Issues

This section gathers a range of issues that have contributed to climate breakdown. They indicate the causes rather than the symptoms of climate breakdown, describing the conditions from which modern architecture has arisen, and by implication, the forces that future architectures must face and resist. It is only by addressing the causes that meaningful transformations can be made.

These issues are described as verbs, such as exploiting and accumulating, which are all closely associated with the actions of the modern project—the defining operation of the past 450 years. They also are conditions that have directed the course of architecture in the modern era. The verbs describe the forces that have accelerated climate breakdown; left untouched, they will proliferate. It is only by addressing the causes that meaningful transformations can be made. Looking upstream from your project or work, identify the issues that are most profoundly affecting it, and therefore need intervention with spatial imagination and intelligence. Each of the ISSUES is linked with several PRACTICES that are confronting the condition; use these links to find other ways of dealing with these forces.

One of the founding tenets of the modern project is that of accumulation. Without repeated announcements of growth, the modern project is seen to have failed, hence the hysteria when economic growth is stagnating or receding. The obsession with growth disguises the very limited criteria by which growth is measured and championed, with economic values such as GDP always at the fore. Growth cannot be endlessly conjured out of nothing; there is material, ecological, and natural stock being continuously raided, and with it, planetary boundaries exceeded. Architecture is both symbol and handservant of modern growth, its excesses are reliant on fossil fuels. If climate breakdown demands a fundamental reconsideration of the creed of growth, it also asks questions of architecture’s role in the systems of accumulation.

Modernity has always attempted, conceptually and operationally, to impose order on an unruly world to better control it. The accumulation of control within the realms of politics and economics leads to a stifling of situated and canny actions. Against such restrictions, some of the most productive and poignant climate-facing initiatives start out precisely through critiquing and resisting monopolised systems of control. Centralised systems and normalised values of control further exclude exactly those alternative voices that are needed to face multiple crises.

A core aspect of the modern condition is the accumulation of identity at a personal, institutional, corporate, and national level, a superficial obsession which obscures the fundamental aspects of climate breakdown. This focus on one type of controlling identity necessarily excludes other voices. Within the architectural profession, myths of individual genius perpetuate an elitist system of ‘starchitects’ whereby designers are celebrated for aesthetic identity, eclipsing the interdependent role that architecture can play by collaborating with other people, and in careful relation with ecosystems and the climate.

Some of the practices addressing this issue

Grand Parc, Zuloark, Heritage Foundation of Pakistan

Mantras of progress recited by the modern project rely on the proliferation of the new. Endlessly requiring more stuff raids an emptying planet and emits carbon, sometimes intentionally as obsolescence is designed into things and systems. Architecture, as the biggest of stuff, fits into this pattern of accumulation. Its culture too often celebrates ‘innovation’ in technical, formal, and aesthetic frames, obscuring the labour, land, and natural resources that these innovations rely on. Only recently have people dared to ask “is a building necessary in the first place?”

A defining feature of late capitalism is the increasing inequality of wealth distribution, with assets accumulating in the hands of a small global elite. These inequalities are further reinforced in terms of carbon, with the world’s richest 1% responsible for double the CO2 emissions of those of 50% of the poorest. This accumulative addiction profoundly affects the production of the built and natural environment, with short-term surplus value extracted in opposition to the longer horizons that climate thinking demands. Within this financialised condition, construction, manufacturing, and procurement systems become risk averse, foreclosing opportunities for climate-responsive architecture and spatial infrastructure.

The standard way of addressing climate breakdown is to view it as a set of problems to which expert knowledge can be applied to create solutions, usually within a technocratic frame. This results in a quick-fix solutionism akin to sticking a band-aid over a wound which might deal with particular symptoms, but does not acknowledge the relational causes underlying the crisis. Every band-aid is held up as a sign of progress, but because they are disconnected, partial and often temporary, they lack the power to effect wholesale and lasting change. For instance, carbon off-setting is championed despite being little more than a displacement activity. Addressing the root causes of climate breakdown in holistic ways, recognising connections between disciplines, and anticipating future implications of action is vital.

The solutionist approach of architecture to climate breakdown is to treat each new building as a partial fix, normally using technical means and criteria based around carbon reduction. While this may be well-intentioned, it results in the production of new buildings and technologies to patch over the failings of previous ones. Such band-aiding is by no means enough, because it perpetuates standard approaches of architecture in assuming that the best ‘solution’ is another building. Claims of environmentalism often mask greenwashing practices, displacing responsibility and delaying opportunities for change. Climate breakdown demands new forms of spatial practice: an expanded version of architecture beyond the band-aid.

As long as band-aiding remains confined to disciplinary silos, then wider structural issues driving climate breakdown continue unchallenged. When a technocratic breakthrough fixes a discrete problem, it often displaces the issue to another context. For example, geo-engineering and automation are designed to solve narrowly defined problems but ignore relational and long-term considerations such as habitat conservation and labour rights. Band-aiding also risks perpetuating global inequities whereby the Global North “fixes” problems it caused elsewhere. Climate breakdown resists such fragmented ‘solutions’, instead calling for a relational approach which acknowledges cause and effect.

Some of the practices addressing this issue

Refunc, Granby Four Streets, Aldea, Grey to Green, Floating University

The carbon state is addicted to economic growth which relies upon exploiting other people and nature itself to fuel its extractive regime. Multiple and interconnected forms of exploitation underpin this regime, ranging from the violent extraction of resources from the earth to the abusive treatment of workers, to the socially and ecologically devastating effects of carbon-intensive construction and waste. Architecture is complicit in these processes. Disaster capitalism, meanwhile, feeds off climate breakdown. To avoid the most violent effects of breakdown, a systemic move away from the maxims of growth is necessary, and with this an overturning of the multiple forms of exploitation.

Economic growth relies upon exploiting other people and disguising this abuse so as to maintain the idea that growth is unquestionable. When conceived in isolation from its forms of production, architecture ignores the exploitations of labour and extractions of resources which enable its creation. Introducing more ethical and transparent labour practices would overcome the lack of accountability in the production of the built environment, making such exploitation impossible. Climate justice therefore necessitates labour practices that respect human rights and planetary boundaries. Reuniting workers with the materials and means of production reengages labour power as an agency capable of making ethical and ecological decisions.

Many related forms of exploitation play out upon land, harming ecological and social systems by abstracting them for financialised profit-making. Land speculation transforms space into privatised territories and denies people access to viable land for self-sustainment. Carbon-intensive practices including aviation and construction are incentivised and greenwashed when land is used as a carbon sink to offset emissions. In its intentional abstraction, land is removed from its original state as part of a natural system, and its exploitation contributes to climate breakdown. Revitalising the understanding of land is necessary, seeing it as the living matter of soil and not as a commodity.

Architecture in its present mode is almost entirely reliant on the extraction and exploitation of natural resources, claiming them as free or cheap materials for production. The industrialisation of nature is evidenced in the construction sector and built environment. The modern era is shaped by the supply of seemingly abundant energy. The display of fresh technologies depends on raiding the natural world, which is treated as a standing reserve. Practices including logging or fracking that supply construction materials and fuel damage the climate irreparably, as do waste disposal methods. It is, however, possible and necessary to work with resources that are renewable, renewed, or regenerative.

In its totalising conception, the modern project (including that of architecture) inevitably ignores conditions and issues that fall outside of its purview. This ignoring, arising out of an unwavering self-belief is an intentional mode of control and ordering, an act of exclusion. In terms of climate breakdown, it becomes a mode of selective amnesia, dealing with conditions that are part of the modern, Eurocentric worldview, while turning a blind eye to those beyond. In defiance of evidence for climate breakdown and social injustice, hubristic pursuits of economic growth deny consequences, or else externalise them as regrettable inevitabilities. Other ways of being and doing, meanwhile, are also ignored by being dismissed as incompatible with business as usual.

The urgent realities of climate breakdown are too often shadowed by forms of denial or delay. This is symptomatic of the ignoring of consequences, where the seduction of future visions too often masks associated impacts. Confronting the actual consequences of climate breakdown commonly results in paralysing anxiety. The consequences of climate breakdown are also too often described in terms of threat, imposition, and loss, and thus dismissed. Ignoring consequences does not make them go away, but displaces them to poorer communities, regions of the Global South, and future generations.

Business as usual controls activity through a narrowly defined set of behaviours compatible with capitalist modes of production and privatised profit. Its control of the dominant modes of knowledge and action excludes other ways of being and doing. Other ways of being and doing are often marginalised as unrealistic or irrelevant, thereby wasting the potential they hold for facing climate breakdown. This ignoring is fatal in the face of climate breakdown because the disrupted world cannot be fixed with the same methods that broke it: other forms beyond the dominant need to be recovered.

Some of the practices addressing this issue

Futurefarmers, Zuloark, Hunnarshala Foundation, Ñambi Rimai, Wretched of the Earth

Because climate action is often framed through a scientific and technocratic worldview, it tends to ignore wider social impacts. When social indicators are suppressed, unevenly experienced vulnerabilities of climate breakdown are silenced, with the world’s poorest communities and regions suffering the most, and the world’s richest protecting themselves against further disruption. Climate justice is closely linked to social justice and resists such unequal distribution by drawing human rights into conversation with the rights of nature.

An identifying feature of modernity and its capitalist enterprise is its project of separating issues so as to better control them. Separation includes the division of the Global North and South, of men from women, and of human beings from nature. This results in the privileging of one domain over another, obscuring the ways in which things and forces are inevitably related to one another. Separation isolates climate, as opposed to understanding it as the condition for all life, including architecture. This entails rejecting the dominant anthropocentric worldview of white patriarchy and understanding the connectivity of the human and beyond-human.

Academia and wider societal structures organise themselves by separating disciplines based on particular forms of knowledge. Disciplinary boundaries are guarded, with certain ways of knowing overriding others so that technocratic and market-compatible activities dominate. The technocratic approach to climate breakdown splits it into distinct conditions to which specific methodologies and techniques are applied. However, climate does not respect such disciplinary boundaries, and so needs to be treated through trans- and inter-disciplinary thinking, understanding the world as a network of situated relations. Architecture in its breadth of approaches, from the humanities to science, is well placed in this respect.

The separating urge of modernity extends to the division of functions and policies: political life is organised into separate ministries, buildings defined by functional type, and cities divided into use zones. Such a tight-fit, functionalist approach to a systemic condition suppresses opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration and imposes fixed typologies, where alternative, more flexible, and locally specific practices could flourish. Similar to the way cities are often zoned by function and their populations unfairly segregated, the practice of separating functions isolates and emaciates potentials for systemic change. Any policy or action to face climate breakdown must transcend functional and political siloing.

Some of the practices addressing this issue

Regenerative Agriculture, Forest Gardens, Grey to Green, Architectural Unions, C40

The separation of human beings from nature has lethal consequences, not least in the biodiversity loss and species collapse associated with climate breakdown. Nature is treated as inert, losing its vibrant ecological relationality. Abstracting nature as a resource for controlling and extracting profit reduces its life-giving capacities. Mono-culture practices of industrial agriculture exemplify such a technique, with soil exhaustion, crop failure, famine, and chemical poisoning and pollution evidencing the catastrophic effects of mistreating nature as a commodity store and refuse heap. Any climate-oriented action must start with a reconnection of humans to nature.

The violent and predatory nature of capitalism results in its intervention into all aspects of human and beyond-human life, violating the rights of people and nature. Such violations override social and natural relations that have evolved over time. Overstepping planetary boundaries and ethical responsibilities, capitalism arranges the world according to its own logics of extraction and immediate profit, overwriting anything that does not accord with its specific worldview. Such violations disrespect nature as a life-giving condition and even profit from climate’s breakdown. The short-term and morally empty nature of modern violations are antithetical to the longer term and situated spatial thinking required to face climate breakdown.

Planetary boundaries are constantly violated as capitalist practices extract nature’s resources. Spatial boundaries are violated as the original stewards of land are displaced. Ethical boundaries are also violated through exploitative labour conditions, and forced migration due to human made climate changes, conflict, and market demands. Tapping nature as an inert resource violates age-old spatial and ecological boundaries set by indigenous caretakers of lands and ecosystems, sometimes setting in train the processes of extinction. Any climate-oriented architectural action must therefore be fully sensitive to existing boundaries where they help hold the planet and its people in equilibrium.

The dominance of white and heteropatriarchal identities results in a narrowing of horizons when it comes to facing climate breakdown. Confined to machismo, individualistic modes of response, and trained in competitive relations, business as usual overrides other forms of identity and their ways of being. Having had to work from marginalised places of vulnerability, many such identities hold vast reserves of wisdom when it comes to collaborative solidarity and working for long-term goals of climate justice. Transcending such separations while celebrating difference is key.

The history of the violation of the rights and capabilities of others extends back to the beginnings of colonisation and continues today. This violation is directly related to climate breakdown because Indigenous ways of being worked in balance with natural cycles. Business as usual violates the rights of those it excludes and exploits, ignoring their potential and capabilities. People’s power and ability to self-organise, to empathise, to learn collaboratively, to negotiate— such capabilities need to be nurtured as they are crucial for facing climate breakdown.

Sites

Sites describe social and spatial contexts in which climate breakdown is both produced and experienced. They represent the range of conditions which architecture needs to operate with and within in order to face climate breakdown. Work with the ones that are most relevant to your project and where you think most leverage can be found.

The sites are where architecture and climate are entangled. They describe the underlying conditions that shape architecture and so present the contexts with which future spatial practices need to engage. The sites hold the issues that contribute to climate breakdown and so present potentials for intervention and transformation. They place architecture within a set of socio-political dynamics that it both influences and is influenced by. Architecture here is not perceived as a self-contained discipline but rather as a working field which links social relations to spatial relations, and social formations to spatial formations. The sites are not mutually exclusive; every practice on the website and each FUTURES prompt engages with two or more of them. You can use the sites to filter the PRACTICES section of the website to find current examples to inform your own work.

Dominant cultural attitudes are implicated in the production of climate breakdown and limit potential ways of facing it. Assumptions around the primacy of progress, growth, reason, and order suppress or ignore other cultural approaches. At the same time, the prevailing culture of the architectural profession prioritises high art over labour, external aesthetics over human welfare, and works “for” rather than “with” target groups in its approach. Anthropocentric ways of seeing the world as a set of problems to be fixed leads to technocratic and divided mindsets. Against this, climate breakdown requires relational and diverse ways of thinking and acting. Culture becomes a shared realm, not the domain of the privileged few. The ideas, customs, and behaviours of architecture as we know it are only one way of understanding, creating, and occupying space. Architecture’s professionalised and academic culture has profound effects on climate, whether by normalising the extraction of materials from the earth or discarding waste back into it, or overly relying on techno-fix solutionism. Rethinking cultural approaches to and of spatial practices enables their transformation.

The orthodoxies and operations of the capitalist economic system are major drivers of climate breakdown. Growth, as a purely economic measure and profit for the benefit of the few is pursued irrespective of nature’s limits and planetary boundaries. The beyond-human world is treated as a site to be economically exploited. Architecture becomes a pawn in economic trading, and with it architects the handservants of capital. To avoid the most devastating effects of breakdown, other diverse economic models, ignored by dominant economic theories, need to be brought to the surface. Climate justice necessitates a re-evaluation of what constitutes value, and the introduction of other measures of growth, which respect the rights of all humans and beyond-humans. Enacting distributed, shared, and ethical economies engenders new social, and so spatial formations, all of which have implications for architecture.

Infrastructures are critical support systems inseparable from climate. Infrastructures affect their surroundings, introducing physical and organisational structures that shape the operation of a society. From motorway systems to gas-pipelines, infrastructures conventionally rely on technocratic approaches, usually using carbon-intensive means to ‘fix’ individual situations, overlooking the integrated nature of problems by isolating them in closed systems. Too often, various infrastructures are overlaid on each other in a wasteful and non-relational manner, or new ones endlessly replace older ones in a cycle of obsolescence. Instead, infrastructures need to be understood as processes with profound impacts on the human and beyond-human. Such an understanding combines the material with the immaterial and brings together the physical, social, and digital; new forms of infrastructure need to be dynamic, complex, ambiguous, and situated. In the face of climate breakdown, it is crucial to recognise and recover infrastructures as support systems that work with the world rather than from above. This involves drawing from principles of regeneration and a deep understanding of change and temporality.

The way that climate is conceived determines how it is addressed. Knowledge systems are still dominated by Eurocentric and imperial modes of modernity, which reduce the planet and its peoples to forms of logic and control. Knowledge, including that of architecture, is guarded canon. Within this closed system, vocabularies of scientific reason exclude and devalue other ways of knowing, not least those developed in other cultures and regions. Within these systems of epistemological power, climate becomes another abstraction, subject to human manipulation. Humankind is separated from nature, enabling nature’s exploitation. However, the devastating ecological impact of such a limited canon of thinking is now so apparent as to demand other ways of thinking and knowing, which admit to human vulnerability in contrast to the presumed authority of previous times. Different ways of knowing enable different ways of being and acting, with architecture released from its conventional confines. Such an approach sees expertise everywhere, surfacing forms of knowledge that have been suppressed by modernity.

Land is fundamental to life on earth, and yet this existential dependency is overwritten by the way that modernity treats land conceptually and operationally. Land’s political, ecological, and cultural conditions shape the lives of those living on it. Enclosed, privatised, and financialised, land only serves the profit of the few. Logged, fracked, and polluted, land is wounded and depleted. The colonial appropriation of Indigenous lands is closely tied to related exploitations of resources and people which contribute to climate breakdown. Against land’s abstraction and commodification, architecture needs to engage not just with what goes onto the land, but the conditions of land itself. Understanding the ecological value of land as soil is part of more emancipatory forms of spatial practice. Acknowledging land as a living being, as a vibrant entity that sustains life with rights of its own, engenders a more holistic approach.

Policies at a national, regional, and local level frame and thus determine action in relation to climate. Often attributed to elites, policies are criticised for their ineffectiveness, narrow focus on single issues, and tendency to reinforce the status quo through risk management approaches. Climate-related policies are more effective as relational devices that cut across disciplinary, political, and conceptual boundaries, consistent with the relational conditions of climate. This suggests the need for policies that are beyond partial fixes and expose the conditions in which things are made, as a form of analysis as well as future projection: policies that are informed by activism, a concern for Gaia, the rights of nature. Bringing policies back to their original roots in citizenship as means for collective betterment is crucial, particularly given that the lack of effective climate action is tied to democratic deficits. This is why citizens assemblies, practices of participatory governance, and other forms of redistributed decision-making become central to more equitable climate action.

Architecture has long relied on an extractivist regime in relation to resources. The over-intensive extraction of resources and the polluting effects of their consumption and waste vastly contributes to climate breakdown. Resources are placed into networks of economic exchange, rather than being seen as part of an ecological system. Respecting planetary boundaries is paramount in altering this unsustainable and unjust cycle. Keeping resources in the ground and using what is already available in circular systems enables a form of resourcefulness attuned to planetary boundaries and multi-species wellbeing. Such change requires rejecting alienated supply chains and creating transparent and accountable distributed systems. Knowing the origins and production methods of materials and products and then acting upon this knowledge is key. Implementing appropriate technologies (including methods often considered ancient and traditional) is also important for using resources in ways that respect ecosystems and planetary health.

Climate breakdown is bound to the over-intensive extraction of the earth’s resources, the associated carbon-intensive processing of materials, mass consumption, and accompanying waste. Such intensity often relies on the exploitation of labour and labourers. In this light, architecture is conceived in isolation from its forms of production and reproduction, ignoring the various exploitations of labour and extractions of resources, which enable its creation. Labour is not an abstract form but a human condition. Addressing labour injustices, therefore, also acknowledges important planetary boundaries. Rethinking hierarchies, building alliances of solidarity, recognising and introducing ethical labour practices undermines larger forces and is an important step in reimagining the relationship of architecture and climate. More equitable systems of labour, from the architectural office through the outsourced contractors such as renderers to the construction site open up a different sensibility to the way that architecture is conceived, seeing it as a relational discipline which places the ethics of planetary care at its core.

Positions

This is a collection of short texts that introduce some of the key theoretical and practical positions that have informed Architecture is Climate. Together, they provide an intellectual framework on which to build future spatial practice. Each text is accompanied by an annotated bibliography for further reference points.

Climate breakdown is inextricably linked to the prevailing economic structures and ideologies. Naomi Klein clearly makes this point in This Changes Everything, which traces the intersection of global capitalism with ecological collapse. “The triumph of market logic,” she writes, “with its ethos of domination and fierce competition, is paralyzing all serious efforts to respond to climate change.”1Naomi Klein. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (London: Penguin, 2015), p. 23. Given the global dominance of corporate capitalism—a particularly exploitative and uneven ‘progress’-driven economic model—some scholars including Jason Moore and Andreas Malm suggest naming the current era Capitalocene, emphasising the culpability of specifically capitalist actions in climate change.2Jason W. Moore. Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2016); Andreas Malm. Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam-Power and the Roots of Global Warming (London: Verso, 2015). The implication is clear: in order to maintain any hope of addressing climate breakdown, a wholesale reformulation of the assumptions and norms of mainstream economics is required. This starts with a reconsideration of issues of value, metrics, and growth, and their relationship to spatial practice. 

Mainstream economics defines values, and metrics for measuring them, according to a neoclassical model that tasks society with facilitating endless growth and consumption, irrespective of nature’s limits.3Fredrik Albritton Jonsson and Carl Wennerlind. Scarcity: A History from the Origins of Capitalism to the Climate Crisis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2023). The metric of gross domestic product (GDP), measures a nation’s wealth in a metric that, despite its bluntness, has dominated mainstream economics since the mid-20th century. GDP counts economic activity regardless of its social or ecological value (or damage). Crises such as oil spills, earthquakes, and wars raise the GDP because of the expensive rescue and reparation projects they entail. Meanwhile, the unpaid labour of raising children or caring for sick and elderly people counts for nothing—as activists including Silvia Federici and Marilyn Waring have demonstrated.4Silvia Federici. Wages Against Housework (Bristol: Falling Wall Press, 1975); Marilyn Waring, Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women Are Worth (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999). What is valued economically has always been determined by white, patriarchal, colonial power—such that the economic system mostly rewards the kinds of work done by white men in the Global North, and ignores other forms of work that support or enable it. Increasing GDP is not necessarily accompanied by a decrease in social inequality, despite the political rhetoric of a rising tide lifting all boats. Likewise, keeping oil and trees in the ground, rivers clean, and the air unpolluted is fundamental for planetary wellbeing, yet is worth zero according to GDP. 

Amidst climate breakdown and mass extinction, re-evaluating what values today is paramount. Such a reconsideration follows a long history of movements campaigning for shared wealth, led by agrarian revolutionaries, romantic poets, socialists, ecofeminists, and more. In the 1970s, the economist Herman Daly proposed steady-state economics to better align ideas of prosperity with ecological principles. Daly envisioned a steady-state economy as a square, placed within a circular whole that represents planetary limits.5Herman E. Daly. Steady-State Economics (Washington, D.C: Island Press, 1977). See also Herman E. Daly. Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996). This diagram influenced Kate Raworth’s prominent “doughnut economics” model, where a socially and ecologically viable economy sits within an outer circle of environmental limits and an inner circle of social wellbeing indicators.6Kate Raworth. Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist (London: Penguin, 2017). In both diagrams, social and ecological considerations are inseparable. As the environmental activist and scientist Vandana Shiva has pointed out, such inseparability is illustrated in issues such as soil health that concern both people and planet. According to Shiva’s holistic view, GDP measurements of economic growth are “anti-life”.7Vandana Shiva, ‘How Economic Growth Has Become Anti-Life’, Common Dreams, 1 November 2013 <https://www.commondreams.org/views/2013/11/01/how-economic-growth-has-become-anti-life> [accessed 7 June 2023]. Substances such as soil and seeds are sources (resources) of real value in their potential to sustain life and biodiversity. ‘Growth’ for Shiva, Raworth, Daly, and others, requires diverse metrics to properly account for a resurgence in wildlife and biodiversity, for example, or a proliferation of cultural engagement, a flourishing of communal greenspace, and increased ecological and political literacy. 

Without diversifying growth metrics, and with a continued reliance on GDP, a cold logic of financialisation prevails, assessing anything and everything for its potential for extracting profit. And, as Jason Moore has pointed out, such a system undervalues natural resources and labour power so that it can exploit and profit from them.8Jason Moore, “The Rise of Cheap Nature”, in Anthropocene or Capitalocene? (Binghampton, NY: PM Press, 2016), pp. 78–115. The geographer Kathryn Yusoff writes that extractivism is motivated by a desire for inhuman properties, with slavery, Indigenous genocide, and settler colonialism evidencing “total submission to the principle of extraction” under capitalist expansion.9Kathryn Yusoff. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2018); Janae Davis et al., “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, … Plantationocene?: A Manifesto for Ecological Justice in an Age of Global Crises”, Geography Compass 13, no. 5 (2019), p. 16. In the US, the Red Deal exemplifies a recent initiative to take racism, the afterlives of colonialism, and disparities of experience between the Global North and South into account when designing economic reforms in the face of climate breakdown.10Perspectives on a Global Green New Deal, ed. by Harpreet Kaur Paul and Dalia Gebrial (London: Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, 2021) <https://global-gnd.com/book/> [accessed 24 January 2022].

While some economists have proposed strategies inspired by economic reforms and employment programmes in the United States during the Great Depression, others have forwarded arguments for de-growth to curb consumption and waste.11Ann Pettifor. The Case for the Green New Deal (London: Verso, 2019); Tim Jackson. Post Growth: Life after Capitalism, 1st edition (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2021). For example, Jason Hickel’s book Less is More, makes the argument that modern society’s addiction to growth must be challenged in order to fundamentally address climate breakdown.12Hickel. Reducing current fossil fuel dependency is paramount (so long as it resists the “carbon colonial” outsourcing of polluting production to the Global South). Alongside this lies a possibility for other economic and social models that make space for other forms of growth—one such example is the Latin American concept of buen vivir, a coalition of Indigenous peoples, people of African descent, ecologists, ecofeminists, and activists nurturing relations of human and more-than-human value.13Alberto Acosta and Mateo Martínez Abarca, “Buen Vivir: An Alternative Perspective From The Peoples Of The Global South To The Crisis Of Capitalist Modernity”, in The Climate Crisis: South African and Global Democratic Eco-Socialist Alternatives, ed. by Vishwas Satgar (Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2018).

Buen vivir’s emphasis on growth as a flourishing of social and ecological relations is also foundational to alternative economies based on community and ‘common good’ values, including those proposed by the feminist economic geographers Julie Graham and Katherine Gibson, who use the collaborative pen-name J. K. Gibson-Graham. Spatial configurations of community economies are important to their success, with situated social and environmental contexts determining the kinds of organising and volunteering involved, as well as shaping circular models of production and exchange, self-managed infrastructures, and practices of reuse with existing buildings or materials.14Fitz and Krasny, p. 14. Having founded a Community Economies Collective in the 1990s, Gibson-Graham have focused on ”identifying, gathering, and amplifying ethical economic practices that already exist” and exemplified “the world we want to live in.”15J. K. Gibson-Graham, “Cultivating Community Economies”, in The New Systems Reader, ed. by James Gustave Speth and Kathleen Courrier (New York: Routledge, 2021), pp. 410–32, p. 411. Research on commoning practices of sharing space and resources has coincided with many grassroots initiatives such as housing co-ops, credit unions, community food banks, and Community Land Trusts (CLT), often working in manners inspired by Henry George in the 19th century, reducing the unfair concentration of asset wealth in property and land speculation.16See, for example, Elinor Ostrom. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Peter Linebaugh. Stop, Thief! : The Commons, Enclosures, And Resistance (Oakland: PM Press, 2014); Silvia Federici. Re-Enchanting the World Feminism and the Politics of the Commons (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2018).

Spatial practice is bound to the economic structures within which it operates. The production of the built environment has become increasingly tied into the expectations and norms of financialisation and market systems, and with it, architecture is identified as a marker of a certain type of neo-liberal growth and value system. It follows that economic systems based on revised interpretations of growth and value will thus be accompanied by re-formed spatial relations.

Annotated bibliography

Herman E Daly. Steady-State Economics (Washington, D.C: Island Press, 1977).

Herman Daly worked for the World Bank, gaining insight into how classic economics ignores planetary boundaries. This book argues for a human economy that operates within a finite, fragile ecosystem, and against processes of extracting limited resources and exporting waste. In other words, he proposes a steady-state economy rather than an economic model based on unlimited financial growth. Daly was amongst others who proposed different metrics for measuring wealth, developing an Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare, an economic indicator intended to replace the gross domestic product (GDP).

Silvia Federici. Re-Enchanting the World Feminism and the Politics of the Commons (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2018).

The theorist, historian, and activist Silvia Federici connects forms of enclosure occurring during early capitalism to the destruction of the commons within recent phases of global capitalist accumulation. Considering the commons from a feminist perspective, Federici describes the commons as autonomous spaces where the capitalist organisation of life and labour meet fundamental challenges and can be re-thought along principles of mutual aid.

J. K. Gibson-Graham. The End of Capitalism (as We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2006).

Writing under a pen name in a collective collaboration that anticipates the core idea of their work, the feminist economic geographers Julie Graham and Katherine Gibson argue that capitalist globalisation is neither healthy nor inevitable, and instead propose methods for developing ecologically and socially responsible economies based on community practices of mutual aid and sharing.

Fredrik Albritton Jonsson and Carl Wennerlind. Scarcity: A History from the Origins of Capitalism to the Climate Crisis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2023).

This history of the idea of scarcity traces five hundred years of European thought and its contribution to climate crisis. Its authors emphasise the fact that scarcity and its persuasion vocabulary of limitless growth and material desire are historical and therefore mutable concepts, created at the same time as colonial (neo-classical) capitalist politics, and frequently challenged by counter-movements throughout history, from agrarian radicals to ecofeminists and contemporary de-growth economists. 

Naomi Klein. This Changes Everything (London: Penguin, 2015).

Klein’s magisterial account of the intertwining of capitalism and climate breakdown is one of the most influential texts on climate of recent years, not least because it explains the crisis through immediately accessible language and examples. While trenchant in its critique and analysis, the book also holds up hope through its examples of political activism and collaborative action.

Kate Raworth. Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist (London: Penguin, 2017).

The economist Kate Raworth has developed a model she calls “doughnut economics” to propose a socially and ecologically viable economy that sits within an outer circle of planetary limits and an inner circle of social wellbeing. The model, inspired by environmental economies proposed by Herman Daly and the sustainable development methods of Bill Sharpe, seeks a form of flourishing that does not rely on financialised growth and GDP metrics.

Notes

  • 1
    Naomi Klein. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (London: Penguin, 2015), p. 23.
  • 2
    Jason W. Moore. Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2016); Andreas Malm. Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam-Power and the Roots of Global Warming (London: Verso, 2015).
  • 3
    Fredrik Albritton Jonsson and Carl Wennerlind. Scarcity: A History from the Origins of Capitalism to the Climate Crisis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2023).
  • 4
    Silvia Federici. Wages Against Housework (Bristol: Falling Wall Press, 1975); Marilyn Waring, Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women Are Worth (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999).
  • 5
    Herman E. Daly. Steady-State Economics (Washington, D.C: Island Press, 1977). See also Herman E. Daly. Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996).
  • 6
    Kate Raworth. Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist (London: Penguin, 2017).
  • 7
    Vandana Shiva, ‘How Economic Growth Has Become Anti-Life’, Common Dreams, 1 November 2013 <https://www.commondreams.org/views/2013/11/01/how-economic-growth-has-become-anti-life> [accessed 7 June 2023].
  • 8
    Jason Moore, “The Rise of Cheap Nature”, in Anthropocene or Capitalocene? (Binghampton, NY: PM Press, 2016), pp. 78–115.
  • 9
    Kathryn Yusoff. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2018); Janae Davis et al., “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, … Plantationocene?: A Manifesto for Ecological Justice in an Age of Global Crises”, Geography Compass 13, no. 5 (2019), p. 16.
  • 10
    Perspectives on a Global Green New Deal, ed. by Harpreet Kaur Paul and Dalia Gebrial (London: Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, 2021) <https://global-gnd.com/book/> [accessed 24 January 2022].
  • 11
    Ann Pettifor. The Case for the Green New Deal (London: Verso, 2019); Tim Jackson. Post Growth: Life after Capitalism, 1st edition (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2021).
  • 12
    Hickel.
  • 13
    Alberto Acosta and Mateo Martínez Abarca, “Buen Vivir: An Alternative Perspective From The Peoples Of The Global South To The Crisis Of Capitalist Modernity”, in The Climate Crisis: South African and Global Democratic Eco-Socialist Alternatives, ed. by Vishwas Satgar (Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2018).
  • 14
    Fitz and Krasny, p. 14.
  • 15
    J. K. Gibson-Graham, “Cultivating Community Economies”, in The New Systems Reader, ed. by James Gustave Speth and Kathleen Courrier (New York: Routledge, 2021), pp. 410–32, p. 411.
  • 16
    See, for example, Elinor Ostrom. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Peter Linebaugh. Stop, Thief! : The Commons, Enclosures, And Resistance (Oakland: PM Press, 2014); Silvia Federici. Re-Enchanting the World Feminism and the Politics of the Commons (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2018).

Amidst unprecedented global warming, an international refugee crisis, and rising far-right populism and fascism, it is clear that a globalised capitalist economy running on extractivist industries and rooted in patriarchal and white supremacist ideologies is harming women and the planet and that these harms are connected. Climate breakdown disproportionately harms women, especially poor women, women of colour, and women from Indigenous Nations.1United Nations and Balgis Osman-Elasha, ‘Women…In The Shadow of Climate Change’, United Nations (United Nations, n.d.) <https://www.un.org/en/chronicle/article/womenin-shadow-climate-change> [accessed 11 May 2023].

In many ways, this current context of gendered domination resembles what the author and activist Francoise d’Eaubonne decried: Feminism or death. That was the choice d’Eaubonne presented in her book of the same title, published in 1974, which identified the global environmental crisis as the product of patriarchy and emphasised the tight connection between climate justice and social justice, calling for “ecofeminism” as a combined approach to both.2Françoise d’Eaubonne. Le Féminisme Ou La Mort (Paris: P. Horay, 1974).

D’Eaubonne was not alone. Ecofeminist ideas were developed in activist and political theory contexts across the world from the late 1960s, demanding feminist and environmentalist solidarity, learning from civil rights and women’s liberation movements. These include the work of the scientist Rachel Carson and the writer Ariyoshi Sawako’s critiques of industrial pollution, published in 1962 and 1974 respectively, the philosopher Val Plumwood’s 1993 account of the relationship between women and nature, the feminist Ivone Gebara’s 1997 work on the entwinement between environmental breakdown and poverty, and many more.3Rachel Carson. Silent Spring (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1962); Sawako Ariyoshi. Fukugō Osen (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1975); Val Plumwood. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (London: Routledge, 1993); Ivone Gebara. Intuiciones Ecofeministas: Ensayos Para Repensar El Conocimiento y La Religión (Madrid: Editorial Trotta, 2000).

D’Eaubonne and several of these others argued that the historic development of agricultural technologies created a male-oriented social structure in various parts of the world, in which men appropriated women’s bodies and labour at the same time as exploiting nature through increasingly intensive agriculture and industrialisation.4d’Eaubonne. As crops were intensively planted and fertilised to maximise yield frequency on the plantations, women’s reproductive capacities were also exploited as what Toni Morrison describes as “property that reproduced itself without cost”.5Toni Morrison. Beloved (New York: Penguin, 2000), p. 228. Such technologies served a narrow genre of humankind, a category of person the writer and cultural theorist Sylvia Wynter calls overrepresented man, or homo economicus, a white male pursuing wealth for his own interest.6Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation–An Argument”, CR: The New Centennial Review, 3.3 (2003), pp. 257–337 (p. 317) <https://doi.org/10.1353/ncr.2004.0015>.

Spatial practices, including architecture and urban planning, have often been designed by and for this exclusive and exclusionary genre of human. In resistance, the foregrounding of accessibility in the provision of public space has characterised much feminist design and theory, with studies by feminist scholars Leslie Kern and Caroline Criado-Perez highlighting the importance of gender-disaggregated data in ensuring socially and environmentally responsible design.7Caroline Criado Perez. Invisible Women (London: Vintage, 2020); Leslie Kern. Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-Made World (New York: Verso, 2020).

Today, many feminist architects contend that gendered systems of oppression underpin a man-made industrial world which is concretised in environmentally damaging buildings and is complicit in environmental breakdown. The architect Gabu Heindl, for example, shapes her philosophy around a rejection of “chauvinist, racist or discriminating architecture, exploitative project proposals, suburbanising single-family homes or speculation ventures”.8‘Philosophie – GABU Heindl Architektur’ <http://www.gabuheindl.at/en/about/philosophy.html> [accessed 11 May 2023]. This approach to understanding space and society as interlinked power structures, intimately bound with climate, speaks to much recent work in queer theory, environmental justice organising, and anti-colonial feminism. All of these identify the violence of white, patriarchal modernity, and search for critical and caring alternatives.9Critical Care: Architecture and Urbanism for a Broken Planet, ed. by Angelika Fitz and Elke Krasny (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2019). Vital in such a shift in the understanding and usage of space is a concept of justice that posits architectural practice in an interrelation of careful dependency and creative alliance with other disciplines.10Jeremy Till, Architecture Depends (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009); Nishat Awan, Tatjana Schneider, and Jeremy Till, Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture, 1st edition (Abingdon, Oxon England ; New York, NY: Routledge, 2011). To borrow from the feminist philosopher of science Donna Haraway, such alliances “stay with the trouble” of climate breakdown and social injustice with the recognition that “we require each other in unexpected collaborations and combinations”.11Haraway, p. 4. Similarly, in fields of architectural theory, writers including Hélène Frichot and Peg Rawes have drawn attention to the importance of relational ecologies of care in challenging patriarchal design norms for being fundamentally anti-social and un-environmental.12Hélène Frichot, Creative Ecologies: Theorizing the Practice of Architecture (London: Bloomsbury, 2019); Peg Rawes, “Architectural Ecologies of Care’, in Relational Architectural Ecologies: Architecture, Nature and Subjectivity, ed. by Peg Rawes (Abingdon: Routledge, 2013), pp. 40–55.

The political scientist Joan Tronto describes how both care work and the built environment are shaped by relations of power and, as such, have the potential to be transformed into relations of care.13In Fitz and Krasny, p. 26. Combined with numerous other ecological and decolonial approaches, these feminist approaches make a critical intervention into spatial theories and productions, proposing social, economic, cultural, and ecological principles of cooperation.14María Puig de la Bellacasa, Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More than Human Worlds (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017); Cadena; Haraway.

Common to these approaches is an understanding that humanity’s relationship with the planet must disengage from extractive and alienating activities that perpetuate patriarchal domination. In the words of the former New Zealand Member of Parliament and goat farmer Marilyn Waring, within conventional systems of economics and governance, “safe drinking water counts for nothing. A pollution-free environment counts for nothing. Even some people – namely women – count for nothing”.15Marilyn Waring, Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women Are Worth (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. What Waring points to is a complete reconsideration of how we value things and ecologies. Eco-feminism has a critical role to play in forming alliances between those human and more-than-human aspects of the world that have been overlooked, exploited, and dominated by patriarchal systems. Only with such a realignment of forces can climate justice be accompanied by social justice.

Annotated bibliography

Rachel Carson. Silent Spring (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1962).

Writing despite intimidation from the chemical industry, the scientist Rachel Carson raised public awareness of environmental matters which led to changes in government and the banning of harmful pesticides such as DDT in the US and several other countries. A major source of inspiration and information for environmentalists around the world, Silent Spring combined scientific rigour with lyrical prose in its calls for reform. Carson faced misogynistic rebuttals from climate sceptics, but was championed by women’s movements for public health and environmental justice. These latter groups understood the value of her work in connecting ecological concerns with issues of gender, race, and socioeconomic justice. 

Hélène Frichot. Creative Ecologies: Theorizing the Practice of Architecture (London: Bloomsbury, 2019).

In this creative book of design research, the architect and philosopher Hélène Frichot explores other ways of doing architecture as alternatives to designing and critiquing iconic buildings and canonical styles. Frichot draws from feminist theories of care to call for architecture’s reconfiguration as a network of diverse concerns within wider communities and environments. Her emphasis on relational ecologies fundamentally challenges tenets of design that protect anthropocentric, patriarchal individualism, and profit-based short-term thinking. 

Matrix. Making Space: Women and the Women and the Man Made Environment (London New York: Verso, 2022).

First published in 1984, this book challenges the built environment over its impact on women’s lives. Written by women engaged in building work, teaching and research, several of whom worked in the London-based Matrix Feminist Architects’ collective, the book exposes the sexist assumptions that shape architecture and urban planning. Matrix worked on design projects including community, children’s, and women’s centres, proposing socially inclusive alternatives to the patriarchal built environment in domestic and public contexts. 

Val Plumwood. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (London: Routledge, 1993).

In this foundational text for ecofeminism, philosopher Val Plumwood brings feminist and postcolonial thinking to bear on issues of environmental degradation and white patriarchal oppression, revealing enduring connections between women and nature in western capitalist society. Plumwood identifies a damaging form of dualism at the heart of Western capitalism whereby humanity is separated from nature to legitimise man’s right to plunder natural resources. Tracing the extension of such binary logic in the exploitation of raced, classed, and gendered subjects, Plumwood provides a compelling argument for eco-intersectional solidarity.

Joan Tronto. Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care (New York: Routledge, 1993).

Tackling the unfair apportioning of care duties to women, the American political scientist Joan Tronto suggests that essentialised associations between women and caring duties are both historically inaccurate and ethically wrong. Unpicking care’s ideological bindings, Tronto demonstrates how other members of unprivileged groups in the Global North, such as the working classes and people of colour, also undertake disproportionate amounts of caring for little or no pay. If we continue to undervalue care work, Tronto cautions, we degrade a fundamental social activity and perpetuate white patriarchal privilege. 

Marilyn Waring. Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women Are Worth (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988).

In this polemical study of economics, environmentalism, and gender justice, the former New Zealand Member of Parliament and goat farmer Marilyn Waring criticises the conventional metric of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as an inaccurate and harmful measure of worth. Within conventional systems of economics and governance, where a nation’s GDP supposedly indicates its wellbeing, “safe drinking water counts for nothing. A pollution-free environment counts for nothing. Even some people – namely women – count for nothing”. Reconsidering metrics for measuring value so that they account for reproductive labour and environmental assets is vital, Waring argues, for protecting the planet and recognising the contributions of women.

Notes

  • 1
    United Nations and Balgis Osman-Elasha, ‘Women…In The Shadow of Climate Change’, United Nations (United Nations, n.d.) <https://www.un.org/en/chronicle/article/womenin-shadow-climate-change> [accessed 11 May 2023].
  • 2
    Françoise d’Eaubonne. Le Féminisme Ou La Mort (Paris: P. Horay, 1974).
  • 3
    Rachel Carson. Silent Spring (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1962); Sawako Ariyoshi. Fukugō Osen (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1975); Val Plumwood. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (London: Routledge, 1993); Ivone Gebara. Intuiciones Ecofeministas: Ensayos Para Repensar El Conocimiento y La Religión (Madrid: Editorial Trotta, 2000).
  • 4
    d’Eaubonne.
  • 5
    Toni Morrison. Beloved (New York: Penguin, 2000), p. 228.
  • 6
    Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation–An Argument”, CR: The New Centennial Review, 3.3 (2003), pp. 257–337 (p. 317) <https://doi.org/10.1353/ncr.2004.0015>.
  • 7
    Caroline Criado Perez. Invisible Women (London: Vintage, 2020); Leslie Kern. Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-Made World (New York: Verso, 2020).
  • 8
    ‘Philosophie – GABU Heindl Architektur’ <http://www.gabuheindl.at/en/about/philosophy.html> [accessed 11 May 2023].
  • 9
    Critical Care: Architecture and Urbanism for a Broken Planet, ed. by Angelika Fitz and Elke Krasny (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2019).
  • 10
    Jeremy Till, Architecture Depends (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009); Nishat Awan, Tatjana Schneider, and Jeremy Till, Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture, 1st edition (Abingdon, Oxon England ; New York, NY: Routledge, 2011).
  • 11
    Haraway, p. 4.
  • 12
    Hélène Frichot, Creative Ecologies: Theorizing the Practice of Architecture (London: Bloomsbury, 2019); Peg Rawes, “Architectural Ecologies of Care’, in Relational Architectural Ecologies: Architecture, Nature and Subjectivity, ed. by Peg Rawes (Abingdon: Routledge, 2013), pp. 40–55.
  • 13
    In Fitz and Krasny, p. 26.
  • 14
    María Puig de la Bellacasa, Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More than Human Worlds (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017); Cadena; Haraway.
  • 15
    Marilyn Waring, Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women Are Worth (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999.

The term Anthropocene rose to prominence around 2000 in the works of the ecologist Eugene Stoermer and the chemist Paul Crutzen, to describe our current geological era.1Paul J. Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer, ‘The “Anthropocene”’, Global Change Newsletter 41 (2000): 17–18. The term denotes the period during which humans have had a dominant impact on the planet, and its climate and ecologies. Architecture is implicated with Anthropocenic changes to the climate because the built environment is a construction with social, spatial, material, and ecological consequences. As the architectural theorist Hélène Frichot explains, the Anthropocene describes a long period of entanglement between “ecologies, economies and technologies in an all-pervasive capitalist economic logic.”2Hélène Frichot, Creative Ecologies: Theorizing the Practice of Architecture (London: Bloomsbury, 2019), 9.
Exactly when the Anthropocene era began has been the subject of debate. Some theorists have located its emergence in the development of agriculture, while others have pinpointed the growth of colonial plantation systems from the 15th century as a pivotal shift (and so suggested the terms Capitalocene and Plantationocene to emphasise the fact that not all humans are responsible for climate breakdown, but only those driving capitalist projects for extractive and exploitative profit).3Kathryn Yusoff. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2018); Janae Davis et al., “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, … Plantationocene?: A Manifesto for Ecological Justice in an Age of Global Crises”, Geography Compass 13, no. 5 (2019); Gregg Mitman, “Reflections on the Plantationocene: A Conversation with Donna Haraway and Anna Tsing”, <https://edgeeffects.net/haraway-tsing-plantationocene/>. Will Steffen, Wendy Broadgate, Lisa Deutsch, Owen Gaffney, and Cornelia Ludwig, “The Trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration”, The Anthropocene Review, 2015 <https://doi.org/10.1177/2053019614564785>; Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin, “Defining the Anthropocene”, Nature, 519.7542 (2015), 171–80 <https://doi.org/10.1038/nature14258> Others have suggested 19th century industrialism, or an even later mid-20th century moment of great acceleration in fossil fuel use, petrochemical production, and plastic pollution.4J. R. McNeill and Peter Engelke. The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene since 1945 (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2016). Whatever the date of its inception, the Anthropocene implicates human activities in climatic changes, particularly, human activities that depend on separating a determined category of ‘human’ from the rest of nature.5Katherine McKittrick, ed. Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2014); Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).

The Anthropocene’s narratives of causes and effects, and of dates of origin, suggest a particular relationship to time that is based on linear models of past, present, and future. Much current thinking around climate and the built environment is based on such linear thinking, with the future simply seen as a progressive step up from the present in a manner that ignores the violations of the past. Terms such as climate emergency and crisis, while important in emphasising urgency, can obscure the long, slow, and unfinished history of climate devastations wrought by colonial and capitalist extractivism and exploitation.6Kyle Whyte, “Against Crisis Epistemology”, in Routledge Handbook of Critical Indigenous Studies, ed. by Brendan Hokowhitu et al. (Abingdon: Routledge, 2020); Rob Nixon. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011). Emergency terms also remain wedded to a conception of time that drives a linear path towards progress or into apocalyptic decline.7Elaine Scarry. Thinking in an Emergency (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011). Linearity, however, is not the only way to think about time. The concept of revolution illustrates this through the word’s different uses. Agricultural, industrial, or political revolutions are commonly associated with an idea of a rupture that breaks from the past in pursuit of the new. The word revolution, however, also signifies turning, as in the revolution of a wheel.8David Harvey. Spaces of Hope (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000). Revolution thus carries the suggestion of return, repetition, or circularity, and belongs to a conception of time based on a relation of integration with pasts that are not past. The concept also suggests a movement that does not occur as a gigantic bang, but as gradual change.

This non-linear and longer-term conception of time occurs in many cultures, knowledges, and traditions. Black critiques of empire and capitalism, for example, bridge histories of New World slavery to contemporary racial capitalism, exploring alternative practices of time and history as forms of resistance and world-making rooted in inheritance and intergenerational relations.9Katherine McKittrick, ed. Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015); La Marr Jurelle Bruce. How to Go Mad without Losing Your Mind: Madness and Black Radical Creativity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020); Joshua Myers. Cedric Robinson: The Time of the Black Radical Tradition, 1st edition (Cambridge, UK; Medford, MA: Polity, 2021). Andean traditions of pachakuti, meanwhile, understand time as a recurrent act of balancing that involves human and other beings, and the climate itself. Pachakuti derives from the Quechua ‘pacha’ (meaning time and space, or the world), and ‘kuti’ (meaning revolution), and understands the necessity to re-balance the world through a turn of events that has the potential for renewal. Pachakuti characterises the Latin American practice of buen vivir, with its investment in maintaining forms of ancestral knowledge, including expertise on medicine and low-impact agriculture. Engaging the past in an ongoing and future-oriented practice of situated, localised knowledges ensures that technologies and methods tested over thousands of years remain used and useful.10Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective”, Feminist Studies 14, 3 (1988): 575–99, <https://doi.org/10.2307/3178066>. This contrasts with the dominance of technocratic thinking in current architecture, in which climate breakdown is seen as a problem to be ‘solved’ through technical fixes.

Learning from the past in such a way, and transmitting its lessons for the future, invites a wider consideration of epistemology—that is, how knowledges are produced, shared, and put to work. Learning from a deep past can refuse hierarchies of knowledges in which modern science and technology marginalise anything deemed traditional or dated. Working with contingency can also play a part here, allowing different routes to emerge from a situated context rather than imposing universal, linear, rules.11The idea of contingency is explored in Jeremy Till, Architecture Depends (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009).

Without such reflection, the production of knowledges, spaces, and societies risks repeating past inequities in a rush to innovate through new discoveries, buildings, and technologies. Better to stay with the trouble, as the philosopher and environmentalist Donna Haraway puts it; to make unexpected alliances in the ruins of capitalism, in the words of the anthropologist Anna Tsing. Or, as the geographer Stephanie Wakefield writes, to find alternative modes of living in the back-loop that opens when time is freed from linearity, and the past comes to productively bear on the present.12 Donna Haraway. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016); Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton University Press, 2015); Stephanie Wakefield. Anthropocene Back Loop: Experimentation in Unsafe Operating Space (London: Open Humanities Press, 2020). From entangled spaces and deep, back-looping time, we might repair estranged planetary social groups (human and otherwise).13Nigel Clark and Bronislaw Szerszynski. Planetary Social Thought: The Anthropocene Challenge to the Social Sciences (Cambridge: Polity, 2020). The term climate breakdown is an invitation to break open calcified ways of knowing and doing. Emergency is now seen not as something needing an urgent fix, but as a setting containing possibilities for emergence.

Annotated bibliography

Karen Barad. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007).

In this book by the theoretical physicist and feminist theorist Karen Barad, the idea of entanglement creates an account of the world as one whole, rather than as composed of separate natural and social realms. Drawing on research in quantum physics, Barad reworks understandings of space, time, matter, and causality, to emphasise the constitutive agency of intra-activity between different elements.

Bruno Latour. We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).

According to the social scientist Bruno Latour, modernity’s hallowed distinctions between nature and society, and between human and thing, would have struck our ancestors as nonsensical. Moreover, modernity itself fails to achieve such distinctions. In this book, Latour maps connections between nature and culture to emphasise humanity’s continued entanglement with more than itself, creating a compelling argument for us to rethink modernity. If we understand the reality of our interconnected existence, Latour argues, then epistemologies of other cultures, past and present, including those of our so-called primitive, premodern ancestors, suddenly yield new insight on living an integrated social and planetary life.

Jason W. Moore. Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2016).

This edited volume gathers different scholars’ approaches to questioning the idea that we are living in the Anthropocene, literally the “Age of Man,” by arguing that the term Capitalocene better describes the causality of contemporary climate change, by placing it in the age of capital. Challenging conventional practices of dividing nature and society, the book offers a connective view within the biosphere, or in the words of Jason Moore, “the web of life”.

Kyle Whyte. “Is It Colonial Déjà Vu? Indigenous Peoples and Climate Injustice”. In Humanities for the Environment: Integrating Knowledge, Forging New Constellations of Practice, edited by Joni Adamson and Michael Davis (Oxford: Earthscan, 2016), 88-104. 

In this essay, the Potawatomi Nation philosopher and environmental activist Kyle Whyte calls for a longer historical account of climate change that accounts for colonial violence inflicted against Indigenous peoples over the past centuries. His argument makes an important intervention into climate breakdown discourses rooted in the contemporary and vocabularies of emergency, as well as Anthropocene debates about the origins of climate change. In continued contexts of resource extraction, Whyte writes, “climate injustice, for Indigenous peoples, is less about the spectre of a new future and more like the experience of déjà vu”.

Notes

  • 1
    Paul J. Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer, ‘The “Anthropocene”’, Global Change Newsletter 41 (2000): 17–18.
  • 2
    Hélène Frichot, Creative Ecologies: Theorizing the Practice of Architecture (London: Bloomsbury, 2019), 9.
  • 3
    Kathryn Yusoff. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2018); Janae Davis et al., “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, … Plantationocene?: A Manifesto for Ecological Justice in an Age of Global Crises”, Geography Compass 13, no. 5 (2019); Gregg Mitman, “Reflections on the Plantationocene: A Conversation with Donna Haraway and Anna Tsing”, <https://edgeeffects.net/haraway-tsing-plantationocene/>. Will Steffen, Wendy Broadgate, Lisa Deutsch, Owen Gaffney, and Cornelia Ludwig, “The Trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration”, The Anthropocene Review, 2015 <https://doi.org/10.1177/2053019614564785>; Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin, “Defining the Anthropocene”, Nature, 519.7542 (2015), 171–80 <https://doi.org/10.1038/nature14258>
  • 4
    J. R. McNeill and Peter Engelke. The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene since 1945 (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2016).
  • 5
    Katherine McKittrick, ed. Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2014); Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).
  • 6
    Kyle Whyte, “Against Crisis Epistemology”, in Routledge Handbook of Critical Indigenous Studies, ed. by Brendan Hokowhitu et al. (Abingdon: Routledge, 2020); Rob Nixon. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011).
  • 7
    Elaine Scarry. Thinking in an Emergency (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011).
  • 8
    David Harvey. Spaces of Hope (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000).
  • 9
    Katherine McKittrick, ed. Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015); La Marr Jurelle Bruce. How to Go Mad without Losing Your Mind: Madness and Black Radical Creativity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020); Joshua Myers. Cedric Robinson: The Time of the Black Radical Tradition, 1st edition (Cambridge, UK; Medford, MA: Polity, 2021).
  • 10
    Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective”, Feminist Studies 14, 3 (1988): 575–99, <https://doi.org/10.2307/3178066>.
  • 11
    The idea of contingency is explored in Jeremy Till, Architecture Depends (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009).
  • 12
     Donna Haraway. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016); Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton University Press, 2015); Stephanie Wakefield. Anthropocene Back Loop: Experimentation in Unsafe Operating Space (London: Open Humanities Press, 2020).
  • 13
    Nigel Clark and Bronislaw Szerszynski. Planetary Social Thought: The Anthropocene Challenge to the Social Sciences (Cambridge: Polity, 2020).

Ecology is the study of relations between organisms and environments and, like ‘economy’, derives from the Greek for house. Ecology considers the planet as a house and explores its building blocks, from the smallest microbe to the largest cryosphere, and the interrelationships between the parts and the whole. Ecology is inherently political because it encompasses multiple scales, focuses on interactions, and describes human relations with each other and the rest of nature; how something over here affects something over there, across communities and ecosystems; and whether living beings behave in cooperative, competitive, or predatory ways. What or who causes an icecap to melt or hunts a species to extinction is at once an ecological and a political question, as more and more climate reportage makes clear.

Long before climate occupied the news, ecological ideas influenced structures of the political economy and vice versa. In the mid-19th century, the anarchist and geographer Pyotr Kropotkin found examples of mutual aid in evolutionary aspects of the natural world which resonated with his own anarchist communism. An ecological understanding of interdependencies between the human and more-than-human worlds remains central to how climate breakdown might be faced. Karl Marx, meanwhile, was studying ecology as he theorised capital, drawing from Charles Darwin’s research on natural selection to understand economic competition, and on Justus von Liebig’s soil science to develop a critique of intensive industrialism. Marx suggested that industrial agriculture was driving a “metabolic rift” between humanity and the rest of nature, simultaneously exhausting “the soil and the worker”.1Karl Marx. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. I (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1992), i, pp. 637–38; Karl Marx. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. III (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1992), iii, p. 949; John Bellamy Foster. Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000), pp. 153–56; John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York. The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2011). His work thus anticipated contemporary readings of climate breakdown in terms of capitalism.

Rachel Carson’s influential 1962 book, Silent Spring, demonstrates the catastrophic extent to which industry has damaged ecosystems during what has subsequently become known as the Anthropocene age, an era dominated and shaped by humans. Carson’s integrated approach to humanmade industry and more-than-human ecosystems also characterises the work of the anthropologist Gregory Bateson. In his 1972 essay collection, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Bateson combined approaches to anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, cybernetics, and epistemology to propose a new way of understanding interactions between human behaviour and the more-than-human world.2Gregory Bateson. Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology, New edition (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000). Bateson argued that the fundamental unit of evolution was not the organism, but an organism plus its environment.3Jon Goodbun, “Gregory Bateson’s Ecological Aesthetics – an Addendum to Urban Political Ecology”, Field, 4.1 (2011), pp. 35–46.

Although more recent, the term ‘extractivism’ is useful for describing the exploitative mechanisms that Marx, Carson, and Bateson identified in modern industry. Today, extractivism encompasses many kinds of industries, from open-pit mining to data harvesting, seeing the world as a set of resources to be extricated from their original state and converted into something for human use and consumption. The effects of this extractivist mindset, which reduces the lively ecology of the natural world to inert commodities, are inextricably linked to climate breakdown. Anthropologists including Marisol de la Cadena and Anna Tsing have traced extractivism and its accompanying climate devastations to colonial plantation systems and identified their current continuation in powerful global agribusinesses.4Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton University Press, 2015); Marisol de la Cadena, “Uncommoning Nature”, E-Flux, May 2015, <https://www.e-flux.com/journal/65/336365/uncommoning-nature/>; A World of Many Worlds, ed. by Marisol de la Cadena and Mario Blaser (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018). Numerous contemporary geographers, cultural theorists, and philosophers of science including Kathryn Yusoff, Isabel Stengers, and Donna Haraway have proposed older origins for the Anthropocene, citing earlier forms of capitalism, including plantation economies, as grounds for later industrialisation and climate damage.5Kathryn Yusoff. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2018); Isabelle Stengers. In Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming Barbarism, trans. by Andrew Goffey (London: Open Humanities Press, 2015); Donna Haraway. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016); Gregg Mitman, “Reflections on the Plantationocene: A Conversation with Donna Haraway and Anna Tsing”, Edge Effects, 18 June 2019 <https://edgeeffects.net/haraway-tsing-plantationocene/>.

This expansion has significant implications for spatial practices. First in suggesting that people exist in relation to the wider ecosystems they inhabit, and then by implication understanding buildings and the wider built environment not as autonomous objects but as part of a complex set of human and more-than-human relationships. In this way spatial relations, social relations, and ecological relations are all interlinked.

Annotated Bibliography 

Gregory Bateson. Steps to an Ecology of Mind (New York: Ballantine Books, 1972). 

In this essay collection, the anthropologist Gregory Bateson combines approaches to anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, cybernetics, and epistemology to propose a radically holistic understanding of life which emphasises interactions between human behaviour and the more-than-human world. Arguing that the fundamental unit of evolution is not the organism, but the organism plus its environment, Bateson’s work had widespread implications for numerous disciplines, from architecture to philosophy, in suggesting that people exist in symbiotic relation to the wider ecosystems they inhabit. 

Barnabas Calder. Architecture: From Prehistory to Climate Emergency (London: Pelican, 2021).

This is a history of architecture written for the present and future. Calder uses a global array of buildings to illustrate humans’ dependencies on different sources of energy at different times. He argues that architecture is shaped by its creators’ access to energy— be that fire, farming, or fossil fuels. From the Parthenon to a Victorian terraced house, form follows energy, often at the cost of social and environmental care. Today, around 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the building and construction sector. In addressing energy consumption, Calder invites an essential re-reading of the canons, damages, and potentials of architecture in the context of climate breakdown.

Donna Haraway. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016).

Staying with the trouble of biodiversity loss and climate breakdown, the feminist philosopher of science Donna Haraway argues for the importance of caring for other living beings in an approach she describes as “making kin” in unexpected collaborations and combinations. Drawing on a broad range of examples for how humans are entangled with animal, biological and technical systems, Haraway makes a case for abandoning categories of separation between humans, species, and orders, in favour of an expanded ontology of complex and considerate interaction. 

Isabelle Stengers. In Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming Barbarism. Translated by Andrew Goffey (London: Open Humanities Press, 2015).

Addressing current senses of political impasse and climate emergency, the philosopher of science Isabelle Stengers critiques contemporary elites of bureaucratic governance for maintaining a status quo of socioeconomic inequality that threatens to push the planet and its populations into barbaric unrest and upheaval. Against such catastrophic governance, Stengers proposes an array of tactical interventions including scientific knowledge-sharing, aimed at facing environmental and socio-technical issues as political questions and opportunities for radical change.

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017).

What manages to live in the ruins of our capitalist present? Answering this question takes the American anthropologist Anna Tsing across the world in pursuit of an unlikely protagonist: an edible mushroom called matsutake. A weed, a delicacy, and an ecological salve, matsutake’s multiple functions help Tsing tell a multifaceted tale of commodity chains, traditional cultures, and the more-than-human worlds of forests and fungi. Matsutake, she argues, lives within and despite capitalist extractivism, exemplifying the vital possibility of collaborative and multispecies survival.

Notes

  • 1
    Karl Marx. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. I (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1992), i, pp. 637–38; Karl Marx. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. III (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1992), iii, p. 949; John Bellamy Foster. Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000), pp. 153–56; John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York. The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2011).
  • 2
    Gregory Bateson. Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology, New edition (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000).
  • 3
    Jon Goodbun, “Gregory Bateson’s Ecological Aesthetics – an Addendum to Urban Political Ecology”, Field, 4.1 (2011), pp. 35–46.
  • 4
    Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton University Press, 2015); Marisol de la Cadena, “Uncommoning Nature”, E-Flux, May 2015, <https://www.e-flux.com/journal/65/336365/uncommoning-nature/>; A World of Many Worlds, ed. by Marisol de la Cadena and Mario Blaser (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018).
  • 5
    Kathryn Yusoff. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2018); Isabelle Stengers. In Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming Barbarism, trans. by Andrew Goffey (London: Open Humanities Press, 2015); Donna Haraway. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016); Gregg Mitman, “Reflections on the Plantationocene: A Conversation with Donna Haraway and Anna Tsing”, Edge Effects, 18 June 2019 <https://edgeeffects.net/haraway-tsing-plantationocene/>.

Many commentators have linked the operations and ideologies of colonisation to climate breakdown. Amitav Ghosh argues that the mindset that led to the violent exploitation of Indigenous knowledge, land, labour, and resources was also a way of thinking that defined nature as an inert reservoir existing to be emptied. “These elite orthodoxies,” he writes, “were the product not just of the subjugation of human ‘brutes and savages’, but also of an entire range of nonhuman beings – trees, animals, and landscapes.”1Amitav Ghosh. The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis (London: John Murray, 2021), p. 38. This logic of extraction has damaged lands and peoples since at least 1492, when white European cultural, political, and monetary elites began to systematically devastate the Americas, and extended across vast swathes of the world.2Heather Davis and Zoe Todd, “On the Importance of a Date, or, Decolonizing the Anthropocene”, ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 16.4 (2017), pp. 761–80; Kyle Whyte, “Is It Colonial Déjà Vu? Indigenous Peoples and Climate Injustice”, in Humanities for the Environment: Integrating Knowledge, Forging New Constellations of Practice, ed. by Joni Adamson and Michael Davis (Earthscan, 2016), pp. 88–104; The Wretched of the Earth, ‘An Open Letter to Extinction Rebellion’, Redpepper.Org, 2019 <https://www.redpepper.org.uk/environment-climate/climate-change/open-letter-to-extinction-rebellion/> [accessed 15 June 2022].

Driving divisions across land, natural resources, species, gender, ethnicity, and race, with the goal of generating and maximising profit, colonialism is at once a social and spatial technique. Colonialism employs architecture and infrastructures as an instrument of dispossession, accumulation, and control. Spatial practices have long reinforced colonial power relations: designing enclosures, castles, stowage, barracoons, plantations, segregated cities, offshored factories, autonomous trade zones, and detention centres, as well as places of privilege that all disavow their unjust construction.3Michel Foucault. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-1979, ed. by Arnold I. Davidson, trans. by Graham Burchell (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Saidiya Hartman. Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007); “WEAPONIZED ARCHITECTURE: The Slave Ship Is Architecture”, THE FUNAMBULIST MAGAZINE, 24 March 2014; Keller Easterling. Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space (London: Verso, 2014). To design such spaces, architects have specified and used materials and labour from plundered lands, entailing devastation on local and planetary scales. 

Climate injustice and climate breakdown share three interlocking causes— colonialism, industrialism, and capitalism— and architecture has served all three. As the theorist and member of the Potawatomi Nation, Kyle Whyte argues, these causes recur like déjà-vu as successive generations of Indigenous and other sovereign peoples lose lands, livelihoods, and lives to so-called development and its devastations to climate.4Kyle Whyte, “Is It Colonial Déjà Vu? Indigenous Peoples and Climate Injustice”, p. 100. Echoing Whyte’s long view of injustice, many people have criticised a universalising tendency to describe environmental change as a humanmade problem (the Anthropocene) without specifying which humans (which Anthropos) exploit other humans, species, and ecosystems, and when such violence began. In this spirit, Kathryn Yusoff shifts the perspective. Instead of humans, she uses the spatial practice of plantations to define this era, thereby identifying continuities between early modes of imperial violence and present environmental injustice.5Davis and Todd, p. 764; Yusoff; Janae Davis, Alex Moulton, Levi Van Sant, and Brian Williams, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, … Plantationocene?: A Manifesto for Ecological Justice in an Age of Global Crises”, Geography Compass, 13.5 (2019).

Colonisation, and its direct impact on climate, persists to this day under various guises. In addition to the continued expropriation of indigenous lands and resources by global capital and nation states (as well as international waters, Antarctica, the moon…), a growing decarbonisation industry brokers deals whereby the Global North offsets its emissions by planting monoculture forests to absorb carbon dioxide in the Global South, at the cost of biodiversity and indigenous land rights.6ulia Dehm, “Carbon Colonialism or Climate Justice? Interrogating the Internationa Climate Regime from a Twail Perspective”, Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice, 33 (2017), 129; Jennifer Johnson, ‘Conservation without Colonialism’, Red Pepper, 6 September 2020.[/footnote As the economic anthropologist Jason Hickel puts it, “energy privilege” presides unchallenged in such carbon colonialism.6Jason Hickel and Aljosa Slamersak, “Existing Climate Mitigation Scenarios Perpetuate Colonial Inequalities”, The Lancet Planetary Health, 6.7 (2022), e628–31 <https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(22)00092-4>. To make matters worse, many countries only consider domestic production in their emissions data but import many products from overseas, thereby outsourcing carbon responsibility.7Nicolai Baumert, Astrid Kander, Magnus Jiborn, Viktoras Kulionis, and Tobias Nielsen, “Global Outsourcing of Carbon Emissions 1995–2009: A Reassessment”, Environmental Science & Policy, 92 (2019), pp. 228–36 <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2018.10.010>. The construction sector offshores much of its intensive industrial processes to poorer regions with fewer environmental and labour protections.8Charles Gillott, “We Have Reusable Cups, Bags and Bottles: So Why Are Our Buildings Still Single Use?” The Conversation, 11 November 2021. Meanwhile, electric vehicles – celebrated in the Global North for their low emissions – depend on extracting lithium, cobalt, and other rare minerals from vulnerable lands using(often child) labour in regions such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Chile, and China. Given such injustices, considering colonial histories and contemporary racial justice in discussions of architecture and climate breakdown is paramount. 

This expanded understanding of climate builds upon anti-colonial environmentalism within African, Caribbean, and Pacific-region liberation movements. Working in Portuguese-controlled Guinea in the 1950s, the agronomist Amílcar Cabral drew from Marxism to develop a revolutionary anti-colonial project that understood imperialism as a combined attack on ecosystems and communities.9Filipa César, “Meteorisations: Reading Amílcar Cabral’s Agronomy of Liberation”, Third Text, 32.2–3 (2018), pp. 254–72. Such initiatives powerfully recuperated the word ‘colony’, recalling its etymology in farm and cultivation, by caring for soil and myriad other habitats and homes. 

Cultivating spaces and societies care-fully challenges Euro-Western definitions of humanity which, as the theorist Sylvia Wynter writes, exclude all but homo economicus, or profit-driven man.10Wynter. It also challenges human exceptionalism’s binary logic that separates nature from human for profit.11Cadena. According to physicist and activist Vandana Shiva, in nature’s economy the currency is not money, it is life.12Vandana Shiva. Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace (London: Zed Books, 2005). Cultivating places whose material construction and social uses enable this inclusive sense of vitality is what the anthropologist Arturo Escobar calls designing for transformative environmental justice.13Arturo Escobar, Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018), p. 224.  

Anti-colonial environmental movements have similarly cautioned against understanding climate breakdown only in the present tense, emphasising the afterlife of 500 years of settler and exploitation colonialism.14See for example Idle no More, The Red Deal, and Wretched of the Earth Coalition. The scholar Christina Sharpe writes that “wake work”— a labour of mourning and struggle— characterises contemporary life “in the wake” of slavery and its infamous ships, where “the past that is not past reappears, always, to rupture the present”.15Christina Sharpe. In the Wake: On Blackness And Being (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), p. 9. Facing climate breakdown in ways geared for climate justice, it follows, requires countering a climate of antiblackness,16Sharpe, p. 104. which is one of the reasons why decarbonisation has to be developed hand in hand with decolonisation. 

Annotated bibliography

Amitav Ghosh. Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis (London: John Murray, 2021).

This is a brilliant tracing of the intersection of colonial domination with climate breakdown. Starting with the tale of the Dutch East India Company’s ruthless exploitation of Indonesian nutmeg, with accompanying genocide and ecocide, Ghosh weaves a rich history of how Eurocentric attitudes lead to viewing nature, planetary resources, and Indigenous communities through a violently extractive lens. Drawing on his experience as a fiction writer, Ghosh calls for indigenous voices and the stories of the beyond-human to be recovered if we are to avoid planetary catastrophe. 

Katherine McKittrick, ed. Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2014).

This compendium of writings by and about the cultural theorist Sylvia Wynter gathers important insights into her theories for the interlinked workings of race, place, and time that make up what it means to be human. Drawing from science, history, literature, and Black studies, Wynter unpicks how colonialism created an exclusive category of man that denied Black membership and drove Black dispossession. The book includes a dialogue between its editor, Katherine McKittrick, and Wynter that explores the influence of writers such as Frantz Fanon, W. E. B. DuBois, and Aimé Césaire on Wynter’s anti-colonial thinking.

Walter Rodney. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (London: Verso, 2018).

First published in 1972, the historian of colonialism and Black Power and Pan-African activist Walter Rodney’s political, economic, and historical analysis of colonialism and its afterlives provides a damning indictment of Europe’s exploitation of Africa under the guise of development. Meticulously researched and powerfully argued, the book lays out how Europe strategically kept Africa economically dependent as a method for extracting African labour and natural resources to profit European metropoles. The book has informed scholarship and activism worldwide, fighting global inequality. Just eight years after publishing this book, and shortly after founding the Working People’s Alliance in Guyana, Rodney was assassinated. He was only 38.

Vandana Shiva. Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic, 2005).

In this book, the scientist and activist Vandana Shiva defines Earth Democracy as a set of practices based on principles of inclusion, nonviolence, reclaiming the commons, and freely sharing the earth’s resources. She tracks such practices in recent feminist and decolonial environmental movements, celebrating their strength in the face of fundamentalism, racism, femicide, and climate breakdown — all of which are symptoms, she argues, of predatory capitalism. Tracing capitalism’s practices of privatisation to 16th century enclosures of the British commons, Shiva demonstrates how shared lands and resources, and the people who care for them, are imperilled without democratic and earth-based solidarities.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017).

In As We Have Always Done, the Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar and writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson explores Indigenous theorising, writing, organising, and thinking as a powerful form of resistance against extractive capitalism and its settler colonial mindset. In the ongoing contexts of tar sands drilling and the pipeline construction at Standing Rock, Simpson argues that assimilation within a cultural melting-pot is no longer viable when so many lands and lives are at stake. Her book foregrounds Indigenous ways of knowing and living as a fundamental alternative to the destructive operations of settler colonialist states and their capitalist, heteropatriarchal, white supremacist logics.  

Kathryn Yusoff. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2018).In this powerful book of barely 100 pages, the geographer Kathryn Yusoff argues that “no geology is neutral” but instead reveals traces of extractive processes driving capitalism, industrialism, and colonialism. Whereas some thinkers have dated our Anthropocene age to the beginning Industrial Revolution, or even later, to accelerations of consumption in the 1960s, Yusoff follows decolonial and black feminist scholars in tracing its origins to colonialism and slavery. It was colonialism, she argues, that developed an inhumane grammar separating some humans from others, and from nature itself, in the name of capital. Facing climate breakdown today, therefore, requires facing up to its colonial causes.

Notes

  • 1
    Amitav Ghosh. The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis (London: John Murray, 2021), p. 38.
  • 2
    Heather Davis and Zoe Todd, “On the Importance of a Date, or, Decolonizing the Anthropocene”, ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 16.4 (2017), pp. 761–80; Kyle Whyte, “Is It Colonial Déjà Vu? Indigenous Peoples and Climate Injustice”, in Humanities for the Environment: Integrating Knowledge, Forging New Constellations of Practice, ed. by Joni Adamson and Michael Davis (Earthscan, 2016), pp. 88–104; The Wretched of the Earth, ‘An Open Letter to Extinction Rebellion’, Redpepper.Org, 2019 <https://www.redpepper.org.uk/environment-climate/climate-change/open-letter-to-extinction-rebellion/> [accessed 15 June 2022].
  • 3
    Michel Foucault. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-1979, ed. by Arnold I. Davidson, trans. by Graham Burchell (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Saidiya Hartman. Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007); “WEAPONIZED ARCHITECTURE: The Slave Ship Is Architecture”, THE FUNAMBULIST MAGAZINE, 24 March 2014; Keller Easterling. Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space (London: Verso, 2014).
  • 4
    Kyle Whyte, “Is It Colonial Déjà Vu? Indigenous Peoples and Climate Injustice”, p. 100.
  • 5
    Davis and Todd, p. 764; Yusoff; Janae Davis, Alex Moulton, Levi Van Sant, and Brian Williams, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, … Plantationocene?: A Manifesto for Ecological Justice in an Age of Global Crises”, Geography Compass, 13.5 (2019).
  • 6
    ulia Dehm, “Carbon Colonialism or Climate Justice? Interrogating the Internationa Climate Regime from a Twail Perspective”, Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice, 33 (2017), 129; Jennifer Johnson, ‘Conservation without Colonialism’, Red Pepper, 6 September 2020.[/footnote As the economic anthropologist Jason Hickel puts it, “energy privilege” presides unchallenged in such carbon colonialism.6Jason Hickel and Aljosa Slamersak, “Existing Climate Mitigation Scenarios Perpetuate Colonial Inequalities”, The Lancet Planetary Health, 6.7 (2022), e628–31 <https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(22)00092-4>.
  • 7
    Nicolai Baumert, Astrid Kander, Magnus Jiborn, Viktoras Kulionis, and Tobias Nielsen, “Global Outsourcing of Carbon Emissions 1995–2009: A Reassessment”, Environmental Science & Policy, 92 (2019), pp. 228–36 <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2018.10.010>.
  • 8
    Charles Gillott, “We Have Reusable Cups, Bags and Bottles: So Why Are Our Buildings Still Single Use?” The Conversation, 11 November 2021.
  • 9
    Filipa César, “Meteorisations: Reading Amílcar Cabral’s Agronomy of Liberation”, Third Text, 32.2–3 (2018), pp. 254–72.
  • 10
    Wynter.
  • 11
    Cadena.
  • 12
    Vandana Shiva. Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace (London: Zed Books, 2005).
  • 13
    Arturo Escobar, Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018), p. 224.
  • 14
    See for example Idle no More, The Red Deal, and Wretched of the Earth Coalition.
  • 15
    Christina Sharpe. In the Wake: On Blackness And Being (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), p. 9.
  • 16
    Sharpe, p. 104.

Library

is a collection of books that have inspired the team behind Architecture is Climate. It is not presented as a definitive bibliography for the project, but as a set of texts that have been important personally and collectively in informing the project. The Library will evolve over time.

The most terrifying graph in Less is More is one that plots the growth of GDP with the growth in raw material extraction. Over time, both follow almost exactly the same upward trajectory, increasing GDP being reliant on increasing extraction, with accompanying devastation to ecosystems. Jason Hickel shows with absolute clarity the connection between endless growth and climate breakdown. He compellingly makes the argument that the only way to avoid complete ecological collapse is to halt growth in the Global North, and in particular amongst the wealthiest 10%. The subtitle of the book is How Degrowth with Save the World. Degrowth is a red rag to the architectural bull because it blocks any vision of the new, of more building. Hickel’s book, in all its readability, lays down an essential challenge to architects to look sideways and away from addictions to growth.

This book further substantiates Material Cultures’ position as a practice that meaningfully combines research with design. Though small in size, the book covers a large range of topics, situating the production of buildings in broader political, environmental and economic frameworks, using relational thinking in an exemplary manner. Their positioning of building materials within supply chains, labour relations and ecological conditions leads them to a regenerative centred on plant-based materials. The book ends with a wonderful annotated bibliography, which is a further source of inspiration. 

If one accepts that decarbonisation has to be accompanied by decolonisation, then Amitav Ghosh is the best guide in this brilliant book which traces the initial interactions between colonial operations and the root causes of climate breakdown. He describes colonialism as “the project of muting and subduing the Earth.” Ghosh brings his novelist’s craft of storytelling and empathy to unmask the violent ways in which the exploitation of humans is always linked to the exploitation of the beyond-human, with people and nature becoming part of the capitalist systems of exchange. The “parables for a planet in crisis” (the books subtitle) are a call for the recognition and revival of indigenous knowledge and ways of seeing. 

This is history of architecture written for the present and future. Calder uses a global array of buildings to illustrate humans’ dependencies on different sources of energy at different times. He argues that architecture is shaped by its creators’ access to energy— be that fire, farming, or fossil fuels. From the Parthenon to a Victorian terraced house, form follows energy, often at the cost of social and environmental care. Today, 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the building sector. In addressing energy consumption, Calder invites an essential re-reading of the canons, damages, and potentials of architecture in the context of climate breakdown.

In this series of essays, the American theorists Stefano Harney and Fred Moten draw on black radical theory and culture to critique contemporary social and political institutions and propose alternative formulations. Tracing a capitalist logic and its mechanisms of control at work across everyday life, from debt management systems to the bureaucratisation of pedagogy, Harney and Moten propose the term ‘undercommons’ to describe an operational space of resistance situated within and beyond capitalist confines.

In this book about design theory and practice, the Colombian anthropologist Arturo Escobar explores how design both contributes to multiple social and ecological crises by serving capitalism and offers itself for other less extractivist purposes. Attuned to intersectional issues of social justice and ecological care, Escobar proposes a collaborative and place-based approach to design underpinned by an understanding of the interdependence of all beings. Drawing on decolonial efforts of indigenous and Afro-descended communities in Latin America to make just and ecological societies, Escobar delineates design’s potential for non-extractive world-making.

Channelling multiple voices and perspectives, from oceanic trawlers to AI bots, to unborn selves and long-dead ancestors, the American poet Jorie Graham’s poems express the frenetic speed and anxiety of our biologically, chemically, and electronically modified present. Facing climate breakdown and species loss (including our own), Fast invites us to consider what it means to live and die in the age of the anthropocene.

Amitav Ghosh is an Indian novelist whose two most recent works of non-fiction confront the cultural and historical dimensions of climate breakdown. In The Great Derangement, Ghosh describes the climate crisis as ‘also a crisis of culture, and thus of the imagination’ (p. 9). He recalls how earth and nature in modern novels is too often left to an inert background, the ‘opposite of narrative’. This way of thinking is radically challenged by climate breakdown, through which the earth is ‘forcing us to accept that we were wrong in almost everything that we thought’.

There are two readings of the Whole Earth Catalog. The first is its original intent. In the 1960s a whole raft of counterculture groups and communes were forming on the West Coast of the US. And then falling over through lack of skills and poor management. Seeing this happen, the writer and polymath Stewart Brand published the Whole Earth Catalog in 1968 as a resource to support these alternative ecosystems. The second version is that of Silicon Valley, with Apple’s founder Steve Jobs hailing the Catalog as the original Google, and with this establishing the book as the bible of technocratic libertarianism, the precursor of the avalanche of content, good and bad, that the internet unleashed. In this second version, the Whole Earth Catalog is insistently associated with the dark side of techno-capitalism that is associated with the current Silicon Valley.

We prefer the first version (though heed the warnings of the second one). If you read the Whole Earth Catalog at face value, as a collection of really useful tools, it remains an important benchmark. Everything from composting toilets to advice on how to keep geese, the Catalog can still be seen as an empowering collection that supports self-reliant, cooperative ways of living based on principles of repair, improvisation and early ecological systems.

This is a book that our research collective, MOULD, gathered round for mutual inspiration at the start of the project Architecture is Climate. It takes the liberating tenets of Marxism, but escapes some of the binds of other Marxist orthodoxies (in particular a traditional analysis of class). At the heart of the book is a belief that a better future can be found not out of the ashes of the past, but through an imaginative enchantment of the now. It is endlessly quotable: “Marxists make life a poem, adopt a creative as well as critical attitude towards living.” “For us sensuous beings, however, for us magical humanists, action and active practice aren’t just invoked to overcome contemplation, to help us feel alive; they’re mobilised as creative ways to invent new truths about the world, to give us hope against hope, and to actively create a separation in which feeling can still be felt.”

The book’s most memorable metaphor is that of a Kafkaesque castle which stands for the authority and violence of hegemonic forces. Rather than endlessly attack the castle from the outside, Merrifield argues for a tunnelling operation that at the same undermines the castle and finds new routes for the future. “We need to dig our tunnel and construct our exit trails; to disperse the soil discreetly, covertly; to organize, with great caution, an invisible committee, an escape committee; and we need to hope our tunnels are long enough to reach the woods, are ubiquitous to converge with other tunnels. And if enough people dig, the surface superstructure might one day give away entirely, hopefully after everybody has left.”

What manages to live in the ruins of our capitalist present? Answering this question takes the American anthropologist Anna Tsing across the world in pursuit of an unlikely protagonist: an edible mushroom called matsutake. A weed, a delicacy, and an ecological salve, matsutake’s multiple functions help Tsing tell a multifaceted tale of commodity chains, traditional cultures, and the more-than-human worlds of forests and fungi. Matsutake, she argues, lives within and despite capitalist extractivism, exemplifying the vital possibility of collaborative and multispecies survival.