The climate emergency is rewriting human history, year by year. We no longer have a choice between preventing massive climate change and putting adaptive measures in place - we simply must do both, with a speed that has never been seen in political, social and economic affairs. That requires a massive public education program by all professions and a massive commitment to training millions of professionals in new strategies for zero carbon design and climate adaptation/mitigation engineering.
With that in mind, I liked reading that the American Institute of Architects (AIA) adopted a resolution at its 2019 convention declaring a climate emergency and urging architects to take a number of steps toward designing net zero buildings. Two problems: First, how to enforce such lofty aims, in the face of client resistance, coupled with a race to the bottom on fees that characterizes most architectural firms. Second, most of the country’s buildings are not “designed” by architects. Most are either built from stock plans (think retail) or are signed off by architects employed by contractors (think tilt-up office construction) so a project can get a building permit. That leaves the real work of creating a “net zero” mentality to building codes, and that’s where our focus should be - setting and enforcing minimum standards that ratchet every year toward the net-zero goal. That’s why in my last book, I came out in favor of changing our building rating systems to start energy accounting from zero net energy, not from percentage reduction from standard designs.
Even if we achieve “net zero” emissions by 2050, as the UK government recently pledged, people will have to live with rising seas and the multiple effects of rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere for at least the next hundred years. That makes adaptation the second most important part of a strategy for dealing with the climate emergency. Every piece of infrastructure will have to be looked at, physical and informational, to see how to “harden” it for increasing danger of fires, floods, hurricanes, etc.
This is the economy of the future, folks, and it’s not a bad thing. In my youth, we had the first Earth Day and the growing awareness of the dangers and costs of environmental pollution. Many people then warned that our economy couldn’t afford to pay for pollution control, but they were wrong. Pollution control became a big industry and the US and other economies grew enormously. Renewable energy tax credits have helped solar and wind power to become a huge and growing industry the past twenty years. Climate adaptation will also become a big industry in the next decade. As we rebuild our 20th century infrastructure, we will rebuild it to meet climate adaptation needs.
The climate emergency will touch every part of our lives - it already has, with extreme fire and flood disasters the past few years, but this is just the beginning.