As 2020 draws to a close, Fix asked 21 climate and justice leaders to offer their predictions for 2021. We’re presenting a handful of their responses in depth — because we could all use some extra hope these days. Be sure to check out the full list of predictions here.
Growing up in a one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment, Donnel Baird and his family relied on a cooking stove for heat. Now, as cofounder and CEO of BlocPower, he strives to retrofit buildings across New York City with safer, greener, more efficient heating and cooling systems. The startup is even expanding beyond the Big Apple to bring heat pumps and solar power to Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Oakland, California.
Baird offered a few predictions about the future of green construction and the role building electrification will play in a post-COVID economy. His comments have been edited for length and clarity.
A green stimulus for the country
As the country looks to recover and rebuild, we need stimulus investments that can create good-paying jobs, tackle the climate crisis, and respond to the ongoing pandemic. In homes, schools, houses of worship, and community centers, we need to install cold-climate heat pumps, which allow whole buildings to move off of fossil fuels in the same way Tesla can move cars off of gasoline. They can also improve ventilation, reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19. BlocPower will demonstrate that technology in 50 to 100 buildings in a pilot project in New York. I think it will show people that this can and should be done on a larger scale.
I’m hopeful that the incoming administration will be an ally in our work. Joe Biden has emphasized that the climate crisis is also an opportunity to make our economy stronger. He stated in his climate policy that 40 percent of climate investments must benefit historically disenfranchised communities. Building electrification, I think, will play a key role in achieving that goal. And while we’re at it, let’s install electric-vehicle charging stations to create a green transportation sector.
The climate movement talks a lot about the better world that’s possible — but we need to stop talking and actually start building it. Once we do, I think it will go a long way in building our coalition and making our vision of a healthy, equitable society a reality.
Cities leading the charge
Currently, buildings’ energy use contributes 30 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. That will change as more cities join L.A., Chicago, Atlanta, and others that have promised to make municipal buildings 100 percent electric — and as more follow San Francisco’s recent ban on natural gas in new buildings.
But many of those goals are set to be met by 2050. We need three to six cities that will take those pledges up a notch and commit to being completely fossil fuel–free by 2023. Scientists project that we have 10 years to make a massive impact on climate change. If a few cities successfully electrify in the next 36 months, that gives seven years for the remaining cities across the country to study the financial returns, the operations, and the construction processes and follow them.
That’s how we’re going to avoid the worst of the climate crisis.That’s how we’re going to become global leaders in the green construction industry. That’s how we’re going to build back our economy and make it stronger than before.