Ensuring Thermal Comfort in the Built Environment Assignment

Ensuring Thermal Comfort in the Built Environment Assignment

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Ensuring Thermal Comfort in the Built Environment Assignment


Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are gases released from human activities that trap atmospheric heat, warming the climate. During the day, solar radiation heats the earth’s surface. As the surface cools at night, the released heat is trapped in the atmosphere. AB32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, seeks to reduce GHG emission levels by over 15% to help California transition to a more sustainable, low-carbon economic future (California Air Resources Board, 2018). The statute is a long-term approach to solving climate change in the region.


            The main aim of the Paris Agreement is to provide a global framework for addressing climate change through a collective reduction of GHG emissions. The agreement is a universal, legally binding decision that member states will aim to limit global temperature from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius (Glanemann et al. 2020). The agreement places world leaders and economies at the forefront of global efforts to combat climate change. The approach also helps developing economies to assist in GHG reduction.


            While climate change is expected to impact every country in the world, its impact will be disproportionally felt. Coastal cities and regions, such as California, Lagos, Haiti and Manila, will experience more tsunamis, floods and hurricanes (Scope, 2017). Regions prone to famine and low household income, such as Yemen and South California, will suffer from high temperatures and water scarcity. Central Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valleys will record longer days and extremely hot weather.


            Even though there are several ways to measure and compare national accountability over climate change, most measurements find that leading economies are mostly responsible for GHG emissions. According to recent data, China, the United States, India, Japan and Russia are the five top emitters of GHG gases (Glanemann et al. 2020). The top ten is completed by Germany, Canada, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico. The list covers countries based on the burning of fossil fuels alone.


            Buildings in the United States are responsible for nearly 50% of carbon emissions in the country. According to Architecture 2030, building operations account for 27%, building materials and construction cover 10%, while other construction activities cause 10% of the total emissions. Without rapid building decarbonization, the United States will fail to achieve its targets for the Paris Agreement. The country needs to accelerate the rate of energy upgrades and promotion of green designs in architecture.


            Studies reveal that the release of excess heat from air conditioners operating during the night increases average temperatures, worsening heat levels in urban areas. Air conditioners absorb a lot of energy during the day, turning into heat emissions at night (Jin et al. 2020). Air conditioners not only put extra pressure on the energy sector and power grid but also increase cities’ cooling requirements. Urban areas will require innovative ways to turn wasted heat into useful energy.


Adaptation to increasing heat in urban areas requires a comprehensive understanding of which communities are most vulnerable to the health effects of the high temperatures. In their analysis of American neighborhoods, Plumer and Popovich (2020) find race, ethnicity, level of education, occupation and household income as the primary drivers of heat-related risk in urban areas. Establishing equitable housing and incorporating green concepts in architecture will positively impact heat disparities associated with building designs. Green building equally entails increasing transparency in urban spatial planning.


            While cutting the power off is inconvenient for all, it is deadly for some people. De-energization reduces wildfire risk, but its societal implications increase economic and health disparities. The power utility approach negates access to food and emergency services while increasing the average cost of public services during the disaster event (Plumer & Popovich, 2020). Cutting off power also limits the use of technology to counter the excess radiation coming from wildfires. The effect is increased vulnerability to dehydration and other heat-related complications.


            The California Supreme Court has increased its effort in imposing liabilities on architectures for negligence and malpractice. The use of mechanical cooling systems is not necessary for Californian coastal cities, while internal cities do not require dedicated cooling (Plumer & Popovich, 2020). Mechanical systems increase average temperatures, water scarcity and cooling requirements, which goes against the architect’s standard of care. The approach does not help keep the streets safe from accidents as it increases the chances of wildfires and heat-related health complications.


            L.A.’s sustainability plan wishes to transform all new buildings into zero carbon emitters while reducing the current carbon emission levels in old buildings. The city aims to reduce all emissions by 2035 (Garcetti, 2019). Older buildings will have to upgrade their insulation, gas appliances and mould to reduce indoor pollution. New buildings will integrate renewable energy systems, such as solar heated showers. The sustainability plan is the city’s solution to a more equitable and sustainable urban setting.


Roth (2020) paints a bleak image of California’s energy consumption, despite the state being one of the most vulnerable to rising global temperatures. According to the Mayor’s proposal, average household consumption has to go down to 0.23 kWh per square foot per month. Given the average household is 1500 square feet, California houses have to attain 4140 kWh annually. The sum is the same as almost a 20% reduction in current energy consumption levels (Roth, 2020). The current usage level is nearly five times the state’s 2050 goal.  


Literature informs that rolling blackouts are systemic, temporary power cuts designed to balance the supply and demand of electricity in a particular market. The practice is the last step in an array of emergency procedures used following the detection of a power supply shortage (Roth, 2020). Human preferences, such as the use of air conditioners and microwaves, increase power demand, resulting in girds exceeding their electric capacity. Such incidences warrant regulators to cut-off power supply to avoid adverse events. Harsh weather conditions, such as hurricanes and storms, increase the frequency of rolling blackouts as regulators seek to minimize damage to the grid infrastructure.


            Californians are urged to reduce their electrical consumption from 4 pm to 9 pm. The period is when demand normally peaks due to cooling requirements and reduced solar power generation (Lee, 2021). Regulators issue a ‘Flex Alert’ to remind the public to voluntarily cut back and wait for off-peak hours. The alert system informs consumers when and how to conserve individual and household electricity consumption.


            Climate justice is an ambiguous term covering all efforts geared toward the collective sharing of climate change burdens and benefits and its fair and equitable resolution. The pandemic highlighted the decades of systemic racism in the built environment (Plumer & Popovich, 2020). Architects use green concepts to address the threats of climate change in the housing sector. Sample strategies include the use of green technology to improve air quality and water management in high-rise buildings. Architects are ethically obligated to address the issue of environmental racism as the consequences of the built environment extend beyond climate change.


The Bullitt Centre in Seattle is a good example of climate justice in architecture. The high-rise building is self-sufficient due to its photovoltaic roof that generates solar electricity. The building’s external frame has a timber structure that maintains the internal temperature, removing any need for artificial cooling systems (Miller, 2019). In addition, the large windows maximize natural light, reducing electricity demand for internal lighting.


(n.d.). Why the built environment? Architecture 2030, https://architecture2030.org/why-the-building-sector/

California Air Resources Board. (2018, September 28). AB32 The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. CA.GOV, https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/resources/fact-sheets/ab-32-global-warming-solutions-act-2006

Garcetti, E. (2019). L.A’s green new deal: Sustainable city plan. https://plan.lamayor.org/

Glanemann, N., Willner, S. N., & Levermann, A. (2020). Paris Climate Agreement passes the cost-benefit test. Nature Communications, 11(1), 110. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-13961-1

Jin, L., Schubert, S., Salim, M. H., & Schneider, C. (2020). Impact of air conditioning systems on the outdoor thermal environment during summer in Berlin, Germany. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(13), 4645. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17134645

Lee, G. (2021, September 29). California grid operator issues flex alert ahead of high heat expected Wednesday. Los Angeles Times, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-09-07/high-temperatures-prompt-california-flex-alert-on-wednesday

Miller, Z. L. (2019). The Bullitt Centre and its sustainable architecture. The Daily, https://www.dailyuw.com/news/the-bullitt-center-and-its-sustainable-architecture/article_5464445c-f60b-11e9-b6d1-374b3ec57204.html

Plumer, B. & Popovich, N. (2020, August 24). How decades of racist housing policy left neighbourhoods sweltering. The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/08/24/climate/racism-redlining-cities-global-warming.html

Roth, S. (2020, September 23). Los Angeles hid a methane leak for a year. Activists want the power plant shut down. Los Angeles Times, https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2020-09-23/los-angeles-hid-a-methane-leak-for-a-year-activists-want-the-power-plant-shut-down

Scope. (2017, April 5). Grassroots-led vision for equitable climate investments in South Los Angeles. Strategic Community Agenda, https://scopela.org/a-grassroots-lead-vision-for-equitable-climate-investments-in-south-los-angeles/

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