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In 2014, President Barack Obama said, “We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.” That sounds about right. It has been followed in recent years by many observers suggesting that this decade, the 2020s, will be definitive in terms of our response to the challenge.
Professionals working in the built environment have a key role to play in laying the groundwork for new ways to approach energy and water use in buildings that allow them to exist in harmony with nature, rather than as environmentally damaging blights on the planet’s surface.
In the lead up to AHR Expo 2022, held at the beginning of February, the world’s biggest event for mechanical professionals, the show published a report on current trends: clean energy, decarbonization, electriﬁcation, low-GWP refrigerants. It’s our highest priority.
To support your efforts as we push toward the 2030s, I’ve compiled below some of the most critical building technologies that are being adopted as quickly as possible. This is not something I invented, it’s the product of 15 to 20 years of talking to hundreds of engineers, other building professionals and climate scientists about what they’ve learned.
Throughout the process, my bias has been to ask the advice of people who have completed working, economically viable projects with measured results, or who have taken similar evidence-based approaches.
I’ve learned that engineers in our industry know how to solve climate change, know it’s not really complicated and, in virtually all cases, today’s clean energy technology pays for itself. Some systems take a little longer than others, but they all pay out because they are state-of-the-art tech with new features that solve problems and cost less to operate, It’s natural technological progress.
Two Climate Problems
We have a climate emergency along with a misinformation problem.
The misinformation is caused deliberately by fossil-fuel companies, their lobbyists and the politicians to whom they provide big donations. And this is exacerbated by a large contingent of sincere but misinformed and genuinely confused decision-makers, and a group of hydrogen, CCS, biofuels and biomass believers who are aware of semi-working applications in these areas.
I think they will come to realize that within a few decades, the field of viable applications is likely to narrow for these, rather than to grow, as economic and climate reality continue to assert themselves. I have not included these applications here because they already receive unjustified high-level hype from lobbyists who are not shy about making exaggerated claims. Hydrogen has been touted as the “next big thing” for 40 years.
History shows that democracy and stability have often deteriorated in countries after politicians repeatedly attacked the credibility of the free media which holds them to account, or scientists which present facts they don’t like, such as the damage fossil fuels are doing to the planet.
When it comes to climate change, we have seen plenty of examples of this kind of attack here in America. Although such manipulation has often been accompanied by rhetoric about protecting the economy and free enterprise, the fossil-fuel industry has long been the largest recipient of free money from our governments. It’s corporate welfare. I think it’s time to use our votes and voices wisely.
The climate problem is a technical challenge and, like virtually every technical challenge in human history, we have already developed ingenious technical solutions. The technical problem would be a lot more quickly and cheaply resolved without the misinformation problem. Many times in history — overcoming German military might, repairing the hole in the ozone or heading off Y2K — we simply adopted new and better solutions.
There is probably nobody in the United States whose region has not been hit with weird hot weather, droughts, unprecedented downpours, more and stronger wildfires, floods, mudslides, melting, and more lung illnesses and allergies in children and elderly parents. We are all frustrated with the continuing pandemic, yet some of us suspect that as climate scientists have predicted, COVID-19 could be the first of many such diseases in the future.
In recent history, the adoption of no-brainer solutions such as global immunization against the pandemic or switching from fossil fuels to renewable options have become political messes because of social media confusion and the agendas of entrenched interests.
Donations flow to weak people in influential positions to preserve the status quo. Funds also flow to hack writers to create rational sounding arguments against obvious technical pathways to a clean future, designed to engender doubts and delays, and support ridiculous regulations.
Insofar as climate is now, after COVID-19, the world’s highest priority, I think the time has come to stop allowing people who work for fossil-fuel companies to donate to political parties and to be invited onto task forces, code committees, professional conferences, governing bodies and climate think tanks.
You may call this extreme, but I call the misbehavior of fossil-fuel companies extreme. They could have chosen to move with the times, become energy companies and make just as much or more money the way others are doing. Orsted is just one example of an oil company that became an energy company.
Bad oil and gas company behavior has been exposed in detail in “The New Climate War,” a book by renowned scientist Professor Michael Mann from Penn State. Some of the details of the technical misinformation being spread in our own industry can be found in an earlier column I wrote at this link: https://tinyurl.com/23ekdu3v.
We should more often ask ourselves, “What is this person’s agenda?” when they offer advice that discourages clean energy or clean water. And we should get on with the job of simple technological progress.
It’s worth considering that pretty much all the other living creatures on our planet adapt within the limits of the natural ecosystem. The few outliers eventually evolve in harmony with it, or they perish.
It is quite different with our species, which has continuously posed a threat to the natural environment, our only true collective wealth. With 8 billion of us here, it may be time for a rethink.
Most of us are not destructive and suicidal individually, so why should we be destructive and suicidal collectively as a species, simply to serve the interests of a few people who are driven by greed, or an inability to change with the times?