Canadian Consulting Engineer

Feature

Radical problems call for radical change


From the August-September print edition, page 4

They say everyone is either an optimist or a pessimist, and I generally count myself in the latter camp. So when I arrived in the U.K. in June just after the Brexit vote, I was surprised to find myself sounding the upbeat notes. When my friends told me they had been distraught for a week over the decision to leave the European Union, I bounced back cheerily and said I didn’t think it would be so bad. I’m no economist, so I’m not certain what the impact on the U.K. markets will be (so far it’s been fluctuating), but since global corporations are generally in control of much of our economic realities, I suspect not much will change. Besides, from an environmental point of view, aren’t there benefits? Wouldn’t smaller, restricted markets encourage more diversity in farming practices and make it more likely that people will eat locally grown produce? If this is a radical idea, so be it.
André Rochette is an optimist. The Quebec engineer featured on page 34 admits that he sees things through rose-coloured glasses. And while he might not agree with my outrageous(?) economic theories, he does believe in taking a radical approach to the use of energy in buildings.
Rochette is the president of Ecosystem, a Quebec design-build/energy contracting company that he and a partner founded in the 1980s. Ecosystem does “deep retrofits.” They like to go into a building and rethink the entire way the energy systems work. The results are 30-40% savings.
Ecosystem is certainly not the only company to be spearheading radical energy saving engineering for buildings, but it was fascinating to hear the personal story behind the firm. And during our interview (a part not included in the article) Rochette asked “When are we going to become really serious about reducing our impact on the planet?” He pointed out that European buildings have an energy intensity half that of North American buildings, and suggested that we need carbon pricing, regulations and higher energy prices. Are these radical ideas these day?
Despite all the lip service paid to environmental stewardship our deep attitudes and habits have not changed. As I write this, southern Ontario is sweltering through record heat in August; the grass is as parched as in the Serengeti and the trees are turning brown.
We have energy codes, yet down on the Toronto lakefront there are walls of new condominiums, basically greenhouses of 30+ stories with ceiling-to-floor glazing facing south. Buyers snap them up as soon as they’re built. The expressway below is jammed. We are building new transit to get workers out of their cars. But my company just did a survey of employees, according to which “the majority of staff would not take public transit even if it was available.” In developing countries millions of new middle-class people are following the West’s lead. The world is heading for its third year of record heat temperatures.
We need to get serious about changing the way we live if we are going to halt global warming. At the moment I’m struggling to be optimistic about our chances of that happening.

 


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