Perspectives of climate extremes, population growth and urbanization

By Shawn Baenziger

Why population growth, urbanization and climate extremes and the way people build homes, high-rises and live together will likely change.

Floods, storms, torrential rainfall and wildfires make headlines whenever they happen. Rescue teams are challenged to the limits, politicians promise immediate help and government aide is handed out to mitigate the damages.

Soon after such catastrophic impacts the news media turn to other events and life goes back to normal until the next disaster strikes. Mankind learned to live with and adapt to catastrophes and tragedies. Unprecedented in our time however is the combination of weather extremes together with a growing world population and the problems associated with urbanization.

Increasing population and effects on land and resources

An expanding population requires ever more energy, food and water and generates more waste and pollution. Furthermore the per capita availabie land for agriculture will continue to shrink and what does remain suffers the effects of surrounding pollution.

The current world population of 7.6 billion is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, according to a UN DESA report. It was 1 billion in 1800. The USA had about 2.5 million people in 1776, compared to 323 million in 2016.

Climate extremes and effects on buildings

The rapid urbanization with high-rises and sprawling suburbs already changed the way we live, commute, communicate and socially interact. The increased demand for housing changes the size of the available living space. Environmental conditions with accelerating weather extremes will change building codes and building materials and qualities. Maintenance and repairs to the inside of a condo unit or a house will not change much due to climate extremes, while the outside of structures will experience a higher deterioration rate. Building materials will deteriorate faster due to more intense sunlight, strong temperature fluctuations, shortcomings in the construction and faulty building materials. Strong winds, floods and fires are destructive outside forces that will have a massive effect on the deterioration rate and aging of a building.

The consequence of population growth, urbanization and climate extremes and the way people build homes and high-rises

New technologies will be necessary to make buildings high wind and fire safe and flood zones will restrict the construction of buildings. Building codes need to adapt to these changes. Less available land will force planners to design smaller units to make them affordable. The cost for urban living space will continue to rise and individuals will depend more often on public transportation, car sharing and distribution of goods. Smarter forms of energy use will need to be implemented. Providers of goods and services, communication, health care and energy will benefit from changes with increasing values in land. The home owner will likely be poorer in the future, not unlike grocery shoppers who are getting less in a new package at a higher price.

With assistance by John Wilson, B.Sc. M.Sc. AIEMA
Illustration: Arooba Bilal