KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Archive for November, 2012

Nov 07 2012

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Make that an inconvenient ugly truth

I’ve been mulling over what to report in about these past few days. I live in northern New Jersey, and we didn’t get hit as hard as the shoreline. I never lost power, but most of my neighbors and surrounding areas are without it. There are a few large branches in my yard and no damage at all to my sturdy little house. Others aren’t so lucky. I have extension cords from my house going to two neighbors houses so they can at least plug in their refrigerators and maybe a light or two. It’s starting to get cold out, so heat is going to be an issue.

(From November 4) The first long gas lines appeared the day before yesterday. My husband and I were out running errands and saw this long line on the shoulder of the highway. We really had no idea what was going on and finally figured it out as we rode by the gas station. It’s gone downhill ever since, and it’s starting to get ugly out there, with fights breaking out and police monitoring the distribution.

I’m sticking close to home and trying to conserve the half a tank of gas I have left, hoping to ride out the current situation which will hopefully be remedied by next week, God willing. So here are my thoughts, all of which you’ve heard before. Our reliance on fossil fuels is astounding and quite honestly, stupid. Are we ever going to learn that this isn’t exactly the way it should be, and that it’s way past time to at least supplement our voracious appetite for energy with something renewable, or at the very least, think about conserving the non-renewable fuels?

How much will it take before we realize that something’s gotta give? Whether or not you believe that such super storms like Sandy, Katrina or Irene may or may not be caused by climate change isn’t the issue. We can argue that point forever.

I don’t have an answer. I know that change doesn’t come easily, and the resolution, if any, is a complicated one. What I do know is what I see. That Americans are addicted to their comfort. Any variation from the “norm” has them running around like Chicken Little. I’m saddened to witness the long lines of people waiting for gas, people in New York City dumpster diving for food because they have nothing to eat. People devastated by their homes being swept away, and loss of human life. I pray for them and hope they can get the help they desperately need.

For those of us like me who are fortunate enough to have a roof over their heads, food, light and heat, take note. We get up every day and flip switches, turn on ignitions and never give it another thought. If we need something, we go get it. It’s taken less than three days to witness what happens when these conveniences are removed. It’s time to start thinking about how fortunate we are to have all these things, figure out ways to conserve the non-renewable resources we do have and make renewable energy a priority.

Patricia Gaylor

Nov 06 2012

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What Hurricane Sandy teaches us about our built environment

The profession of Design is about to drastically change. If you’re an architect, engineer, planner or builder, the way you build is about to undergo some radical new transformations.

2012 is on track to become the warmest year on record, with some 40,000 temperature records broken in the United States this year alone. In addition, Arctic sea ice melted to a record low this year, further adding to a grim list of milestones and warning signs that most people are ignoring.

Both candidates running for President failed to once mention Climate Change during the 4-1/2 hours of debates. This is the first time since 1984 that has happened, and a sign that the carnival that has become our election process is unable to focus on what is truly important.

In short, President Obama admits climate change is real and raised minimum fuel efficiency standards in August 2012. Governor Romney isn’t sure if climate change is manmade or not and changes his views on whether it exists at all. His energy policy advisor is oil baron Harold Hamm, so he wants to eliminate foreign oil, pushing for “North American” sources of oil. Romney stated “there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue—on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution and the severity of the risk—and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community.”

[For the record, you can view President Obama’s stance on Climate Change hereGovernor Romney’s stance here.]

In spite of this silence, most environmentalists have been waiting for a tragedy to occur to wake up our policy makers. I tend to think it follows Winston Churchill’s famous indictment of Americans: “I always count on Americans to do the right thing, but only after they have exhausted every other possible option.”

Hurricane Sandy, the storm that has crippled New York and Philadelphia (and leveled Atlantic City), has left our largest cities without power, transportation and most fundamental services. Some in the media have called it a “Frankenstorm,” which may be appropriate both because it hit on Halloween week and because of how unprecedented and powerful it is. But more importantly, it is a sign of storms to come and a brutal introduction to what is now the “new normal.”

Hurricane Sandy highlights the extreme vulnerability of our transportation and electricity infrastructure. To millions, climate change suddenly just became very real and very expensive. The Atlantic has a wonderful map showing the (still) flooded areas of New York as a grim predictor of things to come.

With economic losses of up to $20 billion, Hurricane Sandy is the disaster that could finally wake everyone up from their stupor. This would make it the costliest hurricane to ever hit the Northeast and perhaps what is needed to change our policies to address our climate. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, power outages in New Jersey and Pennsylvania have “shattered records” with over 3 million without power.

In New York City, the transit system carrying 5.2 million passengers a day and essential to the city’s economy is flooded. The Wall Street Journal reported on the corrosive effect of flooding salt water on subway tracks and tunnels. Thanks to an already rising water table, the MTA’s 300 pumping rooms daily remove around 13 million gallons of water from its network of tunnels, and that’s on a dry day. The flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy could take up to four days to to pump out, according to MTA officials.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday morning that the city and the state may have to consider building a levee to protect lower Manhattan, where waters rose 10 feet above flood stage. “It is something we’re going to have to start thinking about.” Mr. Cuomo said. “Anyone who thinks that there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns is denying reality,” Mr. Cuomo said. “We have a new reality, and old infrastructures and old systems.”

A week before the Hurricane, the Center for Biological Diversity awarded their “Rubber Dodo” award to Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe. This award is given annually to those who have done the most to drive endangered species extinct. The Oklahoma Republican has done more to push the “anti-science” climate denial than any other member of Congress. Kierán Suckling, the Center’s executive director said, “Senator Inhofe gets the 2012 Rubber Dodo Award for being at the vanguard of the retrograde climate-denier movement.” Suckling continued, “Deniers like Inhofe, in positions of leadership, are dooming future generations of people to a far more difficult world.”

Just this past July, Bill McKibben of 350.org wrote an incredible piece in Rolling Stone highlighting that it way already be too late. Scientists agree that 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide is the limit we can release into the atmosphere. Yet, the oil in reserves (already sucked out of the ground and slated for burning) will pump 2,795 gigatons into your air, crushing the limit by almost five times what is acceptable. Even if we could magically stop this fuel from being consumed, it would send shockwaves throughout the economy. As Thomas Friedman of The New York Times puts it, “We can either have a hard decade or a bad century.”

Architects, designers and planners can no longer sit by and think this does not apply to them. We need to redesign and rebuild our infrastructure. This is no longer a matter of simply adapting to a warmer planet. Hurricane Sandy has shown we must re-engineer the country and do it right away. For a glimpse of the future of the profession, take a look at the incredible work of Architecture for Humanity (and donate or volunteer while you’re there.)

If you want to help the millions affected by Hurricane Sandy, I urge you to sign this petition and also donate to the American Red Cross.

—Eric Corey Freed is principal of organicARCHITECT, an architecture and consulting firm in California, and author of four books including “Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies.”