Climate Science Demands a Post Carbon Landscape Architecture

steve austin
Age of Awareness
Published in
9 min readSep 16, 2019

Image © Steve Austin Used with permission

By Steve Austin, JD | ASLA | Clinical Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, Washington State University

Right now, landscape architects face the most critical challenge in the history of the profession: how to fully and finally respond to the reality of the climate crisis. Climate science shows the crisis intensifying and accelerating, while making it clear how to avert the worst of it. To do so, humanity, including landscape architects, must halve fossil fuel use within 10 years, and zero them out within thirty years. This is because the carbon dioxide (CO2) released by burning fossil fuels is increasing earth’s greenhouse effect, which is rapidly heating the planet and causing the climate to change in terrible ways.

That’s it. That’s what climate science tells us. That “ rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society “ are needed to salvage a livable future. That our future must be “post carbon.”

Right now, it is not at all clear that landscape architects are prepared to accept this. While there are plenty of platitudinous statements about landscape architecture’s ability to be a positive force, there is currently no plan in place for a post carbon version of itself. There is no plan for the time when the work of landscape architects will be more needed, but when fossil fuels will be unavailable for construction, material production, transportation, and maintenance. It is as if the profession is in a trance, hopefully reaching for every possible alternative besides the stark, but only, one offered by climate science. Landscape architecture won’t get a pass because of good intentions. At this point, well meaning but incremental actions will only increase the damage.

The good news is that, while a post carbon future will change the profession dramatically, it should not change it fundamentally. Nothing that landscape architects do inherently requires fossil fuels. So while making the transition to the post carbon era will entail enormous challenges and impose harsh physical limits, ultimately landscape architects will only be bound by courage and imagination.

Where things are now

It is rapidly getting hotter. The earth has already warmed by nearly two degrees…

steve austin
Age of Awareness

teaches landscape architecture, urban planning, and construction law at Washington State Univrersity. explorer of the post carbon world.