Landscape Architecture and the Zero Generation

Landscape Architecture and the Zero Generation

As the climate crisis intensifies and accelerates, a new generation of activists is emerging with startling suddenness. In an effort to stem this crisis, many young people are mobilizing rapidly.

Members of this group, styled “Generation Z,” were born within the last 25 years. Although derided by some as “snowflakes,” these young people are the largest generation in history. Bloomberg reports Generation Z will comprise “32 percent of the global population of 7.7 billion in 2019, nudging ahead of millennials, who will account for a 31.5 percent share.”

In the US, this is a group that understands climate change. According to recent study by the Harvard Political Review, “Over 70 percent of the Gen Zers polled…agree that climate change is a problem, 66 percent of whom think it is a crisis and demands urgent action

This large a group, and one whose overwhelming majority understands the issues, will hold enormous power. Appreciating their activism would serve landscape architects very well in the coming years. After all, they represent the future of the profession as practitioners, clients, and users.

Generation Z is the first generation to have seen the effects of the climate crisis for their entire – albeit short, so far – lives. Because of this, they understand climate change, and the associated ecological breakdown, as imperiling not just their economic and social futures, but their very existence. This has created a great sense of urgency among many of them, leading to stunningly impactful actions within just the last few months.

For example, it was less than 10 months ago that the then 15-year-old Greta Thunberg staged a solo protest at Sweden’s parliament to force action on global warming. Since then, her School Strike for Climate has inspired millions of students around the world to do the same, and given her message significant global audiences.

In the UK, the multi-generational but youthful Extinction Rebellion’s non-violent protests in April of 2019 led the British Parliament to declare a “climate emergency“, the first democratically elected government in the world to do so.  At the same time,the UK government’s chief climate advisory agency recommended for the first time an accelerated plan to cut the country’s carbon emissions to zero by 2050.  Soon thereafter, Ireland’s parliament became the second national government to declare a climate emergency. They have been joined by hundreds of local and regional governments around the world.

In the US, the youth-led Sunrise Movement has gained momentum, discussing climate change in “classrooms, living rooms, and worship halls across the country” and providing support for the Green New Deal. And Juliana v. US, a lawsuit filed by 21 young plaintiffs against the US government is proceeding. The young people allege that through the government’s …actions that cause climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.”

However, the current Administration’s Department of Justice has responded to the suit by demanding that it be dismissed, stating:“there is no right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life …because such a right is entirely without basis in this Nation’s history or tradition.”

Felton Davis cc-by-2.0

Felton Davis cc-by-2.0

A Vision of the Future

Undaunted by such callousness, the young activists are clear on one thing: they have accepted the climate science that warns that there is little time left to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5C, beyond which climate catastrophe looms.

To avoid this, the laws of physics require that humanity cut greenhouse emissions by 45% within a decade and reach zero use by 2050. Thus “Generation Z” must become the “Zero Generation.” In order to achieve that, the youth of today will “have lifetime carbon budgets almost 90% lower than someone born in 1950.” And most of that budget will be used in their youth: by the time they reach middle age, the Zero Generation will have no more carbon to burn.

If these young people succeed in helping us to avert the worst of the climate crisis, they will usher in completely new paradigms for landscape architecture. The end of carbon dioxide emissions means the end of fossil fuel use.  Unfortunately, the contemporary work of landscape architecture is thoroughly soaked in fossil fuels. Not using them will change the way we approach design and education, as well as our materials and construction methods, how our projects are maintained and even our ethics. Further, the need to drawdown excess CO2 from the atmosphere will require new approaches to every project. Read more about Post-Carbon Landscape Architecture on Land8.

In light of all this, how will landscape architecture respond to the youth of today? Positively, the goals of our work should be broadly attractive to the Zero Generation; landscape architecture offers so many possibilities for both mitigating, and adapting to, the climate crisis. This should provide us with great support in terms of new practitioners, clients and users.

But to ensure that we do not perpetuate the intergenerational injustice of climate change, then we must truly align our work to the zero fossil fuels reality. This is not an issue that is going away or that will somehow get better on its own.  It will require enormous changes. We should be leaders ourselves, not waiting on our children to push us.

In the words of Greta Thunberg, “I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

Lead Image: David Tong CC BY-SA 4.0

Published in Blog
Steve Austin teaches landscape architecture, urban planning, and construction law at Washington State University. The views expressed are his own.


  1. I totally DISAGREE with the “Generation Z”s view point on what the call “Global Warming and/or Climate Change”.

    All that’s going on here is LIBERAL teachers & University Professors who are “advocates” of this philosophy. Read what Henry Moore, PhD, a 72 yr. old Environmentalist who co-founded Greenpeace (then, abandoned it, as he no longer agreed with that organization’s philosophies). Moore testified before Congress in 2014 stating that “NO”, mankind is NOT contributing mass quantities of Co2 emissions that are causing a “slight” warming of our Planet that has been occurring over the past 100 years. And, he goes on to state, that the Earth is actually in a COOLING period….that having some warming taking place here on Earth is beneficial to both mankind and all living species (that includes Plants & Animals).

    I have even read where NASA Astronauts have reported seeing “greener” areas on our Planet (from space)…that the Earth is actually “greener” than it’s been in a very long time. I believe it was Al Gore who predicted the “Oceans” would rise due to Global Warming…what does he really know about the subject? None of Al Gore’s climate changing predictions have come thru. And, Al Gore does NOT practice what he preaches….his lifestyle actually leaves a MAJOR carbon print on this Planet…but, he has become WEALTHY pushing his bogus theories.

    I recently read a very well written article that said it would be nearly impossible for mankind to destroy itself or the Earth….not thru wars, plagues, or even nuclear conflict. We are like a giant ant hill with BILLIONS of people on our Planet…..we will survive. The article made a lot of sense to me. It went on to state that the most likely scenario that could destroy the Planet Earth would be a major sun burst that could potentially destroy the Ozone layer that protects our Planet…OR potentially a Meteor (though, we do now have the technology to detect incoming Meteors and even deflect them from hitting Earth). We’re much more intelligent than the dinosaurs who were wiped out by that 5 mile wide Meteor that hit the Earth millions of years ago and wiped out all of the Dinosaurs.

    The other MAJOR issue that the Generation Z does NOT comprehend……even IF we had the capability of controlling or changing our Planet’s Weather…..Where would the money come from to take on such a monumental task??? Democrats have suggested ideas like “The New Green Deal” at the cost of over $30 Trillion….and that’s just for the United States. But, what about China, Russia, South Korea, India, Iran, Mexico and hundreds of other 3rd World Nations? Those Nations don’t have the money to even clean up their own AIR POLLUTION….and they don’t care either. All THEY care about is their Economies. I haven’t visited Southeast Asian Nations….but, I have watched some K-Dramas on TV and in every one…you can see how TERRIBLE their air quality is!!! I do believe that by reducing CO2, cities and Nations can improve the AIR QUALITY….if they’ll just do it.

    So, IMO, it’s FALSE education and information that is being fed to the “Generation Z” kids (as well as the rest of our societies)…..they need to be taught the TRUTH about what’s really going on with respect to WHY our Planet’s temperature may be warming a bit….and that the Climate on Earth has been changing for Millions or years……always has and always will.

    So……Once again, here were are exposed to yet another “Liberal” article here on LAND 8.

    J. Robert (Bob) Wainner

  2. P.S……And, whatever you do…..please do NOT plan ANY courses that remotely resemble “SOCIALISM”. Our Children need to be taught that in AMERICA…..CAPITALISM is what will benefit them in their lives down the road. Even courses that relate to Landscape Architecture.

    WAY TOO MANY Teachers and University Professors are teaching “SOCIALISM” to our kids. Also, IMO, way too many High School Graduates are going to College…..most on a “College Student Loan”…..then, graduating and can’t even get a JOB in a great economy…so, end up going home to live with their parents. That senerio just fuels their beliefs that SOCIALISM is the way to go…..because, then, they want everything for FREE.

    I served 4 years in the U.S. NAVY for 4 years….(volunteered) in 1970…partly, so I could go to college on the Federal G.I. Bill. I was married while in college @ Texas A&M University….my wife worked part time and very low wages. It was a struggle, but, I graduated in 1977 with ZERO debt…….and (2) different job offers. I personally believe CAPITALISM works……as after 14 yrs. of a long internship working for 2 LA firms….I established my own 1 person LA firm @ the age of 41…..and now, only 30 days away from age 70, I’m still doing “some” design projects. I have been VERY busy my entire career…..even putting in (4) years worth of over-time. A Landscape Architecture career is NOT easy….it takes a very good work ethic and a lot of long hours & dedication. CAPITALISM definitely works!!!


Leave a Reply

Lost Password