False Solutions to Climate Change: Buildings

Estimations for the percentage of greenhouse gases emitted by the buildings sector vary wildly. But any assessment should include both the embodied energy involved in constructing new buildings and the energy costs of heating, cooling and lighting buildings.

This Thermal House

If you want to make your house more efficient at repelling the unpleasantness outdoors (whether hot or cold), what should you do first? Insulate the walls? Insulate the ceiling? The roof? Better windows? Draft elimination? What has the biggest effect?  While I have regrettably little practical experience tightening up a house (it’s on my bucket list), I at least do understand heat transfer from a physics/engineering perspective, and can walk through some insightful calculations. So let’s build a fantasy house and evaluate thermal tradeoffs at 1234 Theoretical Lane.

“Earthship Biotecture”: Renegade New Mexico architect’s radical approach to sustainable living

New Mexico residents are trying to a break free from Los Alamos’ nuclear legacy by creating more environmentally sound ways of living. At the forefront of this struggle is renegade architect Michael Reynolds, creator of radically sustainable living options through a process called “Earthship Biotecture.” Reynolds’ solar homes are created from natural and recycled materials, including aluminum cans, plastic bottles and used tires. These off-the-grid homes minimize their reliance on public utilities and fossil fuels by harnessing their energy from the sun and wind turbines. In Taos, New Mexico, Reynolds gives us a tour of one of the sustainable-living homes he created.

Green infrastructure and food

A late-summer conference that brought city gardeners and construction developers from around the world to Toronto has just issued a declaration. The statement calls for a new generation of living infrastructure that’s built in partnership with what’s conventionally thought of as urban agriculture.

Cities and Suburbs in the Energy Descent: Thinking in Scenarios

The vulnerability of cities and suburbs in the post-petroleum era has been the object of much debate because their present organization makes their operation so energy-intensive. The debate heretofore has tended to swing between two extremes. One claims that these forms of social organization on the land are so unsustainable that their populations will be forced to abandon them gradually as the energy descent progresses. The other extreme entertains dreams of massive programs of public transportation to save suburbia. It also relies heavily on technologies like high-rise agriculture and on the efficiencies of population density to save cities. This is the vision of the eco-cities movement. Neither of these scenarios makes much sense.