Climate change – we must trust the canary


In days long gone it was common for miners to take with them a canary in a cage. The logic was that in the event that odorless toxic gases such as carbon monoxide collected, the fragile canary would die, thus providing clear warning to the miners to get out of the mine. Only the most foolhardy would ignore the warning sign. One can only imagine a distraught miner, near death, clamoring towards the light, and gasping, ‘I should have taken notice of the canary.’ Too late.

We, the inhabitants of planet Earth, have our own canaries. More frequent and intense droughts with the further effects of crop failures and forest fires; more frequent and powerful rain events with subsequent massive flooding and erosion; higher numbers of cyclones – these are the noticeable extremes that are capturing our attention. More subtle, but equally telling, are the losses in coral reefs, the changing habits
of fish and other susceptible marine species and the dramatic reduction in the size of ice-flows.

While these things are evident, they are often dismissed by the sceptics as being too general, too vague, easily dismissed – these things happen. However, scientists worldwide are using greater and more accurate data to provide increasingly more defined projections. Global temperature has increased an average of 0.08°C per decade since 1880. Recent decades have seen this rate increase to 0.14°C. Already at 1°C warmer than pre-industrial times, current predictions by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are that we will reach the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement by 2040, and 2°C will be breached around 2060.

According to Professor Mark Howden, Director of the Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions at the Australian National University (ANU), and Vice-Chair of the IPCC, to achieve the 1.5C target, carbon emissions will need to decline 45% by 2030 and reach zero by 2050. He adds, ‘We’re not on track. We’re currently heading for about 3 to 4 degrees by 2100.’ It is also around 2100, less than 8 decades away, that rising sea levels will cause the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati to be under water. Other forecasts, now fine-tuned with vastly more accurate elevation data, indicate that by 2050 some 150 million people (the earlier forecast was 38 million) will be living on land that will then be under water at high tide. Countries most at risk are in south-east Asia and the Indian sub-continent.

These monumental developments are already in progress, and we as residents of this earthly home must deal with them. This is not something for the future, the time is now, it is upon us.

According to NASA, our response can be summarised as:
– Mitigation, and
– Adaption

Mitigation requires taking immediate and decisive action to drastically reduce carbon emissions. We cannot wait for a couple of decades to see how things pan out – we must act now – all of us must play our part.

As designers, we at Crush Architecture are absolutely committed in every task to not only ensuring a zero-energy footprint, but further, to use innovative, clever, sustainable design that allows our buildings to contribute positively to our fragile environment. Adaption means that we need to accept that whatever mitigating action we take, we will nevertheless have significant changes thrust upon us and will need to adapt our habits, our use of energy, our expectations on infrastructure, our design of homes and buildings, to new expectations and new demands.
We may need to abandon previously known projections on flood risks and fire threats as the record-books are re-written. What was thought to be normal can no longer be assumed – building designers must expand their horizons and pro-actively provide for these new normals.
As responsible residents within this fragile ecosystem that we call home, will we heed the warning signs – nature telling us that all is not right – or will we put our heads in the sand, hope it all goes away, and pretend that the canary was probably just old.
At Crush Architecture, we are industry leaders in providing ethically and environmentally responsible solutions. We would love to talk with you.

May 9, 2023

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