Designing for the post-carbon economy | Eric Corey Freed | TEDxPenn

Designing for the post-carbon economy | Eric Corey Freed | TEDxPenn


Translator: Amanda Chu
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven In the early 1970s, the Beatles broke up, and nine months later, I was born. (Laughter) To this day, I still
kind of harbor some resentment because I think my mother’s to blame. I think she’s somehow involved in that. But I grew up within walking distance
of here, actually, in West Philadelphia, and it was a little wood house,
called a row house, with fake brick and fake shutters
that were glued to the side. And in that context,
I started designing buildings. That’s me, by the way. I’m a cherry hot fudge sundae. (Laughter) And in this context –
this is what I grew up in, right? – so as a kid, I remember distinctly McDonald’s
released the first Happy Meal in 1979, and three days later,
Three Mile Island exploded. And somehow, I always thought
that they were connected. (Laughter) And right around that same time,
my mother took me to see this building. This is the Beth Shalom Synagogue
by Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s his only building in Philadelphia, and I encourage you all
to see it if you can, but it was the first time that I realized that a building
could be more than just a box. And I remember distinctly this memory
of sitting inside that atrium and watching birds fly overhead and seeing
their shadows trail along the floor. And I realized that buildings
could be about something, they could be bigger than us, so I spent the rest
of my life, essentially, studying Mr. Wright
and studying the designs of nature, and realized that nature
has a wealth of opportunities for us if we just open our eyes to it. But when I went to architecture school and I started learning
about real construction, I had these questions, and I didn’t like
the answers I was getting. When I said, “Why would we
knowingly build that way when we know that it’s toxic? Why would we do that
when we know it’s wrong?” And the answer always was, “Because that’s the way
we’ve always done it.” So nature was just this kind of casualty
on the path to progress, and it didn’t really work. This is my daughter. I know she’s cute.
You don’t need to make noise. (Laughter) And I took her to see
this NetZero energy project that we did – meaning that this building
generates more energy than it consumes – and this project was a little unusual because the solar panels weren’t on the roof,
they were on the ground because it was a government
project and a mess. But anyway, they’re on the ground, (Laughter) but you could play on them
and climb on them. And she said “Daddy, what are these?” I said, “Oh, honey,
those are solar panels. They produce energy
from the sun for free.” And with the mind of a child,
of course she says, “Well, daddy, why not all buildings
have this? Daddy, why?” And so I leaned down
and I looked in her cute little face, and I said, “Oh, honey, that’s because
most people are poopy heads.” (Laughter) What am I going to tell her? The truth? (Laughter) “Well, you see, honey, there’s this oil and coal cartel
that controls all of energy policy; they’re haunting you in your dreams.” She’ll have nightmares.
I can’t tell her that. Poopy heads. That’s what it’s got to be. If you look at the modern
environmental movement, we have failed, we’re the losers here. We’re the good guys and we’re losing because it seems that environmentalism is trying to lead you
to one inevitable conclusion, which doesn’t work for me. This one doesn’t help.
This is not a good idea. (Laughter) And I realized that we’re dumb –
I’m dumb, you’re dumb, you’re all dumb. We think we’re smart, but we’re not. And if you don’t believe me, remember that we share
50% of our DNA with bananas. (Laughter) That’ll humble you down a little bit. I was driving the other day
and I saw this bumper sticker, and I was going to run him off the road, but I didn’t. (Laughter) And then I realized you never see this bumper sticker
shared with this bumper sticker; you never see the two together. (Laughter) (Applause) I know causation is not
correlation, but you get it. So the problem that we’re facing is that we knowingly put
cancer-causing chemicals in our building. We do this knowingly,
so we’re clearly idiots. And to set the context
for how dumb we are, I want to show you this video just
to kind of start the afternoon off right. [The unchained goddess] (Video) … extremely dangerous questions because with our present knowledge,
we have no idea what would happen. Even now, man may be
unwittingly changing the world’s climate through the waste products
of his civilization. Due to our release through factories
and automobiles every year of more than six billion tons
of carbon dioxide, which helps air absorb heat from the sun, our atmosphere
seems to be getting warmer. Eric Corey Freed: Now this video
was directed by Frank Capra, who did “It’s a Wonderful Life,”
which is kind of neat, and it stars a very young,
very handsome Dick Cheney, which is weird. That’s just weird to me. But this video’s from 1958. Everything he says is true;
in fact, all the numbers are much worse. So what have we done since 1958? The answer is, really, we’ve lost our window,
we’ve lost our time. If you think that climate change is this abstract thing
that will happen sometime in the future, it’s happening now. Last year, we had 400,000 people
that died due to climate change, and I don’t mean in an indirect way. I’m talking in a very direct way, from drought and malaria
and food disruption. So, 400,000 people. And I didn’t know 400,000 people
was a lot of people. I mean, it sounds like a lot to me, but I also know that we lose
8,000 a day to AIDS, right? So in the grand scheme
of things, maybe it’s not. Well, turns out 400,000 people
is a lot of people: 400,000 people is two and a half times
the amount of people we’re going to lose to lung cancer
in the US this year; it’s 10 times the amount of people we’re going to lose
to breast cancer this year. So where’s our ribbon? Can I design it? These are the kind of questions I have:
Can it be polka-dotted? This is what I want to know, right? And it just led me
to this inevitable conclusion that just by design,
we’re just, ugh, the worst mammals ever. We’re just, like, awful – that one person likes that joke – (Laughter) 400,000 is more
than what we’re going to lose to strokes, accidents, Alzheimer’s,
and diabetes combined this year. You need to realize something – everything you’ve ever bought,
everything you’ve ever owned, it’s still here. We didn’t jettison it
into space; it’s here. Remember in the ’90s when you’re really into Nirvana
and bought that flannel shirt? That shirt’s here somewhere. It’s probably in New Jersey. I don’t know where it is, (Laughter) but it’s here. Remember when you were
getting into shape and bought those roller blades
you needed for a week and you were like, “My knees hurt”? They’re here. They’re probably bobbing in the ocean. Because it’s all still here. Tonight, you’re going out for dinner,
and maybe you’ll get some nice sushi, and you’ll be like, “What’s this in my sushi?
Oh, it’s little bits of rollerblade.” That’s why. That’s basically why.
It’s your fault. (Laughter) And it doesn’t help that we brag
about our dominion over a mat. We’re sore winners.
That’s what we are, basically. And just by design,
we’re just awful creatures because first of all,
we get tired at the drop of a hat, we cry for no reason, (Laughter) we’re easily trippable, I mean, easily –
you never see a zebra trip, do you? – and we just die in just
the dumbest ways possible. It’s just so annoying. And this is why your cat
looks at you the way it does – it’s just, “Ugh,” it’s just fed up. (Laughter) (Applause) And we’re not getting better; we’re not learning from experience. I’ll give you an example: This was the world’s largest man in 1903, and this was just some cop
I saw in Newark. Do you see what I’m saying?
(Laughter) We’re not learning. The warning signs had been there, louder and louder,
closer and closer together, and we’re not hearing them. These last few years
have also been a key moment because it’s the first time ever we spent more in dealing
with the cost of extreme weather than on the federal education budget – 2.6 billion on federal education, three billion dealing with things
like hurricane Sandy. And as much as that seems
like just an obscene amount of money, it’s nothing compared
to the 8 billion we spent subsidizing the oil and coal companies. Maybe we could just move the money
from one pile to the other. Maybe that’s not a big deal. Because the act of building is disruptive: Every year, we produce 3 tons of concrete
for every single person on Earth; every year, we cut down two trees
for every single person on Earth; and every year, we produced 600 pounds of steel
for every single person just in the US. Empowering all this is not good vibes but fossil fuels, and just
an immense amount of fossil fuels. One company, Exxon, is sucking
4 million barrels of oil a day out of the ground – every single day. And as much as that just seems
like an absurd amount of anything, it’s nothing compared to the 92 million that all the oil companies
are sucking constantly out of the ground every single day. Shea Kimani famously said, “The Stone Age didn’t end
because we ran out of stones.” The oil age won’t end
because we run out of oil; it’s just going to get
harder and harder to get. And that’s what you’ve been experiencing. So far, we’ve been the proverbial frog
in the boiling pot of water. It’s kind of snuck up on us a little bit. But now that you’re aware of it,
now that you know about it, now it’s just going to get uncomfortable. You know, (Laughter) it’s just going to be
an awkward conversation, basically. If you were an astronomer and you thought
that the sun went around the Earth – which by the way, it totally doesn’t do that,
it’s the other way around – but if you thought that, you’d do some
pretty bad astronomy, wouldn’t you? And that’s basically what we’ve done. We’ve done some
basically pretty bad building. It turns out, all the while, we’ve essentially been building
this kind of dead, lifeless skeleton. What we should have been building
is the whole creature because the creature respirates, it produces its own energy,
it processes its own waste; and a few of us, we’re dabbling,
we’re playing with it, but we’re getting there,
we’re getting better at it. But what I do know
is that this is a dead end. I mean, it’s a pretty building, granted,
but a metal building in Los Angeles? You’re telling me not one person
at the meeting said, “Hey, maybe that’s a dumb idea.” Nobody said anything? Plus I’ve seen how people react
when we put them around living buildings, natural buildings, buildings
that grow out of their sight; they actually reach out and pet them. It’s bizarre to me they touch them.
(Laughter) So that’s what we need – buildings rooted in the soil
the same way nature does. That’s how nature builds. As you’re sitting here, seemingly idle,
your bodies are a whirlwind of activity. These big black things you see,
those are called “leukocytes.” They’re fighting off infection, because frankly, half the people
in this room are sick, and those disgusting germs
are attacking you as you sit here. Your body just fights
them off. It’s amazing. Those little shimmering things you see, those are little energy packets
your body’s sending out; it’s called cholesterol. By the way, some of you
have too much energy packets; you got to cut down on the cholesterol. But it’s amazing, right? So, your body’s very much this habitat,
this incredible habitat. As you sit here, there’s one to two pounds
of bacteria living on and in you. It’s actually kind of gross. You got two pounds of bacteria on you. It’s disgusting. But still, your body’s
very much this habitat, but your body’s also
this incredible machine, pumping, processing, filtering, all the while you’re just sitting there
shifting in your chair. It’s incredible. And it turns out John Mayer was right:
your body’s a wonderland. It’s this incredible Wonderland –
I mean, some of you more than others – but still, it’s this Wonderland,
it’s incredible. Every day, your body’s producing
50 trillion new cells to make up for the ones that have died. Every day you’re pumping 1,900 liters
of liquid which you then pee out. It’s incredible. Every day, you’re breathing in
11,000 cubic liters of air. You take the oxygen out
and you expel carbon dioxide, which the plants then take
and then do the reverse in return. It’s wonderful. As I’m telling you all this, your big brains are processing
this information at 170 miles an hour, faster than any known computer. Holding up that big skeleton of yours
is a structural system that’s four times
the strength of concrete, and half the weight, by the way. You can even produce your own energy; at your peak, like on a bike,
you can produce – you’ve seen The Matrix – 2,000 watts of energy. It’s incredible. And powering all this is not fossil fuels
but food, glorious food. In your lifetime, you will eat
about 50 tons of the stuff, so every now and again, eat a salad –
that’s all I’m saying. (Laughter) And as a byproduct of all of this, all of you, all of you
are farting 14 times a day. All of you – I’m telling you. And you’re like, “Not me.”
Yes, you. All of you. And I know what else you’re thinking – it’s like a balloon’s worth,
it’s like this much. So right now, I’m picturing a balloon
over all your heads, which just makes me happy. Our buildings respond to none of this. They ignore all of it.
They’re dead, lifeless spaces. They’re filled with known
cancer-causing chemicals. We put in windows
and make sure they don’t open, and we put our kids in there
for 8 hours a day and make them learn how to read good, and it doesn’t work. We then surround the site
with more dead, lifeless materials. We make hot places even hotter. And then we just kind of crap
these houses out and ignore where is the sun
and where is the wind. And this is why the system doesn’t work; this is why the whole
economic thing every eight years is just teetering all the time: because it’s not sustainable. So let’s reverse this trend. Let’s build living buildings, buildings that are teeming with aliveness, with life just like your own bodies –
not this fake life, real life. (Laughter) Because if you look at plants very closely
and you pay attention to them, it almost looks like they’re alive. (Laughter) Because they’re alive, they’re plants. It’s a joke – they’re alive,
they’re plants! We’re not the first creatures to build;
lots of creatures build things. This is the paper wasp.
It builds its nest in a matter of days. It takes wood pulp from local trees,
mixes it with saliva, and makes a form of cement; it can change the hydrology of the cement
based on the humidity in the air; and it does it on this cool
hexagonal grid, by the way. This is the weaver bird. It builds its nest
in a matter of hours. It takes local grasses
and uses its own body as a tape measure, and it makes the opening big enough so the bird can get in and out
but none of its predators, and it builds this
on this cool tripod shape. And what do we do? We put the birdhouses everywhere. It’s insulting. [birds already have houses] (Laughter) I mean, they’re building out of tripods,
and we’re putting up Section 8 Housing. (Laughter) This is why they’re pooping
on your car, basically. That’s why. (Laughter) This is a butterfly egg. This is an owl egg. Just a wealth of color and form
and geometry are awaiting us if we just open our eyes
and pay attention to it – incredible mathematical formula’s,
just there for the taking, all told about 3.8 billion years
of research and development. All we have to do
is promote living buildings, buildings that grow, buildings that we feed and nourish the same way we feed
and nourish ourselves. We’re just scratching the surface,
but we’re getting better. But what it takes
is to put this in your mindset as a priority and something important so when you see this, this should be your inspiration
for what a skyscraper could be because that’s how nature builds –
nature is strong. (Laughter) Nature will kick your butt every time. And how do we build? Just the exact opposite way. Just “Whang,” brute force,
“Whang,” shove it in. It doesn’t work. And we look at nature
as this obstacle like this – ugh! – this thing we have to get around. (Laughter) And we do it badly. We just don’t do a good job of it. (Laughter) And the results are just absurd. They’re just weird. You have to realize something: no matter how many resources you have, if you use them the wrong way,
they will never be enough. Our resources have a value,
some of the resources even have a history, and if we pay attention to the history,
we can benefit, but we don’t do that. You’ve all seen developments like this,
with these cute little names, but you know that here,
they’ve just decimated the creek to build the nonsense they build here. Here, they just drove out
all the wild horses to build the nonsense they build here, and really, frankly, I’m terrified to think
of what they cut down here. (Laughter) So this has been my charge. This has been what I’ve dedicated
my career to for the last 25 years. I’m an architect;
I’ve been building buildings, and that didn’t go fast enough, so then I started writing books
and now I’m at the 11th book. Last year, I joined my old friends at the
International Living Future Institute. What we do is we have a rating system
called the Living Building Challenge, and it says that most buildings are bad
and green buildings are less bad. We don’t want to do that.
We want to be good. How do we be good? And we set that as a bar. Now we have hundreds of living buildings
in 30 countries all over the world that are aiming to be good. And what does good mean? Well, good means really five things
for us – simply, anyway. First, that every building
is going to generate its own energy because that’s what nature does. Two, every building will grow
a portion of its own food because that’s what’s needed. Three, every building
will process its own waste – this could be composting
or bio-remediation or something else. Four, every building’s
going to clean its own water; it could be a living machine. Number five we do automatically
if you do the first four correctly – we sequester our own carbon. That’s what nature does.
That’s how nature builds. I was talking to a developer, and I said, “Oh, my God. We’re going to grow food
on the outside of the building. It’ll be amazing and so beautiful.” And all I got was wave after wave
of, like, excuse why we couldn’t do that. He said, “You can’t grow food on the building.
Um, the homeless people will eat it. Hah! (Laughter) Feeding homeless people
fruits and vegetables! What will they say?
You’ll be pilloried in the press.” I didn’t know where he’s going with this. (Laughter) And I said, “You know what? Calm down. If you start to see this everywhere, we’ll take the food down. [Will work for Balsamic Vinegar]
(Laughter) But in the meantime, let them eat.
What’s the big deal? Besides, there’s probably
other crops you could grow that’ll make you more money anyway. That’s what we need to get to – the point where this is just seen
as an opportunity for what it is – that’s what’s needed – where developers start to realize
how to sell this better. Instead of telling you about their fitness rooms
and gyms and nonsense, they could sell you on the fresh oxygen
the building produces. And I hope you all help join me in establishing this as a new sense
of victory for the 21st century. Thank you very much. (Applause) (Cheers)

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