What Is The Next New Norm In Construction?
By Scott Kriner, Green Metal Consulting
At this time of year, many of us find ourselves in the dead of winter. Thoughts of spring and warmer weather are dancing through our heads. We celebrated Groundhog Day in this month and welcomed the forecast of an early spring. It is amazing that in the 21st century our faith in predicting changes in weather, seasons and climate are based on professionals ranging from meteorologists, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and Punxsutawney Phil.
Many of us complain about the weather but often say that we can’t do anything about it. But can we? Officials at a recent United Nations meeting on climate change in Doha, Qatar, cited consensus among scientists to reiterate that climate change is man-made. The theory is based on the assumption that mankind’s burning of fossil fuels for electricity and energy are releasing enough greenhouse gases and CO2 to cause the climate on the Earth to change. The opposing theory is based on the assumption that the Earth undergoes natural cyclic changes in climate which cause warming of the planet and creating more greenhouse gases and CO2 in the atmosphere.
Regardless of which side of the argument you stand on, it is clear that the concern about reducing GHG and CO2 has spawned many new green building rating programs, code changes, legislation, policy changes, regulations, utility incentive programs, and industry organizations. Think about the genesis of the LEED program, Green Globes, International Green Construction Code, International Energy Conservation Code, ASHRAE High Performance Building Standards, ASHRAE Energy Efficiency Standards, CAFÉ regulations on vehicles, California Building Energy Efficiency Program, lighting efficiency standards, weatherization incentive programs, utility rebates for energy efficient improvements to buildings, legislated energy efficiency tax incentives, research programs on improving energy efficiency in building technologies, and so on. All of these initiatives, programs and organizations are in place to directly or indirectly reduce GHG and CO2 emissions. But could their impact be exaggerated or even misguided? It’s a very controversial question to ask, but it is one to ponder.
It seems that every time extreme weather strikes, global warming enthusiasts quickly describe the situation as the “new normal” caused by the man-made changes to the planet’s climate. The latest example of this was Hurricane Sandy. In an hour-long special on Sandy, NBC news anchor Brian Williams called the storm “the new norm”. Everyone from Al Gore to NY Governor Cuomo blamed climate change for the storm. Gore stated that the storms are getting stronger and getting more frequent. He felt that the evidence “is now so overwhelming”. Yet Joe Bastardi, chief meteorologist at WeatherBell Analytics called Gore’s claims “stunningly ignorant or stunningly deceptive”.
Bastardi pointed out that powerful hurricanes and storms are nothing new. In the 1950s ten major hurricanes hit the eastern seaboard of the US. In 1955 two hurricanes, Connie and Diane, struck New York in the same month, causing significant flooding. Six hurricanes hit the Carolinas northward in two years. Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer noted that the “damage caused by Sandy was worse because of sea level rise” which refers to the fact that the sea level in New York City was a foot higher than a century ago. Hmmm. I thought the increase in sea levels was a prediction by the man-made climate change scientists. Yet according to Oppenheimer the rise in seal levels started almost 100 years earlier.
In New England, category Five hurricanes struck in 1938 and 1960. Category Four hurricanes struck in 1944, 1961, 1985 and 1999. On average, a major hurricane made landfall in New England every 3.5 years from 1938-1966. But since 1966, major hurricanes have hit that area only every 9.2 years.
Tropical storms were more frequent in the 1950s than at any previous point in the 20th century. Climate change must be responsible, right? Or perhaps the storm history is tied to natural cycling of the earth. Scientists note that the ocean temperatures in the northern hemisphere are now in the same cycle as they were in the 1950s. The Atlantic Ocean is going through its warm cycle while the Pacific Ocean is going through its cold cycle. The El Nino Southern Oscillation, a measure of warming and cooling in the tropical Pacific known as El Nino and La Nina, also matches the pattern seen in the 1950s.
The extreme storm of Hurricane Katrina seven years ago, resulted in similar claims that we were seeing the beginning of the “new normal” negative impacts of man-made climate change. In reality, after Katrina the Atlantic Basin experienced unusually quiet hurricane seasons for almost a decade. The new norm- or Mother Nature going through routine climate cycles?
Turning back to the United Nations, the IPCC has stated that devastating storms like Hurricane Sandy are not “coincidental” but are affected by global warming. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, vice chairman of the IPCC claimed that further evidence will show that climate change certainly plays a role in the formation of these types of storms.
There has been a renewed call on the world leaders to do something about climate change. Even the editors of MIT Technology Review magazine were compelled to issue an open letter to President Obama in November, calling on him to get tougher on climate control issues. Some have questioned why the President hasn’t pushed his agenda on climate control at previous summits and international gatherings. Political insiders are suggesting that President Obama may introduce stiffer air quality standards, but fall short of any national policy on climate change. We will wait to see how the political winds blow.
It is an interesting exercise to pause and think what the building construction industry would be dealing with if energy efficiency and sustainability issues were not as prominent as they are today. Some of the green rating programs and initiatives are under attack by sectors of the construction industry because of concerns over-reaching and raising the bar too high and too quickly in their efforts to transform the industry. The complexity and stringency of some of these programs are being questioned as well. Add to that the consideration that many of these programs, regulations, and legislation may be based on a premise that could be wrong. Is this really the “new norm”?
Some have already started proposing that instead of implementing more and more regulations and restrictions to reduce the amount of man-made GHG and CO2 from burning fossil fuel, our energies should be directed at ways to respond or adapt to the inevitable results of climate change. For example, the building science and construction communities may need to turn their attention to better ways to plan and build communities near coastlands, or ways to fortify buildings to make them more resilient in the wake of major storms or natural disaster events. Those types of change to our design, construction and location of structures may indeed become the next “new norm”.
Scott Kriner is the president and founder of Green Metal Consulting Inc. He is a LEED Accredited Professional who began his career in the metal construction industry in 1981. His company is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, the California Association of Building Energy Consultants and the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET). Scott can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (610) 966-2430. You can also visit him on the web at www.greenmetalconsulting.com.
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