Hipster Light

2 05 2019

As an Architect, I greatly appreciate the nuanced details of how you create a certain kind of atmosphere. That’s honestly what I’ve always found so powerful about architecture, is how it has the power to shape the ways in which people interact- not only with the space, but with each other.

An ill-placed seating arrangement, a painfully echoing corner, or a harshly bright light can all ruin the experience of a space. In a time of seemingly endless choices, it’s easy for just one person to say, “eh, I don’t really like that place- let’s go someplace else.” So what’s a business owner to do?

The rise of the Hipster Light Bulb (aka Retro Edison Bulb) has stricken my heart with anxiety since the first time I walked into a brand new bar sheathed in barn wood and strung with dimly buzzing orange glass spheres. Are they atmospheric? Yes! Are they retro? Of course. Are they GOOD? Here’s where I take issue.

You see, I spend my days educating people on sustainability. I’ve taught day-long workshops on lighting, and also conducted numerous energy audits, and offered my expert opinion to literally hundreds of business owners. So when I’m “off the clock” and I go out for a bite or a sip, it’s virtually impossible for me to swallow my knowledge.

If the opportunity allows, I may gently ask if the nascent owner is aware of how much energy those lovely bulbs consume. If they shrug it off, I drop it. But those who want to know more will be quickly astounded by how much money they are wasting- money that could be going to their bottom line.

Especially with new businesses, most of which won’t turn a profit for a year or two, I know just how much these saved dollars could do for them! As a community member and locavore, I can’t NOT help them. So, I spend my relaxing evenings out talking about light bulbs.

Here’s the math behind my horrified reaction to Edison Bulbs:

Let’s assume that the lights are on open to close, plus prep and cleanup. If a bar/restaurant is occupied 10am-12pm (or 12pm-2am), this is 14 hours/day. Assuming they are closed one day a week, this means they are burning lights 4,368 hours each year.

Lights ON = 14 hrs/day x 6 days/wk x 52 wk/yr = 4,368 hours/yr

Edison Bulbs are just 10% efficient.

This means that for every $1.00 of electricity you put into them, you get $0.10 worth of light, and $0.90 of waste heat! Just one of these incandescent bulbs uses 60 watts of power.

Given an average price of $0.10/kWh for electricity, they pay $26.21 PER BULB per year.

60 watts x 4,368 hours/yr x $0.10/kWh / 1000 watts/kW = $26.21 in energy

Now, it doesn’t end there… You see, these bulbs are designed to last a mere 1,400 hours on average before they burn out. Once they burn out, you have to replace them. Assuming you just buy a few at a time, it’s gonna cost you about $8 for one of these Hipster Bulbs (eat THAT, avocado toast!).

So, how many bulbs will you go through? Knowing how many hours we burn them per year, we can figure this out.

4,368 hours/yr / 1,400 hour life expectancy = 3.21 bulbs/yr

$8/bulb x 3.21 bulbs/yr = $24.96 in bulbs annually.

So the total cost of choosing that Edison bulb is $24.96 + $26.21 = $51.17/yr

Now imagine you have 100 of these super cool Hipster Bulbs… that’s $511.70 every year!

Conversely, you can keep the look, forgo the ‘authenticity’ of century old technology, and get LEDs that do the same thing with a fraction of the energy. Oh, and they last 25,000 hours instead of 1,400.

With a simple swap, you can be spending a mere $3.80 per bulb, instead of $51.17.

Now, I’m no business major, but that seems to make dollars and sense. Oh, and you’ll also be spending less time changing light bulbs and more time slinging drinks, all while lowering your carbon footprint.

So, if you own a business, or manage one, or even just like to saddle up to the bar and chit-chat, do the world a favor, and take the time to upgrade your Hipster Lights and help us all survive climate change.

Patrons (hipster or otherwise), PLEASE help spread the word to your favorite establishments!

I’ll gladly take in-kind payment for your free advice next time I stop in. Kentucky Mule, please. Extra lime.

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Passive Design

1 04 2019

One of the long standing principles of contemporary architecture is the fact that good design is inherently sustainable design. Or at least it should be. Buildings consume nearly 40% of the world’s energy. Today’s buildings should be energy efficient and stewards of the environment in which they reside. The problems arise when builders (and some designers) forget the fundamentals of design, and ignore the critical relationship between mother nature and the structures we create to hide from her when she’s moody.

All Architects have been taught to understand and respect the natural cycles that will impact our buildings. The slowly shifting angles of the sun across the sky over seasons; the diurnal temperature swings that create dewy predawn conditions; the predominant winds that can grace us or curse us, depending on how we embrace them.

With sun, comes shade.

With wind, comes stillness.

With rain, comes drought.

Passive design is the concept of designing a building to make the utmost use of nature’s gifts. It is a basic practice that was, sadly, forgotten for a number of decades with the advent of modern heating and air conditioning. We thought that technology could solve all of our problems, only to create many more for ourselves. Only in the past generation have we circled back around to embrace the fundamentals once more, recognizing that these simple techniques will yield much greater comfort, and vastly improved energy efficiency.

In designing our dream home, I gleefully returned to my roots, to embrace these natural principles, in ways both mundane and extraordinary.

Sustainable Site Design

In the Midwest, our climate is a fickle friend. We are graced with all four seasons, which I never take for granted. Yet we also endure the extremes. The summers here are so muggy, that some days even a seemingly pleasant 78 F day can leave you dripping in sweat after walking a few blocks down the sidewalk. I’ve taken to calling it “Indiana Soup.”

The winters, ever changing, are never long to remind us that we are on the northernmost edge of where a heat pump can properly function. Every time the polar vortex dips south enough to give us back-to-back days in the negative teens, numerous calls go out to heating repairman, anxiously awaiting the cries of, “my house is only 45 degrees!”

Thus, we require a compact, virtually square footprint, to minimize the ratio of exterior to interior.

We take advantage of the southern sun in the winter, hoping to help warm us with some solar heat gain.

We shield ourselves from the hot afternoon sun in the summer, when it bakes through almost any surface. By minimizing west-facing windows, you can significantly reduce the cooling load, saving on A/C costs.

Planting deciduous trees to the south and west helps shade us when it’s sweltering outside, yet whose bare branches allow dappled sun to penetrate in winter when we want more sunshine.

We use our rooftops and landscape features to capture torrential rainfalls when they come, sparingly, in hopes that they will provide sustenance to our gardens throughout the inevitable dry spells each summer. We use both rain barrels and rain gardens to control the flood of summer thunderstorms, and prevent runoff into the city’s storm water system.

All of these are simple considerations one can take, long before they start designing the actual building itself. The most underutilized of the passive design techniques, however, is passive cooling.

Passive Cooling

Prior to the invention of air conditioning, all homes were designed with passive cooling. There are several vestigal elements we still find today that are leftover from pre-A/C cleverness.

Our neighborhood, Fountain Square, was originally built in the late 1800s. Most of the homes made it onto the plat maps in either 1890 or 1900, and you can see a lot of these older style features throughout. Our historic homes, while mostly modernized and renovated over the years, still boast tall ceilings to let the summer heat rise up, away from the occupants below. Careful placement of windows allowed families to capture the prevailing breeze and direct it through their home.

When the breeze failed to come, ceiling fans were mandatory to create a gentle wind that caresses our skin with evaporative cooling. Ceiling fans can be as effective as lowering the temperature 5-10F! By the way, fans don’t work at all unless there’s someone in the room, so turn it off when you leave. Otherwise the fan motor actually adds heat to the room.

Many homes also still have double hung windows. While I find them annoying because the top sash often slides down and leaves a leaky gap at the top, this creative solution allows cooler air to enter the bottom of the window, while warmer air escapes out the top, creating air flow in the room and a mild cooling effect.

The Cube and the Tower

One stroke of brilliance I was lucky enough to have, was getting frustrated enough to erase the stairs from my early house design. The core functions of the house were designed in a roughly cubic form (for energy efficiency), and the stairs were pushed ‘outside’ the box, becoming a tower at the south end of the cube. By considering vertical transportation as a separate element, I enabled one of the most wonderful passive cooling tools to enter into the design.

The Thermal Chimney is a unique architectural element that allows a building to have Stack Ventilation. Using the fundamental principle that heat rises, stack ventilation induces air flow naturally, without requiring any electric-powered exhaust fans. With multi-story buildings, stack ventilation is a very effective way to evacuate hot air above and draw in cooler air from below.

In an unusual move, this residential design borrows from my background as a commercial Architect. Many commercial buildings, especially outside the U.S., will minimize energy use by leaving hallways and stairwells unconditioned. Because people are only walking through these spaces for a minute or less, the need for a tightly controlled temperature is simply irrational. When leaving a 78F room, we can easily tolerate 30 seconds in an 90F corridor, without even breaking a sweat.

Unlike most homes, where the stairwell is integrated into the living spaces, the Tower is a completely separated element from the Cube. A solid 12″ thick ICF wall creates a fully exterior barrier, connecting the two elements only by exterior-grade doors at every level, and operable, triple-pane transom windows.

During spring and fall, when the weather is desirable, we can open the windows on the north and east sides, and open the transom windows on the south side. This creates a Venturi Effect, accelerating the air through the smaller, elevated transoms. Windows at the top of the Tower will open to pull the hot air up and out, allowing more cool air to replace it.

During the winter, of course, the predominately glass southern exposure will absorb valuable solar heat gain, much like a greenhouse. This heat can then be conducted into the thermal mass of the interior concrete wall, then slowly radiating inwards to the Cube.

In both winter and summer, the Cube will be heated or cooled to be comfortable for occupants. The thermal mass of the concrete walls, and air-tightness, ensure an even, consistent temperature, except for one problem. People will inevitably want to leave this beautiful space, opening doors and creating a giant, gaping hole in the otherwise thermally perfected facade! Thankfully, there is a solution for this too!

Recalling once more all the commercial buildings that I have designed, the solution for cold drafts is obvious. Just like most grocery stores, shopping malls, or hotels, we need an entry vestibule! However, this can be a giant waste of space in a modest sized home. The solution? Only have a vestibule when you need one.

During more temperate months, friends can walk right into our home and be welcomed with open arms. Once the weather turns, however, hidden sliding panels will emerge, creating a translucent yet protective layer. This way, folks can come in, close the door, and take off their warm layers, all without freezing out the rest of us inside.

When we host gatherings, this means that all of our guests will stay toasty warm despite repeated arrivals. Having comfortable guests makes me happy! The energy savings, of course, comes from not having our heating kicking on and off, working overtime to make up for what would otherwise be a cold draft each time the door opens. Sometimes the simplest solutions can make a world of difference!





Thank Goodness for the Tariff War…

26 03 2019

Never would I have expected myself to utter the words, “Thank goodness for the tariff war,” but it actually happened. In fact, I’ve repeated this several times. I’m still in shock. Let me explain…

At some point a dream home is blessed to become reality. With that transition, comes a lot of reality slapping you right in the face. My design for our dream home was based on a lot of assumptions. Knowing that this was a stretch financially, certain design choices were simply off limits.

Could we afford to go solar right off the bat? No, so I’ve designed this home to be “Solar Ready” for a future installation.

Could we afford to install a plush, mature green roof? No, but I’ve designed the structure to handle the future load of densely packed soil. I will haul my plants up there one by one, year by year, if I have to.

Could we make this a super-insulated, low-energy home? YES. On this, there is no room to compromise.

The house is designed to meet Passiv Haus standards. It is a compact design, with minimal fenestration (windows are the weakest link in a building facade). The thermal performance is key to shrinking the need for heating and cooling, and this was considered right from the start.

I designed this structure to be composed of 2×6 wood studs. I explored alternate spacings, to minimize the heat transfer through wood studs. Instead of 16″o.c., why not 24″? Well, there are complications there too.

Okay, the most critical choice comes down to insulation. Typical construction insulates in the cavities between wood studs, which enables an R-20 insulation to be degraded to an effective R-value of just R-9 or R-15 because of those darn wood studs. So, I added a layer of continuous exterior insulation, which would completely wrap around the outside of the wood structure, providing a true thermal break. I planned for the maximum, 2 1/2″ thickness, only to be told that this was not feasible, due to the extreme depth of fasteners needed to secure the siding through the insulation. (Plus the lack of accuracy when directing in a 3 1/2″ long screw to find a stud). So, I settled for 2″ exterior insulation plus 6″ thick interior insulation.

This was the plan for over a year. I knew that there were other systems out there that were superior, like SIPs (Structurally Insulated Panels), or ICF (Insulated Concrete Forms), but these were out of our reach. Not only were they far more expensive, but judging by the blank stares that several contractors have given me, there is a dearth of expertise to install these here in the Midwest. Unfamiliarity doesn’t make it impossible, it just means that installers are learning on your project, which means more mistakes and much slower process, ergo more labor cost.

The “AHA!” Moment

All the sudden, we were meeting with our G.C., Dan, and his (newly hired) Project Manager, Anne. We were there to wrap up any loose ends on our budget, when Anne asked, “What about ICF?” Dan and I both said, “We looked into that and it was too expensive.” Anne shrugged, and we went on to the next item on our agenda.

Thankfully for us, Anne wasn’t satisfied with our answer. She took it upon herself to dig a little deeper, just to double check the pricing one last time. Lo and behold… the comparison had changed noticeably!

In spring 2018, the cost of lumber alone for an average home build had already gone up $6,000 compared to 2017. In June 2018, lumber costs were up 67% compared to one year earlier! Now, with an increasingly strained workforce and consistently low unemployment for the past 5 years, labor costs are higher than ever. Builders are stretching one crew ever thinner, paying more overtime for longer hours. Who foots the overtime bill? The homeowner, of course!

The straw on the wood stud’s back was the Tariff War. With the United States threatening China, the backlash meant that our main supplier of construction lumber- Canada- suddenly raised its prices in return. The rise of wood cost suddenly flipped the narrative about affordability of ICF!

For the first time in history, we are actually able to not only afford ICF, but we are actually saving money on initial cost!

The long term benefits are endless. Concrete has terrific thermal lag properties, which means that the inside of our house will never reach outdoor temperatures, even if we had no HVAC. This significantly reduces our costs to heat and cool!

Building our entire exterior out of insulated concrete means that our new home will be practically bombproof. It will endure hailstorms, severe wind, tornadoes, Midwest earthquakes (yes, that’s actually a thing), and even hurricanes (no, that is NOT a thing in Indiana… at least not yet).

This ICF house is one of very few Hurricane Katrina survivors in the area.

Our foam-wrapped concrete won’t catch on fire (lightning or electrical), won’t attract bugs, won’t have any gaps for any other pests to enter, won’t have any moisture or mold issues, and won’t rot or need replacement ever! Our home is indestructible!!

On top of all these amazing benefits, our home is going to be super quiet. The concrete walls, paired with triple pane windows, will block out all the noisy clutter of urban living, allowing us all to sleep more restfully, and truly enjoy our home as a sanctuary from the excitement we normally immerse ourselves in. This is not just great for us humans, but our anxious pup will finally be able to rest without hearing the cacophony of all the other neighborhood dogs, mail carriers, and garbage trucks.

Our home will be the 1st entirely ICF residence in the City of Indianapolis.

I could not be more excited! It’s a new day in residential construction, and we are taking full advantage of the current construction climate. Constructing our home may be more expensive than it would have been 2 years earlier, but the upgrades we are getting with our ICF home will last more than my lifetime.

Best of all, having a super-insulated, super-efficient Passiv Haus means that our carbon footprint will be shrinking considerably, and we are able to do our part to help reduce Climate Change for the next generation.





Iterative Design

18 03 2019

It’s been 2 years since my wife and I made the enormous decision that we were going to build our dream home. As a sustainability Architect, it was not an easy decision. Up until now, every home I’ve lived in has been an older home, ranging from 1890 to as new as 1950- which I then immediately starting improving for energy efficiency and sustainable design. It wasn’t just because this was the best I could afford to do (though that’s definitely true), but renovating an older home is inherently more sustainable.

When you think about the full life-cycle impacts of materials, a new home requires raw materials to be extracted, shipped, processed, and shipped again. All of these steps generate carbon emissions and other wastes. Now, these older homes can also require significant amount of new materials and labor to retrofit them into a structure with some semblance of energy efficiency, as well. So, which is really better?

The answer is, it depends. Thee fact is, it’s not an easy or quick process to compare apples to oranges. The climate and energy loads need to be factored in, as well as the original and ultimate conditions of the homes. Are you merely insulating and adding some shiny solar PV to your old house? Are you completely overhauling both the core construction of the exterior walls, and the methods with which the house breathes? Is your new build just going to meet energy code? Or are you going far beyond basic energy efficiency?

Ultimately, after spending tens of thousands of dollars investing in older homes to gift them another chapter of life, I was beginning to feel stuck as a designer. I longed for simple things, like a fully insulated, dry basement, instead of the shivering crawl spaces that predominate my neighborhood. I wanted a completely innovative approach to ventilating my home, not just a high efficiency furnace. When the opportunity presented itself, I had no idea exactly how ready I was.

Recently, I dug up some of my original early design sketches for our new home. Designing without any parameters can be both challenging and liberating. Limits make for better Architecture, in my opinion, so I was quick to create my own conditions that needed to be met.

Like all design, this little piece of architecture didn’t just appear out of thin air. It was an iterative process. Unlike most “capital A” Architects, I am certainly not too proud to poke fun at my own bad ideas. I thought you might enjoy seeing the schadenfruede horror of the iterations that paraded themselves onto the paper, prior to the final concept.

The vestibule is a pinch point; the kitchen feels closed off; there’s no room for a dining table; the mud room is a gigantic waste of space; the basement access is restricted to mud room.

Most of the program is fairly typical when it comes to houses. Like all projects, there were a few unique requests of this potential house. Here are some of the conditions that I thought were critical as I began to sketch out preliminary designs:

  • ENERGY EFFICIENCY. Naturally, my own home would utilize all the fundamental design principles relative to local climate, to be as efficient as possible. In the Midwest, a square footprint is ideal, to utilize both southern heat gain in winter and allow natural cooling in summer. With a long, skinny north-south lot, the maximum 30 foot width would determine the overall proportions, leaving plenty of room in the backyard for growing food and space for the dogs to play.
  • DOG WARS. While we hope this won’t last forever, our two dogs currently cannot coexist inside our home in the same space. Thus, Chopper gets the first floor, and Zaha gets the second. I was still trying to figure out how to have two dogs that don’t get along accessing the backyard via the first floor (thus the mud room).
  • ALL THE THINGS! I crammed in too much program. I felt pressured to provide things that are common in spec houses (like a freestanding tub that I’ll only use twice a year, or a bathroom for every bedroom). I insisted on needing a grandiose mud room for all my seed saving and gardening and muddy dog paws and, and and. The ability to get outside as well as into the basement from said space became a struggle. The basement became vanquished from the main living areas, like a dungeon. I also knew that I wanted an enclosed vestibule, to prevent cold drafts when guests entered in winter time, but this ended up feeling like a sore thumb, disrupting the open space.
  1. FENG SHUI. I studied this ancient Chinese practice as a young architect, and found that most of the principles of feng shui made plain good sense. One that I strongly agree with is the idea that the first thing you see when you walk into your home should not be a stairwell. When it leads up to individual bedrooms, it encourages disparate family members, instead of suggesting that individuals gather in shared social spaces together. I struggled with feng shui to keep the stairs hidden from the entry. They became a barrier to the outside, as well as a potential source of conflict between the two dogs. The shared spaces became dark and cramped.
The vestibule is still intruding into the space and crowding both the dining and living areas; basement access is still restricted to mud room.
The vestibule is too small; the bathroom is too visible from living area; the stairwell is prominent, blocks all eastern light, and has bad feng shui; there is very little daylight.
Guests have immediate line of sight to the backyard through the kitchen, but stairwell still blocks most eastern light; the vestibule is still cramped.

The stairs were the burden I carried, until one day I finally decided out of frustration to pretend that stairs didn’t exist. Suddenly, the plan opens up, the adjacencies make sense, and the plans gel!

Thus, the Cube & the Tower were born. 

All the sudden, my plans could breathe. I gained daylight, and openness. The possibilities of innovative natural ventilation and chimney stack effect came to fruition, and I knew I was on the right track!

With this one simple maneuver, what had been a burden became a feature. By moving the stairwell outside of the main volume, onto the south side of the house, it opened up a world of possibilities. The stair tower transformed into a sparkling jewel case! Now, instead of simple being a mode of vertical ascension, I discovered a plethora of opportunities:

  • Doors to stairwell separate every level, so the dogs get 100% isolation from one another. At the bottom of the stairwell, a door to the outside allows our ‘upstairs dog,’ Zaha, direct access outside without walking through the first floor (Chopper’s domain).
  • From the garden, I can enter the stairwell and go directly into the basement to clean up, without tracking mud into the main floor.
  • The future bedroom in the basement now has a private entrance via the stairwell, without going through the first floor.
  • The stairwell is thermally isolated, and you’re only in it for 30 seconds, so it does not require air conditioning and can be minimally heated.
  • By adding exhaust windows at the top of the stairwell, and transom windows into it from the cube, we can induce air flow for natural ventilation, where it will suck the hot air out of the house an pull cooler air in from the north side of the house. This reduces the need for A/C in spring and fall within the cube.
  • Southern exposure allows the stair landings to also function as space for starting seeds in the spring, and a happy place for lots of house plants.
  • The top landing will be a great, protected spot to watch thunderstorms roll in.
  • When we are entertaining, guests can go up to the rooftop deck without walking through our private 2nd floor.

When I really knew this was the final design, was when I managed to work into the second floor design something very unique that was on my wish list. I get up 3 hours before my wife, and I try very hard not to wake her, since she’s a terrible sleeper. Her prime sleeping hours just happen to be when I’m getting up for work every morning. So, I loathe having to walk back through our bedroom during her prime snoozing time. My dream design would include a secret second exit from our bathroom, so I could sneak out quietly without disturbing my sleeping beauty. Now, my closet will serve as this hidden escape route!

Concept in place, now all I have to do is design an entire building in detail. Easy-peasy, right?





The Business Case for Sustainability

26 10 2018

Recently, I was honored to have been asked to be the Opening Plenary Speaker for the City of South Bend. In partnership with South Shore Clean Cities, they hosted the Sustainable Operations Conference in downtown South Bend, Indiana, and had a great turnout of representatives from diverse companies and organizations.

 

I had a great time sharing the room with so many people open to learning more about what sustainability is, why they should care, and how it can benefit their companies. You can listen in on YouTube!

 

Interested in having me speak at your event? Learn more at kellyweger.weebly.com/

 





Earth 101: What’s the Big Deal About a Few Degrees?

18 10 2018

sr15_cover_placeholderRecently,  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report, which outlines the impacts and costs of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) of global warming. The panel studied over 6,000 scientific reports, and concluded that… it’s getting far worse than we thought.

 

“But seriously,” you might be thinking, “how can just a few degrees make such a difference? I mean, we experience diurnal temperature swings far greater than that every single day, right? What’s so wrong with a few extra days of summer anyway?”

 

A few degrees might seem inconsequential, but I’m here to explain how this affects us. Not hypothetically, but historically. 

 

What do we already have records of? We know that the entire planet is already 1.8 degrees F (1 degree C) hotter than it was prior to the 1900s. So what have we witnessed thus far?
When the air and water temperatures increase, there are some predictable trickle down effects. It’s very basic science. Remember those principles your science teacher taught you back in 6th grade? Hotter atmosphere holds more moisture.
According to the recent BBC article:

For every extra degree Celsius in warming, the atmosphere can hold 7% more water. This tends to make rainfall events even more extreme when they occur.

“The waters of the Gulf of Mexico are about 1.5 degrees warmer above what they were from 1980-2010,” Sir Brian Hoskins from the Grantham Institute for Climate Change told BBC Radio.

2018GlobalTempReview_Anomalies_en_title_lg

What does this mean?

Weather events occur because of differences in temperature. Hot air rises, and colder air rushes in to fill its place, until it heats up and moves up as well. This is why we have wind, and is the foundation for all weather patterns. When we have warmer air, it tends to be more unstable, and more likely to erupt into storms, just like what you’ve seen on a hot, muggy summer afternoon. With warmer air, comes more storms, more high winds, more damaging hail, more downpours, and more devastating floods.

(Learn more about other effects from a warmer climate in future posts from this Earth 101 series)

ocean temp2

Image: Ocean temperature variation from average

When it comes to storms over water, we get a double whammy. As ocean temperatures rise, they feed the unpredictability and intensity of tropical depressions and can turn a Category 2 hurricane into a Cat. 4 in a matter of hours. Just ask the Mexico Beach, Florida.

hurricane michael

 

As the Union of Concerned Scientists reiterates, the facts about the earth’s previous temperature rise are indisputable:

“Over the past 130 years, the global average temperature has increased 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit, with more than half of that increase occurring over only the past 35 years. The pattern is unmistakable: Every one of the past 40 years has been warmer than the 20th century average. 2016 was the hottest year on record. The 12 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998.”

 

So, the temperature rise is happening, but why is it really making a noticeable difference?

According to data provided by the U.S.’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), we now have 400% more extreme weather events causing at least $1 billion in economic losses, compared to the 1980s. Some of that increase is due to greater density of buildings along coastlines, but most is due to increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. In 2017, the United States experienced the most rainfall EVER received from a single tropical storm, leaving Houston drowning.

billions-map-620

When you look at all natural disasters in the U.S. between 1980-2016, tropical cyclones and flooding represent single biggest financial losses, totaling $580.7 billion, CPI-adjusted. They are are responsible for the highest number of deaths (3,210), followed by drought/heatwave events (2,993) and severe storms (1,578).

 

It’s bigger than it looks.

Extreme weather events may be isolated geographically, but in today’s global economy the impacts send ripples worldwide. When just  one hurricane hits, it not only devastates families who lost their homes, it also means businesses are shut down, jobs are lost, people with jobs have nowhere to live or no way to get to work. When those jobs are in manufacturing, this means that a critical supplier in Georgia may cause months of delay to a manufacturer in Detroit. So, emergency measures are taken, it costs significantly more money to source alternate suppliers and expedite shipping. All the sudden, that hurricane 300 miles away from you means that your next purchase may actually cost you more out of your wallet. 

bigextremes-2017-bams

Beyond the human impacts, there are so many more effects from global warming. 

For all the beautiful and mysterious life brimming beneath the ocean’s surface, life is literally dying because of a few degrees. We’ve lost more coral reefs than you can imagine, with even the Great Barrier Reef being declared ‘dead.’ This is due to warming ocean temps, and more CO2 absorbed by the ocean, making it more acidic. Despite a history spanning over 6,000 years old, the delicate ecosystem cannot evolve fast enough to keep up with our current pace of change. We’ve already witnessed this permanent destruction:

  • Coral reefs bleached
  • Infectious diseases spread
  • Acidity weakens the coral’s structure
  • Fish are suffocating from algae blooms caused by floodwater
  • Plants are dying from sunlight being blocked out by sediment from heavy rains

great barrier reef

By the way, all of the damage to coral reefs has already come back to bite humans. We rely on healthy oceans for tourism, fishing, and seafood industries, which have all suffered losses due to the ocean’s decline over the past 40 years.

Here’s the deal. We need to quit squabbling over the cause of climate change, and start adapting to our new reality.

We are beyond the point of preventing climate change. We are already in the middle of something massive, and we’ve already made history. But, we do have the power to prevent more extreme devastation. We can slow down global warming by cutting our emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. We can plan for more extreme weather events. We can build safer, super-insulated buildings that can withstand hurricanes and epic temperature extremes. We can prepare our cities for 100 year floods. We can manage forests and limit development where wildfire risks are highest. We can continue to develop new, zero-emission technologies. We can invest in more carbon sinks, and preserve the ones Mother Nature provided us.

 

You can make choices every day to lower your carbon footprint. We all can do more. However, in order to reverse course, we must have leadership that recognizes the incredible health and safety risk that we are currently facing. Even if you don’t believe the scientists who spend their entire careers studying climate, you cannot deny the unusual increase in extreme weather events that we are now seeing year after year. 

 

The facts are clear, despite the uneducated, unscientific opinions you may hear. ‘The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”  tweeted by Donald Trump on November 6, 2012.

wall_map_illustrating_the_possible_effects_of_climate_change





Earth 101: Why Should I care?

17 10 2018

Our beloved host planet is changing, slowly but surely. In fact, it’s always changing. While change is fairly constant, it’s the quickening rate of change and the direction that is causing the uproar. Right now, despite being historically overdue for a cool-down in the Earth’s climate (more on this later in this series), we are starting to see the effects of a slow but increasing rise in the earth’s surface temperature, in ways both big and small.

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Our global community is made up of millions of unique, diverse individuals, with different backgrounds, different values, and different beliefs. Yet, we share a common goal. We all enjoy a pleasant life on this planet, with relatively low, well-known risks. How can we maintain a hospitable environment, and prevent a degradation that risks our way of life?

What motivates us to do anything will naturally vary, but everyone can find common ground with so many drivers behind environmental adaptation. Before we can dive into the “how,” we must first understand the “why.”

Why should you care about the impacts of our changing planet?

 

Q1: Do You Thrive on Constant Change? Most people naturally prefer the comfort and familiarity of things staying pretty much the same. We don’t like being forced to learn an entirely new software, or being detoured due to construction, or the discomfort and inconvenience of an unexpected relocation, either at work or at home. Yet, we are already seeing measurable impacts that are forcing us to adapt our lifestyles to the new reality of a changing climate, and the change will just keep forcing us to adjust more and more frequently if we stay the course.

 

Hops_IPA_Pour-BA-1200Q2: Do You Enjoy Eating and Drinking? Or Fun Excursions?  Hundreds of industries are already being impacted by unpredictable seasonal temperature swings, uncontrollable wildfires, massive snow melts, extreme rain events that cause flooding, and deadly droughts. Whether it’s a frostbitten crop of cherry blossoms, or a rural snowmobiling community that languishes, or charred vineyards, or empty maple syrup barrels, or green ski resorts, or thirsty hops for brewing beer, there are countless commodities and tourist destinations that are suffering from wild swings in weather, resulting from a destabilized climate.

 

 

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Q3: Do You Love the Beach? Or Camping? Or Hunting? Or Hiking? Beaches won’t be quite as fun without the sandy part where you picnic and play. Sea level is expected to rise five inches during the next 40 years. This might not sound like much, but that is enough to cause flooding in hundreds of coastal cities such as New York, Washington, Miami, Houston and others worldwide. About 40% of Americans live at or near the coast. The cost of protecting coastal cities from the rising seas will be extraordinary, and this is in addition to damage from increasingly frequent and unusually strong hurricanes.

Western-WildfiresInland natural areas aren’t much safer, though the reasons are more varied. Regardless of how you like to enjoy the great outdoors, the rapid changes are happening too fast for most plants and animals to evolve, which means that we are seeing more invasive species taking over with shifting growing zones, animal migration patterns disrupted, delicate ecosystems thrown out of balance, and noticeable shifts in the serene surroundings we love to escape to.

 

billion dollar disastersQ4: Do You Want to See a Stable Economy? The evidence is already clear. Climate Change is costing our economy billions of dollars every year. The World Economic Forum just issued their latest report, assessment by 1,000 experts, of the greatest risks to business.

“September 2017 was the most intense month on record for extreme weather events, as well as the most expensive U.S. hurricane season since 2005 with economic losses in excess of $300 billion,” Group Chief Risk Officer Alison Martin said.

The historical trend shows that year after year, environmental risks due to climate change are becoming increasingly bigger risks, relative to other critical threats like a slowing Chinese economy, Middle East unrest, and unemployment. Sharply rising insurance costs already reflect the reality that the insurance industry has been tracking closely for decades: climate change is already costing the U.S. billions more annually. Just as we expect our government to step in to manage other aspects of our economy, this key risk to our economy cannot continue to be ignored.

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Q5: Are You a Humanitarian? Do you care about feeding the hungry, and preventing children from starving? Do you want to stop the spread of infectious diseases and end the suffering of victims of terrible illnesses? Countless studies, including the USDA, now show an annual decline of 2-4% in crop productivity per average acre in the United States at a result of changes in climate; but the forecast of devastation is far worse in other parts of the world. You can also expect a greater occurrence of dengue, Zika, and other mosquito-borne diseases, and even more occurrences of tick-borne diseases, like Lyme disease.

 

 

c_scale,fl_progressive,q_80,w_800Q6: Do you believe in a Higher Power? Most religions have sacred texts that tell us exactly how we are supposed to treat the earth. It is our duty to protect the land, the air, the water, and all the creatures created to coexist on this planet alongside human beings.

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you.

Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”- Job 12:7-10

The Bible even seems to allude to our exact crisis of extreme weather and higher temperatures.

“The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.” – Isaiah 24:4-6

In Islam, the sacred text references in numerous places the inherent role of humans to be stewards of the land. There are more than 750 verses in the Qur’an that are related to nature.

“And there is no creature on [or within] the earth or bird that flies with its wings except [that they are] communities like you. We have not neglected in the Register a thing. Then unto their Lord they will be gathered.” – Qur’an, 6:38

 

Q7: Are You a Republican, a Democrat, or Neither? The reality is, this is not a partisan issue. In recent history, the U.S. has tackled numerous environmental threats under both democratic and republican presidencies. You might be fooled into thinking that protecting the environment that we live in is not in the hearts of republicans, but that simply isn’t true. President George H.W. Bush, who ran for office as the “environmental president,” signed into law a novel, market-based approach- a cap-and-trade system limiting pollution that helped stop the acid-rain crisis.

Before that, Reagan’s leadership addressed the stratospheric ozone hole by creating new regulations on chlorofluorocarbon emissions. Back in the 80s, our GOP Leadership saw this as a crisis that required immediate, international collaboration to resolve. Parties worked together for the health and safety of Americans… AND IT WORKED. Despite the sharp reversal of the current administration, both republicans and democrats care about the large-scale implications of major environmental crises, and it’s time for the U.S. to return to the global stage as a leader in this.

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