We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
As a child growing up in suburban and rural areas, I spent countless hours outside. In my suburban neighborhood, my siblings, friends, and I would explore the neighborhood on our bikes, venture alongside creeks looking for tadpoles, and stay out all day until we were called home for dinner in the evening. At my grandparents’ farm, we would wander the woods or explore the remaining outbuildings that had been the workplace for the subsistence farm of my father’s childhood. We would help my grandmother in the garden, hoeing weeds, picking produce, and watering from the rainwater-filled cistern. (This was before rainwater harvesting was cool, when it was a necessity for rural existence.) Looking back on my childhood outdoor adventures, I realize how these experiences ingrained in me a love and appreciation for the natural world.
In this stage of my life, I find myself indoors more than out, and usually behind a computer screen. It is the consequence of busy times, as most of us are experiencing, and I miss the days of unscheduled and spontaneous wanderings inhaling fresh air. But the contrast of our current times makes me appreciate not only my childhood but also the natural environment. How privileged we are to have the trees, wildflowers, birds, and animals that make this world — and it is our duty to protect it. Though it feels as if I live separately from this natural environment while inside my home or office, I am still interconnected with it. We all are. We inhabit the same world, breathe the same air, and depend on the same resources. I may now be distanced, in my privileged existence, from the immediate and direct effects of climate change, but it already impacts the daily lives of millions around the world. It will affect even more in the generations to come. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “What affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Though he was speaking about racial justice, I believe the same concept applies to climate justice.
As Americans, we hold a diverse range of views when it comes to climate change: why it is happening, if it is happening, and what can be done about it. In his book “Climate Courage: How Tackling Climate Change Can Build Community, Transform the Economy, and Bridge the Political Divide in America,” Andreas Karelas cites a 2019 survey, “Climate Change in the American Mind,” conducted by Yale and George Mason University’s programs for climate change communication. He notes the following statistics:
- 72 percent of Americans agree that global warming is happening (thus 28 percent do not).
- 59 percent of Americans believe that global warming is human-caused (thus 41 percent do not).
- Only 22 percent understand that there is a strong consensus held among scientists that global warming is happening and is human-caused.
The statistics become more telling when looking at the data on voting status and political party affiliation. In a following survey by Yale and George Mason, the percentages skew directly along party lines. As expected, the range from “strong belief in human-caused climate change” to “no belief […]” parallels that of liberal Democrat to conservative Republican. Between those extremes lies the vast majority of conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans whose beliefs on this topic closely align — we just hear more frequently from those at the two extremes.
We Texans are also not all on the same page when it comes to climate change. We live in a fossil fuel-based economy that seeks to protect that system and the livelihoods it ensures. We are a culture dependent on petroleum-fueled cars, cheap gas heating, and cooking on gas ranges. It is understandable that we align with our family, friends, and neighbors to protect what belongs to us and those we love. Living in one of the fastest growing states by population, in areas ranging from rural to urban, Texans tend to split along party lines on this issue.
There are Texas outliers, though, who show that we can pursue shared goals when we come together and talk about our commonalities. Take, for instance, Dale Ross, mayor of Georgetown. As a conservative Republican, he led his community to adopt renewable energy over fossil fuels as a cost-saving initiative: When he analyzed the options, the savings offered made it a “no brainer,” in Ross’s words. “You think of climate change and renewable energy, from a political standpoint, on the left-hand side of the spectrum, and what I’ve done is toss all those partisan political thoughts aside,” says Ross in a 2018 article in Smithsonian magazine. “We’re doing this because it’s good for our citizens. Cheaper electricity is better. Clean energy is better than fossil fuels.” Ross is now seen as an unlikely advocate for clean energy, demonstrating that we are not as divided as it may seem at times.
Another Texan who finds herself with the seemingly paradoxical descriptors of evangelical Christian and climate scientist is Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, the director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. She will explain to you that the stereotype is wrong: To her, it is innately Christian to love and care for the vulnerable and for our world. Hayhoe also says that the biggest problem we have is not those who do not believe in climate change, but rather believers’ lack of action. She explains this in a December 2021 interview with The New York Times Magazine:
The reality is that more than 70 percent of people in the U.S. are already worried about climate change, and about 35 percent of those are really worried. So the biggest problem is not the people who aren’t on board; the biggest problem is the people who don’t know what to do. And if we don’t know what to do, we do nothing. Just start by doing something, anything, and then talk about it! Talk about how it matters to your family, your home, your city, the activity that you love. Connect the dots to your heart so you don’t see climate change as a separate bucket but rather as a hole in the bucket of every other thing that you already care about in your life. Talk about what positive, constructive actions look like that you can engage in individually, as a family, as an organization, a school, a place of work. Add your hand to that giant boulder. Get it rolling down the hill just a little faster. Even if we live in a progressive bubble, most of the people are not activated, and we activate them by using our voice.
I find both Ross and Hayhoe very inspiring, as they have been able to effect change in their communities and beyond by not allowing cultural or political barriers to limit their thinking and actions. How can we follow suit? As architects, we have been taken to task by the 2030 Challenge. With buildings contributing nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions, we are uniquely positioned to make a difference in this huge problem of climate change. The 2030 Challenge aims for all new buildings to be carbon neutral by 2030; that is certainly a large and daunting goal. But as Hayhoe says, we can look at what we can change locally, in our projects, our schools, and in our communities, to make a difference. Through small daily actions, we can create change, helping to move the “giant boulder” one project at a time. These changes can positively affect others beyond us — even if only indirectly — helping to keep our “garment of destiny” intact. Are you ready to act?
Eva Read-Warden, AIA, is a principal at The Arkitex Studio in Bryan and the 2022 TxA president.