Hope-nhagen, Cope-nhagen or Nope-nhagen?

Hope-nhagen, Cope-nhagen or Nope-nhagen?

Image CC licensed by Flickr user america.gov http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/4171411272/

As all eyes are on Copenhagen for these two weeks, the broader Greener World Media family is there bringing you live blog coverage from several perspectives.

It seems as though the three main perspectives on a global climate solution are: Hope, Cope and Nope.

The Hope folks point to the technological solutions that are already in hand -- green buildings being at the forefront -- and believe that we can marshal the necessary technical, economic and political resources necessary to solve the problem before it becomes unmanageable. 

The Cope camp believes that current options are not sufficient to get us where we need to be and even if they were, we will not be able to implement them at the scale, scope and speed necessary to avoid Nature forcing significant changes on our present way of life, so we need to start adjusting now as to minimize dislocation. 

The Nopes believe that climate science is unconvincing, fabricated or worse and that the desire to control CO2 simply is a pretext for jackbooted UN one-world-government maniacs to descend from black helicopters, destroying all that is Right and Good with the world (or at least in 'Merica).

{related_content}I'm kind of in between the Hope and Cope spectrum. I see how, in spite of LEED's phenomenal uptake, we need to do two to three times the relatively -- IMO -- aggressive forecast that we did for the Green Building Market & Impact Report (GBMIR . . . kind of sounds like a Tolkien wizard, doesn't it?) in order to hit a global wedge (4 billion tons of CO2).

Consistent with the Hope perspective I know that we know what to do and we even know how to do it (and have for nearly 20 years). My question is whether we can or will. Indeed, the USGBC/Booz-Allen report showed even higher CO2 savings from green and LEED than GBMIR forecast based on a macroeconomic evaluation of savings, so here's hoping that we have been unduly conservative in our estimates.

GBMIR is available for free download [here] and there also is a free hour-long webinar that I gave with Johnson Diversey CEO Ed Lonergan that hits the highlights of our findings.

My friend Nadav Malin, who edits Environmental Building News, wrote a nice piece about the GBMIR last week. In the blog, Nadav suggested that GBMIR both overestimated and underestimated the impact of LEED and I think he made a good point regarding the distinction between the performance of LEED buildings as opposed to the decisions made because of LEED. 

For the veterans of the energy efficiency field, this is known as the “free-rider” effect: getting credit for “things that would have happened anyway.” Avoiding free-ridership is one of the key (and mistaken in my opinion) underpinnings of the so-called additionality requirement of Clean Development Mechanism that was established at Kyoto to enable the trading of carbon reductions between developed and developing countries.

I say “mistaken” because by definition “what would have happened anyway” is unknowable in advance and highly suspect in retrospect -- it's easy to lie or give an answer one thinks the questioner wants to hear. Teasing out an answer requires so much analytical gymnastics that it almost guarantees that very few projects actually qualify. As Malin notes, you would literally need to talk to every project decision maker to try and ascertain what they “would have done” but for LEED. Not a good way to build a market.

So, while I agree with Malin that attributing every green-related decision to LEED overstates the impact, I think his point that the market transformation (or “free driver” effect for the policy wonks) is likely to far swamp the free-rider effect is more correct. I would also like to reiterate his call for master’s and PhD students to dive into the work of evaluating the impact of policy and market measures on reducing the environmental footprint of buildings. My experience is that seasoned back-of-the envelope calculations, many of which populate GBMIR, can be highly accurate but require deep research to uncover nuance and give credibility to the professional judgment that spawned the initial calculation.

I also wanted to thank a couple of sharp-eyed readers who pointed out mistakes in the calculations. Lwidman correctly noted that 30 million gallons of fuel can no way generate the 7 million tons of CO2 reported. I mistakenly used 20 lbs of CO2 emissions per mile, rather than per gallon. The correct figures for CO2 reductions from gasoline savings are 300,000 tons in 2010 and 12 million tons in 2030. 

Another reader's concern was more philosophical, expressing concern that “Graphs that go up and up tell a story not of sustainability, but of reckless growth.”

As a former student of Donella Meadows I'm keenly aware of the “limits to growth” but also want to point out that it is possible to have significant growth in LEED floor area without adding another square foot of real estate on the planet. 

That being said, I don't think we are there yet. Population is still growing and there are many people living in squalor or in buildings that probably would be better off demolished than retrofitted, so my guess is that we will be adding more floor area for awhile, though I wouldn't cry to see fewer 3,500+ square foot McMansions built.

In addition to our H/C/Nopenhagen coverage this week, attorney Leonard Goodman has contributed an excellent piece on how smart management of design and construction risks can make green buildings even better for owners, developers and investors. And Carrie Langford, carries business greening advice inside the envelope in A Dozen Tips for the Total Greening of Your Business.

Illustrating that sustainability is as much about the “little picture” as it is about the big picture, two articles about the greening of office supplies demonstrate how the pen can be mightier than hoard.

In closing, this week's Look-Grandpa-I-picked-up-the-$20-bill-you-said-was-fake-but-it's-real winner goes to China for committing to reduce its energy intensity by 40-45 percent. While ambitious, this target is very achievable and will spur innovation and improve the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people.

Rob Watson is the executive editor of GreenerBuildings.com. You can reach Rob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @KilrWat.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user america.gov.