Canadian Consulting Engineer

Awash in the green debates

August 1, 2008
By Bronwen Parsons

E very day now my inbox is flooded with news and press releases about green building conferences, green building awards, green building publications. It's green, green everywhere. We review the latest...

Every day now my inbox is flooded with news and press releases about green building conferences, green building awards, green building publications. It’s green, green everywhere. We review the latest evolutions of LEED and other green building evaluation programs in Canada on page 21.

Some would argue that we’re all deluding ourselves in our concern over greenhouse gas emissions (buildings produce 20% of the emissions in Canada). The critics believe global warming either isn’t happening, or if it is happening, human activity is not responsible.

After publishing Lee Norton’s article on Al Gore’s Climate Change Initiative in the last issue, we got a taste of the kind of vitriolic — well, o. k., passionate — feelings that global warming issues arouse in engineers. Strident missives came in charging that we were caught up in the big “HOAX!” perpetrated by the likes of Gore, David Suzuki and the entire U. N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. We have decided to publish one of the e-mails, with Norton’s response (page 8).

How can we know the truth? The fact is that the phenomenon of global warming is dreadfully complex. Go to the website, www.realclimate.comas Lee Norton suggests and follow the blogs. People like me get a headache after five minutes of trying to untangle the web of numbers and scientific terms. With so much information out there, it would literally take years to try and figure things out for oneself.

So the experts debate. We listen, and we hope something clear emerges. The key is to make sure we listen to the right experts, and as Lee Norton suggests, the best measure is to rely on scientists whose positions have been peer reviewed and tested by other scientists who are knowledgeable in the field.

When we do that, the arguments attributing a role to human activity are overwhelming. In his June article, Norton pointed out that one study had found that of 928 randomly-chosen peer-reviewed articles on global warming, there were 0 articles disagreeing with the fact that greenhouse gas pollution is causing most of the earth’s current warming.

In terms of reducing the carbon footprint of buildings, Canada has started to make headway, although we’re a long way from Europe’s example. In Britain, the government is legislating that all residential and commercial buildings publish an Energy Performance Certificate, graded on a scale of A to G.

In North America, the LEED green building label has had phenomenal success, winning wide recognition in the construction industry and beyond. A few years ago when LEED was just starting to be known, a green building engineer called me and complained that LEED was too simplistic and effectively was dumbing down green design issues. To take into account all the environmental impacts of a building required a much more complex calculation, he said.

The response from another engineer who was a staunch proponent of LEED, was that the simplicity of LEED was its genius. In order to get the green building movement off its feet, there had to be a “brand,” a simple means of recognition that could wend its way into the minds and conscience of not just builders and designers, but the general public. He was right.


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