It is time to realise that we need to build with nature and not against it, and thus avoid Chennai-like tragedies.
Now that the tragedy that poured on Chennai has receded, its time to pray, let no place on Earth face such natural calamities, affecting animal habitation or tree vegetation. Equally important is to scientifically investigate the causes behind such calamities, including introspection and human actions.
Calculations may take time, but intuition tells us that climate calamities are somewhere connected to human actions. Downpour of the century happening just when leaders from 190 countries are meeting at Paris to discuss climate change is not merely a co-incidence, but a more than timely warning.
It is well known that construction activities contribute to one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, hence directly contribute towards climate change. In this globalised world, this activity is networked across all nations. Building machineries and materials researched in one nation gets copyrighted in another with manufacturing facility in many nations, for execution all over the places. People involved in building activity are travelling across regions unlike in the past, complimenting the expanding network for processing, production and construction.
Our technical know how has empowered us to build everywhere – from the polar to the tropical; from the deserts to sea shores; from the hills to lake bed. Rapid urbanisation in India has made huge demands from this sector, where every vacant space in our cities is getting built up with high density structures, altering the geographical conditions irreparably. The local vernacular has been replaced by the global spectacular.
Given this background, what are the solutions the construction sector can offer? While it is most important to answer this question, this sector is least researched into. Even the green building concept, with TERI, IGBC and LEED ratings, gaining rapid popularity in urban India, do not singularly focus on innovative technologies and alternative materials which can reduce the carbon footprint during the construction itself, despite doing a great job in raising our awareness by looking into the totality including materials, power, water, cooling costs, life cycle indicators and all such aspects.
New products’ introduction is done mainly by the private manufacturers rightly keeping profits in mind, while new technology is geared to faster production and easier construction at site.
As such, neither of them is primarily focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The existing government standards, which are fairly extensive towards production, properties and code of practice, are rather silent about critical terms such as embodied energy, carbon footprint, waste generation or recyclability. We know much about what to choose, but least about their ecological impacts.
It is time to realise that manufactured materials, despite their highly praised attributes, deteriorate one day, while natural ones like mud, wood, bamboo, lime, slate, stone and such others do not. It is time to realise that we need to build with nature and not against it. It is time to realise that we need local user actions more than global leader discussions.