Thomson Architecture Divests

Just think for a minute on what this image shows. Clearly massive profit is built in to the pricing of bottled water, but for decades gasoline has been priced lower than bottled water per litre. This represents the significant subsidy behind the exploration, extraction, refinement and shipping of a considerably more rare resource ~ oil ~ whereas water can simply be drawn from a well. The IMF estimates the Social Cost of Carbon (SCS) at $400/ton. This translates to $1.08 in damages for every litre of gasoline sold. The Carbon Tax in Canada is only 4 cents per litre. The Carbon Tax in Sweden is over 3x that, but it is still only 14 cents per litre equivalent. 

Barrie, ON

Step One: Education

After listening to the ‘The Biggest Story in The World‘ – a Guardian series on the climate crisis that chronicles their own divestment from fossil-based investments as promoted by Bill McKibben, I set out to see if I could divest my own small practice.  Better yet, what if I could encourage my colleagues, our regulator (the OAA), our insurance company ( ProDemnity ~ Spoiler: It turns out they already had before I got a chance to ask!) and my own bank to consider divesting along with me?  I immediately discovered a number of architects across Canada are thinking the same way and so we have collaborated to create this website. I was then informed that our insurance company has recently completed a divestment exercise (we’ll write about this elsewhere), as have many senior staff and other OAA-licensed architects. It seems that since the education of an architect includes the study of physics, materials science and thermodynamics, our understanding of climate science and the related effects to the hydrological cycle and extreme weather have a direct relationship to both energy infrastructure and building resilience.  This may explain why architects are some of the first professionals to call for direct action not only in how we design buildings and the type and quantity of energy they use, but also in how we run our businesses.  In a way, architects bridge the worlds of science and business by influencing development patterns (Transportation, Land-Use Planning, Development Density), infrastructure (Energy & Water), material selections (Resource Economy & Technology) and policy (Zoning & Building Codes).

 Now as I understand it, the first part of any action is education, both to solidify one’s stance with the facts, but also to become more comfortable in the knowledge of an issue in order to better explain it to others.  The list of resources on this website was generated by my colleagues and I in the process of our collective self-education and as such they represent the bread-crumb trail we have left in our collective path of research. We’ve even numbered them in rank of importance.

Canada’s private banks influence the way we structure energy in Canada from head to tail, or well to tailpipe. But despite global commitments to avert the worst effects of the climate crisis, fossil fuel expansion continues to be subsidized, underwritten, financed and insured by Canada’s big 5 banks to the tune of $464 billion dollars in the past 3 years alone – or $464 thousand-million dollars – or $464,000,000,000.0002. This has a knock-on effect on the slow uptake of energy efficient architecture in Canada. Can you imagine the clean energy and green architecture revolution that could be funded with that kind of investment? And this is only in Canada!

The birth of solar and energy efficient architecture took place in the 1970’s, but after the oil shocks ended (1979), the solar panels that President Jimmy Carter installed on the roof of the White House were immediately removed by President Ronald Reagan. Big Oil redoubled their efforts to glut the market into a kind of amnesia. The burgeoning Green Architecture revolution  in North America has been in a kind of purgatory ever since. Even though design tools and techniques have improved significantly from those early explorations, the sheer enthusiasm, scale, economics and interest in ecological design never returned, suppressed for decades by artificially cheap fossil energy. The solutions to the climate crisis have always been at hand, but have been forced into dormancy by energy pricing and policy. But the world is changing fast, and if Canada doesn’t soon wake up, our economy may be left behind, as is has been in Alberta. 

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