According to the UN, more than 7000 extreme weather events have been recorded since 2000. Just this year, wildfires raged across Australia and the west coast of the U.S.; Siberia charted record high temperatures, reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit before Dallas or Houston; and globally, this September was the world’s hottest September on record. As the effects of the climate crisis manifest in these increasingly dire ways, it is the prerogative of the building industry – currently responsible for 39% of global greenhouse gas emissions – to do its part by committing to genuine and sweeping change in its approach to sustainability.
“Sustainability is like teenage sex. Everybody says they’re doing it, very few people are actually doing it. Those who are doing it, are doing it badly," once Joseph Romm said.
The news about real action on climate change tends to track toward the gloomy. It is easy to despair, given the severity of the problem and the time left to properly address it. But there is progress being made in the built environment—just not nearly fast enough to offset emissions elsewhere. In recent years the sector has added billions of square feet of new buildings, but seen energy consumption for the entire sector actually decline. A good chunk of the credit for that accomplishment can go to architect Edward Mazria and his dogged advocacy organization, Architecture2030. Mazria and his team, along with collaborators all over the world, keep doing the unglamorous work of revising building codes, working with mayors, governors, elected officials in Washington (and officials in China), forging new alliances, all while deftly working around the climate obstructionists currently occupying the White House. Recently I talked to Mazria, who spoke from his home in New Mexico, about his take on where we stand. Some of the news, alas, is pretty good.
This article was originally published on Common Edge.
How Are Construction Materials Produced and How Does This Contribute to the Climate Crisis? Our Readers Answered
How does architecture contribute to the current climate crisis?
Flooding is a significant problem for buildings all around the world, including architectural treasures like the Farnsworth House that have been plagued by the issue time and time again. In particular, one-third of the entire continental U.S. are at risk of flooding this spring, especially the Northern Plains, Upper Midwest, and Deep South. Last April, deadly floods decimated parts of Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Iran as well, resulting in a low estimate of 1,000 deaths while tens of thousands more were displaced. While architecture cannot solve or even fully protect from the most deadly floods, it is possible – and necessary – to take several protective measures that could mitigate damage and consequently save lives.
Unless you’re living in a news or social media bubble, it’s unlikely you’ve missed seeing the devastating effects Australia’s climate change exacerbated wildfires and drought have had on the continent. One of the images that still sticks with me is that of the young boy, mask over his face, steering his family’s boat as they flee a large bushfire – flames and smoke enveloping the entire scene within an apocalyptic reddish-orange glow.
It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either.” —Rabbi Tarfon
The global climate crisis is one that requires discussion in many areas of life, from planning for containment to the prevention of consequences. One of the main factors in this debate involves our means of energy production that, historically, were responsible for severe damage to the environment. This was due to the lack of concern to seek renewable and sustainable sources to generate electricity, and also the lack of technology. In general, traditional methods of electrical energy are ones that produce waste, release atmospheric and water pollutants, and use non-renewable resources.
According to data from CRED (Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters) and UNISDR (UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction), in a report released in 2016, the number of disasters related to the climate change has duplicated in the last forty years. The need for temporary shelters for homeless people is, as well as an effect of the climate crisis, is also one of the consequences of the disorderly growth of cities, which leads to a significant part of the world population living in vulnerable conditions due to disasters.
As the climate crisis continues to unfold, professionals in architecture, engineering, and sustainable design have relentlessly searched for new ways to mitigate the negative effects of modern industrial production. One group of such innovators, Zero Mass Water, have contributed to this effort through their creation of ‘the world’s first and only hydropanel’ - an apparatus called SOURCE.
Architecture enjoys a close connection with moving picture, perhaps because of the limitless imagination it allows. Our mind can be taken far away to utopian worlds where we live different realities with our eyes and skin; movies can carry us to new and distant places, where we face new unusual realities.
Studying the data that indicates a climate crisis that has been affecting the whole planet for the last decades, the reactionary attitudes may sound disappointing. However, at the same time that the news indicates a global average temperature rise, the political focus on the climate crisis is also intensified, according to the UN Environment report released in 2019, which is a reflection not only of the occurrence of manifestations and protests around the world but also of the so-called activist art expression.