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Mr Icarus: Meet Mr Gatherer

John thackara

John Thackara is a leading thinker within the area of community-based sustainable design and Director of Doors to Perception. Read John Thackara’s profile to get a more in-depth overview.

All credit to the brave persons from Silent UK for sharing with us their spectacular photographs from the top of Europe’s tallest building, the Shard, in London.I’m especially grateful because their images provides me with a terrific opening slide for a workshop in Turkey at a conference called Ekodesign. (See the subsequent story, above). I’d been struggling with a challenge: how to explain, to a bunch of bright architects and city managers, that retrofitting solar panels and green roofs will not be an adequate response to the energy challenges that are upon us.

The Shard caper happened just as I discovered the work of a geologist called Earl Cook who, in 1971, devised a simple scale of social development measured in terms of kilocalories “captured from the environment”. Hunter-Gatherers, Cook estimated,  got by on about  5,000 kcal per day. A modern Londoner, by comparison, needs about 300,000 kilocalories a day once all the systems and gadgets of modern life (that’s them blazing away in the background) are factored in.

That’s why industrial civilization, which is sixty times more energy-intensive per person than what came before, will not be saved by planting creepers at the base of The Shard.

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