Construction industry preparing for climate change

Architects, builders face skepticism on science and costs

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

There’s lit­tle ques­tion many ar­chi­tects and build­ers are convinced of the threat of cli­mate change and are urg­ing cli­ents to plan for a fu­ture of weather ex­tremes.

Those who de­sign and con­struct build­ings are re­quired to look de­cades into the fu­ture and are ex­pected to pro­vide own­ers with their best ad­vice on how and where they should pro­ceed with their proj­ects. Those con­sid­er­ations can in­clude ev­ery­thing from what kind of ma­teri­als to use that can best with­stand more fre­quent down­pours to whether to build in an area that might be­come a flood plain in a fu­ture with ris­ing sea lev­els.

But ar­chi­tects and build­ers who are among the be­liev­ers the world is in­ex­o­ra­bly warm­ing due to hu­man ac­tiv­ity fre­quently face skep­ti­cal cli­ents who not only ques­tion the sci­ence but the added costs that adopt­ing their plans can bring.

Ac­cord­ing to the Ip­sos Mori Global Trends 2014 sur­vey re­leased last month, the United States is by far the most cli­mate-skep­ti­cal na­tion in the world, with only 52 per­cent agree­ing that cli­mate change is the re­sult of hu­man ac­tiv­ity. Some 32 per­cent dis­agreed, and 14 per­cent re­sponded they didn’t know in the poll, which ques­tioned 16,000 peo­ple in 20 coun­tries be­tween Sep­tem­ber and Oc­to­ber.

With that level of skep­ti­cism, it’s no easy task for young pro­fes­sion­als like Ari­ane Laxo, a cer­ti­fied in­te­rior de­signer with HGA Ar­chi­tects & Engi­neers in Min­ne­ap­o­lis and ac­tive mem­ber of the U.S. Green Build­ing Coun­cil, to win over some cli­ents who may be re­sis­tant to the no­tion of con­struct­ing a more ex­pen­sive build­ing with a warmer and risk­ier long-term weather fu­ture in mind.

Laxo, who is the past chair­woman of the USGBC’s Emerg­ing Pro­fes­sion­als Na­tional Com­mit­tee as well as its rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the USGBC na­tional com­mit­tee, says she has re­turned from a train­ing ses­sion in South Africa with for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore’s Cli­mate Real­ity Proj­ect with a mes­sage that build­ers need to be ad­vo­cates for “re­sil­ient” build­ings, for their own pro­fes­sional sake as well as that of the world.

Speak­ing to a meet­ing of the Min­ne­sota USGBC chap­ter this week in Min­ne­ap­o­lis, Laxo said the lat­est sci­ence shows con­tin­ued ris­ing global tem­per­a­tures, ris­ing sea lev­els and more fre­quent ex­treme weather events.

“If we con­tinue along this path, we will prob­a­bly share the fate of the peo­ple of Easter Island [whose iso­lated in­hab­i­tants com­mit­ted ‘eco­cide’ by de­stroy­ing their is­land’s tree cover],” she said. “What I’m pro­pos­ing, and what the Cli­mate Real­ity Proj­ect is pro­pos­ing, [is] that we need to be both op­ti­mists and re­al­ists. We need to be re­al­ists be­cause cli­mate change is hap­pen­ing right now. We’re see­ing these in­tense weather events, and we need to pre­pare cli­ents for it.

“But we do have the solu­tions at hand. They’re avail­able, and we just need to use them.”

She also sug­gested that ar­chi­tects and de­sign­ers honestly con­front the cli­mate skep­ti­cism of some cli­ents, es­pe­cially since those “solu­tions” di­rectly ad­dress the source of 44.6 per­cent of all U.S. car­bon emis­sions — com­mer­cial build­ings.

Laxo as­serted that build­ing pro­fes­sion­als have a moral and eth­i­cal — and in the fu­ture, maybe even le­gal — re­spon­si­bil­ity to pre­pare cli­ents for the ef­fects of cli­mate change, in­clud­ing in­tense storms, fu­ture wa­ter short­ages, ris­ing sea lev­els, more fre­quent wild­fires and power in­ter­rup­tions. Among the ways ar­chi­tects and en­gi­neers should be help­ing, she said, in­cludes honestly mod­el­ing for higher fu­ture tem­per­a­tures and their ef­fect on en­ergy bills for cool­ing.

“This is a place where we should re­ally be tell­ing our cli­ents, ‘Here’s what the build­ing code re­quires, and here’s the past his­toric data on en­ergy costs … but here’s what we see com­ing down the pipe­line,’” she said. “‘There might not be a right an­swer on how we plan for that, but I’m go­ing to tell you as your ad­vo­cate to pre­pare for this.’

“It’s our re­spon­si­bil­ity to do that partly be­cause 10 years down the road when our cli­ents see way higher cool­ing loads than they ex­pected, they might come af­ter us and say, ‘You should have warned us.’”

United States - North America - Al Gore - Minnesota - Minneapolis

Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here