GW: “Think you’re making a difference? Think again”

Architecture2030 is a tremendous organization with a clear vision as to radically change the future for America’s (and the world’s) building infrastructure by putting the nation on a path so that 100% of new buildings will be carbon neutral (or better) in 2030

Appearing in next week’s New Yorker magazine, currently scrolling on their front page, pdf here, and available to read at their coal page is Global Warming:  Think You’re Making a Difference? Think Again. This is a forceful statement calling for “No More Coal”. 

This statement goes through efforts underway by various institutions to reduce energy use and asserts how little impact those changes will have in the face of plans for “151 new conventional coal-fired power plants” within the United States.

  • Home Depot:  funding the planting of 300,000 trees in cities across the US to help absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions… The CO2 emissions from only one medium-sized (500 MW) coal-fired power plant, in just 10 days of operation, will negate this entire effort.
  • Wal-Mart … investing a half billion dollars to reduce the energy consumption and CO2 emissions of their existing buildings by 20% over the next seven years.The CO2 emissions from only one medium-sized coal-fired power plant, in just one month of
    operation each year, would negate this entire effort.

And, so on, through California’s CO2 emissions standard (one coal plant, just eight months each year); every US household changing one incandescent to a compact fluorescent (two coal plants); Campus Climate Challenge‘s call for zero CO2 emissions from college campuses (four coal plants); the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (13 coal plants).

Total up all these efforts and you only make a dent in the new coal plants.

The “Silver Bullet for Solving Global Warming”? NO MORE COAL

As they point out, “Without coal, all the positive efforts underway can make a difference.”

Now there are some reasons to question the specifics as to the calculation (checking the footnotes, for example, they only total Wal-Mart’s US stores while there is an international footprint and there is not reference to Wal-Mart’s electricity use (with details) but to square footage of buildings). And, this risks undercutting the enthusiasm for efforts (individual and institutional) .

There are both real positives and problems in this ad …

I am a believer in Architecture2030 … This is a definite Silver BB sitting ready, waiting to be executed, that could have a real impact for good (on multiple fronts).   

But, to me, there is a mixed message in the ad:

  1. New coal:  BAD.  And, that new coal overwhelms all these things.
  2. Forgot all those (little) things, we’re THE solution. (The ad ends: “By implementing The 2030 Challenge* to reduce building energy use by a minimum of 50%, we negate the need for new coal plants.”

While I support (strongly) Architecture2030’s objectives, I am very uncomfortable with the second.

Personally, I would like to see all of the efforts listed in the ad to be going on (to be accelerating) and I want Architecture2030 to be national policy …

And, well, I want to see coal plants retiring without coal-replacements coming on line …

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