Some Thoughts on Climate Change

The climate related news lately has been pretty bleak.  The news includes:

  • Separate studies by NASA and the University of Washington both find that the Western Antarctic ice sheet is collapsing into the sea.  At this point the melting is unstoppable and could raise global sea levels by 4 feet.  To put this into perspective, the average elevation of Miami is 6 feet above sea level.
  • The Carbon Tracker Initiative has estimated that 60% to 80% of our coal, oil, and gas reserves are “unburnable” if we are to limit global warming to a somewhat manageable 2°C.
  • According to NOAA, CO2 levels measured at Mauna Loa, Hawaii have risen by 24% in just the past 56 years.

Which naturally had me asking what I can do as a citizen and as a lighting professional.  My initial thought was, “Not nearly enough to make a difference.”  But, once I recovered my balance I realized that things aren’t as gloomy as they seem.  Yes, we still have a long way to go in order to maintain a livable planet.  This includes that fact that some industries are going to fade away, be legislated away, or be forced to adapt to new circumstances.  The economic impact of that doesn’t worry me too much for several reasons.  First, the IPCC finds that the sooner we act the easier the transition will be, and that the cost of addressing climate change would result in an average annual reduction in economic growth of a mere 0.06% for the rest of this century.  Second, those industries that become obsolete will be replaced by new industries.  Imagine the jobs that would be created if every flat roof in every city were to be outfitted with solar panels.

We also need the Republican Party to join the real world.  When 97% of the world’s climate scientists in industry, government, and research institutions agree that climate change is happening and that the cause is man-made only a fool would join with the remaining three percent.  When someone like Marco Rubio says that he’s not convinced, he doesn’t mean that he’s reviewed the research history and, because of his deep expertise in this field, finds the conclusions lacking.  He means that some of his biggest donors are companies and individuals who rely on fossil fuels for their wealth and that rather than adapt they are going to deny.  Fortunately, although only 25% of Tea Party Republicans believe that there is evidence for climate change, 84% of Democrats and 67% of all American adults do believe the scientists.

On the positive side, our profession has accomplished quite a bit. For example, the maximum lighting power density (LPD) allowed under ASHRAE 90.1for an open office was 1.9 w/sf in 1986, 1.3 w/sf in 1999, and .98 w/sf in 2010.  And, our clients are asking for more.  Here are the number of LEED certified buildings 2000 – 2012.

Source:  U.S. Green Building Council
Source: U.S. Green Building Council


That last number is 4,605 projects in 2012, when 41% of all nonresidential buildings starts were green, as compared to 2% of all nonresidential building starts in 2005.  Better than that, Net Zero buildings are a reality, and as the design and construction industries adapt we’re going to see more of them. Other organizations are working on this, too.  For example, already has commitments from a number of U.S. cities and property owners representing about 100,000,000 square feet of real estate to dramatically reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

So designers and builders have begun, and we’re moving with increasing speed toward reducing the effect of the built environment on climate change.  But there’s more to do, including convincing those who oppose action that a planned transition is achievable, affordable, sustainable, and in the best interest of the entire planet.