The Two-Part Approach for Fighting Climate Change Right Now

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As thousands gather for Climate Week NYC 2023, many fear it may be too late to turn things around. It’s not. We have the solutions to repair our climate over the long term and deal with the immediate crisis right now.

While much of the world is waiting for governments and NGOs to take the lead on the climate emergency, scientists, engineers and private industry are already applying the solution: a two-pronged approach of decarbonization and resilience.

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Decarbonization is the long-term cure for our planet’s climate crisis, while resilience is the immediate response to today’s threats. Decarbonization — taking carbon out of building operations and construction — won’t happen overnight. Even with incentives and ambitious legislation, it will take time to achieve.

While investments in renewable energy plow ahead — solar, wind, hydropower and battery storage — the world will still rely on fossil fuels for the near future. One way to make this far more sustainable is to use technologies such as carbon capture and storage, which reduces the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions during energy and materials production. 

Peter DiMaggio Headshot from Thornton Tomasetti The Two Part Approach for Fighting Climate Change Right Now
Peter DiMaggio. Bess Adler/Thornton Tomasetti

This process is starting to be implemented at fossil fuel power plants and cement kilns. It involves scrubbing CO2 from the gas before it’s emitted, then sequestering it deep underground. We must also remove CO2 that is already in the atmosphere through direct air capture. This involves passing air through an adsorbent bed to collect the CO2 on the pores before heat is used to remove and purify the captured CO2 for injection underground. 

In the built environment, which accounts for 40 percent of human CO2 emissions, resilience and climate adaptation have become key considerations in the design and construction process. Project teams now evaluate big picture ideas such as locating projects outside of flood zones or above flood elevations, building orientation for passive heating/cooling and daylighting, as well as new and ingenious ways to resist the impact of fire, hurricanes and tornadoes.

On a larger scale, efforts are underway to electrify energy infrastructure, efficiently transfer power over long distances, plan for future sea level rise, mitigate the effects of wildfires, and renovate older buildings to avoid the carbon cost of demolition and new construction.

Government agencies are not positioned to get this done quickly enough alone. Yes, they need to implement economic and policy incentives to create a more competitive field for green tech. But it falls to private enterprise to partner with clients, colleagues and industry leaders to address the challenges within their spheres of influence. Collaborating with government and NGOs, private industry must take action now.

Peter DiMaggio is co-CEO of global engineering and applied science firm Thornton Tomasetti and a member of the board of directors of the New York Building Congress.