Snapshot on Sustainability: Avoid Becoming the Next Environmental Refugee through Decarbonization

Chili cooking on JED’s new induction stovetop.

Decarbonization is not only the best thing for the planet, it is also the best thing you could do for your own health.  This year’s 18th Municipal Green Building Conference and Expo in Downey, CA, themed Climate Change Solutions in the New Abnormal, resonated with me. I personally connected with the presentation centered on decarbonization because I learned how we are creating unsafe indoor environments for our families as well as perpetuating the use of unsustainable energy sources.

Several presentations defined the new abnormal; an international condition of environmental disasters ranging from our recent and frequent California fires to the not-so-visible but equally as devastating coral bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

When people are displaced from these types of disasters, they become Environmental Refugees. Syria experienced a very long and unforgiving drought between 2006 – 2011. Syrians dependent on agriculture for their wellbeing found themselves with a 75% total crop failure and 85% loss of livestock in the northwest area. It was reported that 800,000 Syrians lost their livelihood, resulting in displacement, social and civil unrest. Such complex situations arising from extreme environmental conditions is the new global abnormal.

To avoid or at least slow this trend, it is critical to address climate polluters. In the presentation Getting Things Done: From policy to implementation for all electric, decarbonized communities, I recognized some key opportunities for climate change solutions. California imports natural gas, amounting to 84% of our methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas with 21 times greater global warming potential than carbon dioxide. We are importing our natural gas through several interstate pipelines from as far away as western Canada. This natural gas is either used or stored in one of 14 storage fields around the state. This pipeline measures a 3.6% leakage rate from the place where the gas is sourced to the supply point.

In 2015 there was a large natural gas leak at the Aliso Canyon storage facility in Los Angeles County. Approximately 6 billion cubic feet of methane escaped into the atmosphere and approximately 7,000 households and several schools were relocated as a result. I see these people as domestic environmental refugees. This event has been reported as the worst single natural gas leak in U.S. history. Between the standard leakage that is built into the transporting of natural gas, the danger of explosions, and the pollutants from burning this energy source, it is imperative that Californians reduce reliance on it.

At the residential scale, consider the implications of having a natural gas-fueled dryer, hot water heater, or stove in your home. A third of U.S. households use natural gas cooking appliances. These appliances emit nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and formaldehyde (HCHO), which are all contributors to unsafe indoor air quality. If our homes use gas stoves without properly working venting range hoods, household exposure to these dangerous gases exceeded the federal and state health standards for safe indoor air levels. Turning on your stove is creating the conditions that make you and your family sick and unsafe.

I offer Induction cooktops as a solution. Professional chefs are switching to induction because it is more efficient, quicker, easier to control, costs less and is safer. Of course, it’s important to know your source of energy for electricity. Even so, natural gas stoves lose 50% of the heat generated between the flame and the pan. That means you can put 100% of your money into heating on an induction stovetop. If saving money is not your thing, you might appreciate the time saving opportunities of induction cooking because meals will be cooked faster. If money and time are not your thing, consider health and safety because you are not bringing an explosive material into your home that when ignited, produces toxins. And if money, time, and health are not your thing, then maybe consider eliminating natural gas appliances because leakage as well as the burning of the fuel are direct contributors to greenhouse gases that break down the atmosphere and perpetuate climate change.

We can start solving the pervasive issues we are seeing around us by making personal choices. Join me in being part of the solution.

Please join the conversation by leaving your thoughts below.

About the Author

James (JED) DonaldsonJED is a Principal at Johnson Fain, an architecture, planning and interior design firm known for its creative approach to the built environment. His commitment to green building technologies has led to speaking engagements and leadership positions with a number of organizations including Berkeley, USC, AIA COTE LA, USGBC and Passive House California. In addition to publishing and teaching JED is working on several large mixed use developments such as a 41 story tower in downtown Los Angeles, a 25 story tower in Hollywood and a low-rise, four building development in Sherman Oaks, California.

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