Category Archives: MY OPINION

CLIMATE: The United States forsaken opportunities and responsibilities

By: Ricardo A. Alvarez (305)931-0871; 19530 NE 18th Ct, Miami, FL 33179-3656

Last April 24, 2017 the United Kingdom satisfied all its energy needs without using a single ounce of coal to generate power. All of its power was generated by renewables, natural gas and nuclear.

Just a week later on April 30 Germany, the 4th largest economy in the world,  provided  85% of its considerable needs by generating power from renewable sources.

A week ago China, the 2nd largest world economy and the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, inaugurated the largest floating solar power plant in the world: a 40 megawatt facility floating on a man-made lake covering the site of an abandoned coal mine.

These are examples of how three of the leading economies in the world are meeting their commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate and their obligations to guard the welfare of their people and our planet Earth. These are examples of what leaders do.

In this context it is also important to note that China has committed to generating at least 20% of their immense power needs from renewable sources by 2030, investing $360 billion to do it while generating 13 million NEW JOBS in the process, which will offset by a large margin those jobs lost as a result of closing obsolete and high polluting coal-fired power plants and coal mines. Truly a smart and forward thinking approach to climate change mitigation.

In addition China is not just talking about doing this things, the country is actually doing what its leaders said they would do. Just in 2015 China installed more than 105,000 power-generating wind turbines and more than 29 million commercial solar power panels. These numbers are not new, China began this gargantuan effort a few years back altering the supply and demand equation in such a way, that it has made renewable energy from solar and wind sources highly competitive with energy derived from fossil fuels. In turn this has driven demand for renewable power even higher, which is already making it cheaper that non-renewable.

In its process of working to meet its commitments, China has also created millions of jobs and a strong niche in the manufacturing of photovoltaic cells, solar panels, and wind turbines, demonstrating with facts that investing in climate change mitigation and renewable energy is good for business and the economy.

In contrast, today 1 June 2017, the current U.S. administration announced it will withdraw from the Paris Agreement giving as a reason the need to protect our economy and jobs, which would suffer, or so the President claims, should the United States reduces emissions of greenhouse gases and invests more on the production of renewable energy. This despite the factual examples summarized before.

The United States will join Nicaragua and Syria as the only countries that will not be parties to the PARIS Agreement on Climate. However in defense on Nicaragua and Syria let us consider the following: Syria has for the past few years undergone a horrible civil war where Syrian citizens have been displaced by the million, and also attacked with outlawed chemical weapons.  It is clear that under its current circumstances Syria is not focusing on climate change or the Paris Agreement. Nicaragua, on the other hand, did not sign the agreement because it considered it not strong enough, but the country has committed  to generating 90% of its power needs from renewable sources by 2020. By 2015 Nicaragua had already achieved more that 60% renewable power generation (from hydroelectric, biomass, geothermal and wind) compared to less than 15% in the United States.

In taking this action, and several others taken or proposed since Mr. Trump took office, the current administration is not only derelict of its sworn duty to safeguard the welfare of the people, but it is forsaking its responsibility to create jobs and generate business opportunities to underpin our economy. Not to mention that by rejecting facts, reason, and science, which clearly show the exacerbating influence of human activity on our planet’s climate, the President and current administration have chosen to deny the United States a critical opportunity to lead for the benefit of the people and humankind, electing instead to continue to move toward decline.

At the AIA 2015: A message of optimism!

A week ago (May 14-16,2015) I participated in AIA 2015, the American Institute of Architects annual convention, in Atlanta. What an excellent event it was!

The AIA 2015 was hosted at the state-of-the art Georgia World Congress Center, just a few blocks from downtown Atlanta.
The AIA 2015 was hosted at the state-of-the art Georgia World Congress Center, just a few blocks from downtown Atlanta.

I had the honor of contributing to AIA 2015 as a speaker, jointly with my colleague Rachel Minnery, FAIA, in delivering a seminar: Beyond Single Building Toward a Community and Regional Resilience Approach (TH302 – also offered online at AIAU) ). This is the second time I have been invited to contribute as a speaker to the AIA convention. My first time was for AIA 2010 in Miami Beach, Florida where I guided a tour and presented a paper: Characterization of Impact: A tool for designing for disaster.  [please click of the following link TECHNICALPAPERfor tour]

Anticipation and excitement mount as more than 7000 participants in AIA 2015 pack the main auditorium for the opening general session and keynote speaker Bill Clinton.
Anticipation and excitement mount as more than 7000 participants in AIA 2015 pack the main auditorium for the opening general session and keynote speaker Bill Clinton.

Let me say this, for an event organized by a 158-year-old institution this one really energized me. I came back with a sense that this venerable and aging organization is full of pep with a message of optimism, and ready to do well not only by its members but for the communities where they practice, in the U.S.A. and the world.

AIA 2014 President Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA welcomes participants to AIA 2015
AIA 2014 President Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA welcomes participants to AIA 2015
AIA 2015 VP and CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA reinforces the message of the AIA having a voice and making an impact!
AIA 2015 VP and CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA reinforces the message of the AIA having a voice and making an impact!

From the opening remarks by AIA President Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, and AIA Executive VP and CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA, to the inspiring contributions by AIA medal awardees Moshe Sadfie, FAIA and Edward Mazria, FAIA,

AIA medal winner Edward Mazria, FAIA for his work to combat climate change through the design of energy efficient buildings
AIA medal winner Edward Mazria, FAIA for his work to combat climate change through the design of energy efficient buildings
AIA 2015 Gold Medal winner Moshe Sadfie, remember 'Habitat' in EXPO 67 in Montreal?
AIA 2015 Gold Medal winner Moshe Sadfie, remember ‘Habitat’ in EXPO 67 in Montreal?

we heard words stated with forceful conviction about ‘doing things for a purpose’, ‘making and impact, and ‘having a voice’. I really believe that this institution that has done so well by its members, is now decidedly poised to take its rightful place in the national discourse and have its voice,  the voice of its 86,000 members, heard and listened to with the objective of tackling critical challenges we face as a nation and as humankind, riding our spaceship Earth. From climate change, environmental degradation, energy, to sustainability and resilience, the AIA intends to make a significant contribution in the search for and implementation of effective solutions.

Keynote speaker President Bill Clinton addresses the audience with a message that highlighted the tremendous opportunity that presents itself to the AIA moving forward
Keynote speaker President Bill Clinton addresses the audience with a message that highlighted the tremendous opportunity that presents itself to the AIA moving forward

This message of optimism was well-framed within the context of current world problems and future challenges, and the exciting opportunity these represent for the AIA, by an equally optimistic contribution by keynote speaker President Bill Clinton, during an opening general session attended by more than 7000 participants.

This sense of optimism is reinforced not only by what I heard from the AIA leadership and the members, but perhaps even more so by what I heard from and saw on the faces of the rather large contingent of young, new generation, architects and design professionals participating in AIA 2015.   During Q&A and in conversations with several of these young professionals after the conclusion of my seminar, I got the sense that they ‘get it’, they understand or know what the critical challenges are and they want an AIA that rises-up and confronts them effectively and with purpose. They do want an AIA with a voice that is not only heard nationally or worldwide, but that is sought by decision-makers here at home and elsewhere.

The AIA must follow these words and expressions of intent with actions. These actions must be based on a clear statement of  objectives, a well-defined strategy, and a simple and effective plan to execute initiatives on several fronts.  I trust the institute will open itself to new fields of action, beyond its trusted education and outreach activities. An example of such critically needed new fields is applied research; what I mean by this is research in the pursuit of effective solutions toward the attainment of sustainable and resilient communities in regions that are highly vulnerable  and fully developed, where we do not have the luxury of a clean slate to consider utopian design approaches, but where we must confront the reality of extensive urban development, a prevalent way of life and a standard of living, as well as critical environmental considerations to protect and take into account. While the AIA has no track record, to my knowledge, of engaging in or sponsoring this kind of research, I submit the time to engage in  it is now as this will contribute a foundation of support to the objectives of ‘making and impact’ and of ‘having a voice’!

AIA, I am ready to engage and do my part.  Where and how do I sign up for it? Thank you for an excellent AIA 2015 Convention and for the new and inspiring sense of purpose you have offered your members and friends.