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Climate Change, Part 5: It’s All About the Straws, Isn’t It?

Posted by: GreenCE Sustainable Design and Construction // Sustainable Content Creator at GreenCE

This is this the final installment to the Climate Change series I’ve been writing for the last month or so, based on Bill Gates’s blog post. Since I’m wrapping it up, it seems timely to explain why I referenced straws as the title. My youngest daughter is an environmental champion and has been since she joined the Green Team at her elementary school in 3rd grade nearly seven years ago. My older son, however, is skeptical that anything we do as humans effects the environment, positively or negatively. So, when my daughter purchased glass straws for everyone in the family, it began a debate about whether or not ending the use of plastic straws really helps the climate or the world in any way. My son made the point that if plastic straws were eliminated from the world all together, climate change would still happen. He was right. If we focus so hard on the “little” things, the big things aren’t handled the way they need to be. I realized we need to approach climate change from multiple directions. So no, it’s not all about the straws. But it’s a start!

Previous posts discussed Gates’ article which lists electricityagriculturemanufacturing , transportation, and our final one, buildings, as the grand challenges stopping climate change (there is a miscellaneous category equaling 10% in this list that is a collection of multiple things that don’t qualify for any one category). He says that so many people often think of cars or electricity as the main contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, when in fact, “Making electricity is responsible for only 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions each year. So even if we could generate all the electricity we need without emitting a single molecule of greenhouse gases (which we’re a long way from doing), we would cut total emissions by just a quarter. To prevent the worst effects of climate change, we need to get to zero net greenhouse gas emissions in every sector of the economy within 50 years—and as the IPCC recently found, we need to be on a path to doing it in the next 10 years. That means dealing with electricity, and the other 75% too. Where do greenhouse gas emissions come from? I like to break it down into five main categories—what I call the grand challenges in stopping climate change…”

The built environment is where architects and designers get to have the most impact, and also support the importance of LEED certification for building projects. According to Gates, buildings contribute 6% to the grand challenges he lists. He says, “Do you live or work in a place with air conditioning? The refrigerant inside your AC unit is a greenhouse gas. In addition, it takes a lot of energy to run air conditioners, heaters, lights, and other appliances. Things like more-efficient windows and insulation would help. This area will be more important over the next few decades as the global population moves to cities. The world’s building stock will double in area by 2060. That’s like adding another New York City every month for 40 years.” ...

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