Climate Change and the Architect-Citizen


Architecture, Pipelines and Climate Change

How should I, as an architect-citizen, be responding to the Climate Crisis? I have a young daughter and there are lots of people whose future I care about. It is nearing twenty years since the Kyoto accord was signed in 1997 recognizing the need to act on Climate Change and setting out some modest goals. Since that time CO2 emissions and concentrations in the atmosphere have increased dramatically. Climate Change is upon us. Let’s be honest – we are on, if not already falling off, a precipice.

Buildings Change

What have we learned in the last twenty years of concerned and earnest actions to help us reduce emissions? Buildings are, in their materials, construction and operations, responsible for as much as 50% of greenhouse gases. As I look out my window in Vancouver, I see new buildings going up that are all glass, or glass and exposed exterior concrete, with an effective R-value of 2! Plain to most architects is that these are not energy efficient buildings. R-2000 houses, established twenty-five years ago, were more energy efficient than those of today. The Choi Building at UBC, opened in 1995, seems at least as sustainable as many “cutting edge” buildings that have gone up since. Are we making progress? Perhaps a little – but why so modest, and so slow?

Moving in the Wrong Direction

Progress, however incremental, is still movement in the right direction. Reducing, re-using and recycling, taking the bus, cycling, and changing out old windows, etc. are efforts many of us make to reduce our carbon footprints for the greater good. So what are we to think as architects, architect-citizens, or just citizens, of plans for a new pipeline in Burnaby or coal port in Surrey that will wipe out, in just a few days of operations, whatever gains we have collectively made over a period of many years in squeezing that much more energy out of our buildings and lives?

Complex? In some ways, but not really.  CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels is destroying our future and we need to rapidly move from its extraction and combustion. To create change we need to be honest, be activists, put our shoulders to the wheel, and push.