Two Degrees: The Built Environment and Our Changing Climate

Climate and Its Effect on the Built Environment
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When we talk about climate, it is important to know just what climate is. Although weather and climate appear closely related, they are in fact two very different concepts. Weather describes the meteorological conditions at a given time and place. Climate, on the other hand, describes the meteorological conditions, including temperature, rain and wind, that characteristically prevail in a particular region over a period of time, typically 30 years.


Currently, Ireland's climate tends to be warm in the summer, around 16 degrees Celsius, and cool in the winter, around 5 degrees Celsius. Natural climate variability is also picked up by these measurements. For instance, March was one of the warmest for 50 years, while March was the coldest on record.

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An increase in extremes such as these is a good indicator that climate is changing. Climate change is a significant change in the average weather or climate that a region experiences.

Two Degrees: The Built Environment and Our Changing Climate (Electronic book text)

Climate change can be caused by natural factors such as variations in sunlight intensity. On the other hand, among those who have focused on overcoming those challenges.

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Two Degrees: The Built Environment and Our Changing Climate. Article (PDF Available) in Australasian Journal of Construction Economics. Alisdair McGregor (Author), Cole Roberts (Author), Fiona Cousins (Author) & 0 more. To limit catastrophic outcomes, the international scientific community has set a challenging goal of no more than two degrees Celsius ( degrees Fahrenheit) average temperature rise.

From solar panels to high efficiency equipment, there is a huge amount of marketing and salesmanship driving what I cannot help but call green Band-Aids. How you approach lowering the impact of a building or community- the actual steps you take, the questions you ask, the tools you use to answer them, and the stakeholders you involve- has a remarkable effect on the results of any project.

This focus on the process of decision making there is even a chapter on how humans make choices, and how irrational we are about them is commendable and much needed. They describe, for instance, the importance of 1 reducing loads both internal and external , 2 developing passive strategies like natural ventilation or thermal mass to the extent feasible, prior to 3 developing active strategies to condition the environment and counter the much reduced loads that remain.

Only then do they recommend the introduction of renewable energy and offsets.

Such a process will allow most teams to optimize buildings as whole systems rather than discrete parts, and understand the multiplied savings that ensue when you pay for one system to solve multiple problems or, to put it another way, to produce multiple efficiencies. One of the primary examples the authors offered in support of this process, the subject of an entire chapter, are the efforts over the last decade by Walmart to dramatically reduce its environmental impact.

Resilient Design

The systems and thinking deployed in this effort are described in great detail, from passive building strategies like daylighting to active systems like a cogeneration plant. Perhaps most notably they don't shy away from the various challenges the project faced, including commissioning complicated systems, lower-than-expected performance of some equipment, and the prohibitive cost of deploying some of the most successful upgrades, like solar PV panels, across their entire portfolio. The authors address both the design of buildings and communities, and quite sensibly devote a separate chapter to the particular challenges of existing buildings.

There is a nice case study of a UC San Francisco project in which simple monitoring of airflow rates produced savings in fan power, heating and cooling energy. Although I wish the community design chapter in the mitigation portion of the book was more granular, the authors do an admirable job of describing the different challenges faced by inland and coastal communities in adapting to climate change.

The book excels at describing solutions that address both mitigation and adaptation and they boldly address the cost and economy of climate-positive solutions a topic most design and engineering professionals avoid. They also outline the risks for communities in hotter, drier climates as opposed to warmer, wetter climates. These chapters break strategies down in to items that must be done now, like increasing professional capacity and selecting the right places to build, and things like the Thames Barrier in London that must be done in certain long-term timeframes of 25, and years.