The Diminished Hope of Copenhagen

Bella Center - Site of the Copenhagen Climate Conference

Bella Center - Site of the Copenhagen Climate Conference

Are we losing our momentum with regard to energy efficiency?

Early news reports coming out of the Copenhagen Conference indicate that there is talk of watered down versions and outcomes and that our leaders will accept less stringent guidelines coming out of these meetings. 

This sounds like negative trending. Instead of going in with positive attitudes, saying we are really going to work on solutions, we are defeated in attitude before we begin.

Some of this appears to be a result of what Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times and others in the media refer to as “Climategate.” The controversial event that occurred just before the Copenhagen Conference surrounded hacked e-mails and data files of the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, suggesting that climatologists massage data in favor of global warming proponents. In his December 9 opinion piece, Friedman argues that, even if the data were skewed, it does not change the reality that the CO2 we put in the atmosphere stays there, is not reversible and over time could be catastrophic for the earth. There is, he says, no excuse to ignore any chance of global disaster.

It is true there are world financial issues at stake regarding the gross domestic product of countries and what many are economically capable of doing initially, but it’s not as if anything is going to happen this year or next year.  We are setting benchmarks for 2020, 2030, 2040, and if we don’t throw the target somewhere downfield, we don’t know where we’re going.

So I don’t understand why we are picking up the targets.  Leaving the targets out there, whether we hit them or not, gives us something to work toward. We’re not talking about mandates, we are talking about goals. A target can either be mandated or economically inspired – we hope for the inspired targets because mandates don’t work.

Any task of this magnitude looks daunting when you begin.  Take the highway system or the space program – putting a man on the moon was unthinkable but look at all the technologies that have come out of our space program? It’s not like we are telling everyone that they have to stop energy production tomorrow.

The companies that support and have developed long range plans to improve operations and reduce carbon emissions, like our parent company Saint-Gobain, should be commended for its resolve in this area.

I hope the Copenhagen Conference will be a constructive summit where we can launch into an energy-efficient, environmentally friendly future, because the risk we all face is too great for compromise.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation.   

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

Taking a Bite Out of the Whale

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

The Prince of Wales’ Corporate Leaders’ Group on Climate Change recently presented The Copenhagen Communiqué to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.  This document, signed by more than 500 businesses across the globe, states that “economic development will not be sustained in the longer term unless the climate is stabilized.”  It also calls for an agreement to be drafted and accepted that “establishes a global emission cap and long-term reduction pathway for all greenhouse gas emissions and sources, for the period 2013 to 2050 (with interim targets).”

CertainTeed’s parent company, Saint-Gobain is among the signers of the document and all of the businesses of Saint-Gobain have corporate mandates to reduce our carbon footprint in our buildings and manufacturing facilities.

If the UN adopts this proposal, it presents an interesting challenge for the United States and addresses what I discussed in a previous blog about the need for energy auditors.  In the US, our energy standards have changed dramatically over the last 20 years, but 90 percent of our homes and about 4 million commercial buildings were built before 1990.  While we have seen many programs able to achieve energy efficiency and sustainability in new design and construction, those advances are like taking a bite out of a whale – because they represent less than 2% of our reality.  We have to address the 98% of buildings that remain because that’s where our energy is being consumed. With a global goal of reducing carbon emissions by 50%, we would never reach that goal just by greening our new construction. We have to go back and green our existing construction if we are ever going to meet even 15, 20 or 30% goals. There is a growing need for programs that can retroactively improve building performance.

At the 2009 GreenBuild Convention in November in Phoenix, Arizona, CertainTeed will be hosting a luncheon with guest speakers from Gerding Edlen Development on this very issue.  Gerding Edlen has a Sustainable Solutions program which is successfully retrofitting existing buildings and significantly reducing the carbon emissions. I can’t wait to learn about how they are doing this.  This is an incredibly important time to talk about this issue because although they are not easy to do, we have achieved passive houses and zero energy buildings. Its one thing to achieve zero energy when you start with a clean piece of paper and design in the building efficiency, but it’s another thing when you inherit someone else’s mess. While it’s a more difficult target, it’s the most important target. There are limited slots available for this luncheon.  If you are planning to attend GreenBuild and would like to attend, email Kristen Harter, Kristen.M.Harter@saint-gobain.com.

If the UN adopts the Copenhagen Communiqué, it will certainly accelerate our efforts to retrofit the existing building inventory globally. Each existing building we improve will have an impact on controlling greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

While the task may seem insurmountable, we do know how to eat a whale right? One bite at a time.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation.