As climate change and the rapid evolution of the caliber and quantity of earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes continues to develop, governments around the world are quickly making plans to face the future environmental challenges ahead. Many have all seen recent proof of what is to come. In the US, according to such respected organizations as National Geographic, World Bank, the National Hurricane Center, and indeed including the recent groundbreaking research conducted at MIT, the increased warmer conditions of the ocean almost certainly elevated wind speeds of the recent Hurricane Harvey in Texas by 45 miles per hour in its last 24 hours before landfall, causing what has now been deemed “catastrophic” flooding.
The question of how the building industry comes to prepare for rising tides, more destructive storms, and increased temperatures is a monumental undertaking but one that essentially boils down to questions of smart energy use to restore the balance of our planet. In the US, one of the most climate skeptical in the world, the effort to prepare for these increased energy environmental challenges is largely being led by the EPA and some responsible builders and architects.
Many of the future EPA strategies revolve around adapting “smart growth” actions that include such steps as recognizing vulnerable lands and high risk areas, placing new municipal buildings in safe areas, engendering developer cooperation, conducting safe growth audits, strongly encouraging and requiring on-site renewable energy, and adopting more flexible zoning policies. Another key part of their strategy is to begin a managed retreat from many of our valued shorelines that are likely to be partially underwater in the not too distant future.
As part of a vision for the future, the EPA intends to pilot a sustainable streetscape program with green infrastructure features, in order to more closely knit our built world to our natural world and so we can soften the impact of human existence upon our atmosphere. As many of the first world countries attempt to take passes at a viable path forward to sustainability, it becomes clear that they will need to provide continued support to third world countries that struggle to enforce and maintain the building codes they currently have due to corruption and economic issues. Funding for these projects will be substantial and global cooperation will be key. According to the United Nations Education Programme 2014:
Developing countries will need more than $140 billion annually to adapt to climate change by 2050, but adaptation finance in 2013 was only $25 billion, leaving at least a $115 billion gap.
According to Susan Roaf, author of Adapting Building and Cities for Climate Change, there are some key things we must do to both help ourselves and our collective built environment going forward to gradually reduce the use of cheap energy. Particularly with respect to air conditioning, she counsels, we must find ways to not depend upon it so much and to use it intelligently where we have to. We must continue to improve the performance of walls, roofs, and floors in order to minimize user discomfort and reduce heavy heating and cooling loads. We must look to increasingly rely on renewable clean energies. Finally, she argues, we must find ways to “zone” our buildings such that certain spatial orientations are optimized for energy use.
As the new realities of climate change become more apparent to a wider swath of this country, it is clear that builders, architects, and other professionals will need to become stronger advocates for “resilient” buildings, both to protect their own interests as well as their stake in our shared world. We already have many of the tools to confront climate change, we just need to use them.