Buildings Are To Blame for Making Us Miss Our Climate Targets
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Mar 5, 2020

There is no doubt. Buildings are to blame. We are going to miss our climate targets because of our crappy buildings.

For decades we all got away with spending very little capital on buildings that just met the building code requirements. Actually, let’s face it, some of them didn’t even meet code requirements in jurisdictions that do not enforce it. And in other areas, the requirements were grey areas, and things were always pushed—value-engineered so that the least amount of capital was spent. 

New York Skyline: showing the legacy of inefficient buildings emitting large amounts of carbon.
Photograph via Storyblocks

If were were actually listening to the scientists that have informed us through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) then we would know that we only have a very limited carbon budget to spend to stop warming of our world. The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to keep global temperature rise this century well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to keep within 1.5°C of warming. Yet carbon emissions are not going down, and according to the latest UN Report, as reported by The Guardian, the world is on track for 3oC of warming.

When we hear about the carbon emissions we don’t understand that they are actually coming out of the smoke stacks above our very heads. They are above our heads because we are in the buildings that are causing these emissions. They are the buildings that we are working from and the homes that we go home to.

We are leaving the younger generation with a legacy of poorly-performing buildings.

There are excuses for why buildings were built this way: energy was cheap; the paybacks for energy efficiency upgrades were too long; there wasn’t enough capital available to pay for a better building; and the biggest one: we didn’t know that carbon was a pollutant at all, let alone an endgame-level of pollutant.

It was an era where Architects were in newfound awe with their freedom to design whatever architectural style they wanted while handing over the responsibility for thermal comfort to the engineers. Modern buildings with their large expanses of glass were cheap to build in the industrial age and they were cheap to operate at the time. 

Now these buildings with their expanses of poorly-insulated single and double-glazed windows have left a legacy. Cities are responsible for over 70 percent of global energy consumption and CO2 emissions, mostly from buildings.  

“We have had the technologies to build offgrid sustainable buildings for over 28 years. What is holding us back is the legislation to make us use them.”
~ Sandra Leigh Lester

The buildings that we have created have left a legacy of carbon emissions that will be very expensive to deal with in the future and we will have to do deep retrofits to these buildings. We don’t have the carbon budget allowance available to be able to tear them down and build new passive buildings. 

It is time to do something about the crappy buildings that we live in that are to blame for most of our carbon emissions.

 

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