For the last decade, John Fülöp’s been documenting the urgency of climate change by assembling a long list of events.
“Bad things keep happening. For example, the devastating flooding of West Islip,” he said, “when an unusual rainstorm dumped 13.7” of rain in one day. Incredible snow storms have buried various places around the country — Buffalo, among others. California has endured wildfires lasting for as long as eleven months and recently, a three-year drought, followed by torrential rains, flooding, and mudslides. During Hurricane Sandy the lower third of Manhattan got flooded with unprecedented amounts of water. Eight inches of water in a day also flooded Arizona and New Mexico. Every high tide in Miami Beach brings in about six inches of water: the city is pumps the toxic water back into the bay…. (S)olutions to flooding everywhere are short-sighted and damaging our oceans. The chemical composition of the water is changing, which affects the reefs, where all fish reproduce. Crustaceans are having difficulties forming their hard shells. Oil spills keep happening.”
Recent news reports and research articles attest to increasingly severe weather events: hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, wild fires, and snowfalls. Temperatures are rising, melting Arctic ice with increasing speed, elevating sea levels, and threatening the world’s coastlines and marine life. Toxic algae appear in the Great Lakes. Every month more evidence emerges about endangered ecosystems, plants and animals (and, of course, word of alterations in animal behavior).
“The simple fact is,” Fülöp explains, “that an elevated air temperature will hold more moisture and thus produce more rain (and snow). Though high tides are regularly flooding big cities, instead of designing and installing floodgates to protect population centers, buildings in New York, for example, have moved their mechanical equipment to higher floors. That’s how they’re dealing with it. All these extraordinary weather events in our time, today, just seem to become more ordinary as time passes.”
Our country is wedded to the notion that a healthy economy must always be growing. This promotes a dynamic that drives climate change, Fulop believes. Planned obsolescence, for example, empowers manufacturers to constantly increase their production of goods. In turn, this impacts public opinion and policy decisions about which companies we subsidize economically. It also increases the amount of garbage accumulating in our landfills,contributing significantly to our world’s rising temperatures.
“The highest man-made mountain on the East Coast is an incredibly high pile of trash on Staten Island,” Fülöp reports. “For a time that’s where New York City used to take its garbage. Like all these dumps, this one still produces quantities of methane, which is a much more form of greenhouse gas than Carbon Dioxide. Companies need to take long-term responsibility for what they produce. When what they make becomes garbage in our society, the taxpayer suffers.”
Are people ready to act to contain or reverse global warming? In a recent issue of Yale’s Alumni magazine, Fülöp read a survey of its highly educated readers’ attitudes toward climate change. Among those, only 13% described themselves as “alarmed.” More promisingly, the New York Times recently reported that most Americans — including half of those identifying as Republicans – want to vote for a presidential candidate who is determined to curb global warming. (Jan 30, 2015). That’s encouraging — though somewhat qualified by the information that their public stance on the issue will be impacted by campaign funding they receive. But promising, also, is the rapid growth globally of the solar efficiency industry and the improvement of photo-voltaic cells, says Fülöp. He also describes new kinds of compressor units that make it possible to heat and cool buildings without using fossil fuels.
A range of variables must be considered in calculating costs and benefits of smart building — including ways that efficiency is being measured, the kinds of insulation and materials used, and the costs of everything — dredging, processing,treating and transporting, Fülöp explains. But well established construction practices make residential clustering with zero-energy, affordable and market rate housing absolutely feasible.
Since the 1970’s Fülöp has been working on solar and renewable energy design. A few years ago, he and colleagues brought home, to the Berkshires, a proposal for constructing diverse-use, mixed affordable and market-based, clustered housing for a site with old, mostly unused mill buildings. In addition to providing homes for a diverse population, the complex would include artist lofts and studios, museum and gallery spaces, a market place, restaurant, cafe, and multi-use outdoor gathering place with a bandstand serving the local and extended community in new ways.
Mixing housing and with commercial units has many benefits, Fülöp explains. It enhances building security (there is always activity at the site), convenience, accessible close-to-home employment possibilities, and a reduced need to travel.
“Won’t this winter’s record-breaking snowfalls in Boston — and its associated problems of antiquated, under-funded public transit systems, significant and prolonged city traffic gridlock, and vast snow removal tasks — help us all wake up?” I ask.
“We have to reach people who still don’t get it. And if you put enough of these recent, memorable events close together, in one place, they have to recognize that this is us. We’ve experienced this. There must be something going on. And we have to do something about it.”