In designing and constructing the built environment we now have to consider the global impacts of our choices as well as the local ones

Peter Head

When we design and build buildings and infrastructure we now have to consider the global impacts of our choices as well as the local ones.

For example, what have the carbon emissions been during manufacture and shipping of components? Has labour been employed responsibly in the supply chain? We are increasingly expected to analyse if our decision-making has been part of a cumulative process of further undermining the resilience of society globally.

This needs to cover both short-term disaster scenarios and long term resilience. Many people I talk to worry about the lack of evidence behind many of the tools for doing this and an inability to keep up with changing circumstances. It is also increasing costs of design.

We are rapidly destroying the ecology that supports our lives and human suffering is growing as a result

A big problem with the science and economics we are using for local design is that we assume there are infinite resources globally and we optimize solutions on that basis.

We then try to make choices to mitigate the fact that this is not true!

The reality is that the earth’s resources are finite and if we aggregate all the local decisions currently being made in rapid urbanization we find that we are rapidly destroying the ecology that supports our lives and human suffering is growing as a result.

Trying to mitigate an unsustainable basic design and construction approach is not going to make the transformational change needed.

I have talked about collaborative regional intelligence to improve energy, water and food security locally but how do we cope with these global problems? Local resilience is no good without global resilience.

We know that the attempt to try to limit carbon emissions through the COP process has failed so far.

In our work in The Ecological Sequestration Trust, to develop an open-source systems platform for regional collaboration , we looked for global models that every region could connect to at the region boundary.

The International Centre for Earth Simulation (another NGO bringing together top science) have an exciting and ambitious programme to bring together all the existing earth models onto a common platform, integrate them and make them available to regions to connect to.

For example, climate, ocean currents and water levels, core, magnet field, forest cover, human and ecological migration, trade of goods and mineral resources, earth plate movements to name but a few.

A practical example is the use of the earth platform to analyse the impact of glacier retreat in the Alps, Himalayas and Andes on long-term river flows.

ICES has already done this for the Alps to show the likely impact on water flows in the Rhone, Danube and the Rhine. This information can then be shared with regions affected, who are using the regional systems platform by having the platforms connected.

Ground based sensors in the regional platforms can feed data back to the global platform to refine the modeling over time. In this way we can build up a more accurate picture of what is happening to the earth and what the impact of local decisions is really having.

Many of the world’s top scientists are now being networked into this assembly process and it looks like a very promising and exciting direction.

The increasing interest in short and long-term resilience planning for city regions is shown by announcement this month of the first cities chosen by Rockefeller Foundation for their 100 Resilient Cities programme.

Bristol and Glasgow are in the first 33 cities chosen. I am hoping that these city regions will use the opportunity of support from Rockefeller Foundation to test the ‘global to local’ modeling approach I have described to underpin their resilience planning.

This will enable us to see how this approach can be used to make better decisions about design and construction of the built environment so that resilience can be improved with an emerging collaborative global and local intelligence.

Peter Head is the executive Chairman of The Ecological Sequestration Trust