If world leaders don’t take unprecedented action to reduce greenhouse gases, nearly all aspects of human existence will be threatened by the "severe," "pervasive," and possibly "irreversible," impacts of climate change. That’s according to a blockbuster new report by the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change, which lays out the devastating consequences of a warmer planet. The effects of climate change are already being felt, but, as the report warns, things are about to get much, much worse. That will be especially true for those living in the world's poorest countries because higher temperatures will further threaten food and water supplies. According to the report, “throughout the 21st Century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger.” These changes could lead to massive destabilization and conflict across the globe. “Thirty years ago, the previous generation maybe was damaging our atmosphere [and] the earth out of ignorance,” said Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization at a recent conference in Japan. “Now ignorance is no longer a good excuse." In the United States at least, the Obama administration continues to call for action on climate change. “Read this report and you can’t deny the reality,” said Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris this week. “Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy. Denial of the science is malpractice.” The sickness has been diagnosed over and over; but it’s still not clear if the world's most powerful have the will to treat it.
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As glass towers continue to fill-in New York City’s skyline, it’s easy to be jealous of the wealthy elites and their glossy homes in the clouds. While those floor-to-ceiling windows offer some killer views, they may also pose serious health threats to those inside the glass curtains. According to a new report by the Urban Green Council, people living in all-glass apartments could experience dangerously high temperatures during a summer blackout—similar to the one experienced after Hurricane Sandy. On the first day of a potential power outage, temperatures inside one of these sky-high fishbowls could rise to nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit. By the seventh day, they could reach triple digits (see chart below). There's more bad news—these buildings don’t fare much better in the winter. The study finds that “between two buildings that are otherwise equivalent, the one with more window area will be colder during a winter blackout.” That Slanket isn't looking so funny right about now. And for all the money tenants are paying for those floor-to-ceiling windows, it seems that they’re kind of over the views. An earlier report by the Urban Green Council found that 59 percent of window area in all-glass apartments is covered. Inside these glass houses—curtains drawn—most residents are just watching Netflix like the rest of us. But to be fair, considering all the new glass construction in New York, their view probably isn’t so much a soaring skyline, but an intimate look into their neighbor's living room across the street. Turns out it's not so lonely at the top after all.
Just one month after leaving office, Michael Bloomberg (pictured) has been appointed a United Nations special envoy for cities and climate change. According to Reuters, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Bloomberg will help “raise political will and mobilize action among cities as part of his long-term strategy to advance efforts on climate change.” The former mayor is Johannesburg, South Africa this week for the fifth biennial C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group Mayors Summit. Bloomberg is the President of C40’s board, which is a “a network of the world’s megacities taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” This year’s conference is focused on creating liveable and sustainable cities. (Photo: Spencer T. Tucker )
What’s the coolest place in Los Angeles? It may be right over your head. Starting in 2014, thanks to an update of the Municipal Building Code, all new or refurbished buildings will be equipped with “cool roofs.” A cool roof is built of reflective rather than absorptive material. Compared to traditional roofs, cool roofs can be as much as 50 degrees cooler on the roof surface, and can lower interior building temperatures by several degrees. Los Angeles is the first major American city to pass a cool-roof ordinance. The movement to cool Los Angeles’s roofs was sparked by a recent UCLA study, which indicated a local temperature rise of between 3.7 and 5.4 degrees by 2050. Over the same period, the number of “extreme heat” days (during which temperatures rise above 95 degrees Fahrenheit) is projected to triple in downtown Los Angeles, and quadruple in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys. “We sort of looked at, well, what can we do locally to offset some of that warming,” David Fink, Director of Campaigns at advocacy organization Climate Resolve, said. “The obvious thing was to...alter much of our paved surface, and that really comes down to roofs and streets.” Climate Resolve organized a one-day conference on cool roofs in March, at which time its members began working with the mayor’s office, the City Council, and the Department of Water and Power (LADWP). LADWP agreed to expand existing incentives to offset any cost increase associated with alternative roofing materials. The Los Angeles City Council passed the update of the Municipal Building Code on December 17. Climate Resolve is working towards outfitting existing low-income apartment buildings with cool roofs. While the project is currently on hold, Fink explained, it remains a priority for the organization. “They can really be good models for other multi-family housing projects,” he said. In addition, “the folks who live in these developments can use those benefits more than just about anybody else.” Cool roofs, after all, have the potential not just to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also to prevent heat-related deaths. In the meantime, Climate Resolve’s top goal for the new year is to turn the city’s attention to street level, and the benefits of non-absorptive paving. “There’s a huge opportunity there, and LA’s the perfect place for it, because of the climate, and how much paved surface there is,” Fink said. Compared to the cool-roof initiative, a “cool streets” ordinance may be harder to come by. “The city has traditionally been fairly intransigent in terms of using something new. They continue to do what they know, and what’s inexpensive—because they own these [asphalt] plants,” Fink said. Fink and his colleagues at Climate Resolve remain optimistic, however, especially since the Bureau of Street Services agreed to launch several pilot alternative-paving projects next spring. “We anticipate that LA, like [for] cool roofs, will be the first major city in the US to use cool paving,” Fink said.
A web-like dome in Saginaw, Michigan changes colors to reflect the level of carbon dioxide in the air. Solar-powered LED lights connected to an onsite CO2 monitor illuminate the structure’s fibers in timed patterns to create the appearance of an organic response. On display in Saginaw’s First Merritt Park through October 31, the installation is part of the Great Lakes Bay Region’s “Art and Sol” celebration of art, culture, and science. The structure of Loop.pH’s SOL Dome was inspired by molecular biology. SOL Dome, eight meters in diameter, was constructed on site by volunteers over three days.
Australia has developed a tantalizing approach to curb humankind's carbon footprint. Since the country signed the Kyoto Protocol in 2007, it has been actively fighting to moderate air pollution and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent below 2000 levels by 2020. Australia continues to adopt mainstream tactics such as cutting down on deforestation and land clearing, and has recently revealed a new technology that promises to turn carbon emissions into green building materials. Factories are the main producers of global air pollution, as they are often to blame for the release of harmful chemicals and gases into the atmosphere. Six years of research conducted by the University of Newcastle, Orica, and GreenMag Group has resulted in the proposal of a pilot plan for the building of a factory that would convert greenhouse gas emissions into construction materials, such as bricks. The technology used in this process is groundbreaking: It transforms carbon dioxide emissions into solid carbonate. This biodegradable mass can either be disposed into the environment or can be used to create eco-friendly building materials. The factory will be built on the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources headquarters under the management of Mineral Carbonation International (MCi) and will use carbon dioxide from Orica’s Kooragang Island manufacturing facility in Newcastle. MCi will receive $9 million in funding over the next four years, and plans to use this capital in an attempt to introduce this modern technology into large-scale commercial projects. The factory would help diminish air pollution by mitigating the impact of human and industrial activity on the environment and generating renewable resources. By adopting such sustainable development projects, it would be possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the threat that climate change presents to our planet.
On the roof of a construction site in Greenpoint, Brooklyn Monday, U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan announced the release of a new report outlining 69 rebuilding strategies designed to both help Hurricane Sandy–ravaged communities and to serve as a model for coastal regions across the country that are vulnerable to storm surges and rising sea levels. Close to the waterfront, the site overlooked the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant—one of the few sewage treatment facilities to survive Sandy intact. It was a fitting place for Secretary Donovan, who also serves as chair of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, to introduce this bundle of new recommendations that address both immediate and long-term needs of coastal communities, including resilient and region-wide approaches to rebuilding and infrastructure investment. A number of the initiatives in the report, such as HUD's "Rebuild by Design" competition, are already underway. "And today, less than a year after the storm, we've already provided help to over 250,000 families, and thousands and thousands of businesses across the region," Secretary Donovan said at the announcement. "FEMA alone has provided more than $12 billion of help. But we are not just focused on speeding relief to families and communities, we're also focused on protecting communities from the risks of a changing climate." While the task force has mapped out a range of far-reaching initiatives, it will refrain from dictating how local communities should use those resources. Secretary Donovan recalled that President Barack Obama told him, "No big foot," in one of their first post-Sandy meetings. "And what he meant by that, this is not about the federal government coming in and telling communities what they should build or how they should build. It is about us supporting local visions," Secretary Donovan continued. The funding, which is tied to different recommendations in the report, will come from the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act (Sandy Supplemental) and will be allocated and managed by various agencies and federal departments. Secretary Donovan said that the next "tranche" will focus primarily on infrastructure and is to be used at the city's discretion. A buyout program will be available to residents who live in coastal areas that are at particularly high risk, but the secretary said that this group makes up a small minority and most waterfront communities will be able to safely rebuild.
Resiliency is a word that has become lodged in the vocabulary of nearly every lawmaker since Hurricane Sandy ravaged the east coast last October. And this month, government officials—on a local, state, and federal level—are taking steps to ensure that coastal cities are more resilient and rebuilt to better withstand natural disasters in the future. Yesterday, at a panel discussion on Innovation & Resilience Design in Sandy Rebuilding at NYU, Shaun Donovan, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Chair of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, announced the launch of a new regional design competition, "Rebuild by Design" seeking teams—made up of the top engineers, architects, landscape designers, and other experts—to propose projects that tackle issues such as climate, economic, and infrastructure (and as the press release states, "will actually be built"). These proposals can run the gamut from green infrastructure to residential retrofits. "It is not enough for communities to build back to what they were," said Secretary Donovan during the panel. "Our solutions will have no boundaries." Donovan is collaborating with the Rockefeller Foundation, which will provide $3 million in funding in support of the competition. The competition calls on teams to look at "coastal communities, high-density urban environments, ecological networks, and a fourth category that will include other innovative questions and proposals." Donovan explained that the competition will "unfold in four stages" starting with a call for proposals and the selection of up to 10 teams. Teams will then study the region and submit design proposals. From there, Donovan and his partners will choose a winning project, which will then be implemented. Speaking on the panel today, Seth Pinsky, President of New York City Economic Development Corporation, pointed out that the advantages of this competition are that it endeavors to "pull together inter-disciplinary teams for a common goal" and its savvy "regional approach" that looks at the relationship between each region to provide more thoughtful and effective solutions.
President Obama is expected to nominate Sally Jewell, the President and Chief Executive Officer of national outdoor retailer REI, to succeed Secretary Ken Salazar as the head of the Interior Department. Jewell, a former engineer for Mobil Oil and commercial banker, has run the $1.8 billion company for over a decade and has established herself as a strong advocate for land conservation. The Washington Post reported reported that she is one of the founding board members of Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, and serves on the board of the National Parks Conservation Association. The Department of the Interior manages and protects the country’s lands, water, wildlife, and energy resources, along with relations with tribal nations. As extreme weather patterns put climate change front and center of the policy debates in Washington DC, the Secretary of the Interior will take on an increasingly critical role this term.
Floods last spring in the United Kingdom have inspired a flood-resistant housing design that works with floodwaters instead of against them—homes that rise from their foundations with floodwaters and return to ground level once waters have dissipated. Baca Architects has proposed the first “amphibious house” in the UK, on the banks of the Thames River in Buckinghamshire, that if successful could reverse a decision to ban new construction in low-lying areas. The house will rest just over 32 feet from the river's edge at ground level making it possible for owners to enjoy gardens, but during an intense flood, predicted once every hundred years, the concrete base will rise as it fills with water lifting the home’s light timber frame, allowing it to float like a buoy. Four vertical posts keep the structure from floating away. The garden will be terraced at differing levels and will show rising water levels at each increment giving residents ample warning time to decide whether or not evacuation is necessary. Although still a fairly new technology, the first amphibious house was built in the Netherlands, while others are being built New Orleans. The design was so successful that Dutch company, Deltasync, has designed a series of floating cities to compensate for rising waters in low-lying areas. Baca Architects' design will have a life expectancy of 100 years and would be the biggest amphibious house at 2,420 square feet, but at around $2.5 million it is also 20 to 25 percent more costly than a traditional home of the same size. [Via Gizmag.]