Nothing Strange About Climate Change
Ok, so let me preface that I am not a scientist, a meteorologist or a doomsday prepper. I’m not a climate change denier, and I’m also not a (what’s the opposite of a climate change denier?”). That said, I want to share some of my thoughts on all this controversy surrounding the topic of climate change. Now I know there are many people out there that don’t believe that climate change is even a real thing, and that’s their right. But after reading countless articles on the subject, I personally believe that climate change is real and that we are heading into times of hardship when it comes to our climate.
One thing that I can’t get behind is the statement I’ve heard time and time again, that “we are not contributing to a negative change in the climate”. The last 100+ years of huge population increase, as well as a massive increase in consumerism and consumption of resources have clearly had a negative effect on the planet and on our climate. I wish I could say that it was all in ignorance and simply the “cost of progress,” but the saddest part of the whole thing is that we knew we were doing things the wrong way ever since at least the industrial revolution, and just continued on ignoring the fact that someday all our bad deeds would come to roost.
The Proof is in the Pudding
Let’s look at a by-product of industry – Plastic. There’s a great scene from the 1967 film “The Graduate” starring Dustin Hoffman where Mr. McGuire takes Ben (Hoffman) aside and with great gravitas tells him “one word” – Plastics… There’s a great future in plastics! Yes, over 50 years later the future of plastics is lying all over our planet, particularly in the form of tons of microplastics in our oceans, lakes, rivers and streams. In fact, the dispersal of plastic waste is so widespread that it is, in fact, getting into our drinking water supply. The ugly plastic chicken has indeed come home to roost!
Even though there is irrefutable proof that humans have altered the climate, I often still hear people saying that we have done no wrong when it comes to climate change and that it’s just a natural cycle of things. I’m not trying to get all “Greta Thunberg” on everyone, but we do need to wake up and smell the ruin taking place on this planet. I will agree that climate change or not, the earth is probably trying to go through its motions either way, and yes, there was both an ice age, and an age of dinosaurs in much hotter times, but we, unlike dinosaurs are trashing the earth contributing to unnatural climate change. We altogether consume in excess and constantly spew too much waste – we are at the very least messing up the natural motions of climate cycles, and accelerating it. The proof is in the increased extreme climatological (i.e. fires from hotter temps in some areas, very large storms in others) and flood events happening all around the globe.
No matter how skeptical some are, the facts remain; 97% of climate scientists worldwide agree that climate change is a real thing and that it is heavily driven by human activity. And while it’s true that there have historically been warming and cooling cycles throughout geologic time, scientists are able to identify those caused by natural cycles versus those caused by human activity, which includes industrial emissions, etc. They have the science to take out the baseline and isolate the unnatural portion of that change. Glaciers, for example, are ranked as the very best and most sensitive indicators of climate change. Their precise volume is determined by a mass balance between snow input and melt output. As temperatures rise, glaciers withdraw, except if snow precipitation increases to make up for the extra melt. Glaciers grow and shrink because of natural variability and external forces, including our “contributions.” Our glaciers are disappearing at alarming rates, and our water levels are rising in our oceans to the tune of about 4-6 inches in the last 100 years. It doesn’t sound like much but it that’s over 70% of the world’s surface!
Those who adamantly deny climate change are missing a critical point. Those same gases and chemicals that are at least partially responsible for climate change also have a significant impact on human health and the health of all inhabitants of our world that depend on non-polluted air and water in order to survive. So even if you can argue the climate change aspect, there is also a human health and safety aspect to what we are putting into the atmosphere and scattering around our planet and its oceans (like plastics!). It’s strange that denial of climate change has almost become an excuse for bad behaviour – we are really just harming ourselves here.
Construction Industry Footprint
So, we’ve covered the human and environmental fallout from climate change, now what about how it affects our industry? We can expect that as climate change, well, changes will occur in our industry. The expectation and cost of innovative building materials that can either flex, withstand, or fight against the harsh effects of climate change will undoubtedly become valuable. No one can deny that building materials will need to become more advanced to manage increased rain, flooding, and extreme heat as an example.
The buildings, houses, and other structures, we build have a big impact on the environment, not just at the building stage, but throughout the structure’s lifetime. A lot of us forget that a buildings heating, air conditioning, lights and all the stuff in-between constantly emit carbon into the atmosphere. The effects of climate change are progressively snowballing, putting a sizeable strain on both the structures and infrastructure around us, roads, bridges, and buildings that were built in a time of predictable weather in mind, putting them at risk. It’s forcing us to update and improve our infrastructure to withstand the most severe impacts of harmful climate change.
Believe it or not, emissions from manufacturing building materials contribute to more than 11 % of our overall global emissions, an estimated, and insane 1 gigatons (1,000,000,000 metric tons) of worldwide CO2 emissions in 2018 alone! Why is Canada so slow to adopt Passive Haus and similar initiatives with which we can ensure housing and buildings don’t contribute carbon to the system?
It’s Not All Bad News
It’s somewhat unfortunate that critical mass awareness is only happening now and not 30+ years ago. When, through the planting of 1-million trees in unused lands around the world, we could have likely sequestered enough carbon to reverse the global temperature rise and probably could have made climate change much less of a conversation today. That said, this tree-planting approach has been deemed one of the least expensive and more effective ways to combat climate change on a global scale than other technological solutions. The good news is, we can start this now, as well as other positive initiatives now so that hopefully 30+ years from now, we will see a positive impact.
The fact that climate change is front-and-center now shows that the world is finally taking notice of something that has for too long been ignored. I’m proud to say that our entire industry as a whole has been at the forefront of making a swift and positive impact on everything from building materials to reducing our carbon footprint with “carbon smart” approaches. And it’s not just the above-ground parts of your construction – don’t forget that green approaches that are low carbon footprint for your oft-overlooked foundations – like Ground Improvement for poor soil sites as an example. These techniques are simple, cost-effective, can be built with recycled materials, and have a fraction of the carbon footprint of concrete, steel deep foundations or massive excavation and replacement.
It really seems that the construction industry has been one of the fastest industries to stand up and recognize the role it has to play in reversing the trend, not just here in Canada, but also internationally. If we as a whole keep up the pace of positive change within our industry and continue showing the value that change can bring, not only to our environment but also to our projects, our clients, our health and ultimately our future generations, we can realize amazing changes for our planet. We have been the root cause of the earth’s illnesses, but working together, we can also ultimately also be its cure.