CLEVELAND – Buildings account for nearly 40% of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, from heating, cooling, lighting and carbon costs of building materials, according to a 2018 Evaluation. Because we are experiencing massive growth in urban population and construction, the global housing stock is expected to double by 2060. It’s like adding a whole New York City “eevery month for 40 yearsÂ», Calculates the non-profit organization Architecture 2030.
In the course on climate change and health that I audited at Case Western Reserve University, we learned that current technology and innovations provide a roadmap for the urgent correction of our atmospheric poisoning by harmful greenhouse gases. This can be done over the next decade at a cost of about 2% of GDP per year in the United States. It’s manageable – if we can just muster the will of the community to preserve a liveable world for our children and grandchildren. Mostly good news.
Part of the roadmap is to replace greenhouse gas sources with much better alternatives, as these old technologies are nearing the end of their useful life – for example, most cars and light trucks only last around a decade and can be replaced soon enough by electric vehicles that use safer energy sources.
But buildings have a much longer life cycle and therefore create more difficult challenges.
What we need to do now, not later: As new buildings and renovations come on stream and go through approval and funding processes in our communities, we need to integrate and demand systems planning. The dramatically reduced carbon emissions we need now.
No new building should be built that is not close to net zero now, or built for easy conversion before 2030. Renovations should also be done with such planning, if not immediate implementation. And renovations are good, because they conserve embodied energy and limit the emission costs of new constructions.
If anyone doubted the credible science that for years predicted our destruction of our habitable world, forest fires, droughts, torrential rains and floods, and deadly heat emergencies should be a wake-up call. that we need to act now.
My experience with construction projects at home and at work suggests that a major barrier to implementing zero or near zero carbon buildings is that the majority of architects, builders, contractors and craftspeople do not know or are aware of. comfortable with new technologies. But, if they cannot get zoning approval from local architectural review boards, or loans, without meeting these emissions requirements, there will be a rapid improvement in knowledge, skills and comfort levels. of all these essential groups.
February article by Ian Bogost in The Atlantic magazine on the transition to electric heating and air conditioning shows a way forward.
So how could this work? We could insist on this requirement at all levels of community governments – in each city or county with their zoning boards, architectural review boards, and home inspection professionals. In the Cleveland area, the Cleveland Restoration Society (CRS) has a large estate loan program that offers low-cost loans and specialist assistance for renovating older buildings. CRS should certainly be part of such a project.
We wouldn’t want to make new buildings and renovations too expensive to accomplish – we need to improve housing options and restore our cities and old buildings. So it will require some creativity and maybe some government grants. However, better to do it early on (now that we know we have to do it!) Than to have to take it apart and start over. The latter would be much more expensive.
We must quickly involve architects, builders, funders, community leaders and all of us in fixing our world.
Dr. Marcia Silver is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University. The views expressed here are those of the author and not of CWRU.
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