Lo-TEK

Interview by Chris King

with Julia Watson

Cover of Issue #3

This article is part of Issue #3

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Designer and author Julia Watson describes the things she saw during a recent trip to Beira, Mozambique, as “the future of climate change”. A provincial capital on the shores of the Indian Ocean, and the fourth largest port in Africa, Beira was devastated by Cyclone Idai in March 2019. One year on and the city has yet to recover and rebuild.

Julia is the author of the book Lo– TEK Design by Radical Indigenism. She coined the term Lo-TEK - combining lo-tech and Traditional Environmental Knowledge (TEK) - to describe Indigenous technologies that she believes can be adopted more widely to mitigate climate change and build a resilient future.

Idai’s impact on Beira is a warning for other coastlines over the next 15 years, she thinks. Like so many cities across the globe, Beira was no stranger to extreme weather, but Idai was on a greater scale of magnitude. All around the world, extreme weather events are becoming bigger and more frequent, taking and destroying lives and homes.

The globalised industrial systems we rely on, from food to manufacturing, are considered to be highly efficient - if you don’t factor in little inconveniences like waste and other externalised costs- but they can only function within a very limited range of conditions. The just-in time approach taken to get food on the shelves, for example, means the slightest perturbation from these conditions and the systems can’t cope. There is no resilience built into them -something the spread of the Covid-19 virus has highlighted to ruinous effect. We urgently need to change this.

The good news is that we have all the knowledge and technologies we need. Traditional, Indigenous technologies- LoTEK - that communities across the globe have been using to sustain themselves for centuries, and which have largely been forgotten in Europe, offer the resilience we need and provide multifaceted responses to many of the crises we face - from sustainable food production to flood defences and carbon sequestration - and do so in a way that is symbiotic with their environment.

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