BRAINSTORMING events have been started by environmental activists to help communities find ways to tackle the climate change crisis.

The first “hackathon” in the UK took place on August 11 in Edinburgh, with a follow-up in Aberdeen at the beginning of this month.

People from a range of backgrounds identified what was holding their city back from being Climate Emergency Ready and what action could be taken urgently.

After the third hackathon in Glasgow, the framework will be made open-source, allowing activist groups Scotland-wide to implement it and share the accumulating knowledge.

Here, Stuart McAulay explains why he started the hackathons

ON October 8 last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published their paradigm-shattering Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, and international responses differed.

Two months previously Greta Thunberg had begun her climate strike in Sweden and Fridays for Future rallies were snowballing across the globe. In America, the Sunrise Movement backed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lobbied political representatives to support a Green New Deal and, weeks later in the UK, banners were dropped and bridges were blockaded by a newly emergent Extinction Rebellion, declaring an open rebellion in response to the UK Government’s crimes against humanity and the planet.

I was beginning my final postgraduate year of university on an international exchange at the University of Dalhousie in Nova Scotia, wondering how any architectural thesis could be of any practical use when we now had a 2030 “deadline”. Could I be putting my energies and time to better effect elsewhere? After all, what use is architecture on a dead planet?

Upon returning, I was relieved to discover Extinction Rebellion Glasgow growing, and got stuck in immediately taking part in actions alongside fellow activists and putting eclectic specialities in the built environment, ecological construction, graphic design and sustainability to their best uses;

co-ordinating art projects; being part of delivering a workshop to the Climate 2050 Group; giving an architectural response to climate change at an event at Glasgow School of Art; and producing graphics for publicity material.

As I completed my studies my grief for the state of our planet grew ever deeper, occasionally overwhelming me, though I had found myself within the regenerative and supportive community within Extinction Rebellion which made coping with the climate crisis that wee bit easier.

For years I had been disenchanted by an inertia in architecture, and its education system’s worrying lack of teaching on sustainability inhibiting any cohesive response to climate change, so channelling Extinction Rebellion’s take on activism I inverted those feelings and founded the Anthropocene Architecture School, an alternative, decentralised school of activism and architecture, named after the general scientific consensus that human activity has now jolted the world into a new geological age: The Anthropocene Epoch.

I kicked off a playful social media campaign whilst finishing university and launched it during Scotland’s Architecture Fringe – issuing its Archifringe provocation that “contemporary architectural education is obsolete in the face of climate breakdown”.

Surprisingly there was no disagreement, and it began to attract interest internationally from America, Australia, the Himalayas and the Netherlands, among others. I then began to wonder what greater impact I could catalyse with its growing platform.

After the Archifringe launch, I was with Extinction Rebellion Scotland at the Holyrood Rebel Camp articulating our demand that the Scottish Government amend the Climate Bill that was being considered at the time as Scotland’s carbon-zero target of 2045 in the face of climate breakdown was incontestable ecocide. While there I was invited to put my background to use alongside other varied specialists by advising participants in a People’s Assembly being run at the camp to produce potential amendments to the Climate Bill.

The experience was enlightening. Participants with no background in a subject brought enthusiasm and inherent curiosity to tackling the problems at hand, coming up with inspired solutions and the learning experience benefitted everyone present. It made me think: “What if we were to apply the same logic to our cities?”

Cities in the UK have been declaring climate emergencies since Bristol got the metaphorical ball rolling on the November 13 last year, with Edinburgh declaring theirs on February 7 this year and Glasgow’s coming on May 16 – but not much meaningfully changed in how they functioned afterwards.

They are not ready for the effects of climate breakdown and key players in city infrastructure now operate in disconnected silos, further inhibiting the kind of response necessitated by the climate crisis.

So, by combining the concept of a hackathon with activist facilitation, I designed a solution and, thanks to the Extinction Rebellion Scotland residency at Summerhall during the Edinburgh Fringe, I was given the vehicle to test it.

The first Climate Emergency Compliant Cities Hackathon in the UK took place on August 11 with its follow-up at the Rebel Rising Festival in Aberdeen on September 1.

Participants from a range of backgrounds – activists, architects, concerned citizens, engineers, NGO campaigners, the president of the RIAS, sustainability champions and youth strikers alike – were gathered around tables in small working groups, each focused on an element of city infrastructure such as the built environment, infrastructure, the public realm and transportation, where a facilitator channelled their enthusiasm by ensuring no individual dominated the floor and that process was followed. This was:

1. Issue Identification

2. Solution Storming

3. Action Pointing

This enabled rapid identification of what was holding their city back from being Climate Emergency Ready, what potential solutions could be, who needed to be contacted to catalyse these, and who would take each action on personally. In the wake of the workshop, this was digitised then made accessible to the group and volunteers stepped up to host a future meeting to keep the energy going.

Edinburgh was proof of concept, going better than hoped, and this format is designed to be infinitely and rapidly replicable – and partnerships are being set up with various construction and environmental groups, to enable it to run in any city, village or town in Scotland with pre-prepared support. I hope that politicians on local and national levels readily engage with these hackathon groups, making use of their enthusiasm and expertise, and champion the solutions offered in preparing their constituency to be Climate Emergency Ready.

After the third in Glasgow, the framework shall be made open-source, allowing activist groups Scotland-wide to implement it and share the accumulating knowledge.

Numerous barriers exist that are stopping our cities becoming Climate Emergency Compliant – protecting both our health and the planet’s future – and these hackathons shall give communities a methodology to first identify and then ultimately remove them.