Modern societies revolve around the ‘fix it’ mentality. We have traditionally created landscapes that work against our natural environment, taming it, rather than working with it. If there is a river, we build a bridge. Extreme temperatures? We create heating and cooling. We have achieved the seemingly impossible with aeroplanes, skyscrapers and electricity – indeed it’s become such an intrinsic part of our social structure, that whenever we’re faced with a new problem, our initial response is always to ‘fix’.
The issue is, that by creating these new developments that work against our natural environments, we also create new problems. And one in particular has been deemed the single greatest threat to our world.
That problem is climate change.
When dealing with climate change, two problems come up against the ‘lets just fix it’ resolve. The first is the nature of the solution. By traditional means, improving an issue has not meant personal loss. Monetary perhaps, but this is resolved through the individual receiving an instant or material benefit. In behaving in this way, we have created a societal system were spending money means that we don’t have to sacrifice anything else.
The second issue arises through a complete societal Greenwash. More often than not, when confronting climate change eyes glaze over and tuning out begins. While this may seem apathetic, the reason is only logical. Discussion without solution breeds indifference. We become bored with the topic because the issue is not changing. It is not being changed because this issue is so new our traditional ‘fix it’ tools, like the aforementioned engineering technologies, require fossil fuels. Fossil fuels add to the climate change problem and we start going round in circles.
In order to change the problem, is it imperative to change the psychology. Instead of creating green solutions that demand we make sacrifices for a greater good, we need to create environments from their inception that offer to be environmentally stable without having to forfeit traditional trappings.
This idea is personified in the sustainable concept of Vertical Farms. Floated around the industry for years as a green building ideal, vertical farms are finally building momentum as innovative green technologies are being produced as a by-product of the climate change pressure.
What they entail in the construction of a farm in skyscraper form; a completely closed loop ecosystem that only emits one thing: produce. The closed loop system refers the fact that all waste throughout each different process is used as another’s fuel until the processes completely join creating one sustainable loop.
Australia has, especially this year, seen a real growth in precinct-scale development, rather than singular buildings, and vertical farms follow a similar ideology. Rather than creating one, low-energy emitting building (which is a feat in itself), the vertical farm creates an entire community’s produce system that is conducive an overall sustainable environment.
Dickson Despommier, arguably the founding father of the vertical farm and a microbiologist/ecologist, believes that the vertical farm will have the ability to completely change how we live in urban metropolises.
We must “learn how to make our lives as comfortable as possible, behaving ecologically to the point of conserving all of the passive transfer of energy that we have available” says Despommier.
The vertical farm is not, however, to be confused with stacking greenhouses. This is a method that has been proven impossible due to the lack of sunlight and natural passage of nutrients.
However, the former is made possible through innovative means of transparent building materials that allow light to be reflected through parabolic mirrors and fiberoptics.
This is not a new concept. Historically, the design philosophy rests largely on the foundation of the 600 BC Hanging Gardens of Babylon. In modern times,China and India, the densest populations on the earth, have been exploring the possibility of projects of this nature for some time. And with good reason. Despommier predicts that by 2050 80% of the world’s population will inhabit urban metropolis centres. In order to cater to this newly grown population, an extra land mass of 1 million hectares will be needed for food production. This would be wildly decreased through the vertical construction of what has been traditionally horizontal.
It offers a possible solution to an imminent future with lots of people and very little land.
What we have in our reach are the tools for a modern environment that is self-reliant. Cities that cater for themselves, and maintain themselves. Instead of reinventing the wheel, what Despommier and many others are offering to do is find out which essentials our societies need to run at their most basic levels and then translate those essentials into the built environment. And perhaps through these means, true sustainable living can be achieved.