Anticipating and mitigating effects of climate change, while promoting resilience
With the impact of climate change (CC) being felt in many areas of the world as record setting hot and cold temperatures, depletion of ozone layer, tsunamis, droughts, cyclones, melting glaciers, rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, our response depends on better anticipation, preparation, and greater resilience. With CO2 levels at 400 parts per million (ppm) - it is the highest in 50 million years. There is mounting evidence that the threat posed by CC is not only terrestrial, but also includes our oceans and marine life. By some studies the impact of CC evidenced now is because of anthropogenic activities several decades ago. Our planet's health is a lot worse than what we are able to observe in real time.
The explosion of media devices such as television, radio, mobile phone has made it possible to anticipate, inform, and prepare for CC contingencies. However, strategies to build long term resilience or to slow down and / or reverse CC, requires foresight and deliberate action.
Use of weather balloons, and satellite based weather tracking system has enhanced our ability to monitor weather and study CC. However, practices that will reduce use of fossil fuels, the primary source of CO2 emissions, are lagging behind. Increase of CO2 levels, and other greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe), increases atmospheric temperature - what we call global warming (GW).
Strategies that increase immediate, short term and long term resilience to CC are urgently needed. Our buildings need to have smaller carbon footprint (CF). Impact on rural communities, in case of impending tsunami or cyclones, may require a different response than what is required for urban population. Delineating of flood plains, wetlands, is a must for deciding where to build, and where not to. Tsunami in rural areas may require more resilient shelters, rather than eleventh hour evacuation. Shelter and homes need to be sustainable, resilient, and more dependent on renewable energy sources.
What actions do you propose?
We are presenting the following three case studies where we have attempted to identify ways to anticipate the effects of CC, and ways to mitigate its impact.
1. Case Study 1: New Orleans, LA, USA
Urban Area: Industrialized / Developed Economy. Early Warning System - adequate.
Objective: Building a “Green”, resilient, and flood resistant shelter
Our first case study is the city of New Orleans (NO). The city sits on the banks of the Mississippi river, Gulf of Mexico, and other water bodies. Much of the city is below the sea level. It is one of the cities in USA that is under constant threat of flooding. Complex set of dikes and levees and drainage system, protect the city from flooding.
On August 23, 2005, NO was hit by a devastating cyclone, named Katrina. It was a category 5 hurricane, with wind speeds close to 165 mph. It was the costliest natural disaster in US history, with property damage assessed at over US $ 108 billion. There were close to two thousand fatalities, and over 800,000 homes were destroyed or damaged.
Given the Katrina disaster we wanted to build a structure that would be resilient to extreme weather and flooding. Our survey indicated that people preferred to sit out such a storm in the security of their home, and not be forced to evacuate.
Local residents told us that they had received fair warning through television, radio, mobile texting and door to door visit by volunteers and city officials. A lot of people were evacuated to safety, especially the elderly and the homeless, before the storm hit the city.
However many refused to evacuate for a wide range of reasons, including fear of theft and vandalism in their absence. Those who did evacuate, returned to homes that were completely gutted and destroyed, including their furniture and personal belongings. Many people could not find temporary housing or rentals, as even in normal times NO has severe shortage of housing. A significant number were financially ruined and left NO to start a new life elsewhere.
The disaster became a lot worse when the city’s levees and flood-walls failed. The 9th, 8th and 7th wards were hit the hardest. The site where we built our prototype home, 7th ward, received some 6 to 8 feet of flooding. See map below. The darker the blue the more severe the flooding.
We decided to build on a site where an existing home had been severely damaged and had to be gutted.
Most homes, after the flood, had mold, mildew and termites given that these were wood frame structures. Many found the payback from insurance inadequate, the rebuilding effort too complex, and hence a lot of the folks ended up selling their home, at a steep loss, and leaving town.
We felt that loss of one's primary home was tragic, and a home that could survive such a catastrophe with minimal expense was a priority.
We eventually designed a two bedroom affordable concrete frame structure, raised some 4 feet above the ground - a marker that is also known as the base flood elevation (BFE). The city liked, and approved, our design.
We believe that the home we have built is “Green”, sustainable, affordable and resilient to future hurricanes and floods. It will allow for energy independence and reduce emission of CO2. The building section below lays out the basic principles underlying the design of our home.
An axonometric of our New Orleans home is shown below, with annotation of key features.
The walls of our home are highly insulated ( R20 - R24), roof (R-30), floor (R-19), exceed building code in some instances. The house is cool in summer without the need for air-conditioning in the hot NO summers.
The structure is impermeable to flood water for at least a height of 7 feet above grade. In case of catastrophic and severe flooding we have a flat roof which becomes a place of refuge until people can be rescued and evacuated. The roof serves as a garden roof in normal times. The garden roof, insulates the home further, sequesters the carbon among the plants and soil, absorbs the sun’s rays and does not re-radiate it back to the sky - thereby not contributing to GW.
We wanted to find another building material to build with besides wood. Wood helps sequester atmospheric carbon, and once we cut down a tree we have reduced the planet's ability to sequester that carbon. Replanting is only a half measure.
Wood construction has many downsides, such as:
- It is a combustible material, a fire hazard and especially in case of floods - with inability of fire trucks to reach and extinguish a fire.
- Wood is subject to attack by termites, and rapid decay because of mold and mildew. A significant number of homes ,wood frame (WF), that were flooded by Katrina, had to be gutted and destroyed. A catastrophic loss to the home owner.
- Trees, including the roots, leaves and branches, are mostly carbon, between 50% to 80% by weight of a tree depending on the species. Each ton of carbon in a tree is worth 3.5 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestered within the tree. De-forestation reduces the natural sequestration of carbon. Replacing a fully grown tree that takes 40 to 45 years to mature, before it is cut, is not replaced when you plant a sapling.
- Along with our oceans, trees and soil help reduce GW by sequestering carbon.
- Trees also are part of an ecosystem that harbors all kinds of small animals, insects, microbes, fauna.
Our prototype has the potential to provide energy independence.
The chart below shows the life cycle cost advantage between concrete (our prototype home) versus WF structures (current practice).
We have also calculated that if our home was to produce its own electricity and meet say 80% of its energy demands, the reduction in carbon footprint of the structure will be significant.
(Note: Currently wood frame design in USA,is dependent on fossil fuels/ electricity for heating and cooling)
The above building won a design award in 2017 from the Louisiana chapter of a national engineering association.
Case Study 2– Barguna, Bangladesh
Rural Area: Poor Population, Exposed to Cyclones and Tidal Waves, and Regular Flooding - made more severe by Climate Change
Objective: Has good early warning system (EWS). Needs resilient homes and shelters
Sustainable and “Green" Tsunami Resistant Shelter (TRS) proposed for a village in a high risk tsunami prone coastal area of Bangladesh.
SARID visited the village, Barguna in Bangladesh, after a major cyclone and tsunami event in 2007, called storm Sidr practically wiped out the village. It was one of the worst natural disasters in Bangladesh's history. Thousands were killed. An earlier tsunami triggered by an earthquake in 2004 had been equally devastating. It was found that, in the case of Sidr, people had adequate warning days before the cyclone touched ground. They had learnt of the cyclone, and later the tsunami, through multiple channels including television, radio, mobile phones, and village elders.
However, people had nowhere to escape to. Bangladesh's terrain is mostly flat, and the average difference in height between the low and high elevation from seashore to thirty miles inland is a mere five feet. When a tsunami hits the shoreline waves can be anywhere from 18 feet to 24 feet in height.
Hence, there are no higher ground to escape to. In addition, both people and livestock need to be saved, as livestock are essential for the rural economy. Villagers indicated that the only way to save themselves during the tsunami was to climb up a tree, which the elderly, the young, and the animals could not do - hence the higher mortality among the elderly, children, and livestock. The villagers were also restricted by the fact that in order to escape they needed to walk miles, through paddy fields, to reach paved roads and transportation. SARID felt the solution lay in a shelter for both people as well as their animals. People are too poor to build individual homes on stilts or resilient buildings that would be able to face the storm. Hence, SARID proposed protective TRS - for groups of people and animals, located within the confines of the village itself. Images below shows a 3D axonometric of proposed TRS, a plan layout, as well as a picture of SARID's engineers discussing the project with villagers.
The TRS will also store emergency food, water, medicine and other supplies for a week or so. The TRS would be served by mobile clinic, medical personnel and veterinarians, and perhaps would have a heli-pad for air ambulance. The TRS could also be served by boats (if still flooded) or drones, as drones are fast becoming a reality, for food and medicine drop. Drones now operate on auto-pilot, load pictures on to the cloud in real time, and can be programmed to return home after a mission. They can be programmed, or expected to soon, for automatic drop of food and medicine.
The shelter would double, during normal times, as a school, a medical clinic, village administrative offices, commercial shops, and business offices. Our suggestion is that every hamlet in these flood zones should have one TRS. Local villagers were very keen on the project, and donated some three acres of their land for the project. SARID, however, was unable to raise some US $150,000 to build the demonstration TRS. We believe such efforts will generate local employment and stimulate growth. This type of resilience is key to preserving the coastal communities.
Case Study 3 – Pitseng, Lesotho,
Rural Area: Poor Population, Extensive use of fossil fuels. Extensive CO2 emissions
Objective: Reduce use of fossil fuels. Increase use of Renewable Energy Sources (RES). Home naturally heated and cooled.
In order to reduce Global Warming (GW), we must reduce the use of fossil fuels, and avoid practices that release CO2 and GHG emissions.
Most people in the world continue to use fossil fuels for cooking, as well as for heating and cooling (electricity for air conditioning (A/C) and fan in warmer climate). Until recently chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) were widely used as refrigerants in A/C, solvents, and propellants. A practice that resulted in massive holes in our ozone layer.
In a poor African country such as Lesotho, the coldest country in Africa, nearly 70% of the population live in rural villages, and are mostly dependent on fossil fuels for heating. Most of the country lives through freezing temperatures in winter. Most of the heating is provided with fossil fuels – such as paraffin. In 2015 SARID decided to build an affordable elderly home, that would be heated with RES. No CO2 emissions, no GW.
The key features of the home are:
· An envelope ( walls, roof and floor) that is insulated
· A heat source (SHW) which is non-fossil fuel based. Solar hot water heaters provide heating in winter
· Floors and Wall that have thermal mass
· ‘A lean concrete structure insulated using recycled waste ( EPS Lunch-boxes)
· A rain water harvesting system
· Solar PV, a renewable energy resource, as the primary electric source
We felt that we could possibly teach the villagers to build these homes through sweat equity participation, and in turn promote capacity building.
We developed an alternate strategy for walls, with insulated walls on the average using some 7% cement by weight as opposed to 20% for masonry - a significant saving. It recycled, waste, lunch boxes for insulation. The home also has a rain harvesting system. See below, exterior view of the home. Same principle can be used to build larger buildings.
The home is cool in summer, given the mild Lesotho summers, and warm in winter - heated by solar hot water heaters (SHW). See chart below for actual temperature readings.
The above data shown graphically below.
And the cost of the home is less, on a life cycle cost basis, then masonry structures (current practice). See chart and graph below.
The above home was a finalist in MIT Climate Colab's 2016 "Buildings" contest. Click below to read more.
Who will take these actions?
This effort should be led by a credible, international organization , whose reach should be global, and whose primary goal should be to save the planet from further CC and only expect longer-term return on investment (ROI). It could be structured as follows:.
It could be an existing division within the United Nations (UN) or a new one, whose sole purpose would be to find ways to reduce CO2 emissions, lower the carbon footprint (CF) of buildings, and increase use of renewable energy. In order to bring about meaningful change the various stakeholders, individuals, and non-profit organizations must work together with clear set of short and long-term goals and objectives.
The lead organization should also act as a reservoir of knowledge dealing with best practices, whether it is to build a home, or a school, or a hospital which would be tailored to stimulating local manufacturing, encourage employment and skill development strategies, and provide strategies for better waste management and encourage recycling of waste products. It should hire experts, consultants and professionals who can act as an advisory team for countries wanting to build sustainable structures. Below is a hypothetical workflow chart involving a request from a country desiring a sustainable design solution.
The organization should collaborate with specific countries building research and development organizations to bring new products, and practices, into the market that are green, sustainable and have a lower CF. In our case, there is an interest in our technology, but it will require investment, institutional support and team effort to bring it to fruition.
Where will these actions be taken?
We are hoping to start building in Lesotho, provided we can get the funds for our projects. There are numerous folks who have shown an interest in using our technology. We intend to develop design manuals, and publish them online. That will help folks in many countries to build sustainable buildings - that are not fossil fuel dependent.
The house below is an earthquake resistant structure in Northern Pakistan, was designed and built by us, for the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) in 2007. See, www.saridweb.org for more details and pictures.
This home is naturally cool in summer and warm in winter, as it is well insulated walls (R-20), and has thermal mass to store heat, or cool using domestic water supply. Their is a thermal break between the outer wall and inner wall plane/ surfaces - which is desirable. Please click on url below to see opening by AKF officials of another similar home built by us at Garthama, AJK in 2006.
The house below is an affordable soil-cement, sustainable home built in Karachi, Pakistan in 2007. It is suitable for hot and tropical climate, built in a poor neighborhood of Karachi, as a demonstration home for a low income housing project initiated by the city.
The walls have sandwiched waste insulation (R-20) as well as an internal courtyard. The courtyard, a small vegetable garden, creates micro-climate modifications that cools the house in summer.
Please click on the url below to see opening of the home in 2007, by then mayor Mustapha Kamal. The last slide shows the mayor with SARID engineers.
The plan below shows how breeze from the courtyard cools the house in summer.
Our homes are suitable for both hot and cold climates, as well as for EQ zones. Countries in Africa, South and North America, Turkey, Pakistan, Nepal, Haiti and the Caribbean Area, India, China, Japan, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, the Caribbean.
What are other key benefits?
Key benefits are as follows:
- Fossil Fuel Independence: Learning to build homes that are not fossil fuel dependent - for heating or cooling. Reduces CO2 emissions. Promote use of renewable energy sources (RES).
- Building structures that are more resilient, cost less to maintain, and promote carbon sequestration.
- Vocational Training: Teach people to be self reliant and better utilize and leverage locally available resources. Teach building skills that can lead to paid employment in building / construction industry.
- Recycle waste such as expanded polystyrene (lunch-boxes), and packaging EPS, for wall cavity. Using, bamboo and grass - as thatch roof (Africa), thereby recycling waste that would otherwise be burned. Bamboo is a grass that takes only 3 -4 years to mature.
- Teaching people to pool resources, collaborate, share tools such as re-usable form-work. Access to micro-finance, individually or as a group / cooperative.
What are the proposal’s costs?
We would like to set up a workshop and a training facility in Pitseng, Lesotho and build one set of reusable forms - that can be utilized to build 100's of homes. Sisters of charity of Ottawa (SOC) are willing to collaborate with us and are willing to provide workshop space and other support. The building forms (BF) will be a common resource for the local community. They will pay for use of BF by either working in SOC farms or assist in the construction of homes for people who can pay for their homes. Next we would like to build a two room home, that will renewable energy sources for heating or cooling, and electricity through solar pv as well as with micro-turbine wind turbine (MTW). The MTW will pay for itself in 5 years. Lesotho, a high plateau, has high winds(HW) and HW corridors and we would like to leverage that. We expect the wind turbines to produce about 1500 Kilowatt (KW) per year - and our initial projections indicate that cost of electricity will be significantly less (by at least 50%) than the 20 cents per KW hour that people pay currently. Currently all electricity is imported from South Africa and it is very expensive.
We are in the process of testing such a MTW and we expect / hoping it will work at wind speeds as low as 2 to 3 meter/sec (m/s). We need close to another US $15,000 to test several versions of our MTW, before we can install them in homes and buildings.
If we succeed our MTW will bring electricity to remote areas, in many countries, where electricity is not expected for many years in future.
The initial mobilization effort for our mentioned building projects above will cost roughly US $ 35,000, which includes overhead cost for travel, local licenses and registration and lodging. We need to raise the money through grants and donations.
We are also open to working in other countries, by teaming with other public or private entities, if funding is available for such socially beneficial projects.
SOC is interested in building more elderly homes. We can start building within months from when we can get funds for mobilization – as little as $20,000. Most of this money will go towards setting up a workshop, a training facility (TF), and making reusable building forms. The TF will help local villagers to get the skills required to use our proposed building methods, obtain employment - and with a job the money to build their own homes. People are willing to chip in with their resources and money provided we guide them. Since the process of building high performance and more expensive buildings is the same as building for the poor, using the same simple techniques of construction, once we start building homes for the richer folks it will stimulate economic growth and create employment opportunities for both the unskilled and semi-skilled workers.
These now employed workers will now be able to build their own homes with the money they have earned and skills learnt. Within two years of mobilization we expect to have built significant number of homes, several schools, and medical clinics.
We would like international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGO), and philanthropist to partner with us, join forces, to make these projects a success.
Other proposals compliment our work. We are all partners in this exercise to save our planet. None of us can do everything by themselves. It requires a team effort. We do feel there is an urgent need for shelters that are resilience.
- Northen Institute of Applied Climate Science, various publications https://www.nrs.fs.fed.us
- Gore, Al. " An Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis of Global Warming". Viking/ Rodale.
- Schumacher, E.F. " Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered". Viking/ Rodale. ISBN: 0670062723
- Smith, Adam. "The Wealth of Nations". Penguin Books.
- Gore, Al. "A Wake-Up Call to Global Warming. Crabtree Publishing Company. ISBN 0778746798.