It is no secret that our dependence on oil reaches into every aspect of modern life. Not only are we dependent on fossil fuels for power (heat, light, equipment, etc.) and transportation, but also for agriculture, construction, pharmaceuticals, and the overwhelming majority of everything we manufacture and package.
This must change – actually, will change, whether we like it or not. Not only are we wreaking environmental havoc burning fossil fuels, it is certain the costs will continue to dramatically rise, impacting every corner of our economy. Global demand is steadily increasing as supplies are steadily tapering.
It is a problem of epic scale, but there is a viable path forward. It involves transitioning to a renewable energy economy by solving five separate but related challenges – the easiest of which is how we make our buildings.
Currently, buildings are the largest single consumer of energy in industrial nations. It is within our means to turn that upside down; we have the technologies to not only take our buildings to ‘net zero’ with respect to energy, but to design and build them to reliably create more energy than they use. This is possible by means of implementation of the Passive House design standard, combined with the integration of applicable renewable energy harvesting technologies.
The other four components of a total transition to a sustainable economy are installing energy storage technology in buildings, shifting from a fossil fuel energy to a renewable energy regime, using the internet to convert our electrical power grid into an intelligent energy network, and transforming our transportation fleet to electric and fuel cell vehicles powered by renewable energy. In May of 2007, the European Parliament passed a formal commitment of all twenty-seven member states to the advancement of these principles, collectively referred to as the Third Industrial Revolution.
Buckminster Fuller observed “There is no energy crisis, only a crisis of ignorance.” There is no question that we have access to more energy than we will ever need, through renewable sources. All we need is the vision and will to change deeply embedded patterns formed by our exploitation of formerly cheap fossil fuels.
Climate change is the central problem of our time, and the urgency cannot be overstated. No other concern even comes close. The United States is collectively sleepwalking in denial, when the stakes are not merely our future quality of life, but quite possibly our survival.
Inertia is carrying us where we cannot afford to go; the time is now to meaningfully and actively engage in this conversation and act to retool our built environment. This is a very big ship we have to turn around, ominously gaining speed.