Seas are rising. That reality, anyone can agree on.
The cause, and who's behind the cause, well, that's a matter that has sparked a surreal debate. It's surreal because the role of data, of facts, of the actual meanings of words has come into question.
This New York Times piece reports on the supermoon phenomenon in South Florida, drawing attention to the interplay between rising sea levels and nature's tidal forces, flooding the Fort Lauderdale neighborhood of Las Olas streets on a sunny day.
Implications for builders? Land values, design, land planning and engineering, building code ... where aren't there ramifications for residential development and construction?
New York Times writers Lizette Alvarez and Frances Robles quote resilience experts who estimate that seas could rise two to three feet by 2050, and that by 2100, sea levels could rise high enough to submerge 12.5% of Florida's homes.
That data, those facts, and the meaning of those words don't seem to get people into cognitive trouble with one another. Alvarez and Robles write:
In much of South Florida, including Broward County and Fort Lauderdale, finding short- and long-term fixes to the challenges of flooding caused by rising seas is a priority. A new position now exists to deal with it: resiliency chief or sustainability director.
Pumps and backflow valves have been put in place. Roads will be or have been elevated (most famously in Miami Beach, which invested $400 million to deal with flooding). Sea walls are being raised. Counties are also beginning to rethink building codes. Taken together, the costs will be enormous.
Builders--large and small--can and do have a seat at the table when it comes to efforts to deal with the issue of rising sea levels. They can be part of making their own future--investment, costs, returns, value, etc.--or having it happen to them.
Here, Harvard Business Review contributor and Harvard Business School professor Rebecca M. Henderson notes the good company home builders would find themselves in as they take proactive steps in the discourse and action items. Henderson writes:
"Nearly every firm in the Fortune 500 has acknowledged the reality of climate change, as have thousands of other companies. Many have developed programs designed to address it, while simultaneously generating significant returns for shareholders. Most of the business world recognizes the tremendous threat that climate change represents..."
Now, we've used the words that cause problems for people agreeing on what's going on, climate change.
The data, facts, and meaning of words, and their role in this surreal debate over what accounts for sea levels rising and what to do about it are where we're having a hard time getting aligned.
This is why the work, here, of architect, planner, and William McDonough is so welcome.
For one, McDonough's analysis in Nature, "Carbon is Not the Enemy" add precision and accessibility to an important building block of understanding the human agency in phenomena such as sea levels rising. What's more, the position paper contextualizes the science with a positive, helpfully motivating, purpose-driven call to action that almost any organization can apply to its business model planning.
A new language of carbon recognizes the material and quality of carbon so that we can imagine and implement new ways forward (see ‘The new language of carbon’). It identifies three categories of carbon — living, durable and fugitive — and a characteristic of a subset of the three, called working carbon. It also identifies three strategies related to carbon management and climate change — carbon positive, carbon neutral and carbon negative.
For those who choose to give data, facts, and the meaning of words the role they need to have in understanding why sea levels are on the rise, McDonough's work brings a new, positively framed, template for action into the conversation.
Let's hope words matter. They certainly matter for our children and their children.