Two items in Monday’s Guardian neatly set out the dilemmas Britain faces in how to manage its landscapes for the future. In the first, Ahmed Djoghlaf, Secretary-General of the UN Convention on Biological Security lambasted the developed countries for failing to make any serious effort to protect biodiversity. Describing the lack of effective progress so far as a disaster, Djoghlaf warned Britain that it would be very short-sighted to cut biodiversity spending. ‘Biodiversity is your natural asset. The more you lose it the more you lose your cultural assets too.’ He gave particularly short shrift to countries which have separated their meagre efforts on biodiversity from their action on climate change. ‘The loss of biodiversity exacerbates climate change. Climate change cannot be solved without action on biodiversity, and vice versa.’
So far, so predictable – the usual eco-boilerplate urging that more must be done and everything must be looked at holistically. But on the same day a piece by Dustin Benton from the CPRE looks at the same problems the other way round. Reflecting the recent Centre for Alternative Technology’s ‘Zero Carbon Britain 2030’ he says that it "proposes changes to England’s (sic) landscapes that are greater than any change since the 1930s." In order to produce all our power at home, the report proposes to devote 85% of grazing land to large-scale biomass plantations. This means that much of the landscape would no longer be covered by the meadows and pastures which give it its recognisable and character.
In other words it may be that the Ahmed Djoghlaf and his UN colleagues have got it all wrong. It may be that preserving biodiversity is not the essential key to climate change adaptation. It may be, on the contrary, that climate change adaptation requires us to mutilate the landscape in order to maximise energy production, sacrificing biodiversity for electricity, and doing things that greens have always regarded with horror.
The professional future of landscape architects sits astride the intersection of these two worldviews. They can be agents for radical transformation, agents for preservation, or agents for some sort of managed transition while we all try to work out which of the two scenarios above is the one we can most comfortably live with. Whatever the outcome, it is clear that in future just ‘being green’ and talking about sustainability in general terms is no longer a sufficient calling card. We are all reasonably greenish now. For each individual site or each new project, it only remains to work out what this actually means.