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ASLA Adopts New Policy for “Climate Change and Resilience”

By David V. Ferris, Jr., ASLA

Have you ever heard a climate change counter-argument such as: “Humans cannot impact the Earth’s environment to the point we change the climate's temperatures, precipitation, winds and major storm events. Or science has proven our climate evolves, and its fluctuations are a part of the ebb and flow of Mother Nature.”

While the counter-argument to climate change reflects what is scientifically proven, it does not reveal the entire picture. Science has proven that in the past 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial retreat and advance. The last ice age ended approximately 7,000 years ago, ushering in the modern climate era. We attribute these cyclical climate changes to subtle variations in the Earth's orbit, which changed the amount of absorbed solar energy. In contrast (and with 95 percent probability), scientists believe the climate changes we are experiencing today are attributed to the human activity carried on since the mid-20th century1.

Few read the first paragraph without a slight rise in blood pressure. Passion about the environment is commendable but disregard for the logic of the counter-argument can be shortsighted. If landscape architects are to lead the discussion about climate change, we must listen, understand, and engage. To help facilitate a constructive conversation about climate change, ASLA has released a new public policy statement.

Landscape architects have a unique kinship with natural systems and it's no surprise we are leading the charge against modern climate change with green infrastructure, and environmentally resilient and sustainable design. Over the years, ASLA has helped promote these ideals with things like the Smart Policies for a Changing Climate Report (2018) and the Society’s Climate Change Statement (2008). Last year, ASLA’s Policy Committee was directed to create a new "Climate Change and Resilience" policy. Not without overcoming a few hurdles, the ASLA Board of Trustees unanimously approved the following policy in May.

The American Society of Landscape Architects believes climate change intensifies the negative impacts of development and puts ecosystems and communities at serious risk. Mitigation and adaptation require new paradigms that work with human and natural systems. Skillful, knowledge-based planning, design, and management contributes to addressing climate goals, including reduction of greenhouse gases, and significantly enhance resiliency in the face of extreme weather, sea-level rise, and shifting climatic patterns. Landscape architects have the responsibility to address these challenges in practice, advocacy, education, and research. As the understanding of the effects and extent of these challenges grow, landscape architects should continue to respond with innovation and leadership. ASLA supports federal, state, and local policies that promote resilient and climate-smart design and planning; educate and empower communities; promote equity; promote active and multimodal transportation; protect natural systems; and support resilient agricultural practices.

For those that may not be familiar with ASLA's policy statements2 they are external documents, adopted by the Board of Trustees, reflecting positions on specific issues that represent the Society's beliefs, values, and visions. ASLA's policies are available to the public, however, the rationale behind them is only available to its members. For the new “Climate Change and Resilience” policy I felt the rationale is as significant as the policy itself and challenged the Board to share it with as many people who aren’t able to view it as possible. This leads me to write this update for LAND to help get the word out. The Policy Committee's rationale for the policy highlighted the following:

  1. Climate change sets in motion global shifts, with ramifications placing even more pressure on natural resources and endangering the health and well-being of society.
  2. Our profession arose out of the Industrial Revolution’s negative physical and social impacts. Expertise in green infrastructure and incorporating natural systems into the built environment are two examples of how we create resilient designs that are ecologically based and socially equitable solutions.
  3. The best way to address climate change is with a multi-discipline approach.
  4. Vital concerns to our practice include:
    • Intensifying urban problems (heat islands, public health issues from things like smog and water management)
    • Increased occurrence and intensity of storm events (hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards)
    • Changes in precipitation (drought and flooding) resulting in species changes and erosion.
    • Flood zones shifts impacting communities
    • USDA plant zone shifts, with concurrent new invasive plant species, pests, and diseases impacting biodiversity
    • Wildlife shifts and connectivity problems caused by development and changes in habitat
    • Significant impacts to the agricultural lands, aquatic ecosystems, forests, conservation land, and historic landscapes
    • Northern Hemisphere’s permafrost depletion
  5. Landscape architects have the responsibility to apply their education and experience to protect natural ecosystems and social infrastructure through practice, advocacy, education, and research. Existing policies, codes, and practices may not be adequate for dealing with the climate change effects and thus need critical evaluation and revision at a global, national, state, and local level.

I encourage all to use the new “Climate Change and Resilience” public policy and its rationale to assist in your passionate plea to make a positive change.

1-https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/
2-https://www.asla.org/ContentDetail.aspx?id=50016

 
Thumbnail credit: Mill River Park and Greenway, designed by OLIN. 2015 ASLA Honor Award, General Design.
 

 

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