This past week I was fortunate to be able to attend the Green Building Fest, an annual event, hosted this year by Sustainable Buildings Canada and the International Initiative for a Sustainable Built Environment (IISBE). Watching the presentations was like being on an emotional roller coaster. When the various government officials presented (Glen Murray (minister of the Environment and Climate Change), Alex Woods (policy writer presenting Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan) and Dianne Saxe, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario), I felt depressed and hopeless based on their honest and somewhat depressing view of where we are headed. The news is not good.

I was uplifted, however, by the brilliant and well-prepared presentations from the extraordinarily talented people invited to speak to us about projects in which they are involved that are helping us adapt to climate change. The theme this year was resiliency — because we can no longer prevent climate change, it’s here, so we must prepare ourselves and our communities for the effects of extreme weather events. The presenters gave me hope that we will be able to adjust and adapt, although, make no mistake, it’s going to be messy and ugly and expensive in the beginning, but the cost of inaction is uglier, messier and even more expensive. We are at the point of no return. We need to act now and put ideas into action or future generations will pay dearly for our inaction.

To give you an idea of where we stand, below are the GHG emissions by sector for Ontario from the 2015 annual report,  Feeling the Heat: Greenhouse Gas Progress Report 2015, by the office of the Environment Commissioner of Ontario:

  1. Electricity – 6% of GHG emissions
  2. Transportation – 35% of GHG emissions
  3. Industry – 28% of GHG emissions
  4. Buildings – 19% of GHG emissions
  5. Agriculture – 10% of GHG emissions
  6. Waste 9% of GHG emissions.

GHG emissions from electricity have dropped significantly since the last coal-fired generating plants have been taken off-line or converted to less intensive fuel sources.

Industry emissions have dropped significantly from 1990 levels due primarily to the decimation of the manufacturing sector in the province, and a small amount from efficiency improvements. This sector’s emissions are being addressed from Ontario’s newly established Cap and Trade program.

Transportation accounts for the largest source of emissions in the province, and passenger cars make up the bulk of that figure. This particular portfolio will be a challenge to tackle.

Buildings make up the third highest portion of the province’s GHG emissions and continue to be an ever-increasing share. The Golden Horseshoe seems to be in a frenzy of development these days. More development means more demand for natural gas, water, electricity. More people will come to the area adding to emissions. Meeting GHG goals will be a challenge, to say the least.

If we are going to meet our long-term goals, it means we can no longer continue along the path as business as usual. Building codes need to be strengthened significantly within the next 10 years, while encouragement to use alternative methods for heating and cooling need to be implemented within the next 10 years.

While it seems daunting, it can be done. Copenhagen provides an excellent example of how a city that was once gridlocked with cars now has more bikes than cars, while Sweden has managed to reduce GHG emissions from its building stock by more than 80%. Note that these two places are in climates similar to our own.

The Green Building Fest offered plenty of excellent examples of what’s being done now and how, if we only adopted more of these practices, we would be better off. Change is hard, it involves learning new ways of doing things, lots of pilot projects, constant evaluation and communication about what’s working and what’s not, and the freedom to not only fail but to learn from that failure without risk of censure. It takes hard work, creative and open minds, and bravery.

I saw some amazing presentations all focused around resiliency, from a building perspective, but also from a community’s perspective. Examples of resiliency in the face of climate change exist but they are currently in the minority. I hope that with proper encouragement they will continue to progress until newer methods of building are the norm, communities can withstand floods, power outages and freak storms without too much trouble. We were presented with projects ranging from

  • using CO2 as a refrigerant instead of HCFCs,
  • using phase change materials in modern buildings to significantly lessen the use of HVAC systems,
  • highlighting the importance of thermal mass in lowering dependence on HVAC systems,
  • developing community resiliency in Moncton, NB,
  • putting a stormwater management system to the test in back to back 100 year storms, and
  • using nature within work spaces to increase well-being and productivity of employees.
  • developing a valuation for forests to show woodlot owners how to creat revenue by keeping their trees in the ground for use as carbon storage.

The presentations make you realize that there are fearless people out there who are willing to take on challenges and succeed while doing so. They are not afraid of change and are happy to share their experiences and lessons, from which we all benefit.

It was an inspiring conference, and while climate change is upon us, as long as we have the backbone to forge ahead and become resilient communities, we will be able to weather the storms and our grandchildren and great grandchildren will thank us for finally admitting we have a problem and are doing something about it.

Over the next few weeks, the articles I publish will be based on the presentations and interviews with the presenters of the conference. For more information on the conference visit the SBC site.

BEC Green

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