Friday December 14, 2018

Decoded: Making housing eco-friendly

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New Delhi: Why not build houses the environmentally friendly way? That is a question an increasing number of people across the developing world – environmentalists, town planners, architects and others – have been asking of late.

For those in the business of building houses, the question is more pertinent and the one they have been asking of themselves as well as of others. Understandably so, because the ramifications of what we build and what materials we use are far-reaching and long-term, as it affects the energy consumption of a building.

“I think when designing we should not lose the context and purpose of our existence. We are all designing as if there is no tomorrow and consuming as if ours is the last generation on the planet,” Delhi-based architect Akshay Kaul rued while speaking to a media channel.

Kaul’s observation came in the context of increasing use of glass in the buildings, especially the facades, in India over the last two decades.

“Glass came in fashion in colder European countries as it allowed more sunlight and helped keep buildings warm. In warmer countries such as India, excessive use of glass increases energy demand of the building as it radiates a lot of heat,” K.T. Ravindran, dean of the School of Planning and Architecture here, told the media outlet.

“Glass affects a building’s environment as well as the environment outside by radiating heat,” said Ravindran, former chairman of the Delhi Urban Art Commission, adding: “People are doing it because they think it is in vogue.”

The observation is echoed by Kaul, who specialises in the field of ecological planning and sustainable architecture and has more than 20 years’ experience in India and the US.

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“Most buildings in India were green almost until two or three decades ago. The trend changed as we started imitating buildings from the West, which had facades essentially of glass,” said Kaul.

“It is like first creating a furnace and then cooling a building – in the process sending heat out once again and using energy in the form of electricity to cool the building.

“The electricity comes from either drowning villages or towns and dislocating people or submerging arable land or depleting natural resources,” Kaul emphasised.

The green building movement has taken off in the past 10 years. According to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED(r)), which certifies green building standards, over 3.6 billion square feet or 69,000 buildings have so far been certified in 150 countries.

By definition, the design of green buildings minimizes impact on the environment by reducing the use of energy and water. Environmental disturbance is also limited during the building process and by the choice of the building site.

Kaul is however not completely against the use of glass in making a building green.

“The problem is not glass but how much glass. Glass unfortunately means a lot of glare and heat in our climatic context,” he added.

Manish Bagga, senior architect at Gurgaon’s Arcop Associates, agreed.

“You cannot do without glass. You can’t have a totally opaque building. Instead, the amount of heat coming in can be regulated through judicious use – the right combination of glass and opaque masonry,” Bagga said.

Another option, according to him, is to use low emissivity or Low-E glass which is expensive but pays in the long run as it does not allow in heat.

“Avoid glass in south and west direction as the sunlight is intense when the sun is in the southern and western direction. Use it in the eastern direction as sunlight is mild in the morning,” Bagga explained.

Insulation on the rooftop with material such as expanded polyethylene can prevent a building from heating up.

According to Ravindran, one of the leading voices in the country on urban design, a badly planned structure not only drains its own energy resources but also affects the surrounding environment.

On the other hand, several studies have found that better indoor environmental quality translates into occupants’ better physical and mental health.

(IANS)

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U.S. President Donald Trump’s Take on Climate Change

Trump's backpedaling on the U.S. commitment raises questions about the prospects.

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Pollution, U.S., Trump
The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyoming. VOA

“I’m not going to put the country out of business trying to maintain certain standards that probably don’t matter,” President Donald Trump told VOA when asked about the economic impacts of climate change.

When not denying its existence, the Trump administration’s approach to
climate change essentially comes down to three arguments: the United States has already cut its greenhouse gas emissions more than other countries, regardless of any international agreement; regulations to cut emissions come with high costs and few benefits; and those regulations would put the United States at a disadvantage because other countries will not follow.

“When you look at China, and when you look at other countries where they have foul air,” Trump added, “we’re going to be clean, but they’re not, and it costs a lot of money.”

As U.N. climate negotiations get under way in Poland to work out rules for implementing the Paris climate agreement — from which Trump intends to withdraw the United States — experts weigh in on the administration’s claims.

Pollution, Trump
A bus gives off exhaust fumes in Alexandria, Virginia. VOA

Emissions cuts

It’s true that the United States has reduced its greenhouse gas production more than any other country. U.S. emissions peaked in 2005. In the last decade, they have fallen by about 13 percent, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

But the United States was the world’s leading producer of greenhouse gases until 2006. And, others have made bigger cuts by percentage. Hungary’s levels, for example, decreased 14 percent.

U.S. emissions started to fall when the fracking boom took off.

The new technique of hydraulic fracturing turned the United States into a major natural gas producer. As the price of natural gas has dropped, it has been steadily replacing coal as the dominant fuel for electricity generation. Because burning natural gas produces far less carbon dioxide than coal, greenhouse gas emissions have decreased.

More recently, renewable sources such as solar and wind power have started to make inroads on the power grid.

Donald Trump, democrats, government,
U.S. President Donald Trump. VOA

While U.S. emissions have fallen since the 2000s, China’s have soared.

The country pursued astonishing economic growth with an enormous investment in coal-fired power plants. China is now the leading producer of greenhouse gases by far, roughly doubling U.S. output.

Cost-benefit

Trump has argued that regulations aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions would hobble the U.S. economy. He has moved to undo the Obama administration’s proposed rules on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and efficiency standards for vehicles and appliances, among others.

Critics question whether those regulations would cost as much Trump suggests.

“None of these policies were going to have dramatic increases in the prices that consumers would see,” Duke University public policy professor Billy Pizer said. He added that normal price swings would likely swamp the cost of the regulations Trump targets.

Trump, pollution
Paris depends on countries following through on increasingly ambitious emissions cuts. Pixabay

The emissions reductions the Obama administration pledged in Paris “were built largely on a continuation of the coal-to-gas transition and a continuation of growth in renewable energy that’s already happening,” said Alex Trembath of the Breakthrough Institute research center. As such, he added, they “don’t imply a large cost. In fact, they imply a marginal increased benefit to the U.S.”

Those benefits come, for example, because burning less coal produces less air pollution, which lowers health costs.

Not to mention the direct results of climate change: wildfires, floods, droughts and so on.

“We have enough science and enough economics to show that there are damages resulting from us releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. We know that that is not a free thing,” University of Chicago public policy professor Amir Jina said. “And yet, we are artificially setting it as free because we’re not paying the price of that externality.”

He said economists nearly unanimously support a carbon tax, a cap-and-trade program or some other way to put a price on carbon emissions.

Collective action

Few nations have taken the necessary steps to meet the emissions reduction pledges they made in Paris, according to the most recent United Nations emissions gap report.

Paris Agreement, CLimate, trump
Developed countries are being urged to honour Paris Agreement. Flickr

Even those pledges would fall far short of the Paris goal of limiting global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, the report adds. Reaching that target will take “unprecedented and urgent action.” A 2016 report said an additional $5.2 trillion investment in renewable energy will be necessary worldwide over the next 25 years.

Trump’s statement — “we’re going to be clean, but they’re not, and it costs a lot of money” — sums up why nations are reluctant to act: no one wants to take on burdens that they think others won’t.

“It’s the thing which has been dogging action on climate change for generations,” Jina said.

“We only really solve the problem if everybody acts together,” he added. “And if enough people are not acting, then we don’t.”

Paris depends on countries following through on increasingly ambitious emissions cuts.

Each country decides what it is willing to do. Every five years, countries come together and show their progress.

Climate Change, Trump, disasters
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. VOA

“You over time build confidence in each other,” Pizer said. “Ideally, you ratchet up the commitments as you see your actions reciprocated by other countries.”

Trump’s backpedaling on the U.S. commitment raises questions about the prospects.

However, the first of these check-ins is five years away. Trump can’t formally withdraw the United States from the agreement until 2020.

Also Read: Paris Adopts Climate Action Plan, Aims to Achieve a ‘Zero-Carbon’ Future

Pizer notes that the predecessor to the Paris Agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, failed in part because it imposed caps on countries’ carbon emissions, and most of the world balked.

“In my mind, this is the best we can do,” he said. “If there were a different way to do it, I’d be all over that.” (VOA)