Sustainable future… no thanks!

Photographing the material wealth of the twenty-first century isn’t David Spero’s scene, he tells the Observer because it’s all too ephemeral. And that’s sort of fair enough. So he’s gone off and photographed the ‘ultimate in low-impact, sustainable housing’. Pity any future generation that has to live it in.

The claim to fame of the settlements that Spero’s photographed is that they are environmentally insignificant and so for many represent a real utopia. Sadly, there are plenty of reasons to be cynical about such visions and not just because it means giving up almost everything that makes twenty-first century living worthwhile and interesting. Here people live in small huts with no running water or electricity. The huts are mostly hidden to spare those offended by their own existence. You’ll find yourself living off the trees and, if the reactionary local newspapers close to early settlements are to be believed, work just fifteen minutes a day (this last bit sounds good to me but is, sadly, a vicious slur).

It’s foolish to deny that mankind has an impact on the environment on every level or even to claim to fully understand what that impact might be and we should be far more careful than we are. Where the evidence suggests we’re doing stuff that will probably bring on disaster, we should take action.

Yet, what’s missing from the whole debate is an acknowledgment that, in nature, sustainable ecosystems are the exception, rather than the rule. What’s natural is for one ecosystem to succeed another and it’s natural for mankind to create ever more sophisticated built environments to succeed those we find. That doesn’t make it right, but stagnation or an attempted return to an idealised pre-buildings world, are unlikely to be viable (or even desirable) alternatives. Tomorrow will simply be different.

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