An economic perspective on The Hermitage Climatic Regulation Method

Bjørn Lomborg. A modern Danish economist. He wrote a book, “The Skeptical Environmentalist” in 1998 which questioned the global prioritization of resources used on environmental issues. He was regarded as a “traitor” to Danish Environmental Policies, and many of his analyses have been criticized for bias.

But his very simple approach is fundamentally and obviously correct. The world does have limited economic resources, and “the world” ought to prioritize, just as we do as private individuals.

In 2004 Bjørn Lomborg wrote a new book; “Global Crises, Global Solutions”, based on the comprehensive analysis of the world’s problem areas from “The Copenhagen Consensus”. The result, or best use of the world’s economic resources, is the following:

“Combating HIV/AIDS should be at the top of the world’s priority list. That is the recommendation from the Copenhagen Consensus 2004 expert panel of world-leading economists. About 28 million cases could be prevented by 2010. The cost would be $27 billion, with benefits almost forty times as high.”

Other prioritized programmes are as follows:

The full list and analysis can be seen here: www.copenhagenconsensus.com

The starting point for the participants was that if 50 billion dollars were available, the optimum investment is the fight against AIDS, followed by the above named priorities.

“If” 50 billion dollars were available. A rather theoretical start point which we, the building industry professionals, can perhaps help with. For example, it is proposed in these articles that using “The Hermitage Climatic Regulation Method” will release a large part of the current expenditure on heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, a world industry with a turnover exceeding 35 billion dollars each year and even higher running costs, each year.

So our contribution as climatic regulation professionals is clear—recreate “The Architect” who can design buildings that need none, or minimum, equipment—maximize comfort—release capital on a world scale so that the world’s politicians have resources to improve the world, or not, as they choose, the freedom of democracy.

My first university, The City University, London, have a motto: “To serve mankind”. If we can contribute to this release of resources the aim of the motto will therefore be fulfilled. In an egoistic political world the benefits can be kept privately; in an altruistic political world, a lot of good can be done.

And it is important to realize that I am not advocating a reduction of indoor micro-climate quality to achieve this goal.

Quite the opposite. The current way of building and maximization of air-conditioning need, resulting from the very natural profit motive of all involved, has resulted in many significant disadvantages to the indoor climate.

“Sick building syndrome”, health problems among workers in buildings, started in air-conditioned buildings in the 1970s. European expenditure on medicine to combat asthma-allergy is running wild at over 10 billion dollars per year. It is not that our massive expenditure on mechanical devices has helped. But it has contributed to “economic growth”. It is perhaps a little ironic that while the “Copenhagen Consensus” was taking place, prioritizing how much world “good” could be done “if” 50 billion dollars were available; the USA is engaged in spending in excess of 150 billion dollars in Iraq.

So just what kind of “economic growth” do we need?

And that question also provides the answer: the essential missing element of the economic theories is the issue of the quality of this economic growth—the ethical dimension.

The question is no longer the creation of wealth, but what kind of wealth do we want to create? Not “do we want capitalism?” but “what kind of capitalism do we want?”

To bring this discussion back into our sphere of analysis, is it best to design and construct buildings that require, for example, heating and air-conditioning equipment, giving economic “growth” in these production sectors?

Or should we construct buildings differently, giving minimalism to the air-conditioning, thus maximising potential for other human investments, thus releasing resources, capital, for use in other areas, for “quality” investments in food, medicines, the arts, the humanities?

That is the “ethos” ambition of this minimalist Hermitage Climatic Regulation Method, but of course we cannot influence what the released capital will be used for. It is a question of political priorities, and it is evident that both sides of the political spectrum are finding the question of prioritization is becoming a key issue.

And also a problem. Because people actually prioritize the same things on a human level, irrespective of political colour.

Even within a more “logos” framework, a “what’s in it for me?” framework, this approach provides a competitive edge in the short term for the designers, builders, users or clients who use the method.

In essence the “Lomborg” approach is just a modern equivalent of the Latin “Cui bono”. But he asks not just “who benefits” from any analysis of the world’s wealth, but also the important ethical question—who should benefit.

Our design decisions regarding climatic regulation are a small piece in the puzzle, and I hope that Russian architectural and engineering students will engage actively in putting the pieces together during 2005.

Sergio Fox