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February 4, 2023

Carbon Reflections: Hope, Fear, and Love

di Andrew Himes
Director of Collective Impact, Carbon Leadership Forum

I’ve been reflecting recently on how rapidly our world is changing. Obvious examples are the accelerating pace of the climate crisis, increasing frequency of extreme weather events, melting ice, rising seas, population displacement, and so on. Within the building industry, it’s equally clear that radical reduction of embodied carbon has become a central focus of our conferences and webinars and even of our intentions and plans. Some would say that this new, more holistic focus on carbon is a sign of hope in the face of climate despair.

But I don’t think so. Because the close partner of hope is despair (or fear), and one can so easily turn into the other. It is so easy to believe that hope is our essential motivation for working to make the world a better place. And when we see signs of disaster unfolding around us, it is just as easy to imagine that our failure is also possible or even inevitable.

The alternative to both hope and fear is love: our deep connection with the natural world and our friends, families, communities—our loving relationship with all that is true and vital, vibrant and meaningful. We do this work because we are warriors, activated by courage and love. Margaret Wheatley, author of the classic Leadership and the New Science, in a recent video held up a glass containing water. We are taught to think of this as a metaphor, she said. If we see the glass as half full, we are called optimists, and if half full we are called pessimists. Optimists have hope, we imagine, and hope enables action.

Wheatley suggests an alternative. A warrior, she says, looks at the glass and says, “Oh look, there’s water! I wonder who needs it, and how I can get it to them?” At our core, we strive to calculate the embodied carbon of buildings and infrastructure, to develop benchmarks and targets for carbon reduction, to devise policies and design buildings in harmony with our planet’s health, to share lessons we’ve learned and resources we’ve developed because we are warriors and we are driven by love.

Warm regards,

Andrew

Brook Waldman

Andrew Himes is Director of Collective Impact at the Carbon Leadership Forum at the University of Washington, working on collective impact initiatives to reduce embodied carbon emissions in built environments, including building materials, design, construction, and retrofits. He hosts the NGO/Government Roundtable on Embodied Carbon, explores opportunities for collective action to reduce embodied carbon, and manages strategic communications for the CLF.

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