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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.103 Santiago dic. 2019 


Social warming

Francisco Díaz1 

1 Editor revista ARQ, Profesor Asistente, Escuela de Arquitectura, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile

The climate changed. A few months ago, when we decided to dedicate an issue to ecology, we never thought we would have to do it in a country with such a rarefied environment. After relentlessly hearing the word sustainability, we forgot to attend to the most obvious: the system’s inability to sustain itself. The Chilean spring of this 2019 refocused the conversation and rolled back the horizon to the mid-1970s, when, while in Chile human rights were violated, the climate crisis emerged as a matter of concern among scientists around the planet. As a result of the uprising, the country was forced to cancel its role as host of the coP25, the Un annual event where politicians and experts meet to discuss measures to mitigate climate change.

A few months ago, when we published the call for this issue of ARQ - and following the chromatic analogy of David Harvey (1998) between the green of money and that of trees - we established the association between economics and ecology, outlining a causal link between the development system of the last centuries and climate change. We were aware of the violence with which humans have treated the planet. But we had forgotten, however, the structural violence with which we treat our own less favored people.

A few months ago, with the certainty given by our precarious apparatus of knowledge and references, we knew that what is in danger of disappearing due to global warming is not the planet, but us as a species. That is precisely why we argued that the poorest would be the main victims of climate change. But what we failed to take into account - or even consider - was that, with or without climate change, they were already victims of this system.

A few months ago, we were in mourning for the fires in the Amazon forest in Brazil or in the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Today, we are stunned by burning buildings and flaming barricades blocking the streets in which we move daily. And still, we failed to realize that the destruction caused by the fire is as violent as the environment in which thousands of families live in our cities, far from the spotlight and from where smoke is not seen.

In the face of these situations, magazines are slow instruments. They cannot and should not respond to contingency. However, the content of this issue of ARQ may very well be a mirror that reflects in another way what is happening. For example, we are blind to plants - as Rosetta Elkin argues - in the same way we are blind to injustices. And the disdain we show for water treatment plants - in Silvia Lavin’s article - is the same we show for economic inequality. The chemical strategies used in the United States to keep suburban gardens green - in Romy Hecht’s text - are a correlation of the ones used to maintain ‘public order’ and disperse protesters in Chilean cities (pesticides in the first case, tear gas in the second). And the spectacularized inefficiency with which the Australian government defends the Great Barrier Reef - in Grandeza’s proposal - is precisely what has had Chile plunged into uncertainty for weeks. Likewise, the relationship with nature as a quarry for resources

- in Booth’s argument - is visible in labor relations that understand the worker as an exploitable human ‘resource,’ which inevitably leads to the breakdown of social cohesion. And the development that devastates natural landscapes - in Klaus’ drawings - is the same one that destroys human nature and leads to alienation. And, unfortunately, we could continue.

These analogies are possible because the social outbreak shares the same structure as the ecological catastrophe: both have been slow-cooked, making them almost imperceptible until they finally burst and paralyze everyday life as we knew it. Both, too, had been announcing themselves for a long time, giving small signals that we chose to ignore.

What can architecture say about this? We do not know. Hopefully, architects will be up to the task and not only look from the heights, as it became the custom. There is space in the debate for a new constitution where we can contribute to rethinking our relationship with the planet.

We must remember, however, that the constitutional debate by itself does not fix climate change. The fact that we have stopped talking about its threat does not make it disappear. It is still very much there, inadvertently advancing while we stare stunned at the fire burning our cities. And we should not forget either that neither animals nor plants were the ones that coined concepts such as ecology or economics. We, the humans, are the cause of everything, be it good or bad. We were, in fact, the cause of global warming. Let’s hope it does not burn the last resort we have: our own humanity and its rights.


HARVEY, David. «What’s Green and Makes the Environment go Round?» En: The Cultures of Globalization. Fredric Jameson & Masao Miyoshi (Eds.). Durham & London: Duke University Press, 1998: 327-355. [ Links ]

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