From the archives: "Think globally, fret locally," August 2007


If you have a young child, you can reasonably expect that she or he could live until age 90 or beyond — or about the year 2100.

Fortunately, young children aren’t among my target audience. They would not find this column encouraging.

With Sustainability Month, meant to promote green homes and lifestyles, just a week away in Sarasota County, I thought I would bone up on the topic by reading a book that’s been sitting on my desk for about a year. It’s called “Architecture in a Climate of Change: A Guide to Sustainable Design,” written by Peter F. Smith, a professor of sustainable energy at Nottingham University in England. Smith spends most of this well-regarded book explaining the various technologies, methods and materials that can conserve our resources.

He spends the first two chapters discussing climate change: whether it is attributable to human nature or Mother Nature, and, in chapter 2, predictions for the 21st century if carbon-dioxide emissions, which most scientists believe to be the main culprit in the surge of global temperature in the past 35 years, are not brought under control.

I found this paragraph to be particularly distressing:

“Concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are increasing at a steep rate. The pre-industrial level was ... 270 parts per billion by volume (ppmv); now it is ... around 380 ppmv and rising 1.5-2 ppmv per year. Most of the increase has occurred over the past 50 years. According to Sir David King, UK Chief Government Scientist, this is the highest concentration in 55 million years. Then there was no ice on the planet. ... Even if emissions were to be reduced by 60 percent against 1990 levels by 2050, this will still raise levels to over 500 ppmv with unpredictable consequences due to the fact that CO2 concentrations survive in the atmosphere for at least 100 years.”


Trying to stay grounded in the present, a few days after reading this I took my family to gorgeous, subtropical Boca Grande. We stopped at a bookstore in the historic downtown, and I picked up a copy of “Why Geography Matters: Three Challenges Facing America — Climate Change, the Rise of China, and Global Terrorism.” It was written two years ago by Michigan State University geography professor Harm de Blij, a part-time resident of Boca Grande.

The good professor calmed my blood pressure by explaining that the earth is constantly changing, going into and out of ice ages, and millions of years ago was much hotter than it is today. Still, one of his charts verifies that global temperatures are higher today than they have been since the end of the last major ice age, about 18,000 years ago.

In my book, what happened millions of years ago doesn’t matter nearly as much as what happened in the past few thousand years, when the Earth became climate-friendly enough for the development of civilization.

Writes de Blij, “The additional impact of human activity on the global atmosphere may trigger even more sudden climate change that prevailed long ago. Sooner or later, we will face extremes that come upon us quickly and will give us little time to find ways to cope with the consequences. For all our technological prowess, we still depend on nature to sustain us.”

Some scientists believe we have passed the point of no return with regards to climate change — that global warming is going to leave our children and grandchildren with a much different world — hotter in some places, colder in others, but certainly wetter overall. The danger in spreading that message is that humankind could become fatalistic about measures — building green, driving clean, etc. — that are now widely promoted to counteract global warming.

But de Blij, ever the moderate voice of reason, writes, “We will never be able to control climate change, but we may be able to mitigate it somewhat by limiting our greenhouse-gas emanations. And we should begin planning for worldwide coordination in the event of global natural emergencies caused by nature, of which we already have been amply warned. The impact of an episode of rapid climate change poses as great a potential challenge to this nation as any it will face in the years ahead.”

Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: December 24, 2015
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