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Op-Ed: Leveraging Technological Innovation to Combat CO2 Emissions in Aging Infrastructure

Op-Ed: Leveraging Technological Innovation to Combat CO2 Emissions in Aging Infrastructure

Note: This article has been Pitched to The Military Engineer (TME), a publication of the Society of American Military Engineers on October 15, 2023, and is under review for publication.

In our urgent race against climate change, the world’s eyes are fixed on the crucial imperative of decarbonization. As we strive for sustainability, it is undeniable that the pace at which renewables are being integrated into our infrastructure is alarmingly slow. This lag poses a significant obstacle to achieving the ambitious emissions reduction targets necessary to curb the devastating effects of global warming. Consequently, we must urgently explore innovative measures that can be immediately implemented to curtail carbon footprints, particularly in our aging infrastructure. In this pursuit, the fusion of cutting-edge technology with forward-thinking policy becomes an instrumental tool in catalyzing impactful change.

As it becomes more and more important that we focus on carbon emission reduction, it is crucial that we shift our focus toward design in architecture and engineering that utilizes the most modern technology. Today, there are more and more technology solutions that are becoming increasingly accessible and easier to integrate into our infrastructure. Not only that, but many of these technologies are taking a human-centered approach to consider how they are being used, and the psychology behind our energy consumption decisions. Specifically, the integration of state-of-the-art devices equipped with real-time energy usage updates and AI-powered energy management systems has emerged as a game-changer in our battle against wasteful energy use and ultimately in CO2 reductions.

Consider the vast number of historical buildings that dot the landscape of our nation, constructed at a time when energy consumption was scarcely a concern in architectural design. The infrastructure of these significant structures, such as those under the stewardship of the Federal Government, has long stood as a testament to our history, yet simultaneously has contributed significantly to our carbon footprint. Fortunately, we now stand at a pivotal juncture where federal funding and resources can be strategically directed toward rejuvenating these aged edifices with innovative technologies, thus revitalizing their legacy while simultaneously minimizing their environmental impact.

Our company works primarily on engineering updates for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has many buildings built in the 1940s-1960s. These buildings are often maintained, and updated but only now have received investment from the federal government to start considering energy usage. My recommendation would be that more resources and federal funds are provided to update and innovate these older federal buildings to help to bring about a more rapid change.

Moreover, the educational institutions should be leading this charge and are not exempt from this imperative need for transformation. Many of these revered institutions boast campuses adorned with structures built long before energy efficiency became a critical concern. It is high time for these esteemed centers of learning to uphold their progressive ethos by spearheading groundbreaking research and implementing energy usage studies across their infrastructure. The integration of advanced technology can serve as a beacon of inspiration, guiding both the academic and student community toward a sustainable future that aligns with the values of sustainable innovation.

The potential impact of this technological intervention is not confined to the realm of abstract speculation. By leveraging interconnected devices, these systems can provide real-time data on energy consumption to the occupants of these buildings. This transparency not only fosters a sense of shared responsibility among the users but also empowers them to actively engage in conscientious energy conservation practices. The cultivation of a culture of environmental awareness and responsibility within these institutional settings holds the promise of igniting a collective shift toward sustainable practices that extend beyond the confines of the academic realm.

Lastly, the integration of advanced technological infrastructure within these historically significant buildings not only represents a step toward environmental sustainability but also leads the way for the rest of our aging infrastructure to follow. Our academic institutions and federal government often lead the way in terms of policy, and innovative solutions, and this case is not different. What is important here is that as members of this country, and students and alumni of these academic institutions we all have a communal responsibility to voice our concerns and help to lead that change from the ground up. Just as Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” I can think of no place where this is truer than in these actionable steps to improve our community’s infrastructure.

In this decisive moment, as climate change and its impact continue to grow, we must seize the opportunities presented by technology to improve on of our aging infrastructure, ensuring resiliency across energy and CO2 usage. Through the synergy of advanced technology, judicious policy measures, and progressive investment, we have the power to foster a transformative shift toward a future that embodies sustainability, resilience, and environmental stewardship. Let us speak up and ensure that we embark on this collective journey of innovation and sustainability, paving the way for a brighter, greener, and more sustainable tomorrow.


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