Every time I think we can somehow “muddle through” climate change and only be arguing about how much a carbon tax should be, I see a study like this one from the National Academy of Sciences that posits a continuation of warming, even an acceleration, that could leave Earth in a “hothouse” condition for millennia.
We are living in the Anthropocene, the new epoch in Earth’s history, when human activity is the greatest biological, ecological and even geological force. Yet our cultural knowledge still dates back to the Pleistocene, to sitting around the campfire telling stories to each other. We need to quickly figure out how to make our most meaningful stories about what it means to be human, to include how we will navigate out of this self-created mess.
The human face of climate change is often missing from stories about climate change, but it’s one we need to tell with greater emphasis to get political action. The lone house left standing on the shoreline at Mexico Beach got lots of photos in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael last week, but it was built by two wealthy people who could afford to spend twice as much (per sq.ft.) to protect it from such events.
The elephant in the room on all of our green building and sustainability discussions is CLIMATE CHANGE. We all know and accept that it’s happening, but we haven’t yet owned up to the dramatic changes that we will have to undergo to deal with it.
In the fields of energy and environment, I have seen paradigm shifts take place on several important occasions during my career. Paradigm shifts dramatically change the conversation about how to deal with problems. For example, economists have recognized the concept of externalities since the 19th century…
Where did our current thinking about paradigm shifts originate? In the 1960s, MIT Professor Jay Forrester created a field called system dynamics by modeling how industrial production systems behaved in response to fluctuating demand. He wrote Urban Dynamics, which attempted for the first time to describe how more complex systems like cities behaved and could be modeled. He and his team created models used by the Club of Rome to research its highly influential 1972 book, The Limits to Growth.
In 1927 the Jesuit scholar Pierre Teilhard de Chardin postulated the existence of a global “mind,” a noösphere, connecting everyone and everything in the world. By 2017 there were about two billion Facebook users, more than a quarter of earth’s population. The paradigm shift that connects everyone on Earth, all the time, everywhere, less than one generation ago a fanciful dream, is now our daily experience.
Mental models are the primary tools we use to think about creating a more sustainable future, for example, but are they accurate or even useful? For example, will replacing gasoline-powered cars with electric cars lead to a truly sustainable future, if there are still a billion cars in the world and the electricity to charge them comes from fossil fuels? What are the paradigm shifts that created green building as we know it today?
At the beginning, LEED certification met a market need and grew dramatically. Within a half-decade after its introduction, by 2006 LEED was a well recognized brand and globally known “eco-label,” a remarkable achievement. But LEED could never guarantee that buildings it certified were among the top 25 percent of all performers, its stated goal, as measured against key criteria for reducing environmental impact.
Here is a critical dilemma for the environmental movement. If we want to preserve this beautiful planet from the ravages of global climate change, we must insist that every “solution” offered by well meaning organizations agrees to real-world independent testing.
Green building has a significant credibility problem. While the world is awash in green building "eco-labels" and while these have significant credibility in the commercial building marketplace, conspicuously missing are any serious studies of the actual performance of green buildings. This issue has been highlighted since at least 2010, but none of the leading green building councils has yet to commission such a study.