Saturday, June 23, 2012

Al Jazeera's Earthrise, Better Missions & the Tallest Buildings in the World

What are the tallest buildings in the world? How tall are they? What do they do, again?

And why on Earth does anyone care?

Poking around the internet today I came across the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. And, believe it or not, they have an annual list of the Best Tall Building and corresponding awards.

What in the world is this all about?!
How is this actually a thing?
Who celebrates the height of buildings?
And why?*

I admit, I am as impressed with design feats as the next person. But I wonder how, and if, these feats benefit mankind. Holistic benefit to mankind has become a dominant criteria of mind. (Idealistic; yes. I know.)

Talking to Al Jazeera About Buildings

In contrast to concrete and glass urban towers, consider earthen homes. Living in an Earthship for the past few weeks, Marissa and I have been reevaluating what matters to us. More accurately, our ideas about our overall consumption and our desired impact in the humanitarian field have been accentuated more than reevaluated. Our focus is not mainly environmental. An attentiveness to environmental impact on the standard of living for the poor is merely a part of the humanitarian umbrella. Admittedly, being around Earthship Biotecture and its powerful team causes us to take environmentalism more seriously.

A British crew from Al Jazeera has been poking around Earthships for the past few days for their show, Earthrise. The guys on the three-man crew are excitable, interested in environmental innovations, and have an endless curiosity. They came by the Simple Survival model that Marissa and I are staying in to ask a few questions.

It was a great interview. I was impassioned as I talked about the systems involved in the Simple Survival Earthship. I marveled at how great I felt, how ethically integrated I felt, when talking about our consumption. 

"Do you feel that the Simple Survival model would be helpful for emergency victims, and those in the developing world, like those you work with in Haiti?", asked Russel, their energetic interviewer from Scotland.

"Yes, of course I do," I responded. Yet, I went on to explain, I think it would be good for most people, in the under-developed world AS WELL AS those in the developed world, to live in. I described how it would help the average person see the impact of their daily consumption of water, energy, and food. It would, I believe, help them see the impact of their daily, mindless consumption.

Perhaps it would turn the tide of destructive paradigms like "bigger is better", "exponential growth is the goal", and general expansionism. (Though the environmental impacts are impossible to ignore, I am far more concerned about the social impacts of such thinking.)

Life in an Earthship has been simpler.
It has been smaller. 
And It has been good.

Can Missionaries Perform Better

This got me thinking about the same mindsets that plague so much of mission work. Thankfully, with our work with Kenny and Jennie Ellis and CPI, we have had some fairly open dialogue about our underlying motives and mindsets. We have observed, however, in ourselves and others, the fruit of what I think can be destructive paradigms I mentioned above.

Bigger Schools.
Exponential growth of supporters.
More missions trips.
More missions groups.
Expand the students. 
Expand our presence. 
Expand their use of technology.
Ad Infinitum. 

And, as I write these things, none of them strike me as bad. They are, after all, in the service of others! We are making the world better, right? 

Expansionism is Bad,..Unless Its Humanitarian, Right?

However, what if we celebrated quality instead of quantity on the field?
What would change if the focus was on holistically improved individuals, one at a time, as opposed to expanded projects and programs?
It would be representative of what Steven Covey was talking about in his book, 'The 8th Habit', but would it be better?
Would the recipients of humanitarian help feel better?
Would the work of missionaries be more empowering, more sustained, more helpful?

In 2010 I attended a TED talk with Diego Uribe. He had something to say about expansionism.

I am unsure of whether or not a mega-shift toward a quality focus is better. I am unfamiliar with what the results of that change would be.

I am all too familiar, however, with the effects of expansionism on missions and humanitarianism. I am all to familiar with the results of it. Though mixed with so much good, the results could be much, much better.

And That's When I Stumbled On Tall Buildings

Pondering these things, I saw a blog post about an award system for the world's tallest buildings. In the frame of mind I was in, considering how helpful environmental solutions were, our humanitarian aspirations and the limited resources dedicated to such lofty ideals, and my interview with Al Jazeera, I was astounded and repulsed.

How are we celebrating such ivory towers 
and Babel-like accomplishments while people scratch at a living each day?

We know the superficial motives behind such actions. But what are the deeper motives, the subconscious brokenness that leads to building things bigger, better, faster? What is the blind spot that prevents us from seeing the people whose lives are mixed with the mortar of such accomplishments?

The tall building council has a committee dedicated to determining the best big buildings each year. They commit themselves to this work.

What Are My Ivory Towers

I know that I am repulsed by such things, but I do not know exactly why.
I know that there has to be better ways to serve humanity, but I do not know exactly how.

This time with Earthships is educational. I am learning a lot. More than that, I am again facing the possibility that I have constructed my own ivory towers within my desires for humanitarianism, and that I possibly want accolades for them myself.

Perhaps I just need to expand my thinking a bit. Maybe that would be better.


* - Upon further digging, I found these as a general outline to some of the requirements of a building to be considered "The Best". I felt it would be fair to share it here.
Exhibit sustainable qualities at a broad level:
Environment – Minimize effects on the natural environment through proper site utilization, innovative uses of materials, energy reduction, use of alternative energy sources, reduced emissions and water consumption. People – Has a positive effect on the inhabitants and the quality of human life. Community – Demonstrates relevance to the contemporary and future needs of the community in which it is located.  Economic – The building should add economic vitality to its occupants, owner, and community
I commend them for outlining such goals and the spheres of impact they may have. I can't help but think, however, that it is trying to innovate outdated ideas.

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