The Case for the Vertical Farm
The fastest—and perhaps only—way to fully reverse climate change is neither the retooling of the energy sector nor the retrofitting of every building on Earth, supported by an all-electric fleet. The answer is literally underfoot (and overhead), and the numbers are stunning.
Bill Reed is the co-founder of the LEED green building rating system and one of the world’s leading experts on the environment. Several years ago I invited him to speak at an event I hosted. Chatting privately, he said two things that changed my perspective on sustainability.
First: “There is no such thing as sustainability at a scale smaller than the watershed.”
What he meant by this was that nature is is comprised of ecosystems: dynamic, complex, and comprised of all living organisms and the physical environment in which they interact, and interdepend. So, while photosynthesis is the means by which energy enters and drives any ecosystem, solar energy is a constant and ubiquitous resource; whereas water, without which none of the ecosystem would survive, is notoriously local, finite, and as much as anything else, gives the ecosystem its specific biological character.
Second: “The true definition of ‘sustainable’ is that something can thrive in perpetuity… without human intervention.”
With this stunningly intuitive statement (in hindsight), Bill meant that the way we use the word ‘sustainable’ is wrong, in that we apply it to components instead of systems. It is a common human conceit, especially in the last 150 years of Industrial and Capitalist Globalism, to parse interconnected networks so that we can study, harness and monetize them. The fact is that no single part of an ecosystem—including its energy production, distribution, consumption and regeneration—can be isolated without risk to the collapse of the whole.
Said another way: nature is incredibly resilient, and at the same time, incredibly fragile.
Bill’s twin statements led me to appreciate for the first time that the way we think of sustainability is far too granular.