There are so many facts about climate change that sometimes it’s hard to see the big picture. Justin Gillis wrote a great little article for the NY Times, “Short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change,” back in November to help people understand where we are at and where we are likely to be headed. In summary, our future generations are at risk. The earth has warmed 1.7 degrees since 1880. In the near future the supply of food will be affected by coastal flooding. Sea levels are rising about one foot per century. Human activity, as the article points out, is releasing carbon emissions into the atmosphere. It also offers a few suggestions to help fight climate change: drive less, reduce airplane trips, eat less meat, and turn off lights when you’re not using them. These are all good things.
The article states that burning fossil fuels for transportation and electricity are the major cause of climate change. But it is missing one thing that can really help slow down climate change, in my mind: constructing fewer new buildings. We can do this by renovating existing buildings and using quality building materials that will last centuries, not just a few years. We can also lower the amount of energy used by buildings on a daily basis by investing in buildings that are energy efficient. Using some amount of renewable energy will also help lower the carbon footprint of buildings, but it will not have as big of an impact as renovating rather than building new, increasing efficiency, and incorporating passive design techniques.
In my opinion, reducing the amount of energy consumed by the building industry will have a larger impact on climate change than driving less and limiting the amount we fly. I am not saying that we should stop worrying about the fossil fuels our transportation choices consume. I just want to make sure that the construction world is not overlooked. The building industry consumes 40% of the global energy. The transportation sectors consume nearly half of what buildings consume. The solution is not as simple as just driving less, eating less meat, and turning off our lights. Energy can be saved on a much bigger scale if we look at the building industry.