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Extremes
By: Sonja Persram - Monday, January 15, 2007
Source: Sustainable Alternatives Consulting, Inc.

The word "extreme" came into much use in the past decade in relation to adventurous or dangerous sports.  But these days, extreme weather events are highlighting the fact that many extreme and winter sports hitherto enjoyed by the daring – such as snowboarding, snow mountain bike racing, and ski slopestyle – as well as the more common winter sports, are becoming endangered due to global warming.

Olympic ski stars, the International Ski Federation, winter resorts, and organizers of competitions like the World Cup races, are all aware that their industry is in jeopardy because of melting snow due to warm, "unseasonable" weather… of which we are warned to expect increasing signs.

Unstable extremes of weather are also wreaking considerable havoc.  Vancouver and Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada have been lashed by 100-km winds, blizzards and rain that left hundreds of thousands without power, or water, or shelter (as they were urged to abandon their stranded homes) and which tore holes in roofs and downed old, old trees in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

People, organizations and buildings in the states of Oregon, Colorado and Washington and elsewhere in Canada and the U.S. have recently been exposed to similar, extreme kinds of casualties.  The nightmare experiences of people who were in Hurricane Katrina’s destructive path are still being recovered from, and rebuilding and relocation are just some of the permanent, devastating and costly life changes.

These experiences lend support to the rationale for green buildings, including the implementation of distributed supplies of water and energy (for heating, electricity and to facilitate access to water via pumping) in order to enable communities to survive extreme weather events in a world of diminishing fossil fuel supply.

Alex Wilson’s concept of Passive Survivability is particularly apt here.  In the December 2005 edition of Environmental Building News, he defined this term as "the ability of a building to maintain critical life-support conditions for its occupants if services such as power, heating fuel, or water are lost for an extended period." Wilson stated, in this regard:

"Relative to building performance, the idea is not to maintain temperatures within the ASHRAE-defined comfort zone of 68–81°F (20–27°C)—depending on the season and humidity—but to create buildings that will not threaten the lives of their occupants if power is lost.  After Hurricane Katrina, temperatures in the New Orleans Superdome rose as high as 105°F (41°C).  In the Chicago heat wave, many apartments stayed above 90°F (32°C) even at night; had power been lost, even briefly, the death toll would likely have mushroomed."

Wilson goes on to note that while large generators have utility such as for hospitals in emergency situations, for smaller buildings, passive survivability requires "incorporating the sustainable design features that have been so actively promoted by the green building community: cooling-load avoidance strategies, capabilities for natural ventilation, a highly efficient thermal envelope, passive solar gain, and natural daylighting."  In fact, Wilson states these should be integrated into building codes.  Further, Wilson identifies that passive survivability lowers buildings' energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions – thus reducing the likelihood of needing these passive survivability characteristics for occupant safety.

Green buildings and distributed generation initiatives will be useful to users and owners when they can also withstand the extremes – and extreme durations, of high winds; blizzard events that drop – and leave – tonnes of snow; and neverending rain, that all seem to be part of the new globally warming scene.

Additionally, here’s some food for thought: it wouldn’t do much good to green building occupants if they have on-site provision for electricity, heating and water to be able to wait out an emergency, but lack sufficient nutritional provisions.

In fact, advisors on emergency preparedness are concerned that communities have an adequate, locally available food supply to enable them to survive natural, communicable or unplanned disasters.1  In that regard, on-site greenspace such as green roofs, and local productive capacity such as community gardens that enable food provision for all seasons, are key to community resilience during catastrophes.

John Todd’s aquaculture recirculating systems that produce fish, shrimp and hydroponic vegetables present an ideal means of reclaiming water and simultaneously creating productive capacity in the absence of intense energy consumption.

One such integrated food system sized for a small community was created for the Burlington Food Works, an agricultural EcoPark in Intervale Centre.2
Waste heat from a wood-fired power plant supports all-season greenhouse production of a waste-as-food chain incorporating mushrooms, aquaculture, salad greens, compost, a chicken brooder barn, and a brewery: all basic food and beverage needs, provided you don’t go in for extreme eating.

Including all of the above components in green building design and construction will reduce the risks of extreme losses – to property, and especially, to human health and life.

1 Persram, Sonja, Larsson, Nils and Todd, Joel Ann, citing Wayne Roberts, Co-Chair of the Toronto Food Policy Council in Larsson, Nils et al., International Sustainable Building Policy Initiatives, Canada Mortgage & Housing Corporation, December 2006, in press.

2 Ocean Arks International, http://www.oceanarks.org/agriculture/

Sonja Persram, BSc. MBA, is author of Green Buildings: A Strategic Analysis of North American Markets for Frost & Sullivan (in press), addressing Energy, Water and Facilities Management. She is a member of the City of Toronto’s Green Development Standards Working Group. Contact: Sustainable Alternatives Consulting Inc: sonja@sustainablealternatives.ca



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