| Prof. Arup Dasgupta
In the film WALL-E, in a world devastated by rampant consumerism, a robot dedicated to clearing up trash to make it habitable once again, discovers a seedling growing in an old shoe. This seedling signals the resurgence of life in the life-less robotic world. The symbolism of a single green leaf as a promise of life going on, of continuity and of hope is perhaps an indication of the perception of the dangers we face due to rapid growth and development. However, the world cannot regress into a Luddite shell to stop the destruction of our environment. How can we have growth in harmony with the environment? In other words can growth be made sustainable?
One of the concepts that has taken root is that of ‘green’ everything. We see ‘green’ buildings, ‘green’ appliances and even ‘green’ paint. The word ‘green’ has become synonymous with sustainability. The ‘greenness’ of any object or system is only a measure of its contribution to the reduction of its carbon footprint. It is not a measure of sustainability. A case in point is that of an automobile factory set up recently in India. It was 70 Km from a wetland which has been notified as a bird sanctuary and therefore was not considered as a threat to the habitat. However, the site of the factory led to a building boom as land prices rose and builders moved in. Today, effluents from luxury apartments and the golf course have begun to affect the quality of the wetland.
Sustainable infrastructure will have to take into account such ‘unintended’ consequences of development. There is a need for a holistic approach that not only looks at the direct consequences but also possible desirable and undesirable scenarios. Such analysis requires a wealth of data and versatile tools of spatial analysis which can take into account various factors, some connected and some seemingly unconnected, to do a what-if analysis and provide decision support to the government, industry and even to the public. While this is accepted in the domain of natural resources, it is not so well understood in other domains, particularly by decision makers who hold the purse strings. Ian Dowman, Editor-Europe covers the need for an SDI to meet these requirements and highlights case studies of best practices.
Greg Bentley, in his interview, enunciates that all infrastructures are interconnected and therefore interdependent. The geospatial challenge is to design infrastructure keeping in mind the boundary conditions set by the requirements of sustainability and to be able to transfer these designs into implementation plans and workflows such that the factors related to sustainability are not lost in the process of transfer.
The question is: we have the data, we have the tools, do we have the will? Our actions in the coming decades will decide whether we will use our ingenuity to build WALL-Es or build-in sustainability for our future generations.