Construction industry preparing for climate change

Architects, builders face skepticism on science and costs

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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


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