Peter Head: Entering an Ecological Age | Arup

"Drawing experience with projects such as Dongtan Eco-city in China, Peter Head’s Brunel International Lecture explained how we can develop and retrofit urban centres to improve resource efficiency while maintaining or improving quality of life. He used ecological footprint analysis to show how we can move towards the goal of environmental sustainability, setting out a vision of life in a sustainable community of the future."

In addition to a three-part video of the lecture presentation (upper right), the webpage includes a pointer to the 83-page report Entering the Ecological Age: The Engineer's role (also available in Spanish).  The executive summary lays the groundwork:

"In recent decades it has dawned on many of us that there can be no viable future for humanity without a healthy planet. Earth, water and air support the existence of an immensely complex living system, powered by the sun. We are part of this web of life. But within a few generations, we are using up most of the earth’s stored fossil fuel resources and their transfer from the earth to the atmosphere is significantly altering its composition. Our globalising economic system is destabilising the planet’s life-support systems- the very systems that support us and the future of our children."

It describes an "ecological age by 2050" with reduction in CO2 emissions by 80%, an ecological footprint to 1.44 gha/capita and an increase in the Human Development Index, through changes in transport, water/waste, energy, and food/communication systems.  Policy areas addressed include:

  • recognizing the limits of natural resources and services
  • applying justice as a criteria for distribution
  • allocating resource in an efficient and cost effective manner

The initial chapters explore our history and impact on earth,   Chapter 3 explores the role of engineers and designers in creating 'virtuous cycles'  "that connect the environmental, economic and social performance of different components of built environment so that change in the design of one can lead to benefits in another", particularly with the shift from rural to urban existence.  The report includes extensive statistics showing differences between countries/regions and changes over time. 

Chapter 4 proposes a framework based on the Biomimicry Principles.  Chapters 5 through 7 propose three models for three different urban centers and explore in detail the implications for the UK and China. 

Chapter 8 expands on the 10 Biomimicry Principles with specific examples:

  • Use waste as a resource
  • Diversify and cooperate
  • Gather and use energy efficiently
  • Optimise not maximise
  • Use materials sparingly
  • Clean up not pollute
  • Do not draw down resources
  • Remain in balance with the biosphere
  • Run on information
  • Use local resources

Chapter 9 explores economic and policy implications for attaining a sustainable economic scale, including taxes, subsidies and tradable permits.  It introduces ethical dimensions in terms of just distribution through maximum and minimum levels of income/wealth, distributing the returns to capital and also the returns to natural capital.  International policies are critical since everyone benefits from healthy eco-systems that are part of the 'commons'. 

Chapter 10 explores delivery models, starting with defining objectives towards a sustainable development framework, incorporating comprehensive planning and design, and finally creating the required partnership and financial support systems.  The paper focuses on conversion to renewable energies instead of relying solely on energy reduction due to the 'rebound effect', where efficiency leads to greater consumption. 

Chapter 11 describes the critical role of engineers that "have global experience, are adept at multidisciplinary team working, which will be essential for success and can design and deliver these new infrastructure systems."  It urges training and motivation of young people to become engineers and learn the skills needed "to manage complex systems and deliver sustainable outcomes through design and performance specification, quality management and whole life system operational management."

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