We've known for a long time that the Earth is warming, but it could be worse than we thought. A recent report from the World Meteorological Association concludes that carbon pollution and the buildup of greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere are increasing much faster than projected. And this pollution is putting communities across the country at a higher risk of droughts, intense storms, floods, and other problems brought on by global warming.
In the Chesapeake Bay region, we're on the front lines of climate change. Streets in Norfolk, Virginia, home to nearly a quarter of a million people and the world's largest naval base, routinely flood during heavy rains. Wind- and wave-pushed storm surges make the flooding even worse. And scientists estimate sea levels in Norfolk will rise another foot and a half within the next 50 years.
Virginians are scrambling to prepare the region for these changes. The governor convened a special commission to recommend action; the military is looking hard at the future of its Hampton Roads bases - and local governments, businesses, and citizens are bracing for the worst.
But at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, we're not blinking; we're creating a tipping point for the good by helping to develop solutions that could be a model for coastal regions across the country and the world where climate change threatens our livelihood and our future.
In November 2014, we'll open the doors to the new Brock Environmental Center – a 10,000 square-foot environmental education and community center in Virginia Beach, VA. By adapting existing technologies and utilizing old-school building techniques, we're building an energy efficient and environmentally smart building that will reduce damaging carbon pollution and adapt to rising sea-levels and a changing climate.
The solution starts with energy independence. To achieve that goal, the Brock Environmental Center is designed to use 80 percent less energy than typical buildings. The building will generate clean renewable energy from two wind turbines and rooftop solar.
Our designers curved the building and positioned it to maximize natural sunlight and maritime winds. The building features a "dog trot," an open deck in the middle of the building that promotes natural ventilation by allowing cool air to flow in and heat to flow out. It's an old trick used by Colonial builders in the South before the era of air conditioning. The highly insulated building significantly reduces the need for heating and air conditioning.
Together with the center's ultra-tight walls, windows, and doors, extra insulation and energy efficiencies, the Brock Center will truly be energy independent.
The building will also be water independent. Rainwater will be harvested from the roof and treated, allowing us to use our own water for drinking, sinks and showers, and other needs. Any excess rain water will flow into nearby rain gardens. "Gray water" will be used for native grasses, flowers, and shrubs. Even the center's bathrooms will use waterless toilets that compost waste in waterproof bins until the harmless compost can be spread on the grounds.
Anticipating more regional flooding, we have raised the building on pylons about 13 feet above current sea level and above any expected flooding in the coming decades.
Most importantly, we deliberately left the landscaping around the building as natural as possible in marsh, sand, shrubs, and trees. There are no paved parking lots; staff and visitors will park on nearby streets and walk to the center on a natural path through the woods. Any code-required handicap and emergency accesses will use permeable pavers that let water soak in rather than run off.
All of this natural, "soft" landscaping makes the Brock Center serve as a giant sponge, absorbing rainfall and storm surges and allowing flood waters to spread and recede naturally without harm to the center or nearby neighborhoods.
Researchers, students, designers, and architects will come to the Brock Environmental Center to learn about the Chesapeake Bay and environmentally smart building techniques to reduce carbon pollution and prepare our communities for climate change. As people take these techniques back to their communities around the country and the world, it will help create a tipping point for the good.