Opinion: We are not yet building for a climate-resilient future


London tallest building, The Shard. Photo credit: Bob Grg via Pixabay

By Anders Lorenzen

The good news is that we have the technology available today to build for a climate-resilient future. Sustainable technology and innovation available in construction have advanced so much that we can now construct buildings that are carbon negative, meaning that they generate more energy than they consume and would not contribute to climate change.

The bad news is that we choose not to use this technology, at least not on a large enough scale to matter, treason being that it is apparently not attractive or fashionable enough for city dwellers in particular.

In recent years, cities like London and Paris have followed in the footsteps of New York and constructed a sleuth of tall slick high-end ‘glass towers’ containing offices, hotels and apartments sold at high-end market prices.

These ‘glass towers’ absorb a huge amount of heat from the sun and not comfortable places to be in unless they are intensively air-conditioned, which in turn incurs a huge carbon footprint and financial cost.

This challenge is only set to increase as we start to feel more of the effects of climate change and The Guardian newspaper recently reported that leading architects and engineers are calling for all-glass skyscrapers to be banned because they are too difficult and expensive to cool.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), energy used on cooling buildings has doubled since 2000 and accounts for about 14% of all energy use. In addition, most air conditioning systems are built to make the indoor temperature 7-10 degrees cooler than outside. In glass buildings, the effort it takes to do this will placed increased pressure on the grid thereby increasing the risk of blackouts or power cuts, which put huge pressure on communities and their local resources.

With the increase in the number of extreme weather events we have seen in the UK this year alone, there can be no doubt that we are in a climate crisis. This crisis requires us to overhaul how we build houses, apartment blocks and offices.

New York mayor Bill de Blasio has banned excessive use of glass in construction, but London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, however, has not yet been willing to do so; a curious position when it is now clearer than ever that ‘glass towers’ present a challenge to our emissions targets as well as human health. Our politicians must be brave enough to set much tougher building laws and regulations, insisting on the use of science and innovation to build the houses, apartments and offices of the future.

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