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Australian Earth-covered & Green Roof Buildings (ebook)

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IT is now 23 years 3 editions and nearly 10,000 copies sold since the first edition of Australian Earth Covered Building appeared on the market published by the University of NSW Press.


As of this latest edition in 2009, a number of things are now obvious compared to the inital edition in 1985:


1. how far we had come in some areas;


2. how little things had changed in others; and


3. how many of the warnings of imminent dire environmental impacts have now come to pass.


The challenge is for us all is to find, cultivate and/ or develop both impact reducing and restorative technologies and actions which can positively change buildings to be part of the solution by becoming absorbers of carbon. If in the past, a material such as concrete has been a major greenhouse emitter, why not change it into a carbon solution by altering the underlying technology so it becomes a carbon 'sink' technology, e.g., Magnesia based cements that actually absorb and bind in carbon dioxide when they cure.


Why not change the sterile heat islands affecting the buildings and roofscapes of our cities and towns into green, verdant, biodiversity restoring surfaces that reduce heat-island effects as well as energy consumption, purify water, create oxygen and bring us again closer to nature. A new generation of earth-covered and green-roof buildings is indeed part of the solution.


Earth Covered and Green Roof buildings...done properly...are a significant part of the solution to making cities and the built environment in general, more biodiverse, healthy, sustainable and more importantly one of the few ways construction can create the potential to be positive development helping restore the ecological balance that has been lost. (Scroll down to see more...)


Australian Earth-covered Green Roof Building Sydney, Joan & David Baggs ISBN 978-0-9756807-1-1 Dual Harmony Publishers. PO Box 311, Queensland, 4170, Australia.

Australian Earth-covered Green Roof Building

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IT is now 23 years and nearly 10,000 copies sold since the first edition of the Australian Earth Covered Building book appeared on the market published by the University of NSW Press. Since then each of the three subsequent editions have been updated, so that the content was relevant to events of the day. Having revised this edition since the passing of Dr Sydney Baggs, a number of things are now obvious:

1. how far we had come in some areas;
2. how little things had changed in others; and
3. how many of the warnings of imminent dire environmental impacts have now come to pass.

Our country has been crippled for years by its worst drought ever, and now parts have been inundated by serious floods, no doubt due to climate change. The predictions of how climate and rainfall would shift in the first and second editions have come to pass, and together with Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth as well as the impacts of new records in extreme weather such as the US Hurricane Katrina and Cyclone Larry in Australia, climate change is now not only newsworthy but also a major theme. With the publication of Friends of the Earth's Climate Code Red (www.climatecodered.com) the case for considering a climate emergency is well establish ed given many of the worst-case climate predictions of the past have now not only come to pass but are happening three times faster than predicted by any models.

To our sorrow, we have seen the first of the major resource wars, the 'Iraq for Oil' war. That it n ever was a war on terrorism has been confirmed wh en the Environment Minister (at the time of the UK decision to go into Iraq), Michael Meacher, was asked whether the war in Iraq was about oil. He replied: 'The connection is 100 per cent. It is absolutely overwhelming' (aljazeera.net; 2 1 May, 2005). When I saw the movie Bobbie about the life of Robert Kennedy, and was reminded of an age when another pointless war was being waged, and tens of thousands marched across the globe to protest against the war in Vietnam, nuclear proliferation and the atomic bomb. Today, the nuclear lobby pushes nuclear power as the saviour of climate change.

What a sustainability oxymoron, even with current technology and disposal concepts, nuclear energy is not safe. So, how do we change the course of current events? People need to be educated, provided with the necessary information and 'tools' to make change and then act and be heard. What the scenes in Bobbie reminded me was that people do care, and if enough people care enough, their combined passion and action can change the course of world events. However, while national opinion shifts, 69 per cent of Australians believe: 'Global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs' (worldpublicopinion.org; March, 2007).

According to a recent international survey, both US and Australian Federal Governments have been actively working for their own business constituencies' interests, to the detriment of the whole globe. Consequently, Local and State Governments and tens of thousands of individuals have decided 'to go it alone'. With Australia now a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, hopefully, along with other countries, the situation will change. For example, it was announced: 'on March 20th, Spain's wind power generation rose to contribute 27 per cent of the country's total daily power demands, surpassing supplies by nuclear and coal ... they intend to inc rease it to 30 per cent by 2010' (beyondzeroemissions.org; Mar, 2007).

What is needed now more than ever, is the ongoing development and communication of practical sustainability. The idea of ecological sustainability was developed was developed in the 1990s, and continues to be a doctrine of 'minimis ing impacts', 'moderating demands', as well as 'balancing the needs of society and economics with the environment'. What the events of recent years and decades show us is that such an approach is sadly lacking and off course. We must consider nature first and foremost and do our best, not only to minimise impacts but also to actively enhance and restore environments and ecosystems. Sometimes it would be better to do nothing; other times, we should develop in ways that restore ecosystems or rebalance them while minimising impact elsewhere. If we fail to do this, our own survival is made more tenuous and solutions will be more expensive in the future (assuming 'technofixes' are available).

Phillip Sutton, the Convener of the Greenleap Strategic Institute, an Australian non-profit, environmental strategy think-tank organisation an author of Climate Code Red believes: 'we need to put the fighting of climate change on a war response footing'. I agree, we need to build an armoury and then an army, of restoration. We need to develop a societal, developmental and architectural language of restorative processes. A restorative 'war' against the entrenched habits of the past and the unquestioning adoption of the endless 'growth economy' and 'fashion consumerism'. We need an new economic model and consumption paradigm for nations that incorporates ecological processes: focussing on how we can do more with less; change our attitudes along with energy and construction material and technology sources, so their very adoption become positive steps towards a new 'restorative sustainability'.

There are already some options that fit this description, earthcovered and green-roof buildings certainly do; so does US architect William McDonough's 'Cradle to Cradle' approach, as the concept of 'biomimicry' suggests is possible. However, given the now 'short term' nature of climate change with the scientists responsible for the UN's International Panel on Climate Change stating we have only 20-30 years to stop the increasing concentrations of C02 in the atmosphere, and hold a global temperature-increase to approximately 1 °C. When we consider the viability of development strategies, we need to consider whole-of-life-cycle impacts with a less than 20-30 year carbon payback, i.e., the operational energy savings and environmental benefits of a development need to offset the whole embodied energy of the construction within this period (as well as having a neutral ecological footprint) to avoid exacerbating global warming.

The challenge is for us all is to find, cultivate and/ or develop both impact reducing and restorative technologies and actions which can positively change buildings to be part of the solution by becoming absorbers of carbon. If in the past, a material such as concrete has been a major greenhouse emitter, why not change it into a carbon solution by altering the underlying technology so it becomes a carbon 'sink' technology, e.g., Magnesia based cements that actually absorb and bind in carbon dioxide when they cure.

Why not change the sterile heat islands affecting the buildings and roofscapes of our cities and towns into green, verdant, biodiversity restoring surfaces that reduce heat-island effects as well as energy consumption, purify water, create oxygen and bring us again closer to nature. A new generation of earth-covered and green-roof buildings is indeed part of the solution.

David Baggs, Chartered Architect FRAIA, Green Star AP, LEED AP 2009

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