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Fritz Albert (left); Audobon Society
Walsh Construction

Has the 'Climate Emergency' Got Your Attention Now?

July 19, 2023
EDITOR'S NOTE: This summer's extraordinary extreme heat hopefully will generate even more support for our industry's urgent decarbonization efforts.

As I write this summer editorial, I can’t help but be struck by how truly hot our world is in 2023.

Truly extreme heat is setting new records everywhere.

On July 19, for example, Phoenix, Arizona, logged its 19th consecutive day of temperatures exceeding 110 F. And many of those daily measures have been higher than 115 F. Similarly, on the other side of the globe, Iran’s Persian Gulf International Airport reported a heat index of 152 F on July 17.

Think about that. Okay. Now think about it again.

“Even the most skeptical climate change denier knows that this summer has been abnormally hot,” writes HPAC sustainability columnist Larry Clark. “Every day seems to break yet another record, and it’s not just speculation, since global temperature data dating back to 1850 is available for comparison. Indeed, there is solid data indicating that the Earth has been rapidly warming since 1979, and is now warmer than at any time in recorded history.”

New ASHRAE President Ginger Scoggins is certainly not in denial.

“We are living in a climate emergency,” she said in her late June inaugural address in Tampa. “Our desire to be more comfortable has brought us to a place where we need to make uncomfortable decisions... We can accept the challenge of our day regarding the impact of our buildings on the climate crises by equipping our members with the knowledge they need to design and renovate buildings to address the greenhouse gas emissions of our industry.”

Indeed, a century ago, comfort and convenience were the goal, as air conditioning, automobiles, airplanes and mass production of consumer goods all eased our existence and enhanced our lives. But they also took our planet in a new direction and hurtled us toward planetary consequences that we could not quite imagine, much less predict. I can’t help but think of the new film Oppenheimer as I write that, but it also evokes the Stan Lee line from the Spiderman comics series, “With great power comes great responsibility.    

Responsibility, in many ways, is a calling embedded in engineering, of course. Efficiency is better than waste, no matter how you slice it. That’s just logic. Some others see a higher source in that calling.

“My faith calls for us to be good stewards of our resources,” said Dr. Donald Colliver, an engineering professor at the University of Kentucky, ASHRAE past president, and former co-chair of its Task Force for Building Decarbonization (TFBD), formed in 2021. Early last year, Dr. Colliver told us in an episode of HPAC ‘On The Air’ that his faith was one big reason why he had postponed retirement to devote himself to decarbonization.

Toward that same end, the new TFBD Chair Kent Peterson, PE, explained the urgency behind his own calling to promote decarbonization within our industry.

Appearing on HPAC ‘On The Air’ earlier this year, Peterson said, “We know that greenhouse gases trap heat in our atmosphere. As population has been growing, and as we build more buildings, we’re now scheduled to double the global building stock by 2060. When we get to 2050, there will be close to 10 billion people on this Earth. So, we need to figure out better ways to do it. And that’s the bottom line... We’re all on a journey. We have to find reliable and affordable methods to decarbonize. The building industry and the electric generation industry are going to have to work together to optimize what that solution is going to be.”

Working together is also something at which engineers excel. May we all find the partners we need to help us succeed in those vital efforts, sooner than later.

After all, as we all now know, the heat truly is on.    


Thoughts? Comments?

Email me at [email protected].