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The IPCC 4th Assessment Report was released Saturday November 17, with three major conclusions: global warming is “unequivocal,” it is most likely caused by human factors and in order to avoid disastrous effects of climate change reductions in greenhouse gases need to start immediately. According to a NY Times article, Rajaendra Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC stated, “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.” He echoes a bevy of other scientists including Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs who said, “We can’t afford to wait for some perfect accord to replace Kyoto, for some grand agreement. We can’t afford to spend years bickering about it. We need to start acting now.” The message is clear. Real action, not just words, are needed now in order to avert dire consequences.
The White House press briefing remained vague and unassertive on the matter. When questioned about the President’s vision of successes and benchmarks the administration hoped to achieve at the upcoming Bali climate talks, Chairman Connaughton emphasized, “…if you’re looking for a benchmark there, I would encourage you to look for a broad agenda on adaptation, as opposed to a narrow focus.” Despite strong language and convictions on the issues of climate change, the administration characteristically sidestepped the main issues, simply restating the President’s loose commitments to the environment. Yet again, (like Kyoto) mandatory emissions caps and goals don’t seem likely to be ratified by this administration.
What’s been clear from the beginning of this process for many of us is that the cost to implement climate mitigation is substantially worth the cost of dealing with the potential consequences. In the IPCC report it is plainly spelled out: “There is high agreement and much evidence that mitigation actions can result in near-term co-benefits (e.g. improved health due to reduced air pollution) that may offset a substantial fraction of mitigation costs.” (Link to the IPCC summary here). Not to mention climate change catastrophes are most likely to effect the poorest regions of the world, even though the richest regions are most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, mitigation is actually dealing with underlying equalities and potential human costs.
Domestically I would love to see one or all of the Presidential candidates make the IPCC report a central issue in their campaigns. Hard, mandatory goals need to be set by the next administration in order to avoid a climate meltdown. Global warming mitigation is not a political decision here, but an economic, societal and global crisis.
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The world’s first ever Platinum LEED’s certified carbon-neutral building was recently finished in Wisconsin. According to Inhabitat, the building scored a 61 of a possible 69 LEED points, which includes producing 15% more electricity then they consume thanks to a 40KW solar installation. Furthermore, the building was constructed with nearly 100% sustainable timber and is being awarded a design and building honor from the Forrest Stewardship Council. Congratulations to the Aldo Leopold Foundation for this incredible building.
Now what’s the big deal about LEED certification anyways? The system (described in detail on the LEED website) rates buildings based on several “green” characteristics, designating a score out of 69 possible points. Pundits applaud the verifiability and the attempt to govern claims to sustainability and “green.” It’s common knowledge that it can be difficult to discern between genuinely positive environmental claims and those that simply sound eco-friendly. Opponents complain about the bureaucracy, long time costs and pricey certification process.
There is also an issue regarding how the LEED’s points are distributed between the six main categories: siting, water use, energy, materials, indoor air quality, and innovation in design. There is no mixture necessary, just a minimum of 26 points from any of the categories in order to become LEED certified. The cut and dry point system allows for builders to pick and choose from the list of points without ever understanding the ideas behind the LEED.
Yet, even though there are obvious flaws with LEED, the United States Green Building Council that established LEED, was the first organization to successfully identify a system for green building certification, and continues to improve that process. Looking at a parallel sustainability market, like that of renewable energy credits (REC), it is clear that this type of organized verification provides a regulated playing field for products. In the case of REC’s, there is a no clear certification, leading to a marketplace that is largely unsure, with pricing and consumer confidence varying widely.
The United States has become the target of criticism for its lack of federal commitment to climate change. From the Kyoto Protocol failure to federal miles per gallon standards for vehicles, the government has refused to mandate regulatory guidelines. LEED is a good example of a certification body providing a transparent framework for companies and organizations to approach the pivotal issue of sustainability. So, while nothing is perfect, let’s learn from the LEED system and start the regulatory cogs moving.