International Day of Climate Action


The 350 and 2030 Challenges
*By Harry Seidel, Owner
Alae Design


Going Places:

Last Saturday, Oct. 24th was the International Day of Climate Action, the single most widespread day of political action about any issue, our planet has ever seen. To attract global attention to the “350 Challenge” over 4,000 events took place simultaneously in more than 175 nations. Rather than describe the multitude of events here I would encourage you to visit and see for yourself how very big this event was. Most of the events were digitally recorded and collected electronically into a massive compilation. So, what’s the fuss all about? What is the 350 Challenge? And why should we care?

According to credible scientists (not fringe scientists but our best scientists) we are approaching the most significant planetary crisis in modern history. These scientists including scientists from NASA, Woods Hole, The National Academy of Science, the EPA and The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say that we are off the charts in terms of CO2 in the atmosphere. The Earth has not been over 300 PPM (parts per million) in 400,000 years and while 350 PPM is considered sustainable for our planet’s ecological health, we are currently above 387 PPM and rising!

Scientists have graphed global temperature and CO2 to illustrate their correlation over the last 450,000 years and the two indices follow each other exactly. It’s no accident and it’s why CO2 is called a greenhouse gas. As it builds in the atmosphere energy is trapped and planetary temperatures subsequently rise. In short, “we are in trouble and off the charts” according to Ed Mazria of Architecture 2030.

So how dire is this situation? What does all this mean? And, how much time do we have? The experts give us only (7) years to be well on our way towards reduction of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. For example global energy modeling studies indicate that should we experience a 2 to 3 degree C increase in global temperature, there will be a sea level rise of 4 to 6 meters, polar bears and some arctic seals will disappear; there will be 60% less water content in the Rocky Mountain snow pack; hurricane intensity will increase; forest fires are expected to double: soil will dry out and by 2050, 25% of all plant and animal species on earth will become extinct. The United States is largely a costal nation and having seen the effect of even a temporary 1meter rise in sea level from hurricane Katrina it’s clear that our coastal areas cannot sustain such an outcome. It would be a disaster our economy cannot survive.

This reality seems impossible to address and while the problem is a huge challenge, in this case, the problem suggests it’s own solution. Experts have studied the various fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) as well as their GHG impacts and the science indicates that we must avoid the use of coal. Yet there are hundreds of coal-fired power plants on the drawing boards in the US. 76% of the energy produced by these plants will go to operate buildings. In response to the global-warming crisis the award winning architect, Ed Mazria established “Architecture 2030”, a non-profit, non-partisan and independent organization to study the issue. Architecture 2030’s mission is to rapidly transform the US and global building sector from being a primary contributor of the problem to being the basis of a possible solution.

Buildings are the major source of energy demand. (50%) of our energy and (76%) of our electrical energy go to the construction and operation of buildings. The experts contend that we can accomplish the goal of reducing the growth rate of GHG emissions and then reversing it over the next ten years. This would keep global warming under one degree centigrade.  And, furthermore, this can be done by simply addressing our building infrastructure and by asking the building community to adopt effective targets for energy consumption through conservation strategies and the use of alternative energy systems. We have the knowledge and the ability to reverse the past trend and our choice to do so is essentially a requirement for survival.

The 350 Challenge refers to a grass roots effort dedicated to spreading the message of International Climate Action towards achieving 350 PPM  (CO2) in the atmosphere, a limit that scientists have determined to be the safe upper limit to ensure sustainability.


Check out this website

The 2030 Challenge asks the global architecture and building community to adopt targets for new and existing buildings such that they meet a fossil fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard. 2030’s current performance standard for existing buildings would be to use 50% of the current regional average fossil fuel use for a particular building type and moving forward the fossil fuel reduction standard would increase incrementally to be:

60% in 2010
70% in 2015
80% in 2020
90% in 2025
Carbon-neutral in 2030 (using no fossil fuel, GHG emitting energy to operate)

Coincidentally, the global benefit of these actions, can also create thousands of jobs and spearhead the development of hundreds of businesses (large and small) to execute the transformation towards a more sustainable built environment. Yes the consequence of continuing on our current path is frightening to be sure, but we currently have the technology and the knowledge of building science to reverse the trend. We can do it! We absolutely need to wake up and get on with it though. UNH Professor, Cameron Wake who spoke at New London’s The Tracy Library series on Energy and Global Climate Change sponsored by the League of NH Women Voters captured it well when he used the old proverb “If your not careful, you’re going to end up where you are going!”

Harry Seidel is the owner of **Alae Design, a green residential architectural firm based in Newbury, NH, USA.  His article appeared in a letter to the editor in various New Hampshire newspapers.
* Material in this letter to the editor was pulled from the aforementioned websites.
**Alae Design’s excellent mission statement is “Alae Design provides custom residential architecture through an integrated design process that balances practical and spiritual objectives together with sustainable construction practices.”

Editor’s Note: I first met Harry over thirty years ago here in our community. Thanks for taking the initiative to write this letter/article Harry, and for granting us permission to re-post it here on our blog.

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