Plus Ça Change, Plus C'est La Même Chose

Tuesday’s US national elections changed little, except to put the brakes on further efforts by the Trump Administration to deal with climate change, such as by bailing out failing coal and nuclear plants. In many ways, it just replicated the 2010 election, which put the brakes on President Obama’s Administration and set the stage for the 2014 recapture of the Senate by Republicans.

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Resiliency – The New Green Wave?

Now that most of us have come to realize that climate change will not be reversed in our lifetimes, we’ve turned to the next new thing: dealing with it. Rather than embracing doomsday scenarios, our remarkable economic system is beginning to realize that there’s real profit in dealing with the potential impacts of climate change. Of course there are potentially real and massive losses in NOT dealing with these same impacts.

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Water Planning in the Age of Climate Change

Where is climate change heading? We don’t want to be like the Croatian goalie in this World Cup 2018 Final match, heading right when the French kick is going to the left? How can we plan far enough ahead to make sure our water systems will be adequate in a climate-challenged future that’s likely to be much drier in many parts of the U.S.?

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The First Greenbuild - 2002

With the 17th Greenbuild conference and expo scheduled to be held in Chicago in just two weeks, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the very first such event. This segment is taken from my forthcoming memoir, From Earth Day to Enlightenment: An Eco/Spiritual Odyssey, to be published in the fall of 2019.

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Planning for Climate Change

Planning for climate change requires a much better “crystal ball” than we have now. The IPCC reports show the current scientific CONSENSUS about the effects of 1.5C and 2.0C warmings by 2050. But what if those warmings happen sooner than we think? Shouldn’t we be planning for “worst case” scenarios? The question of how to go about planning for the effects of climate change is not academic and also should not be left to most government agencies. Perhaps the best example of planning for a warmer, wetter, hotter and (in some places) drier future is the U.S. military, by most accounts the best managed large organization in the U.S. and perhaps the world.

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Climate Change: Unknown Unknowns - Part 1

Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know (now). But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know…Those in the latter category tend to be the (most) difficult ones.

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The Great Denial

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.

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Cultural Knowledge Gaps

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.

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The Human Face of Climate Change

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.

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The Elephant in the Room

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.

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Paradigm Shifts: Internalizing the Externalities

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…

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Paradigm Shifts - The Origins

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.

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Paradigm Shifts: The Noosphere

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.

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Paradigm Shifts and Green Building

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?

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The U.S. Green Building Movement Plateaued (and Why That's Important)

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.

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World Green Building Week: How Good Are the Numbers?

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.

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Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics: How Important are LEED Buildings in Reducing US Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

What is the real contribution of LEED buildings to reducing US greenhouse gas emissions? Some recent tweets cite a 2011 study that estimates nearly a 2% reduction by 2020. In my analysis, the actual number is more like 0.3%, only about one-sixth of the projection from six years ago. This makes LEED (and to some degree green building) far less important than many of us had assumed. Take a look, decide for yourself and let me know what you think!

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How Feasible Are Zero Net Energy Buildings?

Are Zero Net Energy (ZNE) buildings technically feasible in the United States? A recent article by Charles Eley casts doubt on the goal of making all new buildings "zero net" with onsite solar by 2030 and all buildings, new and old, by 2050. Our best bet for the buildings sector is utility-scale solar and wind power, coupled with "ultra low energy" new buildings AND massive retrofits of existing buildings.

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