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.