Safe and healthy buildings are the opportunity of our generation


This blog was written by Mark Kresowik of Sierra Club, a Building Decarb Central partner, and represents the organization's work and approach. Building Decarb Central is meant to share different perspectives on the topic of building decarbonization. This blog is part of that dialogue.

For decades, climate protection advocates have been appropriately focused on the two largest sources of pollution – power plants and cars. As we continue to succeed in ramping up clean electricity and electric vehicles, advocates such as the Sierra Club are increasingly realizing that progress in reducing pollution from the third largest source – heating and operating our buildings and appliances – needs to happen much, much faster.

The opportunity to increase access to safe, healthy buildings is right in front of us: using more of that affordable and reliable clean electricity with heat pumps, induction stoves, and other superior clean technologies. We can put a stop to deteriorating infrastructure, people being killed by explosions, and children being poisoned by leaks, fumes, and mold. We can move our buildings off gas, oil, propane, and other dirty fuels in just the next few decades. Doing so in an equitable way will require a mobilization and market transformation perhaps most worthy of the ideals of the supporters of a Green New Deal: a prosperous future for those most overburdened and underserved right now millions of new family-supporting jobs, safer and healthier communities, and a stable climate.

The easiest place to start is by not making the problem worse. Nearly all of our buildings and appliances will need to be fully electric over the next few decades. Every building we hook up to something dirtier like gas makes it harder and more expensive for families and businesses. Even states and cities that are leaders in supporting climate protection are still subsidizing new gas hookups and appliances, let alone stopping them altogether as we need. Building codes and energy efficiency programs need to be consistent with the climate commitments our leaders have made and all incentives need to ensure equitable access to the most cutting-edge electric technologies.

The next step is making sure those who have been most overburdened and underserved are first in line for the benefits of investment in safer and healthier buildings. A focused effort to electrify everything needs to start with affordable housing. Not only can we get dangerous and poisonous gas and fumes out of housing by switching to heat pumps and induction stoves, but we can improve efficiency, save money, and get the lead, mold, asbestos, dangerous wiring, and everything else threatening our families out at the same time. Coordination of the plethora of energy and housing assistance programs with efficiency and electrification retrofits will take a lot of advance planning.

We also need to create a sustainable regulatory framework for winding down dirty energy assets. Companies have invested trillions of ratepayer dollars in an aging and leaking network to distribute gas. Families and businesses need to be helped off the mostdirty and dangerous parts of that network first, and regulators need to be carefully scrutinizing –and amortizing –investments to be consistent with rapid electrification.

By supporting the workers, companies, and officials that are ready to make this happen, we can transform the buildings market. Elevating the stories of those who are leading by example - saving money, creating jobs, and building safer and healthier communities – through Building Decarb Central is just one way we at the Sierra Club will help realize this extraordinary opportunity.  

This blog is part of Building Decarb Central, a series of blogs and other resources aimed at providing a constant flow of information on building decarbonization. Be sure to check out our web portal for more stories, resources, and information.

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