Did Darwin Invent Environmentalism? What Evolution and Green Revolution Share

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Image credit: Thebobblehead.com
Charles Darwin introduced the hot topic of natural selection back in the 19th century, but the debate of whether it's true or false has yet to be put to rest. As the intelligent designers and evolutionists fight it out, aren't there other questions we should be considering about creation theory? Like, is green building, government, and economics still based on creationism? Or, did Darwin say that humans evolved from monkeys, or is he calling us monkeys? Well, Mr. Darwin, name-calling will get you no where!The year 2009 marks the bicentennial anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the sesquicentennial anniversary of his book On the Origin of Species being published. One hundred fifty years have passed since the dawn of evolutionary science, and many are still fighting it while others work to prove it correct. Public opinion in America is divided in half about the topic. This celebratory year will see many events to ring the bell for the great discovery and, I'm sure, debate will ignite on both sides. I guess I should be transparent — I think evolution is a theory, as in a scientific theory — which generally means that there is a high level of facts and data to support it. Many people use the term in the opposite way.

Darwin wasn't talking about evolution
Darwin wasn't the first to write or speak about evolution — in fact, for a brilliant explanation of how the idea developed read the introduction he wrote for Origin. One of the most under-appreciated aspects of Darwin was that from the outset, he described his abstract as "imperfect." He understood his place within the continuing epic — for it wasn't evolution he set out to prove; what he wanted was that his mission explain the mechanics of evolution, namely "natural selection." In essence, he was pushing forward, with 20 years of research, that natural conditions had determined the present condition of all living things, not God.

Though people disagreed with him, the book sold out almost immediately. Can you imagine the cultural climate in Darwin's time? In 2004, a CBS poll found that 55 percent of Americans believed God created humans in present form. In 2005, the Pew Research Center found that 42 percent of Americans strictly believe in creationism while 40 percent favor replacing evolution with creationism in schools. Moreover, it wasn't until the 1930s and 40s that the institute of biology started to take evolution seriously. It's no wonder that Darwin suffered from stomach problems during the writing of his famous tome. In the 1800s, 99.99 percent of all people believed in creationism. Everything was based, or upheld, by biblical teachings. There was no other point of view to teach in eighth grade science classes.

This month's Scientific American dedicates its entire issue to The Evolution of Evolution. In it, you'll find articles about pathogens, forensics, natural selection, intelligent design and other ideas. But what's very apparent is how contemporary society is not yet able to come to terms with what evolution means for us. In an article by Gary Stix, he writes that "just as Copernicus cast the Earth out from the center of the universe, the Darwinian universe displaced humans as the epicenter of the natural world." That's no small statement — and hence, the influence yet-to-be-realized for Darwin's book on species.

In the Beginning, Darwin created Environmentalism?
Many argue that Rachel Carson ushered in the modern environmentalism movement, but it was Darwin that first directed our attention to nature and said "that is where we are from." As of today, only the studies of the natural world have been greatly changed with better understanding about adaptation, genetic drift and mutation, but what about how we build buildings, transport goods and interact with economic markets? For the most part, architecture is still being built the same way it was built in 1858. The green revolution touts to be striving toward a more harmonious relationship with nature, but what does that mean in the light of metapopulation, phylogenetics and cladistics? The greenest buildings on the planet are often only reducing their environmental impact, but how can buildings contribute to the drama of evolution's extreme interconnection to island biogeography, endemic species, and conservation biology?

Reason to Cheer
As a green architect, I struggle with these questions daily. How can buildings reinvigorate adaptation and natural selection? How do basic components such as wall systems and mechanical equipment need to change or be discarded? And, how do we design and construct cities to not be like or emulate ecosystems, but to be ecosystems? The lack of answers means that there is much more opportunity for growth and that there are greater improvements to be made — and that's exciting. Science took its own sweet time to embraced Darwin's ideas. Architecture, engineering, government, and, evidently, religion, will also need time to cuddle-up with it. Funny thing though, evolution, in the meantime, will march on. Thanks, Darwin!

More on Evolution and Darwin:
The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution
The Charles Darwin Page
HOK and Biomimicry Guild Forge Alliance for Bio-Inspired Design Excellence
A Picture is Worth... Dude, Where's My Habitat?