Opinion: Killer Concrete Invades Planet 

Karelia Martinez Carbonell

Martinez Carbonell is the president of the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables

No, the title is not to the newest Halloween  movie.  It is a true statement with real life implications to the ever-increasing climate challenge. 

According to an article in The Guardian titled “Concrete: the most destructive material on Earth,” it observes that “…concrete…destroys natural infrastructure without replacing the ecological functions that humanity depends on for fertilisation, pollination, flood control, oxygen production and water purification.”

Concrete is one of the most harmful materials to the environment. It releases an extreme amount of CO2 each year and it is the highest consumed product on earth besides water. Sounds like a scene from a horror film but unfortunately it is a real life case scenario. 

Building construction and operations are responsible for approximately 40 percent of human produced carbon emissions worldwide second only to fossil fuels.  These emissions are cumulative, remaining in the atmosphere for hundreds of years.  

A recent Miami Herald article about the City of Miami’s upcoming supertall towers [defined as reaching a height at or above 969 feet] only highlighted their height without addressing how these concrete behemoths and their construction-related materials [concrete/cement, steel, glass, etc.] will detrimentally affect the environment. These new “supertalls” and their high-rise cousins not only add to the carbon footprint but alarmingly contribute to the climate challenge. 

In the case of the Waldorf Towers [one of the “supertalls” already underway] the massive amount of concrete being poured is enough to ground the whole thing. According to the Miami Herald article, “work on the foundation, which will have poured [concrete] pilings reaching 180 feet below ground … will take 10 months or so to build.” 

Not only will these massive concrete pilings contribute to human produced carbon emissions but also to water quality degradation. Sounds quite nightmarish.

Reaching carbon neutrality will be a stuff of fiction if the proliferation of construction and construction-related materials continue to rise —  these materials are the main sources of carbon dioxide emissions.

Experts agree that municipalities espouse sustainability objectives on one hand, yet strongly encourage new construction on the other — more like a Jekyll & Hyde complex. These conflicting goals add to the present climate challenges facing the planet and the projected outcome is trembling.

The Guardian continues, “The politics of concrete…binds politicians, bureaucrats and construction companies, [and] the resulting nexus is almost impossible to budge. Party leaders need the donations…from building firms to get elected, state planners need more projects to maintain economic growth, and construction bosses need more contracts to keep money rolling in, staff employed and political influence high. Hence the self-perpetuating political enthusiasm for environmentally and socially dubious infrastructure projects…” 

It is heartening to notice though that the national dialogue on the climate challenge [a recent article in the Washington Post confirms this] is finally including the construction industry as a top emitter of carbon emissions.  

In The Guardian article, a professor of materials and structures at Leeds University calls for “existing structures to be better maintained and conserved, and, when that is not possible, to enhance recycling.” In other words, save what is already built, adapt, and reuse. Rampant new development has frightening repercussions and must be curtailed. Reducing fossil fuel will not help one bit if the insatiable need to build continues unchecked locally, nationally, globally. 

So the focus should not only be on the fossil fuel industry but also the construction-related industry. Not so much on the supertalls, but more on the superhigh carbon emissions of these activities.

I say, let’s ground ourselves and prioritize the preservation of the environment, because if we continue to defy nature, in the end, nature will devour us. 

And that is a terrifying ending.

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7 thoughts on “Opinion: Killer Concrete Invades Planet 

  1. Definitively sounds like a big problem; but I don’t hear anyone coming up with a solution. Stop construction of buildings? Stop people from moving to Coral Gables? Population control? I appreciate the awareness this article brings, yet it lacks any recommendation for resolving the matter.

  2. Thank you Karelia for your well researched & on point perspective (as always). We all need to do our part – every person, every city, every nation. I totally agree that the construction industry needs to stop its current out of date /out of touch ways — it is a major player in this dire global situation. Locally in our own city, construction is totally out of control — there is no longer any long term or thinking, just short term profits. The common sense resistance by so many concerned & caring residents is ignored by city hall who constantly looks the other way and/or speaks disingenuously from both sides of its mouth. Thank you again for educating us on this important & timely matter.

  3. If this really concerns you as a reader, take a look at Little Vinny Lago’s campaign contributions and remember it next year when you’re in the voting booth. They are overflowing with donations from construction companies, concrete and steel entities, real estate agents selling new construction, etc. His entire life – both professional at BSI Construction and political as Mayor – is 100% dependent upon concrete. He will keep pumping concrete and out beautiful city for all it’s worth to enrich himself. TIME TO GO LITTLE LAGO!

  4. The issue is not about extremes. On the contrary, focusing on one industry while ignoring others is in itself extreme.

    Although it is understandable that not every material needs to be explicitly explained, it is disingenuous to omit one of the top adverse materials from the dialogue.

    The citizenry should demand accurate and transparent information on the climate challenge that includes ALL the top high carbon emitting materials. Note that communication on the subject has been overwhelmingly one-sided and focused exclusively on the fossil fuel industry. This occurrence skews the global sustainability objectives.

    Preservationists like myself stand on the premise that the best path to tackle the expanding carbon footprint is to bring attention to the effects of ALL related activities that adversely affect the preservation of our planet as per the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s advocacy platform.

    This stand is not intended to compete with the environmental movement, but as it happens, the preservation and environmental issues have merged as important factors in reaching sustainability objectives.

  5. Similarly we can save the planet taxing gasoline, making flying more expensive. People used to use Greyhound buses or trains. Instead everyone has a big SUV or flies for long distance travel. Before the wealthy flew on Pan Am/ TWA and were called jet setters. Now we have Airbuses with brawlers spreading COVID. More VAT especially on gas, better rail, and less income tax would save the planet. But the politicians do the bidding of the auto & aviation industries. Lots of lefties in government who want to sock it to those who produce & save, taxing their earnings and have the poor believing they’re rich with so much cheap air travel that pollutes the skies & gas guzzling SUVS for the occasional family trip to Orlando or the Uber/ Lyft side gigs.

  6. “Experts agree that municipalities espouse sustainability objectives on one hand, yet strongly encourage new construction on the other — more like a Jekyll & Hyde complex.” – I call it hypocrisy. I appreciate Karelia bringing this perspective to the forefront. I will admit, my interest is historic preservation was fairly limited but I can get 100% behind this cause given the connection to sustainability and resiliency. I’’m with you on this.

  7. Let’s just stop everything and live outdoors, eat plants and stop populating. End the world.

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