I’m blogging the Greenbuild conference this week for Architectural Record and Greensource, and Ed Mazria’s presentation today underscored a point that the anti-gentrification crowd often fails to understand:
Buildings account for 45 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and 75 percent of that comes from urban environments, he said. Keeping the planet’s temperature under 2 degrees Celsius—considered to be the point at which climate change could spiral beyond human control—will require global emissions to peak no later than the year 2020, and stay under three million metric tons thereafter.
It’s a heavy lift, but not unachievable, and Mazria believes this challenge presents an opportunity to dramatically reshape the built environment around a lower carbon equilibrium through sustainable urbanization.
He explained that by 2030 humans will build or rebuild over 900 billion square feet of space in cities worldwide—an area equivalent to the entire built environment of the United States three and a half times over. The U.S. and China together will be responsible for over 50 percent of this new construction.
“Getting to carbon neutral is two-step process,” he said. “Step one is design and planning for resiliency, sustainability, and low carbon. We can design out 70-80 percent of the energy consumed by the built environment if we know the information and have the tools.”
Many of the same people who think we shouldn’t allow market-rate development in growing neighborhoods also agree about the importance of slowing climate change.
But climate change is all about the built environment, and sprawling land use patterns are the worst enemy. We need to densify our urban areas to prevent further sprawl, and that means building up in the places where people want to live. Blocking infill construction makes you a climate villain.