Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Last One

National Geographic has an excellent article in the January 2009 issue titled ‘Countdown to Extinction.’ It was a difficult to see the pictures of mammals, insects and more, who are either threatened or endangered or worst of all, already extinct, a reminder of the negative side of our human impact. And although it’s true some species might become extinct on rare occasion from natural causes (think dinosaurs), for the most part species today –and let’s just be honest, are becoming extinct or endangered due to human impact. Our built environment is in large part responsible for this impact.

We humans tend to think that we can build wherever and whenever we want, that land is for taking and making something from, versus caring for and tending to. We don’t often think about who else might be residing there, whether flora or fauna. And then we are surprised when a coyote is seen walking down the street of a new subdivision.

Every time we build is an impact on someone else’s home, someone else’s ecosystem, whether mammal, bird, amphibian, tree, wetland and so on. Of course, we will continue to build, we need to build, if nothing else, to provide the basic need of shelter. Most animals after all, build some form of shelter as well, beavers being perhaps some of the greatest architects of the animal kingdom. But we humans need to be especially mindful as we build new and retrofit existing buildings, both now and in the future. We need to begin to work in harmony with the natural world, supporting it versus destroying it. What does this mean?

For new construction, this means beginning each project with an ecosystem survey of the site. Who lives there already? How will the new building impact these inhabitants and how can it support them? For existing buildings, it means understanding what once existed and working to restore it as fully as feasible. It also requires thinking beyond the confines of the site to the larger community. For example, if a development project will have some negative impacts on a wetland 50 miles away, how can these impacts be fully negated and/or balanced out in some way?

Sure, all of this will take time and require thoughtfulness. The process might even change designs and approach. But the reward is a deeper connection to the natural world, a chance for us to be more fully human, and a built environment that supports and nurtures ecosystems, which in turn we must always remember support and nurture us. That’s how God intended Earth to work anyway, that all of it, all inhabitants work together, supporting, nurturing, in community.


Ocha said...

You would think that with so many empty buildings that rather than build new (using up more resources) that developers would look to utilize existing buildings. They could be renovated and put to good use.
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Sara Sweeney said...

I agree and am very hopeful that as we move forward, we will begin to focus more on our existing building stock. Indeed, it may require upgrades and retrofits, from building envelope to HVAC systems, but when considering the amount of energy embodied in an existing building in comparison of the energy it would take to build new (from resource extraction for materials through construction and then building operations), the long-term savings are there.

pinkpackrat said...

What comes to mind when I read this excellent post, is hungry sailors clubbing the last great auk to death on a small arctic island. Seems man has driven hundreds of creatures to extinction in the past. We do need to change our ways--really!

Sara Sweeney said...

Pink Pack Rat, I couldn't agree more with your comment.