Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Boston wants to fight climate change. So why is every new building made of glass?

It's the little people who have to make sacrifices, not the Boston Brahmins

If architects, planners, and public officials in Boston mean everything they say about sustainability and climate readiness, why is the city’s latest construction boom filling the skyline with so much glass? From the shimmering height of the Millennium Tower to the waterfront views of 22 Liberty, and a boxy office and condo complex going up at Pier 4, glass exteriors have become a major feature of today’s urban landscape. Just as we associate periods in Boston’s history with specific materials and styles — like 19th-century brick apartment blocks and 20th-century monumental concrete forms — glass is the material of the moment. The new buildings mimic others being erected in New York, London, Dubai, Singapore, and other cities around the world. Glass walls have become a shortcut for architecture that is sleek, cosmopolitan, and of-the-moment.

Yet glass buildings also take a lot of energy to heat and cool. When New York started tracking energy use by skyscrapers, the gleaming 7 World Trade Center — one of that city’s more efficient glass towers — scored worse than the 1930s-era Empire State Building. Oddly, glass buildings are proliferating even as cities like Boston set ambitious goals to deal with climate change.

Former mayor Thomas Menino vowed to cultivate “the most sustainable city in the United States”; his successor, Martin Walsh, has called Boston “America’s climate champion” and set a goal of being carbon neutral by 2050.

Such rhetoric from City Hall resonates within an architecture profession that has embraced climate awareness in a big way. The “green” building industry has exploded in the past decade; green building conferences now draw tens of thousands of attendees every year. Sustainability is at the forefront of architecture curricula, and hundreds of thousands of architects get certified in sustainable design. In specialty publications, architects and other building experts have been fretting about the popularity of glass exteriors for years.

But all the talk about sustainability among architects hasn’t actually translated into lots of sustainable buildings in the real world. In reality, the industry faces a massive problem: By some estimates, the building sector consumes nearly half of the energy and produces 45 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Many architects have signed on to an industry challenge to become carbon neutral by 2030, but new buildings are already slipping behind the targets to get there. Permissive building codes, industry inertia, and market demands — like clients clamoring for floor-to-ceiling views — have widened the discrepancy between the kind of buildings cities say they want and what they actually allow. So while the industry inches towards better environmental performance, buildings in Boston and other cities still fall short of the sustainability goals that everyone claims to embrace.

The debate over glass buildings is one example of a larger fault line in architecture, a profession where the dreams of social and environmental visionaries collide with the harsh realities of getting building projects financed.

Sustainability-minded architects are trying to wean colleagues and clients from all-glass buildings, which they see as a relic of the past rather than a vision of the future. “Our goal is not to demonize glass as a material,” says Blake Jackson, an architect at Tsoi/Kobus & Associates in Cambridge. But he says glass can be used judiciously in a way that’s responsive to the environment.

Others describe the issue more starkly. “Glass is like sugar,” says Ilana Judah, director of sustainability at FXFOWLE Architects in New York. It’s inherently appealing to the senses and was once a luxury. Now, as a commodity that’s both appealing and plentiful, it creates problems. “Sugar is an incredibly commonplace item now,” she says, “and we have an obesity issue.” Judah says that glass, like sugar, has negative consequences when used in excess. “My perspective is that we’re overdosing on glass,” she says.

Architecture has been in a love affair and struggle with glass buildings for nearly a century, since floor-to-ceiling glass walls became possible around the 1920s. “The big fight in all traditional buildings up to that time was how to get natural light into spaces,” says Blake Middleton, a partner at New York-based Handel Architects.

Glass walls were seen as a liberation, and became a key part of the modernist aesthetic. “It’s sleek. It feels like the future,” says Z Smith, an architect at the New Orleans-based firm Eskew+Dumez+Ripple. German Bauhaus architects who emigrated to the United States helped to popularize a glass-heavy international style that still resonates today. The iconic transparent glass walls of Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Plano, Ill., are echoed today in the nearly invisible walls of an Apple Store.

The visual qualities of glass — transparency, reflectivity, smoothness — still captivate designers. Smith’s architecture students at Tulane University quickly learn that glass is a shortcut to a good-looking design: “When they’re not sure what do with it, they enclose it with a glass curtain wall.” Lit up at night, glass buildings make great marketing photos. Reflecting daylight, they appear jewel-like in the skyline.

For developers, the main appeal of glass is financial. Glass is pricier than other materials, but not exorbitant, and a simple all-glass wall can actually streamline costs over a wall with large windows. And the investment in glass yields a payoff. “It’s always about the view,” says Middleton, who designed Boston’s Millennium Tower. “In real estate, it’s location, location, location, and the third location is where you are in elevation.” A floor-to-ceiling window helps to maximize the value of that height.

In residential buildings, a glass wall “is only for the day the potential buyer of the condo walks in. They feel like they can fly,” says Smith. But what makes an apartment sell is different from what makes it livable. Glass walls are often touted as a way to feel connected to nature and the outdoors, but that illusion, paradoxically, comes at an environmental cost.

What’s so problematic about glass walls? In Boston’s climate, the biggest problem is a lack of insulation. Unlike opaque walls, glass allows heat to pass in and out easily. A 2014 report from the Urban Green Council in New York found that glass buildings have insulation values equivalent to medieval half-timber houses. “You have to now put more heat in your building to make up for that glass,” says Andrea Love, director of building science at Boston architecture firm Payette. On a cold day, glass walls will make you feel chilly, even if the air temperature in the room is comfortable, because your body loses heat to the cold surface.

And as Love explains, they create a chill-inducing draft, as warmed air hits the top of the glass wall and falls. Perimeter heating systems are often needed to make up for these discomforts. In the summer, solar energy heats up surfaces inside, requiring more air conditioning. All-glass buildings often need constant heating or cooling to maintain comfortable temperatures. In an extended power failure, temperatures in a glass high-rise could quickly rise or fall to dangerous levels.

Transparent walls also limit privacy, and sunlight can create glare. Reflections on glass buildings can also be a problem; one London skyscraper infamously melted cars parked outside. The Urban Green Council has found that occupants of glass buildings often cover their views with shades and curtains, negating the effect of transparent walls. And a study by Love’s team found that floor-to-ceiling glass doesn’t bring in significantly more daylight than windows covering half the wall.


What Green/Left fearmongering does

Jeff Jacoby

THE STRANGER rang the doorbell. Five minutes later, she was sobbing in our living room.

It was a little before 7 p.m. when we heard the bell. With a glance at my wife to confirm that we weren't expecting anyone, I went to open the front door. Standing in the entrance, a tentative smile on her face and an iPad in her hand, was a young woman wearing shorts and an olive T-shirt.

"Hi, do you have a moment? I'd like to tell you about Greenpeace," she began.

We're used to getting door-to-door solicitors. I've opened the front door to high-school kids selling raffle tickets, to candidates collecting nomination signatures — once, even, to someone recruiting customers for a dry-cleaning establishment. But most of the canvassers are recent college graduates requesting contributions for political advocacy groups. Our neighborhood skews heavily left of center — one house on our street has been flying a "Resist" banner for the last few months; another has a "Black Lives Matter" sign mounted on the front porch — so it's hardly surprising that Greenpeace dispatches recruiters to such fertile ground.

The Jacoby household, though, skews to the right, and I didn't want my visitor to waste time on a pitch that wasn't going to pay off. But I also didn't want to give her the cold shoulder. Knocking on doors is stressful; even if you're not going to donate, there's no reason not to be courteous.

"I should tell you up front that I'm not a Greenpeace fan," I said. "I'll be very happy to listen, but just to be honest with you — you're not going to make a sale at this address."

She gave it her best shot.

"I know not everybody agrees with how Greenpeace works," she said [I'm paraphrasing from memory], "but it's more important than ever to protect the environment and the oceans and the forests, right? Especially now that Trump is president! By pulling the US out of the Paris climate accord, and what he's trying to do on immigration, and giving more power to corporations — I'm sure you would agree that with Trump in power, things are moving in the wrong direction, wouldn't you?"

She was speaking a little too quickly. I had the sense that she was trying to hit all her talking points before I turned her down.

"I'm not a Trump supporter," I replied. "I didn't vote for him; I don't think he's a good president. But I wouldn't say that everything is moving in the wrong direction. Climate change doesn't alarm me — I think it's way overblown."

She seemed perturbed, so I tried to reassure her.

"Don't worry, my views aren't typical for this street," I said. "We're pretty conservative in this house. We're also pretty friendly — just not to the point of giving money to Greenpeace." I smiled encouragingly. "I'm sure you'll do better with some of our neighbors. Did you see the house with the 'Resist' banner?"

She nodded glumly. "Yes. It didn't go well."

Suddenly, to my astonishment, she was in tears.

"I'm so sorry," she said, half-sobbing, half-panting. "I'm so sorry. I don't know why I'm crying. It's just really hard, and everything is so concerning, and — "

"Hey, shhh, that's OK," I said, coaxing her into the living room. "Sit down for a few minutes. Take a deep breath; clear your head." The tears kept coming. I hurried to the kitchen for a box of tissues. When I returned to the living room, she was still weeping.

"I don't know why I can't stop," she said. "This is so unprofessional. I think I must be dehydrated."

I brought her some cold water. My wife came to sit with us. We asked the young woman her name and introduced ourselves. As she wiped her eyes and sipped her water, she told us that she had only arrived in Boston a few days earlier and was staying at an Airbnb, having been flown in by Greenpeace from her home on the West Coast. She believes in what she is doing, but to keep her job, she has to meet a quota — so-and-so many donations per month. Door-to-door canvassing is easier with a partner, but she is alone, and so many people are unpleasant.

"I can't believe I'm having a breakdown in your living room," she said. "But I'm really upset about what's happening. I worry about what's going to happen to people I care about." It gnaws at her to see how angry so many people are these days. She wasn't raised to hate people whose politics were different from hers, she told us. At the same time, she's frightened for the future — her future, and her friends', and the planet's.

By the time the tears subsided, it was 7:25. Normally she knocks on doors until 9 p.m. We persuaded her to take the rest of the evening off.

I gave her our number. "If you need anything while you're in Boston, call us," I said. "We'll be happy to help."

I refilled her water bottle. My wife drove her to the Greenpeace office a few miles away.

It's an anxious time in America, unsettled and fretful. I hope our visitor got a good night's sleep.


Will The Sun Put The Brakes On Global Warming?

The sun is like a teenager that cycles through mood swings – from dramatic to chill and back again – roughly every eleven years. But this time it’s different. It now appears the sun is heading for a rare, super-chill period that threatens to add some unexpected drama to today’s climate change discussion.

For most of its history, science believed the sun’s output was constant. It was wrong. Today, we realize that lots of things about the sun wax and wane every eleven years, most notably its brightness and the number of explosive disturbances on its surface called sunspots and faculae.

That’s not all. The eleven-year cycle itself snakes up and down like a roller coaster, reaching “grand maxima” and “grand minima” every 100-200 years. The last grand maximum peaked circa 1958, after which the sun has been steadily quieting down. Today, the drop in activity is at its steepest in 9,300 years.

Is the sun headed for a grand minimum? If so, it immediately calls to mind the famous Maunder Minimum, during which the sun languished for seventy years. From 1645 to 1715 the sun’s brightness dimmed by a fraction of one percent and the number of sunspots and faculae plummeted to nearly zero.

On top of that, the Maunder Minimum occurred precisely during the coldest part of the centuries-long Little Ice Age, when the average temperature of the northern hemisphere dropped by about 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit. Was it a coincidence? Or did the Maunder Minimum help drive the ice age? Here’s where the story about today’s apparent plunge toward a solar grand minimum really heats up.

According to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Earth’s temperature has increased by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, roughly the end of the Little Ice Age. The worst warming is yet to come, most scientists claim, and not even a grand solar minimum will prevent it.

Using computer simulations, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, estimate that “a grand solar minimum in the middle of the 21st century would slow down human-caused global warming and reduce the relative increase of surface temperatures by several tenths of a degree [Celsius, equal to about 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit].” But at the end of the grand minimum, they say, the warming would simply pick up where it left off. “Therefore … a grand solar minimum would slow down and somewhat delay, but not stop, human-caused global warming.”

But the sun’s dramatic quiescence comes with a surprising complication: cosmic rays. They are subatomic particles – mainly protons and helium nuclei – that originate from somewhere deep within our galaxy. Their source is still a mystery.

Usually, the sun’s powerful magnetic field and radioactive winds keep cosmic rays away from our neighborhood. But when the sun weakens, the cosmic rays are freer to move in and bombard Earth. New research shows that upon striking the atmosphere, cosmic rays produce showers of particles and ions that seed clouds with extraordinary efficiency. The increased cloudiness shades Earth from the sun.

Recently, a team of Russian scientists compared the cosmic-ray cooling mechanism to two other well-known drivers of climate change – the sun’s inconstant brightness and greenhouse gases. Publishing in the “Bulletin of the Russian Academy of Sciences: Physics,” they maintain the cosmic-ray cooling phenomenon will dominate everything else in the coming decades and actually force a period of global cooling.

It is a radical hypothesis, to be sure, but even mainstream scientists monitoring the sun’s rapidly flagging behavior agree the growing likelihood of a grand minimum is stirring up a grand maximum of uncertainty and excitement.


A climate roadmap for President Trump

This week, President Trump is likely getting an earful in Paris over his extrication of the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement earlier this year. But our withdrawal will be meaningless unless he follows up with two important actions before he leaves office.

First, the administration must vacate the Environmental Protection Agency's 2009 "Endangerment Finding" from carbon dioxide. Under the 2007 Supreme Court case Massachusetts v. EPA, this finding is required for the Agency to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act. No finding, no policy.

Second, the U.S. must pull out of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This treaty, which was ratified by the Senate, is the document that enables subsequent emissions agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol (not ratified) and the Paris agreement (an executive agreement).

As long as we are a party to the Framework Convention, a new president with different views on climate policy could simply sign us right back into the Paris agreement.

From the periphery, and certainly from reading the headlines, canceling out these two elements of climate policy might seem like a tall task. Certainly, the climate science used to justify the EPA's endangerment finding and U.S. entry into the U.N. framework is seen as beyond reproach.

One of the foundational documents for the Endangerment Finding is the 2009 "National Assessment" of climate change. Its next iteration, in 2014, claimed it was "the most comprehensive and authoritative report ever generated about climate change," as well as being "a key deliverable of President Obama's Climate Action Plan."

The problem is, these "assessments" rely solely upon computer climate models for their future scenarios of gloom and doom. As it turns out, climate modeling (or forecasting) isn't necessarily climate science, because the modeler gets to choose a preferred answer, and then tune the internal equations to get there.

The forecast models are known as "general circulation models," or GCMs, and are generated by various government research groups around the world. Every six years, the U.S. Department of Energy supervises a "model intercomparison" project. For the most recent one, in 2013, 34 modeling teams sent in a "frozen code" model to be compared with the predictions from other groups. These form a community of base models, which the researchers feel are their "best" version, and after this point the code cannot be changed until the inter-comparison is done.

According to an Oct. 2016 news story in Science magazine, the modeling team from Germany's Max Planck Institute was finalizing their inter-comparison version when the team leader, Erich Roeckner, became temporarily unavailable to participate in the work. As the team tested the model before submitting it, they found it now predicted twice as much warming (7 degrees Celsius) for doubled carbon dioxide as it had in its previous iteration. Science reported that Roeckner had a unique ability to tune the model's cloud formation algorithm, and so in his absence, the model produced heating way outside the norm. Roeckner's team eventually got the warming down to a level that was within the range of the other models.

Enter Frederic Hourdin, who headed up the French modeling effort. He rounded up modelers from 13 other groups and recently published "The Art and Science of Climate Model Tuning" in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. All of the climate models the world uses to create and justify things like the U.N. Framework Convention, the EPA endangerment finding, and the Paris agreement, are "tuned" to arrive at parameters forecast within an "anticipated acceptable range," to quote Hourdin. But the big question is, acceptable to whom? One of Roeckner's senior scientists, Thorsten Mauritsen, told Science, "The model we produced with 7 degrees [Celsius] was a damn good model." But in his opinion that was too hot, so it had to be tuned.

The EPA's determination that carbon dioxide needs to be more strictly regulated is based entirely on the GCM's future climate projections, in which the subjective modeler – not the objective model – determines what is "acceptable." That's not science. It's an educated guess. It is akin to the "herding" phenomenon seen among election pollsters when they adjust unexpected (but still possibly correct) results to appear more plausible based on others' results and expectations.

It will be a considerable task to document the tuning problem. But if the Trump administration does this, it will have sufficient justification to warrant vacating the Endangerment Finding, which itself will justify getting the U.S. out of the U.N. Framework Climate Convention, and out of Paris for good.


Most of Obama’s Green Policies Persist at Department of Defense

As Congress considers green projects in a military spending bill, the Trump administration hasn’t staked out a strong case on whether to roll back the Obama administration’s aggressive push for biofuels, wind, solar, and other renewables in the military.

“The Pentagon has bought into climate change because it makes it politically more acceptable,” @myronebell says.

During his confirmation hearing Tuesday, Trump nominee for Navy secretary, Richard V. Spencer, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was watchful of climate change. The committee unanimously approved Spencer.

“The Navy, from my briefings to date, is totally aware of rising water issues, storm issues, etc.,” Spencer said. “We must protect our infrastructure, and I will work hard to make sure we are keeping an eye on that because without the infrastructure, we lose readiness.”

This week, the House debated the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018. Last month, the Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee passed an amendment by Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., directing the Defense Department to assess 10 bases in each branch most threatened by climate change, and for the Pentagon to count climate change as a security risk to deal with—even as several government audits in the last two years have found the alternative energy sources haven’t been efficient for the DOD.

A 2015 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental advocacy and research group, warned that 128 U.S. military bases could be submerged because of rising sea levels.

Reps. Scott Perry, R-Pa., and Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, each sponsored their own amendments to strike the Langevin provision. Perry’s proposal would remove the language to save money for the Pentagon, while Davidson’s amendment would strike down a 2015 executive order by President Barack Obama that requires the military to meet emission reduction targets.

However, neither of the Republicans’ amendments will likely make it to the floor despite clearing the rules committee, said Myron Ebell, director for the Center for Energy and the Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“There are problems at the Pentagon and in Congress,” Ebell, who served on President Donald Trump’s transition team, told The Daily Signal. “President Trump signed an executive order that got rid of some green energy programs at the Pentagon, but others are left in place.”

Trump signed an order rescinding Obama’s Executive Order 13653 directing the Department of Defense and other departments to use resources to prepare for the impact of climate change. However, Trump hasn’t rescinded this executive order, which the amendment Davidson is offering would undo, Ebell noted.

“The Pentagon has bought into climate change because it makes it politically more acceptable to people who wouldn’t normally like the Pentagon,” Ebell said. “Another reason is that it’s another means to enhance the portfolio and receive more funding, even if it’s not part of the essential mission.”

One of the nation’s leading environmental groups expressed frustration over the two House Republicans’ proposals.

“Apparently there is no limit to what some Republican members of Congress like Reps. Scott [Perry] and Davidson are prepared to do to wipe away reality, consequences be damned,” Liz Perera, a policy director for the Sierra Club, said in a statement. “Some House Republicans think they know more about climate science than actual scientists, and, amazingly, more about how to protect our troops and military bases than the Pentagon. This kind of blind arrogance endangers the health of our families and the security of our nation.”

Navy Cmdr. Patrick L. Evans, a Pentagon spokesman, referenced some of the existing policies and told The Daily Signal, “not to my knowledge,” when asked if there would be significant changes under the Trump administration regarding renewable energy rules across military branches.

Already, Obama-era mandates linger.

Title 10 of U.S. Code Section 2911 states that 25 percent of Department of Defense facility energy use be generated by renewable energy sources by 2025 and it would take an act of Congress to reverse this.

However, most policies are administrative, said Rachel Zissimos, a research associate for national security and defense studies at The Heritage Foundation.

This includes Obama’s 2011 directive that the Navy and other departments and agencies “work with private industry to create advanced drop-in biofuels that [would] power both the Department of Defense and private sector transportation throughout America.”

Obama’s Navy Secretary Ray Mabus also touted the “Great Green Fleet.” The name is derived from the “Great White Fleet,” the U.S. Navy battle fleet President Theodore Roosevelt ordered to travel the globe and demonstrate American military prowess.

In 2015, the Department of Defense issued a report on the unrest climate change could cause. In a statement about the report, the department said:

The Department of Defense’s primary responsibility is to protect national security interests around the world. This involves considering all aspects of the global security environment and planning appropriately for potential contingencies and the possibility of unexpected developments both in the near and the longer terms. … It is in this context that the department must consider the effects of climate change—such as sea level rise, shifting climate zones, and more frequent and intense severe weather events—and how these effects could impact national security.

In September 2016, the Government Accountability Office found that of 17 renewable energy programs in the Department of Defense, only two provided power in case of a grid outage. The other programs were costly, and the department’s spending on renewable energy went up by 60 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to the audit.

A separate Government Accountability Office study in July 2015 found the department still spends far more on traditional gasoline for fuels, but gets a better bargain per gallon than with alternatives.

The Pentagon paid $58.6 million for 2 million gallons of alternative fuel from 2007 to 2014—which would be about $29 per gallon for alternatives. Conversely, over that same time, the department spent $107.2 billion for 32 billion of petroleum, which would only be $3 per gallon.

A Department of Defense comptroller general’s report in February 2016 found that the cost of environmental compliance increased by more than $119 million from the previous fiscal year.

During his Senate confirmation, Defense Secretary James Mattis said in written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee that “climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today. It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.”

When serving as the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division during the second Iraq War, Mattis said the Department of Defense should “unleash us from the tether of fuel.”

Mattis wasn’t advocating addressing alternative fuels because of climate change, but rather because of the cost of transporting fuel, Zissimos said.

“The biggest cost for fuel is transportation, delivery, and storage,” Zissimos told The Daily Signal. “Operations are primarily overseas. A huge investment in biofuels will not reduce that cost because they will still need to be transported overseas.”




Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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