"The future beckons us to repair, to restore, to maintain, to reserve resources, to rethink our fundamental imagination of where we should live and how we should live."
In this podcast I had the great pleasure of interviewing Rahul Mehrotra. I first met Rahul when we were both graduate students at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. What I remember most about first meeting Rahul was his sparkling intelligence and totally unpretentious manner, combined with a gentle sense of humour.
Rahul is a practicing architect and educator, splitting his time between his professional practice in Mumbai, and teaching at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, where he is a professor and Director of Urban Design program. Rahul has executed a wide range of projects across India, and has also written, co-authored and edited dozens of books on Mumbai, its urban history, its historic buildings, public spaces and the planning process.
Rahul first studied at the School of Architecture in Ahmedabad, India, where he received the gold medal for his undergraduate thesis, and then at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, where he graduated with a master’s degree in Urban Design (with distinction). He has taught at the University of Michigan (from 2003–2007), the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at MIT (from 2007-2010), and at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where from 2010 to 2015, he Chaired the Department of Urban Planning and Design, and is currently Director of the Urban Design Program.
In 2012-2015, Rahul led a Harvard University-wide research project with Professor Diana Eck, called “The Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Mega City”, which was published as a book in 2014. He extended this research in 2017 in the form of a book titled: Does Permanence Matter? In the context of the Twenty First Century Imperative, both these research efforts offer important insights into how we might address the future impacts of climate change and the anticipated dislocation of large populations of climate refugees - with the UN now estimating that the world will see over two-hundred-and-fifty million climate refugees by 2050.
In our podcast I talk with Rahul about the social and environmental purpose that underpin much of his work, as well the important insights he has gained from his research of the Kumbh Mela, and later explorations of impermanent habitations that may provide us with important understandings for how we might more effectively respond to future large-scale migrations of climate refugees.
Above: Rahul and team at work in RMA Boston Studio
In addition to his research explorations, Rahul is a world-renown architect, with many significant built projects to his name. For me, two of his architectural projects stand out as being most emblematic of his important contribution to addressing the challenges of the Twenty First Century Imperative. The first is his wonderful social housing project for 100 elephants and their caretakers in Jaipur, India.
Above: Before and after photo of Hathigaon site for housing for elephants and their keepers (photo by RMA Architects) Below: Elephants and their keepers at Hathigaon site (photo by RMA Architects)
This project involved transforming a former sand quarry into a wetland ecosystem to provide a livable habitat for the elephants as well as dozens of other animal and bird species. By creating a wetland that captures and stores yearly Monsoon rains, this project successfully regenerated a seriously degraded environment, as well as contributing to helping the site to adapt to the future impacts of climate change.
Rahul describes this project as "truly one of the most challenging projects that we've actually dealt with" and goes on to say that: "this was a condition where the demography was among the poorest in the country, in this case they were Mahout's, or elephant keepers from the Muslim community which is a real minority in the state of Jaipur, which is a largely Hindu population with a Hindu right-leaning government." The project was focused on repairing and regenerating the ecology of the site. As Rahul describes: "It was really essentially about creating a landscape which would make a habitat where elephants and their keepers could survive - because the volumes of water that elephants need is enormous. So this was a case where we really engaged with repairing, regenerating, and privileging landscape and the existence of water, capturing water, making place for it, creating the humidity that you needed for these tropical beings to exist, and then placing architecture in the interstitial spaces, rather than the other way around, where we often, in our impulses as architects, design the built environment, and then place landscape in the interstices. So, it was really a project about reversing that. It was about also reversing what might be the business-as-usual approach to a project like this, but it was also a project which implicitly empowered a low-income community by giving them great access to water."
The second project that stands out is the design of the MC Corporate Office Complex in Hyderabad that included a living façade supported by a modular screen of recycled cast aluminum panels. This project created a wonderful place of work bysurrounding the building envelope with a screen of flowering vines to help mediate the climate between inside and outside the building.
Above: Living Facade at KMC Corporate Office Complex in Hyderabad (photo by Carlos Chen). Below: Exterior view of KMC Corporate Office Complex in Hyderabad (photo by Tina Nandi)
Rahul describes the project as a low-tech solution to a complex environmental challenge: "The project here was about showing how a kind of low tech solution, which recycled aluminium was used to create a hand-made trellis in a small factory which hand-crafted it. Then we grew vines to create a second skin, which had a misting system in it which humidified the façade which allowed air to move through it. It not only constructed a new identity for this corporation (which was a construction sort of company), but also made for the green façade, not as a symbolic green façade but as a performative green façade which actually cools, humidifies the building, but also feels like it's kind of grown out of the place."
This project is a good example of how to use natural capital - the vines on the screens - to not only moderate the local climate, especially the temperature extremes, but also as an adaptation to the future impacts of climate change such as the increases in heat and perhaps aridity.
However, Rahul notes that one of the most compelling and unintended consequences of the project was its social impact: "For me, one of the most beautiful unintended consequences of this project was its social dimension, which I honestly hadn't anticipated till the building began performing -- which is that suddenly the gardeners, who are the poorest paid in a corporation like this, were really, actually, empowered. There was great empathy for them because now the façade and the very identity of the building depended on the poorest paid employees of that company. Now they roamed the whole façade because we [had] created a cat walk and they can look their bosses in the eye. They dress beautifully and there's much more empathy for them, and their position in the corporation, I think, went up a few notches, and I've experienced this, and I talked to the owners of the company. I can't tell you the gratitude that they have to the gardeners: people working in the office building make friends with the gardeners to get a bouquet of flowers for their wife."
Advice Rahul Had For His Students
"Don't get trapped in a model of practise which is a model where we set up our offices and wait for a client to knock at our door, but rather, identify the problems, and then find the constituency that will support you to make that happen. Because, I think we are trained to be able to seek those problems out. We are often accused of being guns for hire, yes, and that's a legitimate accusation, because of that model of practise where we wait for someone to knock on our doors and then we go and serve whatever perception of the problem they have. Whereas, I think we are individuals, we are citizens, we are part of a community first and before we are architects, and therefore, for us to define those problems, and to understand, and to surface, and to articulate them, is as important."
Advice Rahul Had For Listeners
"I would just say: work more collectively. I mean, I think it's again contingent upon on us to become part of our communities, and work more actively if you're part of a democracy, or, find any other way that the collective and the commons can be put in the centre of any discussion, and weigh any proposal for climate change as a response for political decisions to be part of a collective. We've got to get away from giving expression to the powers, which are the marginal 1% on the globe, which control the wealth, globally, and this is not just North America, it's India, it's China. I think we are putting too much power in the hands of very few people whose motives are only more greed. So we've got to correct this imbalance, and this overpowering presence of greed concentrated in the hand of very, very, very few people."
Books and Articles Recommended by Rahul
Ghosh, Amitav. The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. The University of Chicago Press, 2017.
“In terms of what's actually scary? For me… it's how do we feed our population? How do we feed the next generation? That's an open-ended question that, I think, if you think down the road, the consequences of that are not pretty.”
In this episode, I speak with Peter Howard, an expert on sustainability and climate change policy, and more recently, carbon sequestration.
Peter and I discuss how to develop effective climate and carbon policy, as well delving into how biological carbon emissions sequestration technology works, including how it might be scaled to address ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
Peter’s background includes an honours degree in Biology with a focus in ecology and conservation from Kings University, and a Master of Environmental Studies from York University, focussing on Ecological Economics and Sustainability in Business.
His career to date has included a combination of both public and private sector experience, including positions as an Ontario Government policy maker at the Ministry of the Environment, as a management consultant for Price Waterhouse Cooper, and currently, as the Vice President of Sustainability and Project Development at Pond Technologies - a Canadian biotech start-up.
Peter Howard with test bioreactor at the Pond Technologies Laboratory in Markham, Ontario
Advice Peter Gave to Listeners:
I think that what you can do is engage and be open. In other words, if you are somebody who doesn't believe in big government, who doesn't believe necessarily in the government restricting your freedoms or becoming a large bureaucracy, that's okay. That doesn't mean you have to oppose all forms of climate change policy, or that you have to deny that climate change is happening, or that you have to acknowledge it's happening but deny humans are responsible, or however that logic goes. I want to be the first person as part of the, I don't know, "neo-Socialist elite" that says I agree with you. Governments, by and large, can be horrendously inefficient, and I don't think they necessarily have a role in telling you how to live your life, so I agree with you. Good. Can we get that off the table and talk about how we're going to move this forward so that we can control all the things that are important to us?
Everyone cares about the availability and the price of food in the supermarket. Everyone cares about whether or not a hurricane comes along and washes their house away. Let's get that out of the way, and let's acknowledge that there's lots of different points of view on what government roles should be, and none of them necessarily eliminate the potential to talk about climate change and what its impacts are, and how do we get a bipartisan support and understanding across that spectrum to come to some sort of policy that everyone can be happy with and create climate wealth?
"Depressing Books" Recommended by Peter:
Dyer, Gwynne. Climate Wars. Random House Canada, 2008.
"About 20% of the human's contribution to carbon in the atmosphere is from how we're treating our forests!"
In this podcast I talk with Dale Prest, CEO of the Climate Forest Company (CFC). We talk about the global carbon cycle and our future ability to reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and existing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide through more effective forest management practices. As the CEO of CFC Dale explores and devises strategies to fight climate change through sustainable forest management, for example, by incenting maritime woodlot owners to manage their forests to store carbon, and by creating innovative forest products that displace fossil-fuel intensive products like concrete and steel.
We discuss how the sustainable management of forests are an important opportunity for reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations – that are now over 400ppm CO2. Dale points out that current clear-cutting practices by many of the world’s large forest harvesting companies accounts for 20 percent of atmospheric CO2 emissions, and that simply by changing forest management and harvesting practices we could make a huge dint in our global greenhouse gas emissions. We also talk about the global carbon cycle, and our future ability to reduce both emissions and existing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.
Dale started CFC in partnership with New Brunswick-based Community Forests International (CFI), an award-winning international not-for-profit (you may recall that I interviewed the Chairman of Community Forests International, Jeff Schnurr, in our first episode which you can read more about in Podcast Blog 001). Dale worked with CFI for 5 years designing and building one of the only Improved Forest Management projects in Canada, showing how carbon emission markets can be used to rebuild degraded forests and fight climate change. This project demonstrated how fighting climate change can both restore our natural environment and strengthen rural communities.
Dale puts great value in the role healthy ecosystems play in a healthy society, and CFC was founded on the belief that forests are our most powerful allies in the fight for a stable climate. As the CEO of CFC Dale explores and devises strategies to fight climate change through sustainable forest management, for example, by incenting maritime woodlot owners to manage their forests to store carbon, and by creating innovative forest products that displace fossil-fuel intensive products like concrete and steel.
Dale has a BSc from Dalhousie University and MSc. form St. Francis Xavier University where he studied how soil nutrients change in forest soils related to forest management practices. Dale spends his personal time with family and friends in the great outdoors, hiking, canoeing hunting and fishing.
Advice Dale Gave Listeners:
"You know, people vote much more with their dollar than they do every four years in an election. Responsible consumers and educated consumption really sends seismic shifts through markets. Again, back to Patagonia as an example, you know, that company has such an unbelievably loyal following! After Trump got elected they decided that, for a day, they were going to take a 100% of the sales from their products on that day and donate them to environmental initiatives that had been defunded by Trump, and they sold $25 million dollars worth of goods in that day, because everyone showed up, and said, you know what, yeah, let's do this. Whether it's people that burn a little bit of firewood, ensuring that they get it from a responsible source, or sourcing every part of your life in a way that is true to you, and true to your values, it's the way that we have the most power and I find it incredibly empowering to back people with my dollar."
The Book Dale Most Recommends:
"The books that I most recommend or send to people are either incredibly inspiring, or incredibly depressing. There's nothing in between. For inspiring books, it would have to be 1491 by Charles C. Mann. It's a book that really changes your perspective, and the lens through which you look at North America, and the European settlement patterns. There's been a lot of criticisms about Charles Mann's approach, but fundamentally these books that call into question the fundamental ingrained assumptions and prejudices that we hold. 1491 is an incredible read."
Dale's Proposed Post in the Sunday New York Times:
When asked what he would do if he were provided with a full-page spread in the Sunday New York Times where he could publish any written or graphic content:
"It would have to be related to the reality of how cheap renewable energy is… has become. The price curve on all those battery technologies - that's the thing that people aren't quite grasping. In a place like Nova Scotia, right now, the best case scenario on an installed solar PV system with the net metering program, you're looking at around a 5% to 7% return on investment on rooftop solar installed on your house. You get locked into a 25 year contract with that, that's not bad.
That's actually all right when you're talking about 25 years, especially if the cost of electricity is going to go up, because with that pricing scheme, as the price of electricity goes up, what you sell your electricity onto the grid for it goes up as well… When you can show people that in real terms, all of a sudden, they're a climate change convert, they're all for climate action! So Something around that is what I'd spend my money on with The New York Times."
Below is a graph showing the exponential drop in price of PV solar power over time:
Books Discussed in this Episode:
Hawken, Paul. Drawdown: the Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Roll Back Global Warming. Penguin Books, 2018.
Mann, Charles C. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus. Knopf, 2017.
Monbiot, George, and Matthew Prescott. Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning. Penguin Books, 2007.
Wohlleben, Peter. Hidden Life of Trees. Greystone Books Ltd., 2018.
"My advice would be look for small but tangible ways to get involved, different organizations, different community groups, even just having conversations with people who might have a different perspective and opinion than yours, but trying to find that common ground."
In this episode, I speak with Brad Bradford, an urban planner, active community volunteer, and candidate for Toronto City Councillor in Beaches-East York (New Ward 19).
I first met Brad in 2011 when he was the President of the Canadian Association of Planning Students, and I was speaking about Resilience in the face of Climate Change Impacts at the annual CAPS conference he had helped organize. I distinctly remember being very impressed by Brad when I first met him, especially by his keen awareness of the planning issues associated with Climate Change, as well as complex realities of trying to address these issues.
Brad is an urban planner and community activist, with specialty expertise in sustainable and district energy planning; a passionate cyclist and competitive bike racer; and he is now entering the world of politics by running for Toronto City Council. Until leaving the City of Toronto to run for City Council, Brad was responsible for Stakeholder Engagement and Special Projects in the Office of the Chief Planner at the City of Toronto where he spent his time working with government, the private sector, non-profits, and community groups to broaden discussions around the kind of city we want to be. Brad is passionate about in the interconnected issues of inclusivity, affordability, transit and the environment.
Through his role at the City, and as a future City Councilor, Brad is working to diversify voices in decision-making and bring more people to the table to discuss city-building issues. In 2016 Brad won the Canadian Institute of Planners President’s Award for his work on the FutureFORWARD Task Force. And as an avid cyclist, Brad launched the Toronto Hustle project in 2017 to develop the next generation of Canadian athletes, while providing a platform for active transportation advocacy across North America.
On The Most Important Things We Can Do to Address Climate Change:
"I think the very nature of living in a city is one of the most impactful and profound things that we can do to address climate change. And that gets back to the ability to use public transportation... The more urban form we can make, as Canadians in particular, is so valuable and makes such a difference. It opens up so many opportunities for mass transit, active transportation, the congregations of jobs and economies, education, and institutions. Really we're talking about complete communities, we need to build more complete communities. And when you have all of those things that are important to your life, job, education, healthcare, amenities, childcare, groceries, when all of that's within walking distance, now we can have a conversation about really reducing our carbon impact. If you have to get in a car and drive for 20 minutes or half an hour or an hour to get to where you need to go, that's a problem and that's not going to move us further forward in reducing climate change, it just exacerbates the problem."
Brad's Thoughts On Listening:
"I think politicians should do less talking and more listening. I think people generally ... people are a lot smarter than politicians give them credit for. And you could show up to the door and have a conversation with someone, and they know their neighborhood, they know their community, they know where their pain points are. And you just have to listen to them and they will give you all the feedback that you need. So, I've learned a lot from my neighbors and just going to the door and having those honest conversations has been very insightful. And I think that as a civil society, as a local government, and as a city, would be further ahead if we spent less time kind of yelling at each other, talking down to each other, and more time listening."
Advice Brad Gave to Listeners:
"I think all of these conversations can be kind of weighty and heavy, and you sort of sit back and say, "Man, we're screwed." It's easy to feel that way, but it's not overly helpful. My advice would be look for small but tangible ways to get involved, different organizations, different community groups, even just having conversations with people who might have a different perspective and opinion than yours, but trying to find that common ground. And when we have a common ground, I think we're always in a better position to move forward on change and to make a difference. So don't be disheartened, don't be discouraged. Just focus on looking ahead, looking to the future and how we can all make it better."
Learn More About Brad's Campaign of City Councillor:
"We need to say enough is enough in the way in which we plan and imagine, design our cities. We need to stop talking about diversity and actually make it happen."
In this episode, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pamela Robinson. Pamela is the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Strategic Initiatives for the Faculty of Community Services at Ryerson University, an Associate Professor for the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Ryerson, and a registered professional planner. Her areas of expertise include urban sustainability, environmental design and planning, urban governance, and public engagement.
Pamela is also a member of thegeothink.caresearch team—her research and practice focus on urban sustainability issues with a focus on cities, climate change, and the use of open data and civic technology to support open government transformations.
In addition to her research, Pamela serves on the board of directors of the Metcalf Foundation, has participated in four Metrolinx Community Advisory Committees, is a columnist for Spacing Magazine, and is the editor of two books: Urban Sustainability: Reconnecting Space and Place, and Teaching as Scholarship: Preparing Students for Professional Practice in Community Services.
I have admired Pamela’s work in the urban sustainability space for a number of years, so it was a real pleasure to have the opportunity to talk with her about urban planning and the challenges of the Twenty First Century Imperative.
Some Advice Pamela Gave Listeners
I think that one of the ways we collectively build the social licence for the kinds of innovative and progressive government leadership that we want, is we ask ourselves hard questions about when we react badly to things that don't go well. So, part of it is, we need to check our reactions, and so we need to step up when people are trying innovative things and stand behind them.
I would say that part of this notion of the collective is just being active and exploring and trying new things. And I know people's lives are busy and lots of people are so overworked and just trying to do so many things to just keep the basic things moving along, but being open to new experiences in the city that you live in. Whether it's visiting a new part of the city or meeting new people, but just trying to really be active about being part of the learning process. About who are we as a city, because we're changing so quickly and it's a persistent process of change. I think that the more we all try to keep up with really appreciating who we are, the better the hope is I think. And I think that the people need to be deliberate about the decisions that they make.
That notion of how do you hustle hard on behalf of the public good is one that we all need to take seriously. When you spend $1 how does it have five dollars worth of impact? If you value the mom-and-pop grocery store up the street, go spend your money there. You want to use whatever money you have to the highest, best use as possible. Those kinds of decisions really matter, I think, in a city like ours.
Books Discussed in this Podcast
Heffernan, Margaret. Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril. Bloomsbury, 2012.
"Something changed in the last five years - I've run out of patience. Every building needs to generate its own energy, process its own waste, clean its own water, avoid all known cancer-causing chemicals. That's the bar."
I’d seen Eric present at a couple of conferences, and of course seen his two TEDx talks, but it wasn’t until we were both presenting at the International Living Futures Institute Conference in Portland, this past April, that I had a chance to meet him. The first thing that struck me upon meeting him was the mischievous twinkle in his eye. And, if you’ve ever seen him present, you know that he is as much a stand-up comedian, as a sustainability thought-leader. So I knew it would be a lot of fun to have him as a guest on the podcast. In terms of his expertise in addressing the challenges of the Twenty First Century Imperative, his resume clearly paints a picture of someone who has spent their career dealing with these challenges as a very forward-thinking activist architect.
Eric is an award-winning architect, author, and global speaker. His role and title at Morrison Hershfield, an international Building Science firm, is “Sustainability Disruptor,” a role that has him identifying solutions to problems most teams didn't know were holding them back. He was Founding Principal of organicARCHITECT, a visionary design leader in biophilic and regenerative design.
His past roles include Vice President of the International Living Future Institute and Chief Community Officer of EcoDistricts, both nonprofits pushing innovative new paradigms for deep green buildings and communities.
Eric is the author of 11 books, including "Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies.” In 2012, he was named one of the 25 "Best Green Architecture Firms" in the US, and one of the "Top 10 Most Influential Green Architects." In 2017, he was named one of Build's American Architecture Top 25. He holds a prestigious LEED Fellow award from the US Green Building Council.
Some Advice Eric Gave Listeners
"I think this can all seem very overwhelming. I think given the spectrum of problems that we have, energy, water, food, carbon, temperature, drought, ocean acidification, if you're feeling overwhelmed, my advice to you is just start doing something. I can't wait for you to feel like you're an expert. I can't wait for you to feel comfortable. I can't wait for you to feel like you know enough. We're way out of time for that. I need you to just start knowing that you'll make missteps along the way, knowing that you'll form new opinions and evolve along the way, that's fine. That's the way it works but start."
"If it helps, just pick one issue that really bothers you, whatever it is, and find a way to talk about that issue in a way that it'll make people remember it. I use humor for that because that's what I know, but for other people, there's an organization called Charity Water that does this really well with water. They're able to talk about water in a way that's memorable. Find something. Find a way to make it memorable. Find a way to make it actionable and find a way to direct people's anger and frustration into something good that they can do to change it. Then advocate like hell for that thing."
Some Advice Eric Gave Architects
"They need to be pushing the conversation. We've relinquished way too much authority and responsibility and duty to contractors because of liability. Because of that, we've essentially limited ourselves from any sort of meaningful conversation. The irony is at a time when we need architects in that level of problem solving more than ever, we've made ourselves almost irrelevant to the conversation. Most buildings are not designed by architects now and that's a problem. You really have to grow yourself a little bit of a backbone and take a leadership position here. I think if we can do that, we can find our relevancy."
Books by Eric
Freed, Eric Corey. Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies. Wiley, 2008.
Freed, Eric Corey., and Kevin Daum.Green $Ense for the Home: Rating the Real Payoff from 50 Green Home Projects.Taunton Press, 2010
Freed, Eric Corey., and Yvonne Jeffery, et al. Green Your Home All-In-One for Dummies.Wiley, 2009.
Gelfand, Lisa, and Eric Corey. Freed.Sustainable School Architecture: Design for Primary and Secondary Schools. John Wiley & Sons, 2010.
Books Recommended by Eric
Hawken, Paul.Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Roll Back Global Warming. Penguin Books, 2018.
Jacobs, Jane. Dark Age Ahead. Vintage Canada, 2005.
Johnson, Crockett.Harold and the Purple Crayon.HarperFestival, an Imprint of HarperCollins, 2016.
McDonough, William.Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.San Val, 2010.
"Find something you're passionate about and then the change starts to create itself."
In this episode, I have had the pleasure of speaking with Mike Williams—a professional engineer who has spent his career specializing in sustainable design, carbon reduction, and developing energy efficiency strategies. Mike has been a key contributor to some of Canadaʼs greenest buildings, including the CANMET Materials and Testing Laboratory in Hamilton, and the Elementary Teachersʼ Federation Headquarters in Toronto, both of which earned LEED Platinum certification and set new standards for sustainability in their communities. Mike is now developing Energy Compass, a big data tool that endeavors to create streamlined energy benchmarking and reporting for new construction projects at the design stage at an industry-wide scale.
I’ve known Mike Williams for many years, and recently I have had the pleasure of collaborating with Mike on developing a Low-Carbon Roadmap for assisting our higher education clients to set and meet low carbon emission goals for their campuses. In addition to being one of the most highly regarded sustainability engineers in Canada, Mike is a lot of fun to work with! He is an innovative thinker and is great at bridging the divide between the big concept and the nitty gritty of implementation.
Mike received his Bachelor of Civil Engineering from The University of Western University Ontario in 2004 before heading over to Europe to pursue a Master of Science in Ecotechnology and Sustainable Development at the Mid Sweden University. After completing his formal education in 2006, Mike worked as a project manager at Green Building Service Inc., was a founding principal at eco3, a director at CDML Commissioning Services, before joining RWDI to now lead their Toronto office as the Principal responsible for sustainable engineering. In addition to his professional responsibilities, Mike is a Board Member of Sustainable Buildings Canada, and has served as a committee member of the Canadian Green Building Council’s Site and Water committee.
Some Advice Mike Gave Listeners
If you're younger, look and find something you're passionate about, and then the change starts to create itself. I'm lucky that I stumbled across this idea of sustainability and I think in part is a result of my upbringing, this interest in buildings and these things married together and now I've got a career where I'm doing something I'm passionate about and almost as a co-benefit it has the potential to have a really big positive impact on the planet and that's great. I think it's really my passion for the subject matter that drives me forward to try to make change. So, I think it's about really trying to find that passion.
Suggested Reading from Mike
Akkad, Omar El. American War. Emblem Editions, 2018.
Collins, James C. Good to Great. Harper Business, 2001.
Crichton, Michael. Travels. Vintage Books, 2014.
Levitt, Steven D., and Stephen J. Dubner. Freakonomics. Penguin, 2015.
Lewis, Michael. The Undoing Project. Penguin Books Ltd., 2017.
What Mike Would Put in the Sunday Edition of The New York Times
Compass endeavors to create a streamlined energy benchmarking and reporting tool for new construction projects at the design stage. By providing market-wide benchmarking analytics, this tool will enhance the quality of modelled energy performance, improve the energy literacy of the design community, improve conservation program delivery, and ultimately reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from every proposed building development in Ontario.
"As the saying goes, you can either light a candle or curse the darkness, take your pick. Lighting candles has always held a lot more appeal to me."
Since starting the podcast, we’ve received many comments from listeners suggesting that we do an episode that introduces the Twenty First Century Imperative, provides some context about the purpose of this series, and gives some background about myself, your host, Craig Applegath. And so, in this episode, we've turned the tables, so to speak. Rather than me sitting down with another expert in the field, I sat down with my assistant producer Erin Masters, so she could interview me. Throughout this episode you will hear a bit of my personal history, what motivated to start to the project, and my take on some of the key questions I pose to my guests every month.
I hope you enjoy listening to my interview as much as I enjoyed doing it.
About Craig Applegath
Craig is an architect, urban designer, and pioneer in the planning and design of zero carbon buildings and campuses, urban resilience, and symbiotic regeneration cities. He's also a founding principle of Dialog's Toronto studio and, of course, the host of the 21st Century Imperative Podcast.
Craig first trained as a biologist and then as an architect and urban designer, so it's not surprising that he is so passionate about finding planning and design solutions that make sense in a world challenged by climate change and environmental deterioration. Since graduating from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard with a Masters of Architecture and Urban Design, Craig has focused on designing and leading complex sustainable planning and design projects that make a difference. He is internationally recognised for his design and advocacy of zero carbon buildings and regenerative symbiotic cities. Craig speaks about his research and design explorations at conferences and workshops around the world, was a founding board member of Sustainable Buildings Canada, and is a past president of the Ontario Association of Architects.
Craig was made a fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada for his services to the profession of architecture and an honorary member of the Ontario Association of Landscape Architects for his contribution to the profession of landscape architecture.
Some Advice Craig Gave Listeners
I'd like to ask our listeners to consider the following three things: First of all, if they have not already read HEAT by George Monbiot they should put it on the top of their must-read books. Second, after they listen to any of these podcasts, ask themselves what they might be able to do to make a difference in meeting the challenge of the Twenty First Century Imperative, whether in their personal or professional lives. As Ryan Meyers points out in my interview with him (I think that's podcast episode 003) "Climate change is a beast that will have to be killed by a thousand cuts, so everyone has to do their part to help". And third, don't give up. We're facing some pretty big challenges in the next couple of decades, so we will need all hands on deck. One of the reasons I am producing these podcasts is to provide people with both ideas and a sense that there are things we can do to make a positive difference.
Suggested Reading from Craig
Heffernan, Margaret. Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril. Walker & Co., 2012.
Johnson, Steven. Ghost Map: the Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic-- and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. Penguin Group, 2006.
Monbiot, George. Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning. South End Press, 2009.
Randers, Jørgen. 2052: a Global Forecast for the next Forty Years. Chelsea Green Pub., 2012.
Saunders, Doug. Maximum Canada: How a Big Country Became Too Small, and What We Can Do about It. Vintage Canada, 2018.
People Referenced in this Episode
Jeff Schnurr | Chairman of Community Forests International and CEO of Jaza Energy
Ryan Meyers | former Chief Technology Officer at Impact Infrastructure, Director at MAP Consulting
In this episode, I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the world’s authorities on low carbon and smart city planning, Klaus Hoppe. I first met Klaus back in 2014 at the World Future Council Conference in Munich, where we were both speaking. Immediately, I was struck by his intense positivity and generosity of spirit. Whether he is talking about smart cities or waste management systems, Klaus speaks with the kind of infectious enthusiasm that makes any subject feel accessible.
Klaus’s municipal career began in 1994, after he graduated with a master’s degree in geography with a special focus in city development. An aspiring urban planner even then, Klaus learned quickly that geographers were not highly sought after in the field. So instead, he found himself working for the city of Freiburg (a small but vibrant university town in South Western Germany) in their waste management department. There, Klaus began to develop an interest in waste legacies and sustainability in rural districts.
From 2001 to 2014, Klaus led Freiburg’s waste management and energy departments, coordinating the city’s energy policies and strategies. Even though Klaus will tell you it was a team effort, Freiburg’s international status as one of the greenest cities in the world owes a great deal to Klaus’s vision and commitment to creating sustainable cities. Since then, Klaus has worked for the German Ministry of Research and has assisted the German government in developing several Sustainable Energy Action Plans and integrated city planning projects.
In addition to the esteemed work he has done with his government, Klaus is an evaluator for the EU Horizon 2020 Smart City Programme and was a member of the Systemic Research City of Tomorrow. Currently, Klaus is an international consultant on smart cities and sustainable development strategies for municipalities, city networks, and national governments. And when he is not somewhere else in the world doing this incredibly important work, Klaus lives in Freiburg with his wife and two children.
Klaus on The Most Important Thing We Can Do to Reduce CO2 Emissions
Craig Applegath: If you had the power to see one change, one innovation, or one policy implemented in cities around the world, that had the effect of significantly reducing CO2 emissions or helping cities adapt to climate change or helping cities repair environmental damage our species have already caused, or all of the above, what would it be and why?
Klaus Hoppe: It would be the renaissance of the bicycle. I truly believe, I truly believe that the bicycle is one of the best inventions we ever had. These days, with the opportunity or the ability to increase our radius with electric bikes, which is happening in Germany already partly, and to produce to electricity we need 100% renewable. And to have the renaissance of the bicycle, especially in these Chinese cities where it was really accepted and now everything is car driving. And as well in our cities. I think this will be a huge change, or will lead to a huge change in our cities.
Craig Applegath: And it’s something each of us could contribute to!
Klaus Hoppe: More health. More fun, yes? And less noise. Less pollution. And you know, five kilometres radius. Ask yourself ... I ask myself ... Everybody should ask himself. A five kilometre radius, I don't know, 3.5 miles…
Craig Applegath: Yeah, 500 meters is considered the maximum radius for a walkable community, so 5 kilometers makes sense for using bicycles.
Klaus Hoppe: That's perfect for a bicycle…
The second thing, which is much more legislative, and is a kind of an introduction of real CO2 emission, or energy fees, or you may call it tax, which is really, really internalizing the external costs. I'm not talking about CO2 trading. That's not working. Forget about that at the moment. It's not working in Europe, so they have to adjust it. It's very difficult because there's a lot of lobbyism.
But if we put the real cost on the energy we use - and this discussion is happening in the states (I know that the Sierra Club was working on it). It's happening in Germany, it still exists in Switzerland. It exists in the U.K., of course, much more to support the nuclear power, but it exists. And it exists in Sweden. So if we do that, we would have a dramatic change from fossil fuels to renewables, because they are just too expensive.
Craig Applegath: Yes. I think that internalization of the externalities has got to be one of the most important things we have to somehow do.
Klaus Hoppe: And you see, if we talk about local governments and the ability that I have as a human being, and the abilities that national governments have. This is a national government issue, and it needs courage, but it will work. It will work, from my perspective, because there are a lot of opportunities to arrange the system so that industry will not be affected in an absolute negative way. But we have to go in this direction. And I'm not a specialist, but I have the true feeling we have to go there.
Suggested Reading from Klaus
On serendipity and chance…
Taleb, Nassim N. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. New York: Random House, 2007.
Gigerenzer, Gerd. Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions, 2014.
On systems and cooperation…
Meadows, Donella H, and Diana Wright. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. , 2008.
Highfield, Martin A. Nowak, and Roger. Supercoorperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed. Free Press, 2012.
Wilson, Jonathan. Inverting the Pyramid. A History of Football Tactics. New York: PublicAffairs, 2013.
Goleman, Daniel. Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. Bloomsbury, 2013.
On the internet…
Morozov, Evgeny. To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism. New York: PublicAffairs, 2013
On urban sustainability…
Florida, Richard. New Urban Crisis. Basic Books, 2016.
Gehl, Jan. Cities for People. Washington, DC : Island Press, 2010.
Captain Barbossa, in Pirates of the Carribbean, At World´s End
“For certain you have to get lost to find the places, as can´t be found. Elseways everyone would know where it was!”
“Our problems will not get solved by trying to solve them.
But if we just observe, with a mind that is free from thoughts of resolution or escape, problems will disappear.
In the obsessive search for a solution, each problem only gets bigger and more complicated.
But, if we stop struggling, giving up our stubborn self-centeredness, the suffering vanishes and love is born.
Meeting life shows that we can free ourselves from our problems by letting go all we know and pretend to be go and meditate - which means nothing more as to immediately let go all our wounds and fears, loneliness, despair and pain.
That's the basis. That's the first step. And the first step is the last."
In this episode, I had the very great pleasure of interviewing Stan Choptiany, a former high school teacher, university professor, and mayor of St. Andrews, New Brunswick. I first met Stan in the classroom. He was my high school biology teacher, and I was lucky enough to have him for all four years of high school. Stan was the most inspiring teacher I ever encountered, and I credit him with being one of key inspirations for my lifelong passion for biology, ecology, and the scientific method.
Stan started his career as a biologist and a biology teacher, where he taught science in several Ontario communities, finishing his teaching career as a lecturing professor with Laurentian University. Stan's second career was in public policy and public service. Moving from Ontario to the community of St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Stan served on various public boards before being elected as a municipal councillor, and then mayor of St. Andrews.
In these roles, Stan was able to provide important leadership for many social and environmental issues, most notably in his innovative work on climate change adaptation and the impact on St. Andrews of its associated sea level rise. In 2012, Stan was awarded the Queen's Jubilee Medal in recognition of his leadership in serving the community in both New Brunswick and Ontario.
In our interview, I spoke with Stan about his experience confronting climate change in both his role as the mayor of the ocean-front town of St. Andrews, and his role as a biologist and environmental activist on the front lines of environmental harm reduction, regeneration, and climate adaptation, and what advice he would have for someone setting out to make a difference in meeting the challenges of the 21st century imperative. I hope you enjoy our conversation.
Some of the advice Stan gave listeners:
Craig Applegath: What advice would you offer listeners about what they can do to be part of making a difference in meeting the challenges of the TWENTY FIRST CENTURY IMPERATIVE?
Stan Choptiany: I think that in conversations you and I have talked about my believing in “islands of decency”. You can surround yourself with, and you can build community with, people who share that sense of decency. Then, just like in an island where the waves come in, they rebound out, and you send out the reflections of those waves. Those waves affect other islands, and you have the opportunity, and Canada has the opportunity, of being a huge island of decency. So It comes down to this: I firmly believe that personal action matters, that you can't give up and say, "Well, it's too overwhelming." I think that the local things that you do, and how you relate to people, and how you build your family, and how you include those, all matter. We know most of what we need to do. So, we need to start doing it! … And looking ahead to what are the opportunities that exist for us to live in a really wonderful world? I guess it comes down to: don't give up hope. Know that you make a difference. It's an exciting time.
Craig Applegath: And finally, do you have anything you would like to request or suggest to the listeners of this podcast in helping them be better able to meet the challenges of the TWENTY FIRST CENTURY IMPERATIVE?
Stan Choptiany: As it is with me and, I think, with most people, it's a personal journey. If you're listening this far, you're already along in the personal journey. There may be something useful that I've had to say, but there's probably lots of stuff that either you already know or that you may dismiss. But the fact that you're involved in the process is in my view the right step, and it's an important step. You're questioning. You're looking. You're asking where you are and how you fit in. Then hopefully, you're also asking: How do the people I love and the people I connect with - how am I affecting them? Where are they in their journey, and what parts of where and how I live in my community make a difference?
You can see more about Stan and connect with him at: