Friday, February 29, 2008

Green is the New Red!

Well, if I wasn’t aware of this before I sure as hell am now: Green is the new red.

I enrolled in an extension class on “Green Building.” Why, you may wonder. After all, I am one of the seemingly few sane people out here in this neck of the woods. Well, I thought, given the field in which I work, it would look good on the old resumé. And although I tend to be fairly conservative about things, I do, to a certain degree, believe in a lot of what sustainable building SHOULD be about. We do need to be good stewards of the planet—use what we need, not be wantonly wasteful. We should learn to be modest in our resource use, etc. Do we really need 5000 sq.ft. houses with multi-media rooms, and enormous walk-in closets in the guest rooms? (Do you really want you guests staying that long?)


The year long course is structured on around, more or less, around the US Green Building Council’s LEED certification, or, “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” Green Building Rating System™ which is supposed to “encourage and accelerate global adoption of sustainable green building and development practices through the creation and implementation of universally understood and accepted tools and performance criteria.”


But for those of you who are not familiar with it, it is a sort of benchmarking system for different types of construction projects such as new construction, commercial interiors, core and shell, etc., and addresses six areas of sustainability: site selection, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and innovation in design. The outline of this course echoes that. So the first class was in the area of “site selection.”

What is site selection and what does that have to do with sustainability, and more importantly what does this have to do with green being the new red? Well, I’m a-gitting’ there, just be patient...

Site selection as a sustainable element of construction has to do with choosing to build on a “sustainable” site: remediating a brownfield, not choosing pristine woodlands, not building on prime agricultural land, “smart growth,” building within walking distance of basic services, etc. Because we need to be attentive to the ecological footprint we make on the planet.

Now, let me sidetrack a bit on this ecological footprint thing. Wikipedia defines it as an attempt “to measure human demand on nature [by comparing] human consumption of natural resources with planet Earth’s ecological capacity to regenerate them. It is an estimate of the amount of biologically productive land and sea area needed to regenerate (if possible) the resources a human population consumes and to absorb and render harmless the corresponding waste, given prevailing technology and current understanding. Using this assessment, it is possible to estimate how many planet Earths it would take to support humanity if everybody lived a given lifestyle.”


Well, if you check it out, in any of a variety of places, your best bet at getting your life down to just the One Earth is if you live in an overcrowded Third World city, with no electricity and no indoor plumbing. Hey, Citizens of Decca Living in Poverty! You are oodles more GREEN than I am! Give yourselves a hearty pat on the back!
(And doesn't that just seem like an odd concept...? And for some real fun, try the carbon footprint calculators.)

So, anyhow…

Just to give you a wee bit more background info on this before I launch into the meat of the matter: Some of the issues associated with site selection have to do with population, food resources, and poverty. It is necessary reduce the drain on the planet's resources.

So back to the course…

During the first class on sustainable site selection, we broke off into groups of about 5 to 7 and discussed solving the problems of the world, because, that is what sustainability is all about, right? Since there was such an emphasis on population (and overpopulation) and feeding people, my suggestion was “Soylent Green.” Not one that went over well.* (But it would work!)

What did come out of the various group discussions had a familiar ring to it:

  1. Abolish private ownership of land, buildings. If all land is publically/state controlled, development can be controlled, “smart” development would be the law, and all building would be “green.”
  2. Redistribution of wealth, either forcibly, or through a heave progressive tax structure.
  3. Hold prime agricultural land in trust so that it cannot be sold off by future generations for development.
  4. Confiscation of property in order to ensure that it is “sustainably” developed. (e.g., if owner refuses to xeriscape, or persists in maintaining “non-green” practices associated with the property.)
  5. Establish a “green” economy, and economic structure in which sustainability, carbon footprint, etc., constitute value/worth/productivity benchmarks.
  6. Establish public transit systems that are locally controlled; if possible, “forced” use of public transit by either banning ownership of “gas guzzlers,” high taxes on privately held autos, etc.
  7. Limit commercial and housing development to land already developed, preferably to brownfield,, leaving land for open space, and possible agriculture.
  8. Establishment of a sort of “green” WPA (or NRA, as in FDR): A sort of “army” of “green-collar” people to verify, oversee, install, initiate, mandate, etc., green practices.
  9. Establish small, communally owned agricultural settlements, “victory” gardens, rooftop gardens” wherein food can be grown. Drive population distribution in viable areas that do not encroach on agricultural land; settlement along connective corridors. Establish small communally-owned manufacturing that focuses on recycled products.
  10. Establish an educational system that focuses on “values” education, wherein “values” is defined as living a “green” life: minimal carbon footprint, minimal environmental impact. Development of a (politically correct) kids afterschool activity similar to scouting that has the same focus.

Does any of it some eerily familiar to you? For you lefties, think back to your foreign-smokes-toking, Marx-toting undergraduate days… And let’s get ready to compare that list to the Ten Planks of the Communist Manifesto. Whoo-hoo!:

  1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
  2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
  3. Abolition of all right of inheritance.
  4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
  5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
  6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
  7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
  8. Equal liability of all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
  9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.
  10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c., &c


Think back to what I wrote about the Ecological Footprint. After all, for a Marxist, the poor, unwashed, downtrodden laborors of the world were the unsung heros of history. To the “Greenists,” it is essentially the same: the Ecological Footprint is another way to underscore that. (“One Earthers of the world, unite! You have nothing to loose but your chains!”)

One can only imagine how the recent “Focus the Nation” teach-in went on that campus! For some insight at another campus, check out Samantha Stolle's article in the Bucknell Counterweight.

I can only imagine a rally of which Vladimir Ilyich Ulanov would have been quite proud.

* I did find out later that someone else suggested
Soylent Green as well; at least one other person in the class has a sense of humor… Maybe there is some hope for the future…