Welcome to our two weekly review of energy and environmental events and developments from both here in New Zealand and around the world. As always, we hope you find our collection of articles to be of interest in what continues to be a rapidly evolving area.

The major event over the last week or so, or if you are one of the world’s 1.2 billion practicing Catholics, the major event of the year, was the release by Pope Francis of his ‘Laudato Si’ Encyclical (teaching letter) laying out the moral case for addressing climate change. So how has it been received? Well, predictably by the conservative climate sceptics, as one of decrying the Pope for meddling outside of religion and into politics. Also predictably, it has been welcomed by climate activists and business communities seeking a positive outcome at COP21 in Paris. It was certainly received by the leaders of the 80 million strong Catholic Church in America as their ‘marching orders’ as they fanned out to address Congress and the White House, pushing for action on climate change. Their votes will make a difference!

Perhaps the Pope’s determination stems from the fact that he doesn’t have to worry about his job. He’s not concerned with quarterly reports or re-election, or how oil companies will respond to his message. He only has to answer to one higher authority, giving him the liberty to freely follow his principles, display his passion, and showcase authentic leadership.Some experts believe that the Pope’s missive will have a greater impact on the climate change movement than any prior or future UN meetings, particularly since it gives leave to leaders in polluting countries with large Catholic populations like Brazil to set more aggressive policy. In the Pope’s own words, let’s hope “that everyone can receive this message and grow in responsibility toward the common home that has been entrusted to us.” Indeed, and a couple of amen’s to that.

Such an important global leader showing such concern for such an important issue gives us some hope that not just the climate change, but also the sixth great extinction of animal species’, may be minimised or avoided. The current rate of extinction for species in the 20th century was up to 100 times higher than it would have been without any impact from man. Under natural rates of extinction two species go extinct per 10,000 species per year. Modern rates are much higher with 477 species of vertebrates made extinct since 1900, rather than the nine that would be expected at the natural rate. What can we do to reverse this trend?

This, coupled with the risk of extreme weather from predicted climate change, it’s hard to stay optimistic for a bright future, for animals or people. Looking at where populations are and will be in the future, and the climate changes occurring in those increasingly populated areas, more people will be exposed to floods, droughts and heat waves than ever before. The consequences will be increasing numbers of armed conflicts and displaced residents (look to issues with people leaving Africa en- masse). Unhappy people tend to do these things. It boils down to their basic needs of water, food and security not being met.

Here in New Zealand we have certainly experienced some extreme weather recently. New Zealand is already nearly a degree warmer than it would be without climate change and rainfall extremes, droughts and the risks of these are already increasing as a result of climate change. Dunedin was swamped by two months’ worth of rain in a day, and the Kapiti Coast has been hammered by a couple of huge rainfalls in the last month. The Hutt Valley, Porirua and the Manawatu have all experienced some unusually heavy falls. Our infrastructure is not built to cope with these more frequently occurring extreme events which are affecting our daily lives. We already live in a world with a different climate than what we are used to.

So what can we do about some of these very real issues we are being faced with in New Zealand? “The Appeal, symptoms too serious to avoid: a call to face up to NZ’s critical risks” petition has been launched. So far, New Zealand has failed to truly face up to such unprecedented threats to its collective security. The Appeal has five key points: Economic security; Energy & climate security; Business continuity; Ecological security and Genuine well-being (something that can never be tracked by GDP). It gives examples of these issues and suggestions for how to mitigate the risks. A risk assessment is the first step in what would be a major undertaking by any government. Add your name to this petition.

On a different note, we take a look at sustainability in buildings. If sustainable buildings are to achieve their expected returns, they have to yield direct benefits for their occupants. In developing these buildings, there is an opportunity to engage the “baby boomer” executives, concerned about their own health, and business gains, and the “millennial” employees, more interested in healthy work environments and wanting to know the direct benefits for them rather than how the measures help the business. Healthy work places not only meet social goals, but will also meet business goals. How can these benefits be quantified?

Work by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, developing a building investment cost/benefit tool, shows that efficient buildings may cost more initially but can achieve significant social and economic benefits. Being specific about the benefits of sustainability will enable investors to accept high initial capital outlay knowing the longer term benefits to be significant and cost effective.

Improving precision in erecting buildings would help achieve the high quality desired for sustainable residential buildings. The Concision plant, just outside Rolleston near Christchurch, produces prefabricated panels for building construction. Apart from reducing costs, the process increases quality of materials and quality of the completed building. This would certainly be a good starting point for efficient buildings with strict requirements for energy, water and waste utilisation.

Let's now look at what could possibly impact the choice of energy source for sustainable buildings. Tesla is changing the economics of energy storage. Lithium-ion battery prices have now dropped to levels not expected to be reached for another seven years. The falling prices now make it possible for people to decide to use off grid energy, and for power utilities to offer on peak energy options that they previously could not.

We end with what might seem anecdotal but is real. Who really owns the water rolling down your back? In Colorado, it’s not your water. The law does not allow rainwater harvesting in Colorado. If you do, it is considered theft. It’s difficult to enforce the law but rain drops belong to the State in Colorado.

Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and we look forward to catching up with you again.

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