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Is Climate Change a Phenomenon or Paranoia?

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In an incisive op-ed in New York Times in 2009, he argues, to claim climate change is accelerating is bizarre. Because of his unconventional views, his opponents in the similar industry has characterized him as a skeptic, a charlatan and even a liar. While many scientists and environment activists have repeatedly call for combating climate change, ironically it is only Professor Lindzen who deems the climate change thesis overrated. To Lindzen, those who aggressively advocate to battle climate change are merely scaring themselves. Lindzen’s view on climate change is not his only scientific opinion that has raised eyebrows, he has also backed that changes in water vapor will dampen global warming. This argument is popularly known as the Lindzen’s Iris Hypothesis. Again, he was criticized and refuted by other scientists within the same year as they have demonstrated that the rising amount of water vapor in the atmosphere is in fact amplifying global warming. Other scientists who tested the hypothesis have also found no evidence to support Lindzen’s hypothesis. As brilliant as a man he is and even with his outstanding credentials as a Professor of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences, Lindzen is perhaps the only “madman” who has been most mistaken because the reality tells otherwise.

In reality, the global temperature has been rising in an alarming rate in the past centuries as reported by the Inter-Governmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC). Studies have shown that the rate of global warming has been unprecedented for the past 11,000 years. Experts have also predicted that the increase in the Earth’s temperature, if left unchecked, will have devastating effects. Some of the major implications of climate change include the rise of greenhouse gases (GHGs) on the planet, the rise of heat-related illness, stronger storms, increased of droughts, persisting extreme weather and the concentration of carbon dioxides (CO2) in the atmosphere. Signs of these implications are already happening and these facts have discarded Lindzen’s argument.

Building a Case
The building sector is one of the largest contributors of CO2 emissions and greenhouse gases. In one of the reports of the United Nations Environment Program in 2006, it is reported that the building sector contributes up to 40% of greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from energy used in buildings. These gases are emitted from the burning of fossil fuels to produce energy. What is even more frightening is IPCC has forecasted that energy demand may increase to 150% by 2050. As such, there is an urgent need to battle climate change because it will certainly affect our livelihood one way or another. Concerned citizens and environment activists worldwide have advocated awareness through campaigns and street protests while policy makers and researchers have produced policy briefs and reports to educate the power holders and the general public. Beyond this, concrete efforts to mitigate climate change are abundant such as recycling, tree plantings and the use of energy efficient appliances.

Since the building sector is one of the key contributors in greenhouse gas emissions, it is perhaps important to look at the measures practitioners could take. Thus far, such measures and more have come on stream to make its way to be a mainstay in the built environment. One of them is to build new or retrofit old buildings to improve energy efficiency by designing or adapting passive solar building. Passive solar building orientates the design of a building in response to the sun. To do this, architects consider windows placement, thermal insulation and shading. In tropical countries like Malaysia, the trick is really to ensure ventilation in the building.

Besides building design, other measures include reducing greenhouse gas emission by installing high efficiency appliances such as water heater, external window shades or double glazed windows. In addition to that, using lighter tones of paint such as the color white will also help in cooling the buildings. Consequently, it may also reduce the need to use air-conditioner. In the same vein, the selection of paint for the building is equally vital to reduce heat of the building.

Now, those who disagree such as Lindzen or those who do not feel the pinch of climate change may not see these measures as vital nor useful. This is because they either do not think these measures will make any difference or just never considered themselves as a candidate to be directly affected by climate change. Yet, the reality has, insofar, informed us otherwise.

At the crux of the whole climate change debate, it is really an issue of sustainability. To be a good architect is really more than just designing fanciful or space saving buildings, but to uphold environmental ethics as paramount. Similarly, developers could really contribute if they pierce their vision to change cities rather than just making profits. And as such, even when the great Lindzen may look at these efforts as manifestations of paranoia, the choice laid before us is either to trust the lone ranger scientist or to allow more data come to convince us of the long term reality. I leave the decision to the practitioners of the building and architectural sector, and to you out there.