All human activities affect the environment. Some are less impactful, some much, much more. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the construction sector is responsible for up to 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Activities such as mining, processing, transportation, industrial operations, and the combination of chemical products result in the release of gases such as CO2, CH4, N2O, O3, halocarbons, and water vapor. When these gases are released into the atmosphere, they absorb a portion of the sun's rays and redistribute them in the form of radiation in the atmosphere, warming our planet. With a rampant amount of gas released daily, this layer thickens, which causes solar radiation to enter and and stay in the planet. Today, this 'layer' has become so thick that mankind is beginning to experience severe consequence, such as desertification, ice melting, water scarcity, and the intensification of storms, hurricanes, and floods, which has modified ecosystems and reduced biodiversity.
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. In April of 2019, 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.
Chile is a country used to natural disasters as much as to the reconstruction process. However, the frequency of these cycles has increased over the years. According to the Ministry of Interior (Homeland), 43% of all natural disasters recorded in Chile since 1960 happened between 2014 and 2017. In fact, the government is already involved in several reconstruction processes across the country.
The climate has changed, and we have been left grappling with the consequences: high temperatures, flooding, drought and much more. As the world shifts (or tries to shift) to ways to mitigate the crisis, the architecture and construction industry finds itself in a particularly important position whose choices can create real impact. Some of these choices can include innovative products that offer real solutions to complex problems, such as the cooling down of temperatures in highly dense cities.
The "Climate Emergency" continues to embody a renewed worldwide focus on tackling climate change. While there is no "one solution" to the multifaceted challenges brought about by this crisis, there is an onus on every citizen, in both a personal and professional capacity, to apply their skills and actions in addressing the profound pressures on the natural world.
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.
“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.
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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