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The Built Environment


The physical surroundings of our lives shape our health. Whether we walk or drive to school or work, what foods we eat, and the quality of air we breathe and water we drink may all depend upon the built environment.

But the built environment has even further relevance to our health because of what it entails for climate change. Fully 30% or more of greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings and another 15% comes from cars and trucks that transport us to those buildings. Merely from these two sources alone, then, comes half or more of the greenhouse gases, and so the path to success at limiting climate change must go through the built environment.

The built environment also matters to how well we will adapt to climate change. Heat waves, such as those in Chicago in 1995 or Europe in 2003, are forecast to be more common as the planet continues to warm. Greening our cities will cool them and make them safer during such events. For costal areas, and particularly for those where hurricanes or cyclones may make landfall, climate change associated sea level rise increases flooding risk. Costal cities can manage their coastlines and how they construct everything within their bounds - from buildings themselves to water treatment plants - to minimize the impacts related to storm surges and floods in the decades ahead.

Photo by Andrew Mace |