Stop coal, stop global warming, says architect

Say goodbye to Galveston if we don't stop coal use.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
3 min read

Forget biodiesel. To put a dent in global warming, we are going to have to stop using coal, said Ed Mazria, founder of Architecture 2030 at the West Coast Green conference taking place in San Francisco this week.

"The only fossil fuel that can fuel global warming is coal. If you stop coal, you stop global warming. End of story," he said. Architecture 2030 is a non-profit that encourages builders, suppliers and architects to move toward making carbon neutral buildings by 2030.

The problem with coal is two fold: it spews a lot of carbon dioxide, among other materials into the air, and the world has a lot of it, making it tempting to use. In the U.S. alone, there are 151 coal plants in the planning and construction phase.

The emissions from a single coal-fired power plant for one month will negate the efforts Wal-Mart is putting forth to curb its emissions. Wal-Mart wants to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent in seven years, he said.

Home Depot has announced it will plant 300,000 trees to offset is carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, those 300,000 trees will have to live 100 years before they offset the fumes from ten days from a coal-fired plant, he said. Replace every incandescent bulb in America with compact fluorescents? The benefits are eradicated by the carbon dioxide from two coal-fired plants over a year, he said.

"The silver bullet is no more coal," he said.

The coal question is the big question in the green industry. Coal plants do put a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but getting rid of them rapidly, say many, is economically unfeasible. Some have begun to advocate erecting more nuclear power plants to offset coal use. Several companies have also put forward ideas for cleaning up coal.

Of course, that won't be easy, but there are technologies and ideas that can help right now, said Mazria. Designing buildings to take advantage of passive cooling and natural lighting will cut energy use. Solar panels will reduce fossil fuels, he said. Architecture 2030's goal is to make the building sector carbon neutral by that year. According to stats from Oak Ridge National Laboratories, buildings consume approximately 48 percent of the energy in the U.S. (43 percent goes to operations, 8 percent goes to construction) and account for 43 percent of the greenhouse gases. 76 percent of the electricity generated in the U.S. goes to operating buildings.

And the U.S. has conserved before. Energy use between 1973 and 1983 stayed relatively flat, according to stats from the Energy Information Agency, he said. But in that time period, 35 million new cars got on the road.

Mazria also showed off some very scary simulations of what will happen if sea levels rise to a meter or more. A lot of coastal Florida will vanish at 1 meter. Galveston, Texas goes under at 1.5 meters.

Climate change may become irreversible if the atmosphere hits 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide, he said, citing studies. Right now, the earth is at 385 parts per million and the figure is currently rising at 2.2 parts every year. Without changes, we will hit the 450 level by 2035, he asserted.