We are so… screwed!! (Part 2)

What does the next unpredicted catastrophic event hold for your business?

This is the second of a series of posts about designing for resiliency. In our last post, our Founder and CEO, Sandra Leigh Lester, spoke about a catastrophic weather event that affected her home town when she was a child and how it continues to inspire her work. 

We cannot predict actual events but we can predict the odds of occurence. The odds are increasing due to climate change because trapping more heat in our atmosphere supercharges the water cycle. The most vulnerable populations are the poor that are in hurricane or monsoon regions. Rates of earthquake increase as the water trapped in the polar ice caps melts and shifts towards the equator, shifting and moving the continental plates. Areas of the globe are becoming more wet; and areas of the globe are becoming more dry. We can estimate where all of these occurences will take place.

We have a responsibility to our own organizations to enable them to be prepared for catastrophic weather events. We have a responsibility to society to mitigate our carbon impacts and shift to renewable energy as soon as possible. 

I was working on the redesign of a wood church in the outer suburbs of Toronto a couple of years ago. The church had been designed by my architecture professor while I was going to architecture school. At that point, the Brundgardt Commission had not even coined the phrase, “sustainable development”. Climate change was a scientific fact that only a handful of people knew about. The church got designed and built, and no one thought about future-proofing back then. There was a huge fire and the building was levelled in only a few hours.

The project is close to my heart. Professor Rober Greenberg, the architect of St. Elias Church, was not only my Professor and Thesis mentor, after graduation he became a good friend. I had attended his funeral that was at the church several years before it had burnt down. I was so impressed by the building, and recommended to a friend that they go and see it, and was googling the address when I saw the shocking news that it had burnt down. I immediately contacted the Parish to see if there was a way that I could contribute to the rebuild.

I spoke with the Architect at Zimmerman Workshop, who was in charge of the design for the rebuild and I recommended that the church be built to withstand future weather events and future climate. I mentioned the risk of large rainfall events causing overland floods, and the architect was shocked that I had predicted the occurence of floods that was increasing year-over-year. They had already decided to rebuild at a level that was four feet higher. 

But the Parish did not want to integrate air conditioning into the building but I mentioned to that that Toronto had commissioned a future weather study. Here is part of the executive summary around future summer temperatures and heat wave events:

“In 2040–49, The projected average summer temperature increase by 3.8 degrees Celsius. The number of days when the humidex exceeds 40 degrees Celsius is expected to increase fourfold. The number of degree days over 24 degrees Celsius, which is typically used as the measure of air conditioning being required, increases six-fold. The number of “heat waves” (i.e., events with more than 3 consecutive days of temperatures greater than 32 degrees Celsius) is expected to increase from an average of 0.57 occurrences per year, as in the period 1971–2000, to 5 occurrences per year in the period 2040–2050.”

Michelle Xuereb, at Quadrangle, spoke at the Green Building Festival this fall about how imperative it is for us to use future weather files in the design of our buildings. Other speakers spoke about the sue of Total Energy Design Intensity (TEDI) which is essentially using a target that measures your success in designing the building so that it is as passive as possible.

Our city of Toronto will be more impervious and resilient to the effects of climate change, but other cities won’t be so lucky.

Manhattan is spending billions of dollars just to protect a small area of the city from future flooding events. They will spend trillions of dollars more expanding Manhattan and building in flood protection in the process. This is a city where real estate is expensive—the business case for doing this works! This business case won’t work in the thousands of other towns and cities around the globe.

Building in resiliency is important, but not urgent. Politicians have been rewarded in the past for balancing their budget and making things look good in the short term. In Austin, Texas, they knew that the city was vulnerable to storm events, yet, the protection measures got backburnered. We need to reward politicians that set aside funds for the long-term.

Beyond these factors, there are so many others that you need to keep tabs on. We have only touched upon a few of them. How are you choosing the new location of your office? Is future climate resiliency a factor?

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