Bis Picture

As our discussion of the Architecture 2030 program shows, there is a big picture of global climate change, species loss, rainforest destruction, soil erosion and a myriad of other environmental issues on the table, as human beings attempt to accommodate an estimated 9.4 billion people on the planet by 2050 (up from about 6.6 billion today) at reasonable levels of health and material well-being.4

The big picture was dramatized to many of us, in 1969 by the first pictures of the entire Earth from outer space, taken during moon orbit by NASA astronauts, showing one planet, blue and alive, in a sea of emptiness, black and hostile to life. The picture of "Earthrise," taken as a circling lunar module emerged from the dark side of the moon, was particularly dramatic, inspiring and life-changing for many. We do have to go it alone on this planet, science fiction fantasies of future space colonization notwithstanding. As human activity diminishes the productivity and diversity of natural systems, a process well underway all over the world, we increasingly face the prospect of creating a new inhabitable Earth in our own image, without the requisite knowledge or humility.

As an example of the big picture, consider the Gaia Hypothesis, a scientific theory that proposes that the living matter of planet Earth functions like a single organism. It was first formulated in the 1960s by the independent research scientist James Lovelock, as a consequence of his work for NASA on methods of detecting life on Mars. The Gaia Hypothesis, now known as "earth system science," has since been supported by a number of scientific experiments and provided a number of useful predictions.5

Another example of the big picture addressed by green buildings, with their emphasis on dramatic reductions in energy use and global greenhouse gas emissions, is the shrinking of the Arctic ice cap by 20% since 1970 and the visible shrinkage of northern hemisphere glaciers in Europe and America from global warming.6 In Portland, contemporary photos of the nearby Mt. Hood glacier show dramatic shrinkage since the first aerial photos taken in the 1920s and 1930s. Many people have now seen photos and drawings showing the significant reduction in Arctic ice over the past 30 years. This reduction leads to fewer ice floes for polar bears, leaving them with a choice of returning to land for much of the year or drowning because of the vast space between ice floes. Some hypothesize that the melting of Arctic ice could trigger a runaway climate warming because so much of the sun's energy during the summer would be absorbed instead of being reflected back into space. Fresh water would stream into the North Atlantic, upsetting the circulation pattern of the Gulf Stream that currently makes high latitudes in Europe suitable for agriculture and highpopulation densities.

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