Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bringing In Our Climate Change Friends

One of the interesting things to come out of this morning’s presentations was the idea that we need to involve all residents. In particular for municipalities that means fire, ambulance, police, and highway departments. After all, they, along with the local library and town hall, are often one of the single biggest energy users in many small towns. I’m afraid that aside from planning departments and some local government types, these folks have been absent from our discussions over the last day and half – that’s a testament to the need for better local education.

One of the things that really struck me came from Rhett Lamb, the Planning Director of the City of Keene, NH when he said “historic preservation people are our best friend.” It makes perfect sense. The carbon footprint of an old building must be better then starting from scratch, even with the cost of efficiency retrofits. The last thing we want to do is tear down old buildings and send them to the landfill, when we could reuse them and refit them with new technologies.

Check out the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s blog post “Combining Sustainability with Historic Conservation: the English Experience.” Here is quite a sentence:

Decades of neglect and little investment leads to slum clearance and wholesale redevelopment, while whole life costing tied to embodied carbon modeling has been using carbon calculations (15-20 years) assigned by bankers and investors that are likely less than the true value of our material culture. In terms of ecological sustainability, models suggest that melting ice caps will cause a breach of the Thames and catastrophic flooding of London.

Now that’s something historic preservationists need to be concerned with. The National Trust has been evaluating their properties with regards to climate for a number of years. Here’s more:

In England, they are specifically identifying impacts to their properties from warmer temperatures, drought, coastal erosion, storms, flash floods and heavy rainfall. At Stourhead in Wiltshire, for example, a very wet summer followed by a crisp, frosty winter led to a “soup of green algae” in their bucolic lake. It should be noted though that it wasn’t climate change alone that caused this algal bloom. The nitrogen run-off from synthetic fertilizers used in the region combined with the unusual rainfall have presented the perfect conditions for the algae growth – a sort of one/two whammy from human impact. One of the most arresting images, was the slide of historic cottages dropping off the side of cliffs in Cornwall as coastal erosion overwhelms the coastline. Again and again, Sarah showed devastation at their properties which may have been caused by increased rainfall but was often exacerbated by irresponsible land use.

The National Trust is taking direct action to mitigate these impacts, wherever it is reasonably possible. These efforts include:

1. Reduce emissions of greenhouse gases: Changing to low energy lightbulbs including the ubiquitous CFLs. But they’ve gone one step further by working directly with light bulb manufacturers to develop new low energy bulbs for their historic fixtures.

2. Improve energy efficiency of their buildings: Here, because of their massive landholdings, they are actually able to use their own sheep to produce thermafleece for insulation, for example.

3. Reduce carbon footprint: They are evaluating their fuel sources, changing to more efficient boilers (often developed by German companies) and avoiding the use of electricity from non-renewable resources.

4. Generate energy on site: They have begun using thermal and photovoltaics at many of their sites including directly on the roofs of some of the Grade 2 listed buildings. And on support buildings of lesser importance at some of their sites, they have begun installing the PV slates.

5. Reduce embodied energy: In an effort that Sarah calls “slow conservation” (which she compared to the “slow” food movement) they are looking to building new construction in ways more sympathetic to the environment.

In order to adapt to these climate induced changes, the National Trust is looking at short, medium and long term adaptations such as installing larger gutters, going back to traditional practices (these were often done for good reason) and most importantly, managing properties better with cyclical maintenance programs.

There is a lot more. Check it out before you give Adirondack Architectural Heritage a call.

More this afternoon.

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John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for more than 45 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John's Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on North Country Public Radio and on WSLP Lake Placid.

He is also on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute and edits The New York History Blog. He is the author of two books of regional history.




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