Avoiding the Abyss: Climate Crisis, Apollo 13 & Passive House in the Age of Donald Trump
As the New York Times, post-election, reminds us: if Trump abandons the commitments of COP21 made in Paris, other countries like India will likely become disincentivized to act.
If this comes to pass it will be impossible to prevent runaway global warming, with human population collapse, massive species extinction and unimaginable levels of suffering. Climate tipping points are just too close and unforgiving.
How might we, with no luxury of time or resources, escape this existential tragedy?
On Apollo 13, after an onboard explosion, stuffed into the unused lunar module, and confronted with deadly CO2 levels - the astronauts hacked a solution out of the seemingly random materials at hand and were able to save themselves. Without a functioning federal government - Trump named a climate skeptic to lead the EPA transition reported Scientific American - we now need a continental hack to our climate crisis.
The good news is that we have the materials - they include: cheap renewable energy, willing municipal and state governments, and Passive House technology.
First, cities and states, from Massachusetts to California, have taken the lead in combating climate change. Trump’s abandonment merely makes it an almost exclusive effort. Cities and states must express, loud and clear, their support for the COP21 Paris Commitments while rapidly implementing all climate mitigation tools at their disposal. We're lucky that our headquarters is located in New York City, where comprehensive carbon reduction plans are not only in place but are being acted upon at both Mayor de Blasio’s and Governor Cuomo’s offices. These plans must speed-up and be leveraged through organizations like the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance and the Under 2 Coalition.
Second, solar and wind power generation costs are close to parity with fossil fuel sources, and they should soon cost substantially less. Combined with energy efficiency and smart grid measures, cities and states can abandon fossil fuels.
Third, buildings are the single largest contributor to our greenhouse gas emissions. Passive House - an approach of airtight and well insulated envelopes unified with very efficient building systems - drastically reduces building energy consumption and in so doing Passive House supports the switch to all electric buildings, and flattens peak electrical demand. In switching to electrically heated and cooled buildings with a more even energy demand profile – Passive House makes the expeditious transition to a green grid far more feasible. Code changes and incentives that will drive adoption of Passive House by states and cities need to rapidly accelerate.*
Our recent presentation, Notes from New York, describes how we are succeeding in New York and the strategies that can be applied in other regions. As we’ve seen before, such action by California and others can have far reaching transformational effects across the nation. As an affordable technology, like the Model T automobile, Passive House can scale and can do so quickly.
The election of Donald Trump will likely be a human rights disaster and damage the institutions meant to safeguard those rights. If so, we will all be diminished by what comes next. But we can learn how to survive an autocrat. And we can rebuild institutions and our democracy - we have done it before. We cannot rebuild a lost planet.
To recap - if the White House continues to call climate change a hoax and acts accordingly, leading cities and states should:
- Proclaim their ongoing support for climate agreements like COP21.**
- Switch to 100% renewables for their regions.
- Make Passive House performance for all new construction and retrofits a requirement - in support of the renewables transition.
Let's overcome potentially irreversible damage. Let's act swiftly and decisively.
Join with local Passive House groups and other concerned citizens; contact your city and state officials; find out what you can do to accelerate the transformation of city and state efforts to combat climate change. Build Passive Houses. And in the process, like the astronauts on Apollo 13, let's hack better solutions.
Let us know if we can help you.
In This Together,
The 475 Team
* Yes, rainforest protection, agricultural production, transportation and waste must also be hacked - we’ll leave the details of those actions to Greenpeace, The Alliance to Save Energy, 350.org, Natural Resources Defence Council and others - as our plate is full of buildings.
**Update: On November 23rd, 35 Mayors, from New York City to Los Angeles, sent an open letter to Donald Trump on climate action. See it here.