End the Deadly Game of Chance

The building industry needs to be a vibrant part of the solution to climate change by looking at how and where we build.

It has become undeniably apparent that the shelter industry is due for a serious recalibration, and those of us in this sector must adjust our frame of reference and embrace greater responsibility for the outcomes of our actions. There has perhaps never been a more urgent need to honestly reassess the impact and performance of what, where, and how we build.

climage change featured

At a time when our country, and much of the rest of the world, is undergoing a series of painful self-examinations in order to come to grips with a host of social issues, looming environmental catastrophes, economic uncertainties, and threats, both internal and external, to our health, safety and security, we can’t sit this one out.

As we witness the ever-increasing destruction resulting from climate change as manifested in the intensification of violent storms and flooding, unprecedented obliteration of entire communities by massive wildfires, mega-droughts affecting multiple States and millions of residents, and the extinction of countless species trying to survive on this planet, we need to take a step back and own up to the part we have played in getting to this point.   

Inexplicably, we seem to willingly participate in a deadly game of chance each time we respond to another disaster by rebuilding the same old way, in the very same places, with the same marginal systems and materials, somehow expecting a different outcome the next time our number comes up again.

It is generally accepted that buildings account for roughly 40 percent of energy use in the United States and a corresponding 40 percent of emissions as a result.  Yet, the industry resists any and all attempts to move the needle in a positive direction hiding behind the skirts of “affordability,” a code word for profitability.  

But it may not be possible to fly under the radar for much longer, and the failed strategies and policies that have propped up the industry are already coming home to roost.  We are seeing increasing resistance to “business as usual” in a variety of ways.  

For example, some insurance companies are refusing to renew policies for homes in areas with high risk of wildfires.  Similarly, the National Flood Insurance Program is undergoing big changes that will have significant impacts on those who have traditionally relied on its protection.

We are also learning of building moratoriums predicated on concerns about the availability of water and perhaps other resources and essential services. The industry will no doubt rail against these policies as no-growth strategies conjured up by “environmental extremists,” but who is willing to guarantee that these necessities will be sustainably available?

Look at the abysmal condition of our infrastructure across the nation. The daily news is full of stories about crumbling dams, roads and bridges, deteriorating water and wastewater systems, an increasingly vulnerable and suspect power grid, and the dangerous conditions surrounding pipelines all over the continent. 

We are left to ask ourselves if we are going to continue to contribute to the problem, or become part of the solution?  Shelter is as basic a necessity for people as food, safe water, and breathable air.  We can do better.  We have the knowledge, the tools, the materials, and the technologies.  

The question is, do we have the will?