Construction Practices Of Today Help Ensure Dire Predictions of Past Earth Day Celebrations Will Never Come True

By Scott Kriner, Green Metal Consulting

There are many ways for metal to be used in building construction that can help to reduce the building’s impact on the environment. Sustainable building practice are designed to extend the life of the building by using recyclable materials and by lowering the use of energy and water. The move toward Net Zero energy in buildings is another example of how structures will be designed and maintained differently to achieve significant reductions in the electricity load on the building. Even Resilient building practice helps to reduce the environmental impact with more durable and re-usable structures. Metal components in these types of applications are good choices due to their strength, ductility, durability and energy efficiency in situ.

The impact on our environment goes beyond the free enterprise nature of our marketplace. The federal government has become very interested in lowering the impact in all sectors, in the name of energy reduction and mitigating climate change.  Since 2009 the following Executive Orders were issued by President Obama:

EO 13693: Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade (2015)

EO 13690:  Establishing a Federal Flood Risk Management Standard and a Process for Further Soliciting And Considering Stakeholder Input (2015)

EO 13677: Climate-Resilient International Development (2014)

EO 13653:  Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change (2013)

In 2014 the EPA proposed the Clean Power Plan – a first-of-its-kind carbon pollution standard for existing power plants to protect the health of children and reach a 30% reduction in carbon pollution by 2030.

In many of those Executive Orders, federal agencies are directed to take steps to meet the requirements of the action. These include the General Services Administration, Department of Education, Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency. Construction to support these federal agencies and departments will be affected by these actions. 

The emphasis on climate change and improving the environment was again in the spotlight last month with the celebration of the 45th anniversary of the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.  Even Pope Francis commemorated the day with a speech on environmental stewardship. He referenced Earth Day as "a critical moment to reflect on the spiritual and moral imperative of all people to care for the Earth and all of its creatures, today and for future generations."

A quote from the Earth Day website stated, 

"Scientists warn us that climate change could accelerate beyond our control, threatening our survival and everything we love. We call on you to keep global temperature rise under the unacceptably dangerous level of 2 degrees C by phasing out carbon pollution to zero. To achieve this, you must urgently forge realistic global, national and local agreements to rapidly shift our societies and economies to 100% clean energy by 2050. Do this fairly with support to the most vulnerable among us. Our world is worth saving and now is our moment to act. But to change everything, we need everyone. Join us.”

On Earth Day 2015 there was much dialogue about climate change (formerly referred to as “global warming”). We were reminded again that 97% or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the 200 leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position. Those scientific organizations include:

  • American Scientific Societies
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • American Chemical Society
  • American Geophysical Union
  • American Medical Association
  • American Meteorological Society
  • American Physical Society
  • The Geological Society of America
  • US National Academy of Sciences
  • US Global Change Research Program
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN)

With that many scientific organizations supporting the position of man-induced climate change one would wonder if there were any opponents.  The fact is that there are numerous prestigious individuals and organizations that take exception to the man-made climate change position. One such individual is no stranger to environmental advocates. Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore testified in front of a Senate committee in 2014 and stated: “There is no scientific evidence that human activity is causing the planet to warm.” He went on to say that “the fact that we had both higher temperatures and an ice age at a time when CO2 emissions were 10 times higher than they are today fundamentally contradicts the certainty that human-caused CO2 emissions are the main cause of global warming.”

Regardless where one stands on this issue, there is no denying that the planet has undergone drastic change during its history – much of which took place prior to the habitation of man. One need look no farther than the seashell fossils on the walls of the majestic Grand Canyon that indicate at one time the sea level was much higher than it is now. The Earth undergoes change naturally.

But how can a majority of the scientific community be on the wrong side of the issue? We look up to scientists as experts in their field and through peer review, their viewpoints are validated.

But sometimes scientists are wrong, and in the case of Global Warming, they can be very wrong. For proof we need look no further than the statements from the scientific community that were made on the first Earth Day 45 years ago. A few of those predictions are as follows:

  • Harvard biologist George Wald estimated: “civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind,” 
  • Washington University biologist Barry Commoner stated: “We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation.”

  • A North Texas State University professor wrote: “Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine the year 2000 the entire world with the exception of Western Europe, North Africa and Australia will be in famine.”

  • Life Magazine reported: “Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support… the following predictions: in a decade urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution…by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the earth by one half.”

  • Ecologist Kenneth Watt said: “At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it is only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.  He also said thatby the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate that there won’t be any more crude oil.”

  • Harrison Brown, scientist at the National Academy of Sciences, published a chart showing that humanity would totally run out of copper shortly after 2000.  Lead, zinc, tin, gold and silver would be gone before 1990.

There are many more examples like these that point out that global climate modeling and predicting well out into the future may not be as accurate as we’d like. We are already hearing reports that the sophisticated models accepted by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may not be capturing some of the impacts from cloud cover and may be over-predicting the impact of CO2.

The debate will likely continue on. The impact on the building construction industry will remain large. How we design and build structures for the future will likely remain focused on minimizing the environmental footprint and improving their resiliency. Reducing energy consumption and getting off the grid will likely remain a popular idea, regardless of how warm or cool the Earth becomes. But who am I to predict the future?

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).

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