The Concept of Force Majeure

The Harrison Studio applies the legal term Force Majeure to designate the co-­‐ evolving set of circumstances that work against the well-­‐being of both the human cultures and the ecosystems as we now know them, thereby imperiling the survival of both. The inclusion of the wording Force Majeure in the Center’s title references the nature of the global environmental stresses imposed by humanity’s overuse of planetary resources and the resultant contribution to climate change. Force Majeure when framed ecologically delineates human-­‐accelerated global warming acting in transaction with the vast industrial processes of extraction and CO2 production. These processes have resulted in destroyed forests, depleted topsoil, a severe lessening of ocean productivity, and a vast chemical outpouring into the atmosphere, the earth and the water.


A number of tipping points have already been passed. The most obvious, but by no means the only, example is the rising atmospheric CO2 level -­‐ now above 390 ppm. Although 450 ppm atmospheric CO2 looks likely to be reached well before the end of this century. We will be lucky if atmospheric CO2 levels stop rising at 600ppm. Ocean rise, drought, and erratic weather are inevitable; and temperature increase— particularly in the high grounds—is happening as this document is written.


Complexity theory suggests that multidimensional problems do not yield or find resolution with simple cause-­‐and-­‐effect solutions, such as putting iron filings in the ocean, algae upwelling systems, burying CO2 underground, substituting atomic 1energy for coal, and the like. We have come to believe that problems of the kind that humanity now faces, such as the reformatting of the global weather systems from the predictable Holocene to the unpredictable Anthropocene, must be met by a whole-­‐systems approach. We believe that human well-­‐being in our shared and uncertain future will require adaptation on a vast scale, both ecologically and culturally. The formation of the Center for will manifest this belief in physical terms.


The Center will engage in studies of “adaptation at scale”, a core aspect of the Force Majeure project. This large-scale perspective will be maintained in examining the likely outcomes from glacial melt on the Sierra Nevada, the Tibetan Plateau and the trans- European mountain ranges and poses the following question, which has embedded in it beyond the issues of art and science, regional planning and ecostructural design which can only happen at large scale if both accepted and supported at policy levels:

Are there ecologically available responses that will, in good part, replace the value provided by the disappearing glaciers to the river systems and to the human cultures they support?


  1. Toward answering this question in several geographies, the work of the Center will include: 1. The location of sites in mountain ranges where receding glacial melt will, in the near future, negatively affect the constant flow of waters into rivers. The research will address the selection and the balancing of plant species from the region that can adapt to the new climate conditions biased toward generating topsoil and enhancing the Sponge phenomenon in the earths available.

  2. Paleo-botanical research that will locate species that lived in the affected region prior to glaciation at a time when the climates were equivalent to those projected. This research has two intentions.
  • a. To locate species in the region that might not have been considered as part of a viable plant palette.
  • b. To suggest close relatives that might now exist in other locations that, after appropriate testing, would niche into the new environmental conditions beneficially; that is to say, without behaving as exotics.

3. An examination of newly revealed glacial earths and to inquire about what a first succession might be like. One important question to be looked at is “is this enhancement possible?”

4. A more careful exploration of the hydrology reflected in carbon sponge dynamics, with the intention of adding value to the system.

5. Looking at the potential for carbon sequestration over great scale, e.g., how much carbon would be sequestered were the Tibetan Plateau to be significantly regenerated by using the evolving principles of the Harrison Studio.