently had an article on a recent visit one of their staff made to McGill.

Carbon Neutral Universities

Metropolis Magazine writes about the maturing and deepening of the university campus sustainability in Carbon Neutral U:

Higher education has emerged as a thrilling proving ground for a sustainable society. Schools of all statures and sizes—from the Ivies to red-state community colleges—are making the most of their fiefdoms, leveraging their educated and politically engaged populations, long-term outlooks, and self-managed (the often significant) physical footprints to make substantial changes. But with those changes comes a surprising reversal in academe’s typical stance: the mechanics of the campus are occupying the brightest spotlight. Students, administrators, and faculty are obsessing over the cleaning products the janitors use, how dining-hall potatoes are grown, and which dorms consume the least energy. Infrastructure is hot—hotter arguably than research or teaching about sustainability. It is as if the ivory tower has looked out to the world and seen a choking planet, and its first response is to look inward again at its own activities—building designs, power plants, and transportation systems. …

Schools are also looking to one another for help, increasingly collaborating in realms where they have traditionally competed. “There’s long been an incredible amount of peer benchmarking across higher education, but that’s not the same as collaboration,” says Mark Orlowski, executive director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute, the publisher of the College Sustainability Report Card 2008, which evaluated 200 schools on their environmental activities. “Collaboration, while quite widespread in the academic side of the university, has been less prevalent in operations,” he adds.

The range of projects is staggering. After a decade of bring-your-own-coffee-mug student environmentalism, the opening salvo of a new, more glamorous era in campus sustainability came in 2001, when the daughter of famed Berkeley, California, chef Alice Waters enrolled as a freshman at Yale. Waters’s initial disgust at the cafeteria steam tables evolved into the Yale Sustainable Food Project, which today manages an organic campus farm, directs a sustainable dining program, and serves as the base for a series of academic classes. It’s also been a lightning rod for PR—“A Dining Hall Where Students Sneak In,” crowed the New York Times—and dozens of schools have launched similar programs. More recently, as campuses have turned their attention to carbon reduction, no detail is too small: dorms are providing laundry racks for no-energy clothes drying, offering free bike maintenance as well as shared bikes, encouraging students to disconnect their dorm appliances over vacations, and recycling their organic potato French fry grease into biodiesel fuel for campus buses.

… For the cadre of campus sustainability coordinators, “creating a culture of sustainability” is one of the measures of success. The administrative structures for sustainability offices vary school by school, with some coordinators reporting through facilities, some through the provost or president’s offices, and some through both. But they all have the mandate to bridge the university’s operational initiatives to its teaching and research—to make the nuts and bolts count toward the big teachable ideas. With the wave of interest sweeping the students and faculty, new projects are coming from everywhere. The sustainability coordinator plays traffic cop, diplomat, and “facilitator.” As Yale’s Newman puts it, “What’s so fascinating about these positions is that we don’t directly oversee any of these functions. We have no power to do any of it. Our role is to be a sustainability generalist and then to develop questions and frameworks to understand how these systems work independently and together—so that, in the aggregate, does it lead to a sustainable Yale?”

Kim Stanley Robinson on nature, architecture, and society

Geoff Manaugh recently interviewed ecological science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson about ecology, architecture and socieities on BLDGBLOG.  Manaugh writes:

Robinson’s books are not only filled with descriptions of landscapes – whole planets, in fact, noted, sensed, and textured down to the chemistry of their soils and the currents in their seas – but they are often about nothing other than vast landscape processes, in the midst of which a few humans stumble along. “Politics,” in these novels, is as much a question of social justice as it is shorthand for learning to live in specific environments.

Robinson responds to a question about the idea that catastrophe can allow new forms of social organization to emerge:

It’s a failure of imagination to think that climate change is going to be an escape from jail – and it’s a failure in a couple of ways.

For one thing, modern civilization, with six billion people on the planet, lives on the tip of a gigantic complex of prosthetic devices – and all those devices have to work. The crash scenario that people think of, in this case, as an escape to freedom would actually be so damaging that it wouldn’t be fun. It wouldn’t be an adventure. It would merely be a struggle for food and security, and a permanent high risk of being robbed, beaten, or killed; your ability to feel confident about your own – and your family’s and your children’s – safety would be gone. People who fail to realize that… I’d say their imaginations haven’t fully gotten into this scenario.

It’s easy to imagine people who are bored in the modern techno-surround, as I call it, and they’re bored because they have not fully comprehended that they’re still primates, that their brains grew over a million-year period doing a certain suite of activities, and those activities are still available. Anyone can do them; they’re simple. They have to do with basic life support and basic social activities unboosted by technological means.

And there’s an addictive side to this. People try to do stupid technological replacements for natural primate actions, but it doesn’t quite give them the buzz that they hoped it would. Even though it looks quite magical, the sense of accomplishment is not there. So they do it again, hoping that the activity, like a drug, will somehow satisfy the urge that it’s supposedly meant to satisfy. But it doesn’t. So they do it more and more – and they fall down a rabbit hole, pursuing a destructive and high carbon-burn activity, when they could just go out for a walk, or plant a garden, or sit down at a table with a friend and drink some coffee and talk for an hour. All of these unboosted, straight-forward primate activities are actually intensely satisfying to the totality of the mind-body that we are.

So a little bit of analysis of what we are as primates – how we got here evolutionarily, and what can satisfy us in this world – would help us to imagine activities that are much lower impact on the planet and much more satisfying to the individual at the same time. In general, I’ve been thinking: let’s rate our technologies for how much they help us as primates, rather than how they can put us further into this dream of being powerful gods who stalk around on a planet that doesn’t really matter to us.

Because a lot of these supposed pleasures are really expensive. You pay with your life. You pay with your health. And they don’t satisfy you anyway! You end up taking various kinds of prescription or non-prescription drugs to compensate for your unhappiness and your unhealthiness – and the whole thing comes out of a kind of spiral: if only you could consume more, you’d be happier. But it isn’t true.

I’m advocating a kind of alteration of our imagined relationship to the planet. I think it’d be more fun – and also more sustainable. We’re always thinking that we’re much more powerful than we are, because we’re boosted by technological powers that exert a really, really high cost on the environment – a cost that isn’t calculated and that isn’t put into the price of things. It’s exteriorized from our fake economy. And it’s very profitable for certain elements in our society for us to continue to wander around in this dream-state and be upset about everything.

The hope that, “Oh, if only civilization were to collapse, then I could be happy” – it’s ridiculous. You can simply walk out your front door and get what you want out of that particular fantasy.

Climate Change Escapism

In Spain Greenpeace has published a short photo book Photoclima that uses estimates from IPPC and photomontages to show six landscapes of Spain a changed climate. The book is bilingual in Spanish and English.

By Pedro Armestre and Mario Gómez. La Manga del Mar menor, Murcia now and after a few decades of climate change,

On BLDGBLOG Geoff Manaugh comments on how this project, and how not to envision the future in Climate Change Escapism:

The basic idea here is that these visions of flooded resort hotels, parched farmlands, and abandoned villages, half-buried in sand, will inspire us to take action against climate change. Seeing these pictures, such logic goes, will traumatize people into changing how they live, vote, consume, and think. You can visually shock them into action, in other words: one or two glimpses of pictures like these and you’ll never think the same way about climate change again.
But I’m not at all convinced that that’s what these images really do.

In fact, these and other visions of altered planetary conditions might inadvertantly be stimulating people’s interest in experiencing the earth’s unearthly future. Why travel to alien landscapes when you can simply hang around, driving your Hummer…?

Climate change is the adventure tour of a lifetime – and all it requires is that you wait. Then all the flooded hotels of Spain and south Florida will be yours for the taking.
Given images like these, the future looks exciting again.

Of course, such thinking is absurd; thinking that flooded cities and continent-spanning droughts and forest fires will simply be a convenient way to escape your mortgage payments is ridiculous. Viewing famine, mass extinction, and global human displacement into diarrhea-wracked refugee camps as some sort of Outward Bound holiday – on the scale of a planet – overlooks some rather obvious downsides to the potentially catastrophic impact of uncontrolled climate alteration.

Whether you’re talking about infant mortality, skin cancer, mass violence and rape, waterborne diseases, vermin, blindness, drowning, and so on, climate change entails radically negative effects that aren’t being factored into these escapist thought processes.

But none of those things are depicted in these images.

These images, and images like them, don’t show us identifiable human suffering.