Some 7-8 years ago, I spoke at the Climate Control Awards ceremony on the threat lying embedded in Siberian permafrost – of how ancient viruses of unfathomable potency and with the ability to spread rapidly have been lying dormant in the ice and could be unleashed if global warming thaws the ground that has been frozen for millennia.
At the time, the world had no inkling of the terrible havoc COVID-19 would visit upon us, and there was perhaps a certain smugness to the manner in which the message was received. After all, there were trophies to be treated and acceptance speeches to be given.
Today, after we have seen the snuffing out of thousands of lives, mask mandates, lockdowns and economic hardships, any talk on potent viruses lying in the permafrost is likely to draw attention, even to cause crease-lines to form on the forehead. What I am saying is true. There has been a recent update to what I spoke about 7-8 years ago – according to an October 2023 Bloomberg report, the thawing of permafrost in the Arctic due to climate change is releasing ancient viruses, posing a new danger to public health.
So, COP28 is not only about rising sea levels, droughts, potential loss of lives and property and displacement of entire communities; it is also about averting another pandemic – perhaps an event far more terrible than COVID-19. And the point is that we can do something about it to minimise the damage. Just think about it – the Siberian permafrost is tightly linked to two areas of deep concern to our industry – energy efficiency, towards the aim of cutting down on indirect greenhouse gas emissions, and Indoor Air Quality. We, as an industry, have an opportunity ahead of us to help curb emissions and simultaneously make our buildings safer – to the point of minimising the spread of diseases in the built-environment; Bill Bahnfleth and his team at ASHRAE are showing the way with the new ASHRAE Standard 241.
There is much we, as an industry, can do to improve energy efficiency. And we must act when we have the means and the time to do so – by taking an integrated, collective, non-partisan effort to designing, building and equipping our buildings. Please do think about it – without energy efficiency, the demand on global electricity supply systems would be 74 TWH, which is double what is generated worldwide today. Think of the corresponding fossil fuel-related emissions, even if we are getting a certain portion of our electricity from clean renewable energy sources. We cannot afford to have runaway emissions. We must do everything we can to lower — if not flatten — the electricity demand curve, to keep the viruses dormant in the Siberian landscape.