Abrupt impacts of climate change: Anticipating surprises

The study from the National Academy of Sciences, "Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises," has some useful advice for how building engineers should advise their clients.


Okay – okay, I can be a science nerd. I entered undergraduate school wanting to be a marine biologist and left with a degree in philosophy. Go figure. I eventually course-corrected with a masters in architecture. Every so often I run across a study that peaks my interest. The recent publication from the National Academy of Sciences, Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprisesis one of these.

For architects and engineers this is directly related to how we design and our approach to resiliency in the buildings, communities, and cities we deliver to our clients. Things are likely to get funky and could do so quickly.

The study is sponsored by the U.S. intelligence community, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, and the National Academies. The first paragraph reads, Levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere are exceeding levels recorded in the past millions of years, and thus climate is being forced beyond the range of the recent geological era. Lacking concerted action by the world’s nations, it is clear that the future climate will be warmer, sea levels will rise, global rainfall patterns will change, and ecosystems will be altered.

It is worth reading the summary if nothing else. The last paragraph of the section The Way Forward reads; Although there is still much to learn about abrupt climate change and abrupt climate impacts, to willfully ignore the threat of abrupt change could lead to more costs, loss of life, suffering, and environmental degradation. The time is here to be serious about the threat of tipping points so as to better anticipate and prepare ourselves for the inevitable surprises.

Just how should we advise our clients?

Is designing to today’s code and zoning sufficient?

What is our role as designers?

A resolution for 2014?

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