In reading the first chapter of Peter Buchanan’s book, “Ten Shades of Green” and listening to Professor Sherman’s lectures there emerged in my mind a recurrent theme on the fundamental goals necessary to propel human interaction with ecological systems into a sustainable state: “diversity”. I first encountered a straightforward discussion of diversity in terms of systems this past semester while in Phoebe Chrisman’s course “Global Sustainability.” Among other things she made clear that in a biological system the greater number of species there were the more resilient the system would be to cyclical shifts and (more importantly) unexpected pressures. One is immediately reminded of the devastating asteroid impact of the Cretaceous Period and the resultant Ice Age that followed. While many prehistoric species were lost to the incident it was only because Earth had accumulated such a mass diversity of species that life sprang back even stronger than it had been before.
Roughly 66 million years later we are now faced by a potential biological disaster no less dire. Buchanan enumerates a long list of the impact of global warming on ecological systems. He states that we have to make a fundamental change in the way we live if there is any hope of halting the degradation of the natural world. However, as we have found in class and through the readings this is not possible through a single top-down change in policy or through more energy efficient building design. “It should be clear by now that green design, though not dauntingly difficult, cannot be achieved by any simplistic or formulaic approach: no single approach is likely to be adequate, let alone appropriate or even applicable, to all situations.” (Buchanan, 19). This quote elegantly embodies the shift in mindset and dialogue that needs to occur in the coming liminal decades. Rather than individual sustainability efforts competing for fruition or even merely coexisting, we need to approach possible solutions through systems based thinking. This way, the positive feedback loops of efforts made–for example–through better architectural design, shifts to comfortable living standards and changes to consumerist behaviors will create a multiplicative effect rather than a mere cumulative effect.
The importance of diversity can be seen across disciplines and scales. For instance, look at the impact of diversity on agriculture. For years it has been our response as a competitive, consumer-based economy to increase crop yields by streamlining the once natural growing process and dedicating large swatches of land to a single crop. This has a major downside however. When pests or soil nutrient deficiencies threaten the crops viability we are forced to use more and more pesticides and fertilizers. But as Marie Haga wrote for the Global Crop Diversity Trust, this is neither ideal nor necessary. She writes that “Brazil has one of the most active and innovative agricultural research systems in the world… [It] would not have been able to create such a unique and strong agricultural system if not for the crop diversity.” (Haga) A system of small scale farming using regular crop rotation methods reduces the risk of large crop failures and thus such a strong dependance on unsustainable, inorganic agriculture.
So too is the case of the exploration for solutions to present-day issues such as world hunger, social unrest, our dependance on oil, and a full range of problems caused by the ever widening disparity between classes. Buchanan asserts that interdisciplinary collaboration between fields is the only way to realize a truly sustainable future. In reference to designing green architecture, Buchanan states, “Devising a fully green design often requires a greater range of skills than any architect can provide. Engineers of various sorts make crucial contributions tot eh design, as might ecologists, hydrologists and geologists, horticulturists and landscape architects and various other specialists–including those with intimate knowledge of local climate, materials and crafts.” (Buchanan 20)
Put simply we cannot, as the old saying goes, put all our eggs in one basket. The resiliency of a system relies heavily on the diversity of its integral parts. On scales ranging from the global to the individual we must embrace the diversity of Our condition for in any given scenario there are far too many dynamic factors to predict with absolute certainty any one outcome. It is this uncertainty (and thus the possibility for negative outcomes) that is neutralized through diversity.
Buchanan, Peter. Ten Shades of Green : Architecture and the Natural World. New York, NY: Architectural League of New York , 2005.
Haga, Marie. “Crop Diversity, the Key to the Success and Future of Brazilian Agriculture.” Global Crop Diversity Trust. n.p. Web. 16 Sept. 2013.
Ristinen, Robert A, and Jack J Kraushaar. Energy and the Environment. New York: Wiley, 1999.