Climate change is a major global concern and leaders all over the world have now come to appreciate the need to combat it as a way of saving the planet Earth. In the recent past, there was a belief that the real impact of climate change may come in one century or even later. As such, businessmen, political leaders, and scientists never gave it a serious consideration that it deserved. However, recent events around the world have shown that the planet Earth is already feeling the pressure of climate change. Polar ice caps are melting, some parts of the world are experiencing abnormal cases of drought, and the weather patterns have become erratic (Washburn 2013). The world is already feeling the pressure of climate change and it has become clear that a solution must be found as soon as possible to make the world sustainable to the current and future generation. To find a solution to the climate change problem, it is important to look at the causes and consequences of climate change.
Primary Causes of Climate Change
Primary causes of climate change can broadly be classified as natural and human-related causes. One of the main natural causes of climate change is the variation in the energy of the sun that reaches the Earth (Khare & Beckman 2013). Scientists believe that when the sun’s energy reaching the Earth exceeds certain levels, then it causes global warming. According to Chapman and Gant (2007), another common natural cause of climate change is the “change in the reflectivity of Earth’s atmosphere and surface.” The paper will primarily focus on human-related causes of climate change. The greenhouse effect is believed to be the primary cause of climate change. The greenhouse gases, once released into the atmosphere, form a layer that blankets the Earth, radiating heat back to the Earth which then results into global warming. The following greenhouse gases are associated with climate change.
- Carbon dioxide is released from various human activities both at domestic and industrial levels. Industrial revolution led to increase in production of carbon dioxide. Destruction of the vegetative cover has also contributed to the increase of this gas in the Earth’s atmosphere.
- Poorly managed- wastes, manure production, and rice cultivation are some of the major sources of methane gas.
- Nitrous gas is another powerful agent of global warming. It is majorly produced through practices in soil practices such as usage of commercial fertilizers, biomass burning, nitric acid production, and fossil fuel combustion (Dryzek, Norgaard & Schlosberg 2011).
- Chlorofluorocarbons are synthetic compounds that are entirely caused by industrial processes. They are very powerful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
- Scientists strongly believe that water vapour is another major cause of global warming because of the ability of water to retain heat for a long time after gaining it.
Consequences of Climate Change
Climate change has a number of consequences that pose major risks to future existence of human beings and other living things on the planet Earth. Recent studies have confirmed that polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate and the seas are rising. Kiribati, a tiny island republic that is located in the Central Pacific, is literally sinking into the sea (Brooker & Weinthal 2013). Scientists believe that if the current trend continues, the island will be under the sea in the next 50 years. Extreme weather conditions are also believed to be a major consequence of climate change. In the Mediterranean regions, drought is becoming more common. Africa, a region that has always been affected by drought, is likely to experience reduced rainfall because of climate change.
Parts of North America are already suffering from prolonged drought, causing shortage of clean water for both domestic and industrial use. Flooding caused by unpredictable excessive rains is also another devastating result of global warming. Many lives are often lost and properties destroyed when it occurs. The increasing global temperatures in irregular patterns have also been blamed for the increasing cases of strong cyclones which have caused death and destruction in the recent past in Europe, Asia, North, and South America. Climate change is also causing poor health. Countries such as China and parts of Japan have highly polluted cities that it forces authorities to restrict movements of minors and the elderly during certain periods because of the health-related risks. The wildlife and vegetative cover are also strained by these devastating natural conditions.
Contribution From and Impact on the Built Environment
Contributions from the Built Environment
The built environment also contributes to the current problem of global warming, according to a study conducted by Watson and Adams (2011). Poorly designed houses contribute to high production of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide and methane. Major constructions in the real estate and industrial sector often involve destruction of vegetative cover to create room for the buildings. Destruction of vegetative cover significantly contributes to the increase in the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The built environment also defines how energy is consumed in these environments. Most of the traditional designs of houses did not take into consideration the need to conserve energy and protect the environment. Such structures have a significant impact on climate change.
Impact on the Built Environment
Climate change has a significant impact on the built environment. The increasingly erratic and extreme global climate is now forcing designers to come up with structures that can handle the change. Willems (2012) says that designers have to come up with buildings that can be habitable both in extremely cold and extremely hot conditions. The polluted environment is also forcing architects and designers to develop house designs which can ensure that inhabitants have clean internal environment despite the intoxication in the air outside the house. Climate change is also putting a lot of pressure on the built environment in terms of energy use.
The erratic nature of the climate, especially extreme weather conditions such as floods, is forcing architects, designers, and engineers to redefine the approach taken in constructions. Houses have to be designed and built in a way that makes them capable of withstanding these extreme weather conditions. In cases of strong floods or cyclones, infrastructures such as power lines are often destroyed. The buildings must be designed with alternative power sources in case of power failures. The built environment is also faced with the need to change materials used for construction because of the change in climate. New biodegradable and environmentally-friendly materials are now becoming more popular in the built environment because of the need to have sustainable industry.
Key Drivers and Policies to Reduce CO2e Emissions
Climate change is a reality and the society must be ready to embrace new approaches and policies that would ensure that there is sustainability. The best way of addressing the issue of emission of carbon dioxide is to come up with effective policies and regulations that must be followed. Calthorpe (2010) emphasises on the need to come up with industry-specific policies to define what various stakeholders in the built environment should do to reduce or eliminate emission of greenhouse gases. New policies regarding environmental impact assessment, protection of the vegetative cover during and after construction, and sustainability in the use of energy are some of the key areas that new policies should be developed. The primary focus should be on reduction of CO2e emission and increasing the rate at which greenhouse gases can be naturally disintegrated as a way of fighting global warming. The following policy recommendations should be put into consideration by all the relevant stakeholders.
- A new policy should be developed that require designers to come up with structures which are energy efficient. According to Calthorpe (2010), traditional house designs put little emphasis on the need to conserve energy. Greenhouse gases from homes are caused by poor use of energy. These traditional designs often force the occupants to use a lot of energy to heat or cool the house, to cook, light, and perform other household chores. Design-led revolution demands that houses should be energy efficient. Green energy must be used maximally and the houses must have mechanisms of conserving energy. Houses should be designed in a way that they can be naturally cooled or even heated by effective ventilation.
- The government should develop policies that require designers to come up with structures that make use of natural lights as much as possible. The use of electricity to light houses should only be at night when it is unavoidable. The rationale is to reduce the use of energy as much as possible. The energy that would have been used in lighting can be used in other ways hence reducing the emission of greenhouse gases.
- A new regulation that requires minimal use of water should be enacted. Water use should be minimized as much as possible as a way of fighting global warming, especially in the urban centers. A study by Roggema (2009) shows that excessive water vapor in air in areas with high greenhouse gases causes increase in environmental temperatures. Water conservation will also help in reducing competition for water between people and vegetative cover.
- A new policy should be developed that require architectures to design structures that can be integrated within the natural environment. Buildings must be part of the natural environment instead of being the reason why the environment has to be destroyed. As shown in the figure below, a time has come when the built environment must be the protector of the environment. The biggest challenge that architects would face coming up with such designs is the safety of the occupants at night because of the consumption of oxygen by plants at night and the need to ensure that the structures are not overwhelmed by the vegetative cover.
The designers must also work closely with other stakeholders to ensure that their efforts are fruitful. For instance, owners of such unique structures must be trained on how to use their houses. Government must also be responsible for ensuring that the set policies and regulations are adhered to by the designers.
Brooker, G & Weinthal, L 2013, The handbook of interior architecture and design, Springer, New York.
Calthorpe, P 2010, Urbanism in the age of climate change, Island Press, Washington.
Chapman, J & Gant, N 2007, Designers, visionaries and other stories: A collection of sustainable design essays, Earthscan, London.
Dryzek, J, Norgaard, & Schlosberg, D 2011, Oxford handbook of climate change and society, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Gethering, W & Puckett, K 2012, Design for climate change, RIBA, London.
Khare, A & Beckman, T 2013, Mitigating climate change: The emerging face of modern cities, Springer, Berlin.
Roggema, R 2009, Adaptation to climate change: A spatial challenge, Springer, Dordrecht.
Washburn, A 2013, The nature of urban design: A New York perspective on resilience, Wiley & Sons, Hoboken.
Watson, D & Adams, M 2011, Design for flooding: Architecture, landscape, and urban design for resilience to flooding and climate change, Wiley & Sons, Hoboken.
Willems, P 2012, Impacts of climate change on rainfall extremes and urban drainage systems, IWA, London.