What Are the Limits?

By Phil Armitage

02 December 2013

Provocative, alternative, inflammatory, thought-provoking. If you’ve never met Alastair Donald before, it’s likely you've never heard such unconventional views on sustainability as his.

Alastair is a director at the Future Cities Project and project director for the British Pavilion at next year’s Venice Biennale. He was also one of our guests at a Round Table discussion on the subject of sustainability that we hosted for the Architects Journal.

It would be fair to say that Alastair’s views on sustainability do not match my own. ‘I don’t necessarily agree that using less energy is a good thing,’ he said during the discussion. ‘I think society in general should aspire to use more energy. That would be a mark of progress. That’s not to argue against efficiency, but using more energy is generally a sign that humanity is doing and achieving more.’ My mind immediately started spinning at the potential risks and environmental degradation that this approach could lead to. The earth is a closed system, by and large, with only electromagnetic energy from the sun significantly contributing to the finite resources we have available to us.

I’ll confess that initially I thought Alastair’s position was polemic; that he was deliberately trying to be controversial. Ultimately though, I realised that he has faith in the human ability to be creative to solve our problems and access the energy we need. I’m firmly of the belief that the world’s resources are finite, and that consuming them carelessly impacts on the complexity of our natural systems; to our detriment.

If sustainability is a subject you care about, you can read the transcript here, and view a short film edited from the Round Table here. You might not agree with him. You might not agree with me! But it will get you thinking, and that is energy well-spent.

Phil Armitage is a Senior Partner.

 The earth from space


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